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U7+ Alliance Presidential Summit 2020: Intergenerational justice high up on the agenda

Held on November 22-24, the second U7+ annual Presidential Summit brought together the leadership of its member universities to tackle important topics on the global agenda, and in particular, intergenerational justice, the U7+ Alliance’s engagement with the G7, and ethical uses of Artificial Intelligence.

École Polytechnique is a founding member of the U7+ Alliance, which has been launched under the patronage of France’s President Emmanuel Macron at Sciences Po during the run-up to the G7 summit in 2019. A unique international alliance of university presidents, the U7+ Alliance is dedicated to defining commitments and actions higher education institutions can take to collectively address the most pressing global challenges, in coordination with government leaders in G7 countries and beyond.

Concluding the inaugural summit in 2019, the U7+ members voted for several founding principles, all in line with the direction envisioned and taken by the president of École Polytechnique, Éric Labaye for L’X: to train and nurture responsible citizens, who will actively contribute to society, to address the environmental issues, to reflect diversity, to promote multidisciplinary education and interdisciplinary research. The multidisciplinary approach is the very essence of École Polytechnique’s academic model since the school’s establishment. Hence, École Polytechnique’s commitment to organize a working group on this topic.  

This year’s U7+ Presidential summit was organized by Northwestern University in partnership with Columbia University, Georgetown University, and the University of California, Berkeley, and gathered the presidents of more than 50 universities from 20 different countries. Due to the current pandemic, the event was held in a virtual format. The university presidents placed the interaction of the U7+ Alliance with the G7 high up on the agenda of the summit, emphasizing the expertise and long-term perspectives the academic world can provide to the international organization.

The agenda-setting had also been influenced by the first U7+ worldwide student forum, during which students from all over the world had gathered and set forth their recommendations on how universities can best prepare them for an active engagement in efforts to address pressing global challenges including climate change, inequality, and injustice in its many forms.

As a consequence, the U7+ Alliance decided to make intergenerational justice the key theme of the U7+ Presidential Summit 2020. The context of the current pandemic highlights the challenges future generations will have to respond to. International leaders, amongst which the institutions of higher education, have the responsibility to place the interests of youth and future generations at the centre of their efforts to address global issues. It is of the world built today that future generations will inherit. “The 2nd U7+ Presidential Summit represented a unique moment of international collaboration and an opportunity to reassert the responsibility of universities to prepare the next generation for global and responsible leadership and to address the world’s most pressing challenges”, commented Éric Labaye, President of École Polytechnique et of Institut Polytechnique de Paris. “With the partner universities from the U7+ Alliance, I am proud of our commitment to advance intergenerational justice as well as our direct engagement with the G7.

Testifying the importance attached to the intergenerational dialogue on global issues, a presentation of observations and recommendations prepared by the student delegates was part of the agenda. The first U7+ student forum gathered 85 student delegates from 22 member universities this summer. Student delegates have remained very committed since and continue to discuss important matters such as environmental issues, diversity and inclusion, the digital revolution, and mental health, to envision together how the commitments of the U7+ Alliance can be translated into concrete actions across the member universities.

« As students, we feel particularly concerned by the challenges our society is confronted with. There are many topics on which students could and should work together with the university administration and professors, within every single institution and also on a global scale », stresses Shayan Khan, a student in the Master of Science & Technology program at École Polytechnique and a student delegate highly committed to the U7+ network.

The video projected during the closing ceremony turned the floor to the choirs of the member universities and illustrates the high implication of the students, alongside the presidents.