A 20-strong academic delegation from UOW has returned to Wollongong inspired to collaborate with international colleagues following the annual conference of the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) at the University of Surrey.

Addressing the opening session of the three-day conference on April 9, UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings highlighted the benefits of the partnership for leveraging each institution’s research strengths and infrastructure to tackle truly global challenges.

Professor Wellings acknowledged the benefits of the UGPN Research Collaboration Fund for establishing the foundation for applications for external, competitive grants from national and international agencies. Looking towards the future, he called on the partners to continue to strengthen and expand a program of research in priority areas, as well as opportunities for student exchange and researcher mobility.

The UGPN was formed in 2011 with three foundation partners: the University of Surrey, the University of Sao Paulo and North Carolina State University. The University of Wollongong joined the network in 2015.

Its mission is to develop sustainable world-class research, education and knowledge transfer through an active international network of selected universities collaborating in research, learning and teaching to benefit global society.

Since joining the UGPN, UOW researchers have been involved in 11 of 18 multi-lateral research projects funded by its Research Collaboration Fund, from developing novel anti-biofilm agents targeting multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens, to a project examining resilience and diversity in early childhood development.

UGPN Research Project Profile: Plum target for inflammation

Over 80 researchers from the four partner universities attended the annual conference this year, with the UOW delegation including Professor Wellings and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) Professor Judy Raper.

The topics for this year’s workshops were Digital Innovation and Applications; Delivering Global Health and Wellbeing; Producing a Smarter Planet; and Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

SMART Infrastructure Facility Director, Professor Pascal Perez, took part in the Producing a Smarter Planet Workshop, which had pre-identified ‘plastics in the environment’ as a focus for discussions and possible collaborative projects.

He identified two highlights of the UGPN Annual Conference: a keynote talk on the science of circadian rhythms and sleep, by Director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre, Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, and “good interaction between the UOW delegation”.

The conference program also integrated a presentation by UOW’s Lisa Ucles and Kate Lindenau, with University of Surrey colleagues, on a joint Athena Swann project initiative. Athena SWAN is an accreditation and improvement program that recognises commitment to advancing women’s careers in the traditionally male-dominated disciplines of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. The program was pioneered in the UK and is now being adopted by UOW, among other Australian universities.

The 2019 UGPN Annual Conference will be hosted in the United States, by North Carolina State University.

UGPN Annual Conference Workshop Summaries

Digital Innovation & Applications brought together an eclectic group of participants contributing on a range of disciplines, contexts and technologies, ranging from Digital Innovation for Civil Infrastructure to Adaptive Digital Games for Education. Plans emerged for ‘living labs’ projects across UGPN and for scaling up research funding to facilitate collaborative research projects.

The workshop on Producing a Smarter Planet saw UGPN participants focus in on the huge issue of plastics in our oceans. The group discussed technology-focused and life cycle-focused dimensions of this major environmental problem and made plans for collaborative projects, including one on ‘Re-imagining the fate of plastics – a holistic approach to sustainable solutions’.

The Entrepreneurship & Economic Development workshop generated three themes for developing potential collaborative projects: Social enterprise & social innovation; Pedagogy and entrepreneurship education: Innovative learning methodologies and industry collaboration; and Entrepreneurship and emotion. This group are making plans for engagement in education as well as collaborative research.

Delivering Global Health and Wellbeing was the largest workshop, with contributors from the NHS (National Health Service) as well as the four UGPN universities. Sub-themes gave focus on areas such as early years development, healthy living for healthy aging – a global focus, and global health and wellbeing in a 24 hour society. Examples of planned collaborative research include a global study on Vitamin D deficiency and ‘Born in 2020: An international longitudinal birth cohort to study the positive and negative consequences of engagement with media in the first 1000 days’.