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Professor Mark Goodwin and Professor Yan Haiping at the opening ceremony

Exeter hosts major student conference with China

Between August 24th and August 27th, the University of Exeter hosted the Higher Education Youth Talent Alliance (HEYTA), a major student conference held annually by the China - UK Association for the Humanities in Higher Education (UKCHA).

The online event, arranged and led by students from the College of Humanities and Tsinghua University, was attended by approximately 160 student delegates from some of the best universities in China and the UK.

The aim of HEYTA is to offer students from China and the UK the opportunity to engage in debates around the role of Humanities in supporting better understanding and engagement between cultures. HEYTA was held for the first time in April 2019, when it was organised and hosted by Tsinghua University in Beijing. Following this, a group of enterprising Exeter students worked with their counterparts in China on hosting HEYTA at the University of Exeter in Spring 2020. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic meant the physical event had to be cancelled but, undeterred, the student organising committee arranged for a virtual conference to go ahead in August.

Conference attendees enjoyed a series of focused lectures and seminars on topics grouped under three themes: Digital Humanities and Special Collections; Intercultural Communication; and International Cultural Exchange. Talks included a showcase of research at Exeter’s sector-leading Digital Humanities Laboratory and a virtual tour of the exciting items held in Exeter’s Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, one of the most significant film collections held in the UK. Other talks by scholars from Exeter and Tsinghua Universities included: ‘Immersive Theatre; Examples from China and the UK’,  ‘Tradition and Innovation in Puppet Theatre in China and the West’ , ‘Shakespeare in Chinese Costumes: Visual Metaphors in Three Cross-Cultural Productions’ , ‘Intercultural Communication in a Global World’, and ‘Affective Labour and Floating Community in the Age of Migration’.

At the opening ceremony, Professor Mark Goodwin, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Exeter, said: "It is a great source of pride to me that the student organisers of HEYTA 2020 have managed to deliver this conference online. It would have been easy for organisers to have been put off by the challenges of hosting a conference in the midst of a global pandemic, but students at Exeter and Tsinghua were undeterred and they deserve great credit for making arrangements to deliver this event. Exeter is the first UK host for HEYTA and it strikes me that now is a fitting time for the conference to come to Exeter, albeit virtually. Exeter has just been declared a UNECSO World City of Literature, joining a small and prestigious group of cities around the world to hold this honour. The University of Exeter is home to literary collections by the likes of Daphne de Maurier, Agatha Christie, Ted Hughes, Sir John Betjeman, and William Golding….and our College of Humanities is recognised around the world for the high quality of its scholarship, appearing in the top 100 of both the QS and Times Higher Arts and Humanities world rankings."

Yan Haiping, Tsinghua Academy Class Professor of Cross-cultural Studies, Chair of the Executive Council of UKCHA, Dean of Tsinghua Institute for World Literatures and Cultures (IWLC), and Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Tsinghua University, who co-opened HEYTA with Prof Goodwin, said: "I am deeply delighted to witness how the University of Exeter has overcome all the difficulties, opened up a new online communication mode, so as to continue the valuable dialogue between the youth from UKCHA universities of the two countries, realizing this unique event as a feast of thoughts for further strengthening cross-cultural humanities both in China and in UK."

Initiated by Tsinghua University with its Institute for World Literatures and Cultures and founded four years ago, the China – UK Association for the Humanities in Higher Education is a group of some of the finest universities in China and the UK, supporting a range of academic events, conferences, and student and staff exchanges.

Prof Goodwin said: "In these times of increasing global challenges and tensions, we here at Exeter see engagement and discussion with our friends in China as more important than ever. I am deeply grateful for the Association’s support and delighted that Exeter have been able to contribute so fulsomely to events in the early years of Association’s activity."

Prof Yan said: "With the joint commitments and efforts from the members of China – UK Association for the Humanities in Higher Education, the mutually informative exchanges over the past years have been fruitful to all participants and in particular enabling to new generations presently coming of age in the arts, humanities and social studies, much evinced by this remarkable 2nd HEYTA hosted at Exeter. In the spirit of “ever renewing humanities” of Tsinghua University and its Institute for World Literatures and Cultures, I share with all members of the Association the conviction that such events and more cross-cultural engagement and collaborations are central to the sustainability and betterment of our humanistic education, and of our world at large."

Date: 2 September 2020

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