EUniWell Showcase Conference 2023: A Celebration of Well-Being and Collaboration

11/12/2023 | by Eva Laurie

Join us for a look back at the highlights of the EUniWell Showcase Conference “Becoming a Voice for Well-Being” held at the University of Murcia.

The EUniWell Showcase Conference, held on 9-10 November 2023 at the University of Murcia, marked a significant milestone in the journey of our European University for Well-Being Alliance. Entitled “Becoming a Voice for Well-Being”, the conference celebrated the successful completion of EUniWell’s pilot phase under the Erasmus+ funding line and the beginning of a new era of joint development for our Alliance. The event brought together a diverse community of researchers, educators, and policymakers, both on-site and online, to reflect on achievements, share insights, and launch the “EUniWell 2030: Strategy Framework and Strategy Questions”.

Concurrently with the conference and preceding the start of the main conference programme, the 6th EUniWell Rectors’ Assembly gathered high-level representatives from all member universities. The Assembly discussed key facets of our Alliance’s future, including the “EUniWell 2030: Strategy Framework and Strategy Questions”, sustainability, and global engagement - key steps in becoming a strong Voice for Well-Being in European higher education.

Day 1: EUniWell looking inwards

The conference kicked off with an opening session led by Professor José Luján Alcaraz, Rector of the University of Murcia, who warmly welcomed attendees as part of “the EUniWell family”. He set the tone, stating, “For the next two days we will meet here under the banner of well-being in higher education – a cause close to our heart and central to our mission.” Reflecting on EUniWell’s journey, Professor Beatrix Busse, EUniWell Chief Development Officer, described EUniWell’s path and its transformation from a shared idea into the European University for Well-Being. Accompanied by a concise video review, she highlighted key milestones in this success story.

The keynote speakers, representing diverse stakeholder groups of EUniWell, shared insights into the significance of well-being and stressed the role of European University Alliances: Juan María Vázquez Rojas, Counsellor for Environment, University Research, and Mar Menor of the Regional Government of Murcia emphasised European integration in science and higher education. Linking it to overarching goals, such as the fight against climate change, he stressed the relevance of regional stakeholder involvement. Marcos Ros Sempere, Member of the European Parliament, positioned European Universities as a revolutionary force in higher education, which must go hand in hand with the social dimension, citing EUniWell as a manifestation of the unification of these strands.

Professor M. Cristina Polidori, PI at CECAD and Head of Ageing Clinical Research at the Dpt. II of Internal Medicine, University Hospital of Cologne, delivered an impactful academic keynote. Presenting the “ECOcentric approach to well-being” she highlighted that “We have to focus on how social, environmental and biological factors jointly influence health and well-being within a lifelong context.”

Vanessa Debiais-Sainton, Head of the Unit for European Higher Education policies at the European Commission (EC), virtually joined the event to discuss EUniWell in the context of the European Universities Initiative. She expressed her delight at witnessing the significant progress of EUniWell in transforming education, learning and research. She conveyed the Commission’s conviction that the European Universities Initiative would bring about change in the higher education sector for the benefit of Europe at large and concluded by affirming that the Commission would remain a close cooperative partner and a strong ally throughout this process. 

Following on from the keynote remarks Professor Beatrix Busse gave a speech that challenged attendees to think about the question: “What is EUniWell made for?” She underscored that EUniWell is made for the people, a place, and a future of possibilities (the three P’s). Stressing that EUniWell is no longer a short-term project or a pilot, she urged a shift in perspective: “I will now dare to do the following and a) add to excellence, ‘mastery’ to outline a process and b) add to excellence and inclusion - as outlined in the EC paper “Strategies for Universities”, our theme, that is, well-being (...)”. With this, Professor Beatrix Busse invited Professor Giorgia Giovannetti, Vice-Rector for International Relations at the University of Florence, to the stage to present one of the further highlights of the opening session: the launch of the “EUniWell 2030: Strategy Framework and Strategy Questions”. A pivotal moment for our European University, this strategic document not only outlines a roadmap focused on well-being but also charts our course in research, education, innovation, and societal engagement. It crystallises our long-term ambitions into three key areas: becoming a/the Voice for Well-Being, a European University, and communities dedicated to well-being.

The day continued with a roundtable discussion exploring the integration of well-being into higher education, featuring insights from Professor Beatrix Busse, Professor Carine Bernault (Rector, Nantes Université), Professor Cristina Polidori, and Liam Walsh (EUniWell Chief Student Officer). Liam Walsh initiated the conversation by sharing his recent graduate insights, emphasising that student well-being extends beyond the university’s confines and encompasses the entire journey from pre-university stages to post-graduation life. This perspective was complemented by Professor Carine Bernault’s contributions. She stressed that well-being must be our mission and how Nantes Université actively incorporates EUniWell and its well-being concept into academic programmes, institutional practices, such as open science, and comprehensive policies. The session was enhanced by an artistic intervention from poet Cassandra Myers, whose interactions with the audience encouraged a creative exploration of well-being. Her prompts not only contributed to the dynamic atmosphere of the event but also played a vital role in collecting meaningful input for the EUniWell poem, which was collaboratively crafted during the two days and unveiled at the conclusion of the EUniWell showcase. 

