Last week, a group of students and staff from the University of Iceland travelled to Tarragona, Spain. The purpose of the trip was to take part in the Aurora Autumn Biannual conference organised by the University of Rovira i Virgili. This was the eleventh Biannual that has been held since the Aurora collaboration began in 2016.
The conference began with an address by Jón Atli Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Iceland and President of Aurora. In his address, he thanked the staff and students of Aurora Universities for the great and ambitious work they have done over the past year in very challenging circumstances. He reminded the audience that Aurora is pioneering a new type of cooperation in the global higher education landscape. The conference would be an ideal opportunity to both celebrate the progress that has been made so far, but also to discuss the challenges that Aurora faces and to further align the strategies of the universities to address them. At the conference, the rectors of Aurora universities met precisely for this purpose and to ensure success in the specific programmes that are currently funded by the European Union. The universities also signed a new multilateral exchange agreement which enables their students and staff to study and guest lecture in most study fields in all Aurora universities.
You can listen to the Rector's full speech in the video below.
Students have a clear vision for the future
The voice of the students was prominent at the conference and they sent a strong message about their vision of the universities of the future. From November 13-15, seven students from the University of Iceland participated in a workshop in Tarragona entitled Aurora Student Design Jam together with a large group of students from the other Aurora universities. In the workshop, students got to know the "design thinking" methodology and apply it under the guidance of experts. The result was new solutions for universities, designed by students, to give all students the opportunity to gain a meaningful international learning experience.
These solutions were then presented by the students at the conference. They focused on more diverse opportunities in international cooperation for students and better promotion to broaden outreach to more diverse groups. They also emphasised solutions to work systematically against discrimination and prejudice that international students can experience in their host country and how to prevent anxiety and support students´ mental health during their stay abroad. One of the things the students suggested is to make more use of social media in order to make the opportunities and goals of Aurora clearer and the Aurora Student Council's activities more accessible to students. Those who are interested can now follow the Aurora Student Council on Instagram where you can also look behind the scenes of the design jam workshop.
Alma Ágústdóttir, International Officer of SHÍ and President of the Aurora Student Council, gave a speech in which she emphasised the importance of students taking an active role in shaping of Aurora. Students' interest in the Aurora Student Design Jam is a strong indication that students are both willing and able to participate in building and improving the Aurora collaboration. She also pointed out that active dialogue and collaboration between the universities and students, especially those who are members of the Aurora Student Council, is vital in order for Aurora to be able to benefit from the students' creativity and drive.
Internationalisation for Society
Internationalisation was also the focus of various panel discussions where experts in the field, representatives from universities, representatives from the labour market and students discussed the skills that students will need for their future and how internationalisation can benefit society.
There was a consensus among representatives that students need to have interdisciplinary competencies in addition to subject specific knowledge to be able to perform the jobs of the future, and universities need to train students' in these general competencies. The Aurora Competence Framework provides teachers with tools to define interdisciplinary competencies that are developed in courses and to measure their students' progress in various areas, e.g. creative thinking, analytical skills, civic engagement and communication skills. International learning experiences are also important to prepare students to work with people from all over the world which has already become a reality in most workplaces.
In the coming weeks and months, universities will focus on making the Aurora Competency Framework accessible to all teachers, as well as materials to train teachers in its use. Emphasis will also be placed on better supporting teachers who are interested in collaborating in teaching with academics from other Aurora universities in finding suitable partners and enabling them to start collaborating e.g. by covering the cost of developing new joint courses.
The conference streamed live in order for anyone interested to follow it but those who missed it can watch the recording.