UNICA IRO Meeting “Enhancing International Collaboration and Student Support in Higher Education” | 6-8 Nov 2023

International Relations Officers from UNICA member universities gathered for the UNICA annual IRO meeting, which was kindly hosted by Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski, 6-8 November 2023.

Leveraging on the work of the UNICA IRO group over the past year, and in particular during the meeting on the occasion of the UNICA General Assembly in June 2023 and the online meeting “ctrl + alt + Erasmus+: shortcut to the European Student Card Initiative – continuing the conversation between IROs and DG EAC” held on 16 May 2023, the IRO meeting 2023 aimed to foster knowledge exchange, collaboration, and innovative thinking among UNICA IROs regarding three central themes (click in each item for a brief summary + presentations):

Session 1 – The future of Erasmus+

The future of Erasmus+: a section of the programme was dedicated as usual to the Erasmus+ programme, with a keynote speech by Vito Borrelli, Team Leader of the Erasmus+ programme – Higher Education unit, DG EAC. The session also drew conclusions from UNICA’s participation in the KA131 Higher Education Working Group. Ibrahim Yorgun (Director of the International Cooperations Office, METU and UNICA representative in the KA131 Higher Education Working Group), reported back from the meetings of the Working Group and about the results of the UNICA IRO survey on the future of the Erasmus+ programme. Moreover, the participants were provided space to share challenges, suggestions and recommendations on four topics identified by DG EAC, namely: Accreditation system, Eligibility rules – mobility, Funding system – mobility, and Digitalisation/future of the European Student Card Initiative. The conclusions from the session will feed into future work in the HE Working Group and in a UNICA IRO position paper on the future of Erasmus+. A draft of the position paper will be shared with all UNICA IROs in the coming weeks to collect feedback and further input and be able to publish the paper by the end of the year.


Session 2 – Students in the spotlight: tackling the challenges of housing & inclusion

Students in the spotlight: tackling the challenges of housing & inclusion: the session offered an opportunity to address the critical role that universities play in fostering an inclusive environment that supports all students and the multifaceted challenges of student housing. Neli Kalinova, Education & Youth Policy Coordinator, ESN and Andrej Pirjevec, Executive Committee member, ESU focused their contribution on how to tackle the challenges of student housing starting from the assumption that “accommodation is a pre-condition for quality education” and that student housing is a “multifaceted issue that requires efforts at the institutional, local, national, and international levels“. The speakers presented results and recommendations from the ESU-ESN joint housing survey report, as well as examples of good practices on the ground. The session continued with the training “How to make education more inclusive” led by Kwanza Musi Dos Santos, Expert of Diversity & Inclusion, Trainer & Consultant. In particular, Kwanza addressed the topic of “Managing cultural diversity with International students” by challenging the participants to reflect and question themselves about the “unconscious bias” and the systemic racist assumptions that are deeply embedded in Western culture.


Useful references and reading suggestions from Session 2

Inclusive mobility and student housing

Training “How to make HE more inclusive”

Session 3- Strategic partnerships outside Europe

Strategic partnerships outside Europe: the session delved into the challenges and opportunities of international strategic partnerships beyond Europe, with a special attention to difficult and sensitive partnerships. The keynote speech by Professor Madeleine Danova, Faculty of Classical and Modern Philology at Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski and the six presentations by UNICA member universities, shared insights and strategies to navigate the complexities of such collaborations. The presentations addressed in particular the challenges and strategies employed to identify suitable international partners that align with the institution’s goals and values, and to navigate partnerships and collaborations in regions with complex sociopolitical dynamics and/or different legal frameworks. The speakers also shared experiences regarding specific cultural challenges and cross-cultural communication techniques that have proven effective in fostering mutual understanding and collaboration when engaging with partners from different cultural and sociopolitical contexts. The session culminated in a World Cafe to create a collaborative dialogue around three rounds of questions: 1) What role does diplomacy play in the work of IROs, and how does it come into play in the context of building and maintaining successful international partnerships?; 2) How do you handle situations where international partnerships face unexpected crises or conflicts, and what steps are taken to mitigate potential damage or resolve issues in a diplomatic manner?; 3) What strategies or recommendations would you offer to establish and manage international partnerships effectively, especially in regions outside Europe?



UNICA IRO Meeting “Enhancing International Collaboration and Student Support in Higher Education” | 6-8 Nov 2023

Sofia, Bulgaria

Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski


Laura Brossico: laura.brossico@unica-network.eu
Alexandra Duarte: alexandra.duarte@unica-network.eu