LIVE: International Higher Education Forum 2017



  • Thanks for reading

    We hope you’ve found this live blog a useful account of what has been a very stimulating and interesting day. Vivienne Stern has now closed the conference and delegates are off to enjoy a well earned drink.

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  • And finally…

    The Commonwealth Heads of Government are meeting soon in London – it is being taken extremely seriously by Number 10. This is a golden opportunity for universities, says one of our audience, and universities have many opportunities to think about their relationship with Commonwealth nations. There are particular opportunities when it comes to connections with diaspora communities in the UK. However, as another audience member points out, there is a very real risk that this is simply neocolonialism. Robin insists that the UK government’s position is not an attempt at hegemony, but rather a more equitable relationship.

    “Are we on the cusp of a change of thinking?” asks Vivienne? There is an internationalist line of thinking to some of the post-referendum political order, so perhaps there is hope?

    However, Ciaran Devane points out that higher education has not necessarily been as successful as other sectors at convincing the powers that be that it is an ‘international’ sector that deserves special attention. “Perhaps we need to be louder and more polite”.

    Robin says that universities must shout loudly for their interests, but in a way that shows they are “part of the solution, and not part of the whinging”. Constructive insistence is the way forward.


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  • Building “connectedness”

    Finally we have Sir Ciaran Devane, chief of the British Council. He begins with a quip about ‘soft power’ – “what you have if you don’t have any hard power” – and wonders if there’s more to the role of the British Council and the nation’s internationalisation efforts than simply ‘soft power’. Really, it’s all about “connectedness”, rather than power.

    “It feels like borders are hardening”, and this is disrupting that connectedness. Universities “build a bridge” to the outside world and are a shining light in the UK’s economy, and it is essential for that to be maintained going forward. The British Council will be supporting UUK and universities to keep the momentum and promote the vision of international connectedness.

    Yet if Brexit has told us anything, it’s that the value of connections with the outside world need to be valued, particularly by those who don’t go on to access university education. Part of the internationalism that we need to continue to promote must involve non-university educated young people. The British Council will be considering the role that internationalisation has to play in schools, particularly when it comes to the future of modern foreign languages.

    To paraphrase Ellen Wilkinson, “it is in the minds of men and women” that a prosperous and international future will be built.

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  • Science and diplomacy

    Our final session opens with Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Foreign and Commonwealth O​ffice. There is a growing network of diplomats and diplomatic policy makers recognising the importance of science and scientific advice in foreign policy. This is driven by the commonality of global challenges which will only have scientific solutions. These can’t be found by individual nations, but collaboratively.

    The ‘scientific value chain’ is vital to solving global policy problems, particularly in disaster situations. There is obviously a great deal of funding available, such as the Newton Fund, the Global Challenges Fund, and many others, available to researchers to devote their work to global challenges in science. The FCO runs the UK Science and Innovation Network to coordinate this with stakeholders abroad.

    Scientists are still trusted, certainly in comparison to politicians and journalists, and so they have some power and influence, if they know how to use it. Often, language and communication is the ultimate challenge, as the below slide demonstrates…

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  • “There are apparently 1 million Erasmus babies…”

    “Universities have agency”, says Ihron Rensburg – let’s not forget it. If that is the case, universities must be conscious actors, aware of the power and effect that they have on the world around them. Western universities in particular must be aware of the power for a “hegemonic” approach to internationalisation, rather than one that is more collaborative.

    We have a question on the power of students to advocate a globalist agenda. Allan Goodman points to the example of Canada, where extensive work is ongoing to integrate refugees and students – there’s a little cheer in the room. “Go Canada!”.

    Rolf Tarrach reflects on the Erasmus programme in Europe. All generally recognised as a success – “there are apparently one million Erasmus babies around” – there are questions to be asked about whether its success is highly individualised and not more widely understood. That said, one million babies is not something to sniff at in terms of societal impact.

    We nonetheless “have a woeful record” in the UK at sending British students abroad, says Vivienne, and UUKi will be making it a strategic priority in the coming years.

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  • “The benefits of the globalised world have become more and more remote for the ordinary citizen”

    Finally, we have Ihron Rensburg, vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg. “The benefits of the globalised world have become more and more remote for the ordinary citizen”, in both the developed and developing world. The intensification of inequalities and fears about change, war and terrorism, have all fuelled instability and tumultuous political events.

    This puts the liberal democratic project at risk. There is some work for us to do to save it. This is an opportunity for reflection and reinvention, and therefore a chance to strengthen.

    So what do we do in such an environment?

