Innovation & Impact Summit seeks to build on Covid response

Sustainability in a post-pandemic world the focus of THE event held in partnership with Auckland and Penn State

March 3, 2021
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Unlocking the potential for maximum university impact through a more sensitively designed innovation ecosystem will be the purpose of the virtual 2021 Times Higher Education Innovation & Impact Summit on 19-22 April, co-hosted with two dynamic partners: the University of Auckland and Pennsylvania State University.

The four-day summit has been scheduled to maximise global engagement, and leading policymakers, researchers and investors will address four core questions:

  • What are the drivers of global innovation?
  • Do we have the right vision of impact?
  • How does impact create resilience?
  • Do we know what universities need?

While the higher education sector has been challenged by immense disruption after a year of remote-first interactions, the past 12 months have also demonstrated how the capacity for innovation can exceed expectations (and indeed save lives) when called upon to combat a transnational threat. The summit will aim to learn from this spirit of endeavour, and ask whether a “pandemic mindset” can help universities create greater resilience when facing future threats.

Phil Baty, THE’s chief knowledge officer, said: “THE is thrilled to be joining forces with the University of Auckland, and a partner university almost 9,000 miles away on the other side of the world in Pennsylvania, for a truly global and fully inclusive virtual gathering. The ambitious four-day event, spread across multiple time zones, will bring university academics and administrators together with policymakers and corporations from all continents, to share information, insight and inspiration on what I believe is the most pressing issue faced by universities today: their role in society and their responsibility to help make the world a better place.”

Dawn Freshwater, vice-chancellor of the University of Auckland – which has ranked first overall in the THE Impact Rankings in both 2019 and 2020 – said: “The disruption caused by Covid-19 has been unprecedented in recent history, and has demonstrated the immense value of university research in solving societal challenges. Likewise, rising to today’s challenges and building a low-emissions and sustainable future that works for all relies, in no small way, on the new knowledge and innovations that are created in our universities.”

Discussions over the four days will involve speakers from every continent of the world, with the aim of identifying and analysing what are the most significant assets that research universities possess in relation to achieving impact: location, partnerships, data, resources and academic freedom. The role of arts and humanities scholarship in comprehensive research universities that achieve great impact will be debated by leaders from Australia, the UK and the US who themselves are eminent scholars in the humanities.

The ability of universities to expand their impact through providing education to displaced people in conflict zones will be explored, with members of the Connected Learning in Crisis Consortium sharing insights gleaned from the Covid-19 crisis on amplifying their teaching with limited resources at their disposal.

The summit will also feature the exclusive launch and analysis of the THE Impact Rankings 2021. This year, more than 1,200 institutions have taken part, creating the largest ever dataset that presents a global, highly detailed picture of universities’ impact in relation to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Professor Freshwater continued: “The rankings’ focus on sustainability has become even more relevant as we consider what a post-Covid world might look like, and how we use the learnings of the past year as an opportunity to reshape economies in more sustainable ways.”

Eric Barron, president of Penn State, said: “The world looks to the THE Impact Rankings as a source for identifying universities that build positive societal change, and I’m pleased that last year Penn State ranked third in the US in their Impact rankings.

“I’m also delighted that Penn State is joining our partners at the University of Auckland to sponsor the virtual THE Innovation & Impact Summit, which is devoted to innovation and research impact as we begin to move beyond a global pandemic. I look forward to the outcomes of this innovative international collaboration.”

Additionally, a special THE survey of students from around the world, asking them how significant a university’s values and impact are when deciding where to study, will be published at the summit, with results keenly debated.

Professor Freshwater concluded: “Of course, universities have always been critical to new knowledge creation and new innovations. Yet the speed at which society is changing and the magnitude of the challenges people and the planet face force us to consider carefully how we respond and change so as to maximise our research impact. I am looking forward to discussing these key questions during the upcoming virtual Innovation & Impact Summit, sharing our experience from Aotearoa New Zealand, and exploring what role universities have to play in cultivating innovation, creating impact and ultimately ‘answering the world’s call’.”

Click here to register for the virtual Times Higher Education Innovation & Impact Summit 2021.

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