The afternoon session focused on advancing research and education on well-being. Moderated by Professor Miklós Kellermayer, Dean of the Medical School at Semmelweis University, the session featured presentations by students, researchers and staff drawing attention to the work done by EUniWell’s Research Arenas and Seed Funding Projects. Work on key areas such as mental health, individual and social well-being, and environmental well-being were showcased, demonstrating the focus of the first day: to highlight how EUniWell has permeated all facets of university life. 

Day 2: EUniWell moving upwards and reaching outwards

On Day 2, the morning session was moderated by Professor Juan Jorge Piernas López, International Relations coordinator at the University of Murcia. This session prioritised the enhancement and engagement of the EUniWell community and featured an illuminating showcase of civic engagement initiatives that encompassed service learning, citizen science, and the EUniWell School Ambassador Programme. It also delved into the imperative of infusing a well-being perspective into policy considerations regarding open science, data stewardship and policy commissions. 

Professor Dorothea Debus, Vice-Rector for International Affairs, Equal Opportunity and Diversity at the University of Konstanz moderated a session on “Moving beyond Europe”. Professor Beatrix Busse opened the discussion by emphasising EUniWell’s global outlook, stating: “Only three years into EUniWell and we are already moving beyond Europe. We feel we have to since the challenges we are facing are actually global ones.” Stressing the importance of this global expansion, the session featured notable interventions from Anne Kamu, SPOC (Small Private Online Course) Lead from the University of Nairobi, and Álvaro-Abacete, Deputy Secretary-General, Union for the Mediterranean. 

A significant milestone was reached as Professor Beatrix Busse on behalf of EUniWell and Amine Mechaal, Director of Global Engagement representing Teachers College at Columbia University (USA), signed a memorandum of understanding, symbolising a substantial step toward global collaboration and impact. In his intervention, Amine Mechaal, praised the important steps taken in the transatlantic partnership so far. Speaking on behalf of the TC delegation, which also featured Vice President for Planning and Strategy Katie Embree and Vice Dean for Research Carol Scheffner Hammer, Mechaal pointed out the significant interest expressed by researchers and staff members on both sides of the Atlantic in two online workshops conducted this year. He outlined plans for the upcoming year that include another workshop in early 2024, a joint third-party funding application, a joint online platform, and a lecture series on research related to well-being in a transatlantic context. The conference then continued to explore EUniWell’s on-campus initiatives.

The afternoon session, dedicated to empowering all voices and fostering future skills and sustainable development, showcased a rectors’ panel. Professor Giorgia Giovannetti moderated a discussion between Professor Béla Merkely, Rector of Semmelweis University, and Professor Jean-François Huchet​, Rector of Inalco (Paris). They engaged in discussions on well-being, institutional transformation, and academic excellence. Both rectors underscored the strategic significance of EUniWell for their institutions. Professor Béla Merkely highlighted the well-being aspect and emphasised a shift from a patient-focused approach to a holistic, preventative strategy - a collaborative advantage fostered by EUniWell. Professor Jean-François Huchet spotlighted the advantages of a European perspective, stressing the collaborative building of shared resources.

Following the rectors’ panel, the conference featured two impactful plenary presentations. Professor Kseniia Smyrnova from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv provided insights into the ongoing war in Ukraine, offering a unique perspective on the challenges in the region and how they relate to research, education and well-being. Professor Dorothy Estrada-Tanck from the University of Murcia enriched the discourse with her expertise in International law, offering a comprehensive understanding of legal aspects related to gender, migration, and well-being. The conference concluded with a roundtable on delivering a European university, bringing together representatives from various Alliances. 

The closing ceremony encapsulated the conference’s essence. Professor Beatrix Busse reflected on the two-day programme and expressed confidence that the pursuit of well-being with excellence, mastery, and inclusion, together with tradition, reformation, and transformation, will accelerate EUniWell’s journey. Artistic performances marked the conference’s conclusion: Cassandra Myers transformed individual poems into a collective poetic expression that reflected the diverse perspectives and voices within EUniWell, creating a unique and artistic representation of the conference’s collective spirit. Graphic recorder Christoph Illigens shared his visual documentation of the conference’s proceedings (Day 1 and Day 2), creating a dynamic and artistic representation of key discussions, themes, and insights. Professor José Luján Alcaraz, rector of the University of Murcia shared a story of King Alfonso X the Wise who left his heart in the cathedral, explaining how  the heart has since become a special symbol for the University of Murcia and concluding that he now shares this heart with EUniWell. His words were followed by performances from the University Choir who, in the the spirit of “Becoming a Voice for Well-Being”, brought the conference to a harmonious close.

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