    We have to rethink the future of the university, and particularly in the UK, rethink the idea of Britain as a hegemonic provider of global education. That world isn’t coming back. “It is only in dialogue and conversation that we can move the focus away from economics and market share”. There needs to be a very different vision of internationalisation, but it is internationalisation nonetheless, and must combat “parochialism and narrow chauvinism”, whether it be found in Africa or America. But globalism can’t be followed “slavishly” with the market – we must recognise its critical relevance with the “local”.


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  • “Universities have a remarkable capacity to have their own foreign policies”

    Next we have an American perspective, from Allan Goodman of the Institute of International Education. How are universities reacting to changing and tumultuous times? “It’s too soon to tell”.

    But Allan offers three thoughts. When the US was considered ‘isolationist in the 1920s and 1930s, the IIE was responsible for the admission of international students and scholars to the country in the face of very tight immigration controls. Some of these challenges even continued into the 1950s after this war. So difficulties for internationalism and liberal international exchange and education has been the norm for much of the IIE’s history, but they have found a way to cope.

    “Universities have a remarkable capacity to have their own foreign policies”. Universities in the USA often facilitate exchange with countries with which they might be considered ideological or geopolitical enemies: China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela. This is a remarkable thing and demonstrates the remarkable resilience of education and learning.

    Finally, what makes universities beautiful is their capacity to welcome thinkers and scholars in distress. That is going to be needed more than ever today.

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  • ​Higher education in tumultuous times

    We’re now into the final couple of sessions. The world has undergone radical political and social shifts in recent times, with the vote for the UK to leave the European Union, Donald Trump being elected President of the United States of America, and the rise of the far right across Europe and the globe. We have also seen the introduction of a new phrase into our vocabulary: post-truth politics. What are the impacts of these shifts on international higher education?

    We open with Rolf Tarrach, President of the European Universities Association, who recently wrote for Wonkhe on this very topic. Rolf reflects on the demise of the knowledge intermediary – old forms of media, experts, and other respected figures – with the rise of social and online media. Now, “complete crap” can become widely accepted if someone says it simply because they have thousands of direct followers. Universities, as the originators of knowledge, need to compete with this tendency and fight it.

    But with that comes a new responsibility, to improve the quality of universities’ research and output. Arguably, quality has declined in recent decades, as evidenced by the ‘crisis in reproduce-ability’. “This is not good science”. This gives those who are casual with the truth the scope to propagate non-truths and lies.

    Furthermore, the academy is too dominated by ideology posing as science. “If you have the same data and five different economists, you’ll set five different conclusions based on their ideology”. We also pretend that estimates and predictions are absolute – the overconfidence of experts undermines the public’s trust in them.

    “We should publish less, and we should publish better… 50% of our papers are read by nobody”. The reasons for all this have been widely debated and are well known. But we need to face up to them.

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  • Break

    It’s another quick break, and then we’re into our final plenary sessions for the day.

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  • Dealing with the HEAT

    UKVI processes and trends change over time, and there are various policy changes coming up, before we even get onto Brexit. Yet compliance for Tier 4 sponsorship still has its core five areas of compliance:

    • Monitoring immigration status
    • Recruitment processes, English language, and ability to study
    • Basic compliance assessment
    • Tracking and monitoring
    • Maintaining contact details

    Lee argues that UKVI officials are not trying to second-guess academic judgement or your policies and procedures. Their prime interest is rather in there being evidence on file of academic judgement having been exercised and recruitment decision having been carefully considered. There are many common problems that crop up and jeopardise providers’ compliance because providers fail to explicitly spell out their processes.

    English language ability is “probably the key thing” that UKVI are looking at, particularly if universities use their own in-house assessment arrangements. Providers must be able to show that they have exercised their judgements consistently and fairly, and some come unstuck here because they do not keep the evidence or apply their own processes inconsistently.

    Monitoring attendance has proven a controversial and tricky area of Tier 4 compliance. Questions are still outstanding about what counts as ‘contact’, and what counts as ‘attendance’. Again, evidence and consistency are important to UKVI, and there are many myths about what UKVI actually requires in this area.

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  • How to survive UKVI audit!

    After our lunch break we will now be treated to some insights from Fragomen LLP into how to navigate Home Office regulations and UKVI audits. Our host is Lee Bartlett, Senior Sponsorship and Compliance manager, and a former Home Office civil servant. Fragomen are an specialist immigration law firm: “the biggest law firm you’ve never heard of”, says Lee.

