Next week, our PM Mark Rutte will be departing for the G20 Summit in Indonesia. Leaders and governments from across the globe, representing citizens from the largest, most powerful upper and middle-income countries, will be gathering in Bali. These summits, and the media attention surrounding them, are often dominated by debates on important world crises that are in need of immediate attention, such as the tragic, ongoing war being waged by Russia in Ukraine.
However, it is important that our leaders, beyond discussing these crises, also pay critical attention to longer-term global challenges during the G20 Summit. For example, the Indonesian Presidency of the G20 urges the global community to reach an understanding about the challenges and the need for collective action across three main pillars: the global health architecture, the sustainable energy transition, and the digital transformation of our societies. The Indonesian government is calling for ‘more democratic and representative international cooperation’ to achieve progress on these points.
While the G20 leaders debate on these issues, citizens and societal actors should also use this opportunity to engage and join the discussion. Universities globally have a unique responsibility to contribute to longer-term thinking in our societies and to contribute to successfully conquering global challenges and meeting the needs of our people, including the most vulnerable. Universities around the world, classically organized into disciplines and faculties covering the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, and the exchange of scientific ideas and papers play an important role in international scientific progress. However, there is an increasing need for inter-disciplinary approaches and societal outreach in order for us to have a greater societal impact and confront major societal challenges. For example, we have established four new schools at the University of Groningen, focused on priority themes that connect to these societal challenges: energy & climate, public health, digitization & AI, and sustainability & circular economy.
The fact that this year’s G20 is hosted by Indonesia and its President Jokowi is of great significance to the Netherlands. Not only does the Netherlands have a longstanding historical relationship with Indonesia, but Indonesia is currently also a rapidly growing economy and society with decades of democratic governance, which has emerged as a leader within Southeast Asia, the ASEAN region, and globally. With the increasing multi-polarity of the international system and the rise of China, the Southeast Asia region is of growing importance to the Netherlands and Europe. The future independence, peace, and prosperity in this region heading towards the economic and societal achievements enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the Global Goals 2030 agenda, hinges on the independence of Southeast Asia as these countries balance influence in the region with global powers such as China, the United States, and the European Union.
During the 10-day trip I took to Indonesia, Singapore, and Japan with a delegation of scholars from the University of Groningen, I was not only able to interact with governments and university scholars from these host nations, but also with citizens and community groups. I would like to share the rich personal experience I had visiting a neighbourhood in Yogyakarta, a city on the Indonesian island of Java. We were invited to the neighbourhood by local officials and our close university partner, Gadjah Mada University, with whom we have enjoyed many decades of partnership and which runs a community engagement programme from the campus for a nearby informal housing settlement. I left incredibly impressed by the way the community works together in the areas of education and sport, environmental preservation of the local river, and the provision of drinking water to family homes. I also visited the River School, where the teachers and local leaders introduced me to the pupils. As we played football in the schoolyard with these young children, I was inspired by their joyful welcome. After taking a walk through the streets close to the school, we were offered tea by a local resident. The local leaders and volunteer students from UGM spoke to us about their water projects, which include distributing fresh drinking water by pipe from a spring to households throughout the settlement, as well as protecting the river with sanitation systems designed by UGM. We were greatly impressed by the children and their parents, the local leaders, and the volunteer university students participating in the community engagement programme with our partner UGM.
This experience demonstrates the two-way learning process which may occur during such visits. I have decided to think more deeply about ways in which we can incorporate both global and local community engagement projects within our curriculum at the University of Groningen. For example, we may expand the current involvement of our Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health in the eastern part of Groningen province, and the neighbourhood outreach by our Campus Fryslân in Leeuwarden, to involve more students in these community programmes. This is in line with our strategy of linking the ‘Universities of the North’ with our close engagement with the people of the provinces of Groningen, Friesland, and Drenthe, while linking the north of the Netherlands to the global community. Our goal is to think and act both locally and globally.
Our leaders will gather soon at the G20 Summit. It is a great opportunity for citizens and important societal actors of the Netherlands, such as universities, to think more at this G20 Summit about the unique international role the Netherlands can play in tackling important global challenges , such as global health, climate change and energy transition, digitization, as well as the SDGs and the Global Goals 2030 —including addressing poverty, food security, quality education, access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation, environmental protection, and reducing gender and income inequalities. The final SDG, SDG 17 ‘Partnership for the Goals’, is critical to achieving success for all the SDGs. The University of Groningen and our community of scholars and students, together with other Dutch and international universities, are ready to contribute to longer-term thinking, reflection, and action necessary to meet the critical global challenges we all face.
Prof. Jouke de Vries, President of the University of Groningen since 2018, and Prof. Ronald Holzhacker, Professor, University of Groningen, Spatial Planning and International Relations.
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