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ACA’s 2011 Annual Conference excels with the “excellence imperative”

Outstanding speakers, dynamic participants and beautiful weather converged nicely in Vienna for the ACA 2011 Annual Conference, held on 22-24 May. Co-organised by ACA and its Austrian member, OeAD, the conference explored the theme of The excellence imperative. World-class aspirations and real-world needs from a range of perspectives and with the benefit of extraordinary expertise across the roster of speakers.

Indeed, the remarkable group of presenters provided exceptional depth and insight into a wide-range of fascinating topics, all connected to the central question of how the quest for excellence—in all its complexity—is playing out in Europe and beyond. The conference was launched by a richly detailed, historically oriented keynote address by Georg Winckler, Rector of the University of Vienna. From there, such salient issues as how ‘world-class’ institutions may be defined and created, as well as the subjectivity of international rankings efforts and the limitations of their usefulness, were artfully introduced.

Looking beyond traditional notions of excellence, other speakers highlighted such critical issues as the “dialogical principle” at the heart of “real teaching”, the relevance of diverse curricular approaches (e.g. through a focus on interdisciplinarity and the liberal arts) and the fundamental aspects of institutional responsibility. Internationalisation was also placed in the spotlight. Here, the role played (or to be played) by the English language in higher education and nine prevailing “misconceptions” of internationalisation were also thoughtfully explored. Meanwhile, the future impact of the (uneven and uncertain) global demographic changes on higher education provided a striking, long-term dimension to the conversation about the conference theme.

ACA is immensely appreciative of all of the individuals who shared their time and expertise as contributors to this event. Our grateful thanks are also extended to OeAD for its role in the organisation and delivery of the conference, as well as to the University of Vienna for providing a most inspiring venue for the gathering.

After such an excellent conference, it is hard to say Auf Wiedersehen! to Vienna. But, do consider joining us for a warm Tervetuloa! in Helsinki next year where the ACA 2012 Annual Conference will convene on 10-12 June and promises to be another high-calibre international higher education event.