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One look back and three steps forward

This is our wrap-up of the year newsletter, and what a year it’s been! With 2021 around the corner, I take this opportunity to share with you a few insights into what 2020 meant for ACA, and to offer a glimpse of what the New Year excitingly holds in store.  

The current year has been an extraordinary one for our association, in more than one respect. The new context of life, (tele)work and higher education cooperation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, with its inherent challenges for all of us, overlapped at ACA with an important leadership change – the retirement of ACA’s long-standing director, Bernd Wächter, who brought ACA to field acclaim and my take-over of the ACA directorship in September. Over the autumn, we also had a substantial renewal of the ACA Secretariat team, in line with our new ambitions, as well as important  board elections. September feels already like years ago. Talking to many esteemed colleagues in our field, I hear this is a shared feeling we’ve lived through so much more this year; several years condensed into one, orbiting much more than usual online 

 Looking back, I am proud to say we’ve managed to turn many of this year’s challenges into opportunities, and we’ve learnt a few important lessons that will serve us well for the anticipated quantum leaps ahead 

  • We’ve accelerated and deepened the collaboration with our members (turned overnight into miracle workers to safeguard international cooperation activities together with higher education institutions in their countries), providing a platform for exchange, peer-learning and coordination of salient, large-scale actions taken to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our field.  
  • We’ve started an important conversation in June on Minding the gap between higher education, research and innovation in international cooperation. The online format allowed us to engage with twice as many colleagues from around the world than at our typical face-to-face event; in-person networking over coffee breaks remains, however, irreplaceable.  
  • We’ve launched a very warmly received series of 12 ACA Think Pieces where higher education experts and thought leaders shared their views and expectations on the World after COVID-19.  
  • We’ve fed into policy developments at European level through expert consultations and ACA positions – on values, synergies and the European Education Area.  
  • We’ve secured working on three new projects – Study in Europe 3, UniWellS and IHES – and we’ve worked relentlessly for planning an innovative 2021, with many transformations. 

What to expect from ACA next year? A more present, engaged, dynamic, vocal and impactful player and partner in the field. We look forward to welcoming you at ACA’s flagship events – the What’s new in Brussels? seminar (28-29 January 2021, online), the Innovation through internationalisation conference (22 April 2021) with Movetia and swissuniversities (see our online campaign #EducationInnovation_2021), an ACA Strategic Summit for invited leaders, a high-level debate on the Transformation agenda, and certainly more. We also look forward to collaborating with you on many of our ongoing projects. We’ll welcome your input, when needed, into the important work with our member organisations on research in international higher education, on European policies and programmes, on inclusion in higher education and on digital and green mobility. You’ll sure see and hear us in (virtual) Brussels, doing our policy and advocacy work. And, look out for a new ACA Think Pieces series! 

Essentially, we look forward to working and exchanging with you also in 2021 and beyond. I’d also like to warmly thank all our members and partners, and I wish you all Happy holidays, a restful period, a great start into a better 2021, and I look forward to seeing you again in person, as soon as possible! 

Before the start of your holidays, I also hope you’ll manage to read and enjoy the December 2020 ACA newsletter. 

 Irina Ferencz 

ACA Director