We are live at Universities UK’s International Higher Education Forum. The event will explore how UK universities can maximise emerging international opportunities and overcome challenges from the radical political shifts that the UK has experienced over the last year.
How will UKRI bring together a better coordinated and more strategic global approach? Jane Elliot responds that 5 out of the 7 have the current international co-investigator policy, and so this will probably translate to UKRI, but there will be exemptions to recognise disciplinary differences. More broadly and strategically, UKRI will harmonise the information available to possible international partners about UK research, policy and processes – currently it is very confusing to possible partners abroad. At present the data and information is too disjointed.
Ed Whiting – “the UK’s research future must include international partnership funding”. This is the sector’s message to the UK government, repeated ad nauseum. It remains to see how this will be prioritised in the coming negotiations. Jane Elliott says its important that there is a degree of continuity in policy, procedures, and structures – universities have built up their own internal processes around these established multi-lateral programmes. A wide variety of bilateral agreements or disjointed pots of money would create all sorts of administrative challenges if are not complimented by the established multi-lateral programmes such as FP9.
The challenges and time required to develop international partnerships with commonly agreed challenges and goals could create real difficulties from the current environment to the one researchers will have to navigate post-Brexit. Again, the stability of current frameworks are a real asset, and mustn’t be forgotten by policy makers.
Will this uncertainty force universities to be more distinctive and more specialised? Universities will have to collaborate with each other in the UK to keep the current ecosystem robust, with a supply of doctorates and basic research that forms the basis of high-end and specialised work.
Up next is Ed Whiting, Director of Policy and Chief of Staff, Wellcome Trust. “We are operating in an environment of uncertainty and ambiguity” when it comes to global mobility and collaboration. There has been a reduction in doctoral applications to the Sanger Institute, and Wellcome is hearing about great difficulty in securing UK-led international grant projects.
Nonetheless, there is room to be more creative post-Brexit. “We don’t yet know the terms under which we will be able to access ERC funding in the future” – so now is the time to get thinking outside the box and forming new collaborations. “There isn’t a second to waste”.
We could do a lot more to develop research relationships with EU nations as individual member states, but it’s still important to try to ensure that ‘international pots’ are still available for UK researchers going forward.
Industrial strategy is an opportunity domestically, but there are opportunities to think about how this can align with global funding, particularly grant challenge funding and overseas aid. Trusts, foundations and philanthropy are growing in importance internationally and should be considered.
There’s a lot to think about…
We move into breakout sessions after a short coffee break. We are at a session hosted by Professor Paul Boyle, vice chancellor of the University of Leicester. Much of the UK’s focus on international research partnerships has been centred on the EU in recent years, but Brexit will of course shake that up. How will the sector adjust and continue to ‘punch above its weight’?
Our first speaker is Jane Elliot of the ESRC. International collaboration is vital to research success and excellence, for several reasons. In particular, international collaboration creates economies of scale – 20% of ESRC’s budget goes on research infrastructure, which needs to be funded at a large scale. International reach maximises research impact, dissemination, and reach. And global research is required to address the biggest and most complicated global challenges: health, food, conflict resolution and more.
RCUK is increasingly taking a more strategic view to enabling international collaboration in grant projects. The Newton Fund is a particularly good example of growing international partnerships, especially in India, China and Brazil.
Funders are also collaborating internationally in research policy, developing a more comprehensive international strategy.
Joining Phil, Paul and Vivienne on our panel is Abdi-Aziz Suleiman, former President of Sheffield Students’ Union and an international students.
Is the case for internationalisation really so obvious to people outside of this room? Our first question is on how the benefits of internationalisation can be demonstrated to the “left behind”. Paul Wellings points out how there is a new emphasis in Australia to ensure that universities, whilst being international, must also be grounded in their local communities. This is something the UK could learn from.
Another question asks about whether an international outlook is about much more than a high percentage of international staff and students at a university; there is something more subtle to a truly international outlook. Phil Baty says he is keen to take the debate beyond the data – we need the stories behind it.
Abdi points out that the international mentalite is about connections as much individuals. Scholarship and university communities build these. We must not forget what is lost when we reduce the opportunities for these connections.
Our final question asks if the international discourse can sometimes be too focused on national competition rather than cross-border collaboration. Do we do ourselves a disservice by using competitive motifs, particularly when it comes to data and league tables?
Paul responds that despite the language of competition, universities are still very collaborative across borders. “I wouldn’t be over here today if it wasn’t to collaborate with universities in the UK”.
Next up is Sir Keith Burnett, vice chancellor of the University of Sheffield. He begins with remarking that he is at risk “preaching to the choir” in pontificating on the merits of internationalisation in education research. Yet nonetheless, as he points out, it is absolutely vital to the UK sector’s success – and we are at a risk of “throwing it away”.
Sheffield’s #WeAreInternational campaign is supported by NUS, the CBI, the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, and has worked with the Foreign Office, UUKi, and the British Council. It is aligned to the US campaign, #YouAreWelcomeHere. The fight for internationalisation is about more than money – it is about bringing the best out of scholarship and education, and sharing cultures and building tolerance and respect and building a better world.
“If we don’t espouse internationalisation, people will suffer”.
Burnett rallies the troops – there is a vote coming up in the House of Commons, and it’s time to turn things around for the fate of international students in the UK, and get lobbying backbench Conservative MPs.
