UGPN Conference May 2023: Universities as Anchor Institutions: Local Solutions, Global Impact

UGPN Conference May 2023: Universities as Anchor Institutions: Local Solutions, Global Impact

Between 29th and 31st May 2023,  academic and professional services colleagues from NC State University, the University of São Paulo and the University of Surrey, gathered in São Paulo for the first in-person UGPN conference since 2019, hosted by the University of São Paulo (USP).

After a 4-year hiatus, and the challenging covid-impacted years, this year’s conference provided a welcome opportunity for staff from world-leading universities, based across 3 continents, to come together face-to-face, to engage in discussions regarding research to address global challenges and opportunities for collaboration.

The umbrella theme for this year’s conference was “Universities as Anchor Institutions: local solutions, global impact“, and this supported three academic themes, addressing a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and which were the subject of workshop sessions on Days 1 and 2 of the conference:

  • Smart cities/digital society (SDGs: 4, 11)
  • Tackling social and health vulnerability (SDGs: 1, 2, 3, 8, 10)
  • Global Security Challenges (SDGs: 11, 12, 16)


In addition to these academic workshop themes, the conference also hosted two professional (Education/Higher Education Sector Innovation) themes which were also the subject of two parallel professional workshop sessions:

  • Collaborative education
  • Universities as anchor institutions: local solutions, global impact


The Conference was opened by a warm welcome from the USP Chief of Staff, Professor Edmilson Dias de Freitas, followed by three plenary sessions; an introduction to the conference themes by the UGPN Executives, reflections on the UGPN context for each Member University by senior colleagues from each, and, from Senior USP colleagues, a presentation of USP’s international initiatives across the central administration.

The importance to the Network of the Collaborative Education theme was highlighted by the official launching the UGPN Academy, as well as a panel session on the first day on the pioneering work being done by the Network on Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL).  UGPN’s COIL provided virtual opportunities for student mobility during the pandemic while international travel was restricted globally.  Post-pandemic COIL is complimenting physical student mobility, offering a broader range of mobility modes from which from students across the Network can benefit.

Outside of these above sessions, delegates had the opportunity to visit USP’s School of Public Health, where they were welcomed by the Dean, Professor José Leopoldo Antunes, and learned about the cutting-edge research and education delivered via the five departments: Environmental Health, Epidemiology, Maternal and Child Health, Nutrition, and Public Health Practice. Senior colleagues discussed UGPN research collaboration, including the ‘Healthy Living for Healthy Ageing’ project and work on Vitamin D involving groups led by Prof. Dr. Helena Ribeiro (USP), Prof. Sue Lanham-New (Surrey) and Prof Sid Thakur (NC State).

There were tours of laboratories including the Air Pollution Laboratory (Prof. Thiago Nogueira works closely with UGPN partners on this key research area), Laboratory for analyses of human exposure to environmental contaminants, Laboratory of Environmental Microbiology and Antimicrobial Resistance (MicroRes), and the Laboratories of the Nutrition Department: LACAS Laboratory of food components and health, and Laboratory of Micronutrients. Colleagues were impressed by the impact of USP’s School of Public Health at the local, national and international level, and there are many opportunities for further UGPN collaboration stemming from these links.

Alternatively, delegates could visit USP’s Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences, where the Dean of the Institute, Professor Ricardo Trindade, presented some of the Institute’s main projects including how their remotely operated telescopes facilitate research and outreach.  Professor Maria de Fatima Andrade presented on how collaboration across the UGPN has grown in strength and led to significant further funding, publications and PhD supervision.  Colleagues then enjoyed visits to: the GeoMag laboratory, where they were introduced to research into the Earth’s geomagnetism; air pollution testing labs.  Colleagues were also shown the mobile lab for air pollution testing.

In the evening, delegates were treated to a visit to USP’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where the curator explained some of the culturally important works, and gave participants the opportunity to view the city from the 8th Floor roof terrace.

During the closing plenaries on the final day of the conference the Chair of the UGPN was passed to Professor Amelia Hadfield, Dean International at the University of Surrey, Workshop leads were then invited to feed back on developments during their sessions and in the context of ‘Universities as Anchor Institutions: local solutions, global impact‘:

  • The conference has enabled the consolidation of existing, and the forging of new, links between faculty and professional services staff across the Network.  Proposals have been suggested for the development of a UGPN collaborative Health Network and a Sustainability Hub, with the general perspectives based on the Sustainable Development Goals, but with a contextual perspective for the specific needs for each member university.
  • A summary of the presentations focused on ‘Nature Based Solutions for Urban Resilience’ was also given, reflecting on how universities can lead the way on producing design that does not consider humans as the only city users.
  • The conversation on collaborative education gained traction during the conference too, facilitating the development of UGPN Education activities – watch this space…

In the context of ‘Universities as Anchor Institutions; local solutions, global impact‘, the UGPN can continue to facilitate connections, not only by fostering and improving collaborations for co-authoring publications, but by connecting stakeholders who together can resolve common challenges in local contexts.  Conversations are just starting, and we are already looking forward to continuing the conversations before and during the UGPN Conference 2024, which will be hosted by the University of Surrey – we look forward to seeing you there!