    The sector’s lobbying for liberalisation of the student visa regime stacks up, but Lee tells us it is vital for universities to demonstrate that they are successfully compliant with the Home Office’s regulations. Maintaining compliance is a vital prerequisite to winning the policy argument – the sector must show that it is taking its responsibilities seriously.

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  • Questions to our speakers

    Alex Miles points out that local MPs are an invaluable asset to universities, and it’s good to ensure that international partners can engage with Parliamentary representatives, particularly if they are spending time in London. However, Richard notes that in his work setting up the West Midlands investment agency, he hasn’t met a single MP. If power resides with the combined authority, there is a question as to what role MPs have to play.

    What role do learned societies have to play? Emma Hennessey agrees with a member of our audience that they have a bigger role to play in our international promotion work.

    Kris Matykiewicz finishes by bringing us back to the big question hanging over today’s event: how do we make our enthusiasm for internationalism relevant and meaningful to those communities who find it threatening or irrelevant?

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  • Promoting investment in our regions – the role of universities

    Richard Hutchins, Deputy Chief Executive of Marketing Birmingham, reflects on the recent setting up of the West Midlands combined authority, which is relatively new compared to Greater Manchester. Richard tells us that the West Midlands is probably one of the largest regional economic blocks in the world that hasn’t had an agency promoting foreign direct investment and global partnerships. There is a significant challenge ahead here.

    The capacity for a region-wide growth company is currently very limited, which is where Marketing Birmingham comes in. The agency aims to promote investment, study, research, industry and business tourism, and it will soon become the West Midlands Growth Company, supported by the cities of Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, and private sector funding.

    The six largest universities of the West Midlands have collectively agreed to invest significant sums of money into the growth company and become full partners. Their interests particularly centre around infrastructure investment and capital, but also of course for international students and research opportunities. But universities also have significant interests in the success of local business, R&D, conferencing and business tourism, and its business schools.

    On the flipside, universities have fantastic global reach and can open up new connections to partner businesses and the local authorities, and thus are a major asset to the agency.


    We finish up with Emma Hennessey, Deputy Head of the Science and Innovation Network at the Foreign Office. The government is particularly interested in the UK’s ‘soft power’ assets and brands. Our universities and scientists are a massive part of this, and are widely admired and recognised overseas.

    One of the challenges is to expand international interest beyond a small number of the ‘top’ universities, and it’s often hard for international stakeholders to understand the breadth of the UK’s offer and the specialist expertise that exists outside places like Oxford and Cambridge. Developing “collective branding” in regional groupings can be very powerful in this regard, and attracts attention internationally if specific areas are well known to be good at specific things.


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  • Civic bridges: universities, local government, and global trade and investment

    Our next session is entitled: International civic bridges: universities, regional government and global trade and investment.

    We are hosted by Rebecca Hughes, Director of Education & Society at the British Council, who opens by suggesting we try our best to move on from the “Brexit backdrop” to this topic.

    First to speak is Kris Matykiewicz, Head of Business Engagement at the University of Manchester. The university is a critical asset for the city and its combined authority in attracting inward investment and business – for research, students, graduates, and more. A specific development in Manchester is the devolution of health and social care to the combined authority, and the university has been closely involved in this work due to its academic expertise in health and biomedical sciences. The university has also supported the administrative amalgamation of health and social care records for over 2 million people, and supports the combined authority in the management and evaluation of the entire devolution process. All these involve international collaboration, drawing on overseas research and providing lessons for international partners.

    Next up is Alex Miles, Deputy Director of External Relations at the University of Nottingham. Nottingham has international campuses in Malaysia and China, and has drawn together its work abroad with the local authority in Nottingham. The university has been a key player in developing the relationship between the city of Nottingham and the city of Ningbo in China. The university draws on its strengths in cultural awareness and understanding and has provided lessons for the Nottingham local authority in order to oil the wheels of international collaboration. Nottingham sees itself as a civic university in both Nottingham and Ningbo, and also its campus in Malaysia, and has recently set locality specific research centres in both China and Malaysia.

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  • Research partnerships: A coordinated approach?

    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.

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  • ‘There isn’t a second to waste’ in building new global partnerships

    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…

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  • Building international research partnerships

    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.

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  • Panel time – We are international?

    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”.

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  • Sir Keith Burnett – ‘preaching to the choir’

    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.

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  • Phil Baty – To be world class you must be global​

    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”.

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  • Opportunities in bilateral agreements – Paul Wellings, University of Wollongong

    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.

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  • Mark Garnier MP

    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…

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  • Welcome, from Nicola Dandridge

    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.


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  • Good morning

    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 O​ffice ​​
    • 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.

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