THE’s World University Rankings editor Phil Baty: “somewhere in the midst of time, rankings man was born”. Rankings are, according to Baty, the creation of a global dataset for higher education. The data is very rich – over half a million data points on over 1300 world universities. It’s big. There’s a lot.
But Baty argues that a small section of the data is particularly important: that which covers the numbers of international staff and students. Excellence is not possible without being global. The top performers on the rankings all have a very high number of international staff and students. Countries’ citation impact is very clearly correlated with international reputation and collaboration.
Internationalisation “is a key battleground for the future”, with emerging Asian universities beginning to grow their international presence in both research and education.
What does “hard breakfast [sic]” mean for UK universities in this context? International staff and students are reassessing their desire to remain in the UK because of the negativity around Brexit and the Prime Minister’s commitment to reducing immigration.
It’s the same in the US… The head of the Association of American Universities has stated that US hegemony in the universities market is under threat.
This contrasts with Canada and Australia in particular. Interest in Canadian universities “has exploded”, says Baty.
There are dangers ahead for the UK and US, and it’s time “to unite and fight to stay open and stay global”.
We move on now to Paul Wellings, VC of the University of Wollongong, who will look at Australia’s experience with the kind of bilateral free trade agreements that the UK will now have to engage in post-Brexit.
Education is Australia’s third largest export industry, and the largest service export (by a long way). It is continuing to grow and succeed, and is becoming increasingly important to the overall Australian economy.
Australia’s higher education sector works with the Australian government to understand universities’ market penetration in global economies in order to identify opportunities for further bilateral agreements.
Paul explains the ins and outs of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). These have far reaching implications for universities. All deal with intellectual property. Many include education as a chapter, dealing with cross-border trade in services. Some include specific chapters on education.
Australia’s 2003 FTA with Singapore is one such agreement to have a specific chapter on education. It covers areas such as quality assurance, on-line and distance education, research, student and staff mobility, and more.
There are all sorts of areas that FTAs can possibly cover when it comes to higher education: R&D, student and staff mobility, regulation, credit transfer, work, the use of the word ‘university’ and ‘degree’. Lawyers and diplomats can get hung up on all sorts of complicated issues in finding alignment between two countries for an FTA. It’s hard work, but worth the effort.
Mark Garnier MP is Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Trade (DIT). Delegates will no doubt be interested to hear about DIT’s role and work with higher education providers, and how the sector’s interests will be championed in the department post-Brexit.
Garnier states that the UK should be proud of its prowess in higher education and the success of its universities, and that there is a great deal of demand of UK higher education across the globe. UK degrees are globally recognised and British researchers and world class.
The creation of DIT means that, as Garnier says, UK trade policy is now all under one roof and ready to be better advanced and managed. DIT has recruited a higher education specialist in recognition of the importance of higher education and universities in developing UK exports.
Garnier also highlights DIT’s trade mission work, having already visited Malaysia and Latin America, and planning to visit Bahrain and Dubai to promote UK higher education and other exports. DIT also has an online present, linking overseas buyers with UK exporters, and universities can participate in this.
“Education is one of the truly global industries. Leaving the EU does not mean we are turning our back on the world”, says Garnier. “Europe is our friends and allies”, and we will not be turning our back on our EU partners. Nonetheless, Brexit will provide an opportunity he argues, particularly in growing the UK’s economic presence outside the EU and in developing economies.
“My job as a trade minister is to help set conditions so that universities can thrive… I an absolutely confident that we will succeed”.
Garnier is unable to hang around for questions…
We begin this morning’s plenary session with a welcome from Nicola Dandridge, CEO of Universities UK. She points out how today’s event has attendees and speakers from all around the world, including South Africa, Malaysia, Germany, Australia, Belgium and more. Volatility in higher education policy is not unique to the UK, and we will learn a lot from international colleagues about the changing world, universities’ role in world trade, and managing global reputation.
We have over fifty speakers and three hundred delegates. It’s going to be a packed day.
Good morning. We’re looking forward to an excellent day at UUKi’s International Higher Education Forum 2017, at the ILEC Centre in West London. It’s a fantastic line-up of speakers, including:
- Mark Garnier MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Trade (DIT)
- Professor Paul Wellings, Vice-Chancellor & Principal, University of Wollongong
- Professor Jane Elliott, Chief Executive, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Piyushi Kotecha, Chief Executive, South African Regional Universities Association (SARUA)
- Janet Ilieva, Founder and Director, Education Insight
- Professor Rolf Tarrach, President, European University Association (EUA)
- Professor Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
- Professor Ihron Rensburg, Vice Chancellor, University of Johannesburg
- Professor Connie McManus Pimentel, International Relations Director, The CAPES Foundation
- Dr Allan Goodman, President and Chief Executive of the Institute of International Education (IIE)
- Professor Rolf Tarrach, President of the European University Association (EUA)
- Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK
- Vivienne Stern, Director of UUKi
- Jonathan Deer, Deputy Director and Research Development Team Leader, London School of Economics and Political Science
- Dr Gabi Lombardo, Director, European Alliance for Social Sciences and Humanities
- Helen Challis, Head of the International Relations Office, Imperial College London
- Alex Miles, Deputy Director, External Relations (Public Affairs), University of Nottingham
- Dr Janet Metcalfe, Chair, Vitae
Our very own Ant Bagshaw will also be chairing a session.
Live updates will begin in earnest at roughly 9.45am.