Formal efforts to establish study abroad programs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison began in the early 1960s. Leading the way, Henry B. Hill, the first coordinator and then dean of the university’s newly established Office of International Studies and Programs, developed the Junior Year Abroad, with a program at the University of Provence in Aix-en-Provence, France.
Since its inception, the Aix Program has flourished. Alumni of the program gathered in Aix to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012.
That same year, the University of Provence and two other universities in southern France were merged to create Aix-Marseille University (AMU) – the largest French-speaking university, with more than 70,000 students on five campuses.
The last week of October, 2014, AMU President Yvon Berland led a small delegation to Madison to recommit to the long-standing relationship and to discuss ways to expand collaborations with UW–Madison. While in Madison, Berland signed agreements with UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and with University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross.
The UW–Madison-AMU agreement, which also includes Indiana University, represents a five-year renewal of the current three-party consortium to “further cooperation in the academic fields of arts and humanities” through various exchanges and hosting of undergraduate and graduate students, visiting scholars, lecturers and teaching assistants.
The three-year agreement with the UW System expresses the mutual desire to facilitate student exchanges, encourage faculty contacts, and promote the mutual discovery of knowledge across fields common among the universities, particularly the humanities and social sciences, public health, education, and energy.
In an interview, Berland describes AMU as “a young university with a great potential for development. I am sure that in five or 10 years, our university will be one of the leading universities in Europe and the main university in France.”
He notes that AMU is among eight universities selected by the French government to benefit from a Program of Excellence.
Asked why he regards the relationship with UW–Madison as important, he cites the Aix-Madison connection, involving more than half a century of exchanges of students, lecturers and invited professors.
Berland also wants to connect his institution with universities among the top 100 in the Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In the most recent rankings, UW–Madison is 24th and AMU ranks among the top 150.
“We want to enlarge our collaboration, so it was important for me to discuss this with colleagues in Madison,” he says.
At UW–Madison, the French delegation learned about examples of interdisciplinary collaboration. Berland and his colleagues view this as an area where their young institution has strong potential and great interest.
He sees opportunities for AMU and UW–Madison to increase collaborations in such areas as public health, energy, and education. As a nephrologist, he particularly would like to see increased cooperation in medical research.
“I was very impressed by this organization,” Berland says. “There is not such a system in France for our university.”
Meeting UW students also left an impression on the AMU president: “The students are very enthusiastic to be in this university.”
He points to family associations with UW–Madison that span generations: “The grandfather was in this university, the father was in this university, the children are in this university. … I was very impressed. It’s like a club.”
UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank and AMU President Yvon Berland, with UW staff and AMU delegation.