Another Matariki Network meeting come and gone

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This morning we wrapped up two days of meetings of the Matariki Network of Universities (MNU). The Board essentially consists of the principals (or presidents or vice-chancellors) of the seven members of the MNU, who routinely bring their Chief International Officers and sometimes their Provosts or equivalent to the meetings.

The MNU, for those who don’t know, is a now 3 year old initiative involving ‘7 Sisters’ (the word ‘Matariki’ is Maori for the constellation the Pleiades, or 7 sisters), one—and one only–from each country. Apart from Queen’s, the sole Canadian representative, the universities are Dartmouth (US), Durham (UK), Western Australia (AU), Otago (NZ), Tübingen (Germany) and Uppsala (Sweden). All are mid-sized, research-intensive schools with a strong reputation for teaching and residential experience; none is in a national capital. For more details you can visit some of my previous blogs, for instance on the MNU meetings 21 months ago in Perth, Australia.

This was the 3rd meeting of the Board since the MNU was formed and it was very good to see every member institution represented, even if Hurricane Sandy caused one or two people to have to cancel and occasioned some schedule reshuffling. It was especially useful to have delegates in Kingston and at Queen’s, many for the very first time. Among other things, they got a good sense of our geographic situation, size, architecture etc. Lots of student activity was evident (which hasn’t been true in a couple of our previous meetings which occurred outside academic term-time for the host university).

The Network has thus far been quite successful at putting like-minded researchers from member universities together. Several research workshops have been held, including one two years ago at Queen’s on sustainable energy. Joint research projects have ensued, and our respective Vice-Principals (Research) met a few months ago to advance this agenda. It is worth noting that a great undergraduate initiative, Inquiry@Queen’s is open to video-participation from Matariki-enrolled students, which takes some doing with the time zone differences involved!

Much of our time at the Board meeting just finished was spent on 3 related issues:

1) how we can collectively improve student mobility, taking advantage of the special relationships within the Network. A key follow-up item from the meeting will be greater connections between our own student affairs personnel at all schools, and international program offices;

2) Benchmarking (in essence, comparison of how all of us are performing on a variety of metrics both in research and teaching, including curriculum development, and how we can learn from ‘trusted international peers’ of similar character;

3) Reputational enhancement. This is a very important one for Queen’s as I have often noted that we are very well known in Canada but less so abroad, something I would very much like to change. It turns out that our sister Matariki schools face the same reputational challenge in other countries than their own, so we have agreed to mutually promote each other by various means. Our Alumni, Communications and Marketing Directors will be in touch with one another, and Queen’s own Director of Marketing, Kathleen Vollebregt, weighed into our discussions with some useful suggestions.

I’m often asked why all this is important and whether resources should be devoted to it. I think the answer is an unqualified and loud ‘yes!’. Apart from the benefits our students will derive from access to programs and opportunities at 6 other extraordinary universities, the Network can provide a key plank in our overall internationalization strategy. As the reputation of the Network itself and its name recognition grows, the expectation is that this will translate into higher international profile for each member individually.

From my point of view the meetings, which I chaired as the Network Chair for the past 21 months (an honour and pleasure which has now passed to Prof Christopher Higgins, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of the University of Durham), were very productive. The trick now, as with most such exercises, is to ensure that we follow through on the best of the many good ideas that were floated in our discussions. Meanwhile, let me express my thanks for the outstanding work of staff in the Office of the Vice-Provost (International), the Office of the Vice-Principal (Research), the Principal’s Office, and Innovation Park, as well as the faculty and staff who joined particular meetings to lend their expertise. Conferences such as these are not put together without a lot of hard work and planning and the Queen’s team did a fabulous job.

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