At the Aurora Autumn Biannual, it was announced that Jon Atli Benediktsson has succeeded David Richardson as Aurora President. In this note, Mr Benediktsson introduces himself to the wider Aurora community.
When the general council of Aurora appointed me as the new president of Aurora, I accepted this role with pride and humility.
I accepted with pride because Aurora is such a great network. Such a great group of universities, dedicated to helping each other in becoming as good as we possibly can in the things that we cherish most: matching academic excellence with societal relevance, enhancing the societal impact of both learning and research, supporting our societies in the most equitable and inclusive way possible, and making our organisations and communities as sustainable as we can.
I accepted with humility because I step in great footsteps. David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and my predecessor as Aurora president, has really played a crucial and central role in making Aurora the strong and vibrant community of students, academics, and support staff that it currently is.
We go through very challenging times, generally and certainly also as university communities. The pandemic is still with us, although recent news about vaccination has been promising. The impact on the mental well-being of students is a grave concern and we must assume that this impact will last longer than the immediate duration of the COVID-19 waves.
In some respects, we should see the pandemic not only as a crisis in itself but also as a wake-up call on the longer-term concerns of climate change. Our recent Biannual shows that more is possible in the virtual world than we thought possible – although meeting in real life will remain important.
Digitisation and globalisation seem powerful forces which continue to breed uncertainty among large numbers of people in our communities. The role of universities in strengthening and maybe re-inventing the social contract and fabric of society will need to be explored more intensely than we do now. We may see ourselves as part of the solution, but we are maybe not always aware enough that others may see us as part of the problem rather.
In all these concerns and challenges, Aurora as a group of societally committed research universities has a unique role to play. We need to help each other – and we are in a unique position to help each other – to each serve our society in which we are embedded.
Jon Atli Benediktsson