The summit of 100 university leaders from 48 universities, hailing from 17 countries across six continents, stated that “many of our greatest policy challenges are urgent matters of intergenerational justice”.

“They’re going to go down in history as one of the most transformative generations ever”

Among the challenges noted by the summit were climate change, inequality, global healthcare and the Covid-19 pandemic.

During the plenary that followed the vote, Morton Shapiro, president of Northwestern University – who along with Columbia University, Georgetown University and the University of California, Berkeley hosted this year’s event – said of today’s young people, “I think they’re going to go down in history as one of the most transformative generations ever.”

Peter Mathieson, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, further noted that one of the strengths that the U7+ group has in its discussions with the G7 nations (which the U7 was initially set up to lobby) was the “hundreds of thousands of smart young people who will be the generations of the future.”

At the plenary, a number of university presidents offered views on how intergenerational justice could be delivered.

Shapiro emphasised the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration across arts, sciences and humanities. “We love our disciplines, but departments can be compartments as well,” he said.

Frédéric Mion, director of the Paris Institute of Political Studies (aka Sciences Po, the hosts of the first U7 summit) suggested that when students were involved in civic engagement it should be credited towards their degree.

“The same thing happens when they go and seek experiences abroad at fellow institutions. By doing that, we do help shape those very citizens that the world requires.”

Mion also suggested that domestic students and international students should receive “equal treatment”, hinting that this would be a theme for future discussions.

Senior executive vice president of Colombia University, Gerald Rosberg reinforced the proactive approach that universities and students should take.

While acknowledging that “knowledge for its own sake” was a laudable aim, Rosberg said, “It’s not enough to write a brilliant paper and put it out there and hope that the policymakers and first-line actors will do it.”

Paul Alivisatos, executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of California, Berkeley, outlined a practical example of intergenerational activity with the university’s new Division of Computing, Data Science and Society that has disseminated instruction on AI and Machine Learning across departments and done so by groups of students instructing those in lower years.

The closing remarks in what was a very upbeat event included a comment from economist and former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. Monti believed that the U7+’s activities would add to a landscape where it was “harder for political leaders to be evasive”.

2021’s U7+ summit will be co-hosted by Imperial College London, the London School of Economics and Political Science, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh and University College London.

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