Presidents' Meeting 2023
Presidents' Meeting 2023
The IARU Presidents met together on 14 & 15 January 2023 for their annual meeting, kindly hosted by the team at ETH Zürich. The group were delighted to welcome Professor Gong Qihuang (PKU), Professor Irene Tracey (Oxford) and Dr Anthony Freeling (Cambridge) to their first IARU meetings, with Dr Freeling also taking on the role of IARU Chair.
Discussing strategies for achieving net zero in universities, examining the rise in mental health challenges in student and staff communities, and exploring the complex issue of trust in higher education all provided excellent opportunities to compare approaches and share experiences.
The Presidents were able to continue their conversations over dinner at Villa Hatt, which, due to its position high on the Zürichberg, afforded wonderful views over the city below.
Many of the attendees had planned a busy week of business travel and, following the Presidents’ Meeting, went on to join delegations at the World Economic Forum at Davos. We are especially grateful to ETH Zürich for being such generous hosts and facilitating the meeting.
Mental health in university communities
The increase in mental health difficulties is not only a challenge for universities, but one for society on a wider scale. Dr Anthony Freeling, Acting Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge and IARU Chair, led a session outlining the measures Cambridge had put in place for support for students: an expansion of its university counselling service; the reduction of waiting times; and improved collaboration with national mental health services.
Other IARU universities had experienced similar increases in mental health difficulties for students, and are working to provide cohesive, streamlined mental health care and specialised training for staff. It was clear that while the pressures from within university communities(exam stress, workload, loneliness) should be considered, the increase in reported mental health difficulties is mirrored in wider society, making it a challenging issue to deal with.
It was notable that many IARU members felt that although good progress had been made with student mental health care, they now needed to focus on staff mental health and wellbeing, as similar support systems and protocols were often lacking in this area.
Governance in world-class universities
Although the IARU universities share an emphasis on intensive research, there is great variation in how these institutions are operate and governed.
Professor Teruo Fujii, President of the University of Tokyo, led a session exploring decision-making, accountability and effective organisational structures, which provided an insight into the different ways of working of their international partners.
As UTokyo is currently considering its governance structure, it was particularly interested in the extent of involvement of external parties in the boards of the other IARU universities, and was grateful for the advice it received from the group.