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UK universities should think differently to boost global reach

Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost International at University College London, is a keynote speaker on university partnerships at the British Council's Going Global conference, taking place in Cape Town from 3 to 5 May. Media FHE asked her to outline some of the key issues she expects to arise at the event.


Is this your first Going Global?

"The second – at last year’s conference, I joined a panel of representatives from universities in India, Brazil and China for the “Future Management: leadership insights in emerging economies” session. It was a great opportunity to swap views and experiences on opportunities, choices and challenges faced by Higher Education institutions from different parts of the world."


In which sessions will you be taking part?

"This year I’ll be contributing to a panel on ‘University partnerships: delivering international impact’. I hope the panel will identify some new ways for international collaborations in higher education to extend research capacity and drive economic growth around the world. It seems to me that it’s not so much ‘whether’ global impact can be delivered through partnership, but ‘how’ best to do it. UCL is delighted to be working with, and learning from, a range of African partners who share our commitment to finding fair solutions to global challenges."


What are the main issues that you want to explore in your session and at the conference, and why are these important?

"Top of my list is what universities can do to increase their global impact, to create and share knowledge for public benefit. UCL’s 20-year strategy, UCL 2034, has delivering global impact as one of its principal themes. Our new Global Engagement Strategy, launched last year, outlines how we will work toward achieving this through what we call ‘partnerships of equivalence’: reciprocal relationships of mutual trust and respect. One of the partners we’re excited to be working with is Wits University, with whom we have a shared conceptual approach to how the global south and north can work together. It’s about sharing knowledge and experience to solve challenges facing people around the world."


What connections does UCL already have in South Africa, and what are your plans for the future in the region?

"Here in South Africa UCL also has an increasingly close relationship with the University of KwaZuluNatal (UKZN) through our work with the Wellcome Trust Africa Centre. We have important research links with the University of Cape Town as well – I’ll be meeting some of the colleagues involved in these collaborations this week and I’m sure there are other connections that I don’t yet know about: faculty at UCL are globally highly networked. For example, we recently looked into the extent of our connections with the Southern African Development Community and found that UCL has active collaborations with all 15 SADC member states, much of which is related to global health research.  We are keen to build on this strong foundation to make this activity ‘more than the sum of its parts’ and collectively have greater impact."


What do you see as the key opportunities and challenges for UK institutions aiming to set up partnerships in South Africa?

"Key opportunities – to see things from different perspectives and learn from partners how global challenges are experienced locally: diversity, and looking at things from unexpected angles, leads to more innovative results. More specifically, there are complementary data sets that we can share and Open Access opportunities to develop. I’m very interested to hear about the newly formed African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) and how that network might at some point want to work with others beyond the continent."

"Key challenges – making sure we are taking our cue from our partners’ priorities and fields of expertise and experience as well as sharing our own. The interest and the benefit have to be mutual for it to last."


How about in the global HE market more generally – what are the biggest challenges facing UK universities now?

"Increasing competition and the growth of many excellent universities around the world: that’s a good thing but it means UK universities need to stay on their toes to continue to attract talented staff and students and to explain what we can offer that is distinctive as well as academically excellent. Flourishing international partnerships can help with that too, through communication and exchanges in both directions."


What do you think will be the most important trends and developments in international HE over the next 5 years?

"More ‘partnerships of equivalence’ between more diverse countries and institutions - partners for global change - I hope. Greater differentiation between HEIs. And a significant increase in student mobility."


Follow Going Global news and events on Twitter @HEGoingGlobal #GoingGlobal2016




Dame Nicola Brewer