Universities’ Role in Solving Complex Challenges



October 13-15, 2021


Welcome Message from AUA President

Dear friends and colleagues bari galust to Armenia!  It is our pleasure to welcome you to Armenia and to AUA. We have the honor of hosting the BSUN 2021 Congress and the 14th Conference of Rectors from the Black Sea Region. 

Founded in 1991, AUA provides a high-quality, graduate and undergraduate education that encourages civic engagement and promotes democratic values, fostering scholarship in a setting that values and develops academic excellence, free inquiry, integrity, scholarship, leadership, and service to society. Located in a most culture-rich, bio-diverse and vibrant part of the world with both east and west flavors that characterize the uniqueness of this international University. AUA has made an impressive journey thus far. We strive to emerge as a most successful educational institution combining local talent and strength with a global perspective and collaboration to reach greater heights and make a lasting impact through the work of our students and faculty.

The vision of establishing AUA as a global university was envisaged by forward-thinking champions during a time of despair after the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia. The joint efforts by the founders, academics and local leaders enabled the doors to our fine institution to open on September 21, 1991. The diversity inherent to AUA is an asset for a university of the 21st century that aims to tackle complex societal challenges. A university in the 21st century enables pioneering research in a synergistic relationship with outstanding teaching, and a presence across the globe that fosters the international, interconnected perspective so necessary in our modern world and so vital for a small nation. This call for solutions demands a new mindset and new ways of collaboration over traditional boundaries and cultures. To cope with such assignments, universities must become visible forerunners that invite and support students, researchers, and collaborators from different backgrounds, as well as promote and enable inclusion and diversity. 

We decided to bring our partners from the Black Sea network together under the theme of Universities’ Role in Solving Complex Challenges.  We are using water as a case study of a complex challenge. There are many other complex challenges, many of which are captured in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to which almost all countries have committed themselves. Universities have a role in addressing all of these challenges. 

With this conference, we want to lead a conversation among members of the Black Sea University Network on the role of universities in developing creative solutions to complex societal challenges. These solutions are often found outside of the comfort zone of a traditional mindset. 

For one, they require willingness and ability to work in multidisciplinary teams. This requires listening to insights by disciplines other than ours and finding connections that reveal novel insights. This does not mean the depth of understanding of a single discipline is less important. On the contrary, the ever-deeper understanding of a single discipline needs to be linked and cross-fertilized with other disciplines. But for this to take place, we require new modalities of collaboration and knowledge sharing, new forms of multidisciplinary teamwork.

Addressing complex challenges also requires a multisectoral approach, where government, business, and academia work together. Academia should not be seen as a mere service provider to business or government. It should take its leadership role in society on par with government and business. We will review examples of reality labs as spaces where universities, the public sector, and the private sector can partner. These are examples of how universities bring their unique value and leadership to addressing challenges. 

Finally, we need to think globally. While requiring local solutions, complex challenges are often globally or regionally present. Scientific research done in one country can have applications in other countries. International collaboration can expedite learning. Our universities should be structured to facilitate a greater volume of global-local collaborations. This can take the form of joint research, integrating education and research, international mentorship opportunities for young researchers, nurturing networks of universities to collaborate effectively, link to global research infrastructures, among others. 

At AUA we know that partnerships and collaboration built on trust enable transformative change and lasting impact. Our excellent faculty, researchers, students, and staff are looking forward to welcoming you to Armenia and to AUA.

Professor Karin Markides