UCL News


Vice-Provost's View - intensifying our global engagement

13 October 2016

What have we done to deliver on UCL's Global Engagement Strategy (the GES - how we will implement Principal Theme 6 of UCL 2034) in the eight months since my last update?  Centre stage has to be, 'respond to the Brexit vote'.

EU flags But there's also been: progress in our partnerships in China, southern Africa, Chile and Thailand; a decision to increase incrementally our engagement with India; and an initial assessment of the impact of the first year of spending the new Global Engagement Funds. Let me start with Brexit.

'Brexit-testing' the GES

The day after the EU Referendum, I said that part of UCL's reaction would be to intensify our global engagement. The Provost put it like this in a Times Higher Education article: "…it will take renewed commitment to our Global Engagement Strategy, and redoubled efforts to reach out". 

It goes without saying that the prospect of Brexit changes the context for our global engagement work. We focused initially on reassuring our staff and students that they continued to be an integral and valued part of our community. 

Then, we wrote to 23 of our major international partners to reassure them too, and got many supportive replies, for example:

" I wanted to write to you to confirm that we are equally invested in maintaining this important relationship. The 21st century presents us with a real and immediate challenge to conduct our operations in the pursuit of a common humanity. I am confident that between our institutions, we have the talent and leadership to contribute to a global academy of commons and forge the 'partnerships of equivalence' that are described in UCL's Global Engagement Strategy."  Vice-Chancellor of a South African university
" I am delighted (although not surprised) that UCL is undaunted in its global outlook and you can certainly count on [my university] to be right up there with you." Vice-Chancellor of a Chinese university
" Thank you for writing in the wake of the EU Referendum result. I cannot imagine the range of difficulties and complications that this is causing and might possibly cause in future. Please know that I appreciate your commitment to continuing UCL's partnerships and international work, and that [my university] is committed to continuing its work with UCL." President of a US university
" Convinced of the high value of the collaboration with your institution in the past, we strongly hold the belief that also tomorrow our cooperation in the areas of research, education and service to the community will continue to prosper and develop to the benefit of both our universities. The new political reality emerging from [the] referendum may confront us with new obstacles; together with you, we are ready to overcome all possible new challenges. We are very much committed to strengthen our ties even more than in the past, this to the benefit of our academic communities." Rector of a European university

In addition to writing to partners, we began planning other mitigating actions through the Brexit Mitigation Group the Provost chairs fortnightly. We started to marshall our Brexit-relevant expertise and advice for public policy-makers through a parallel 'Brexit and Beyond' group of academics chaired by Professor Graeme Reid. 

We've made, or are making, submissions to parliamentary committees investigating the implications of Brexit: Science & Technology, Foreign Affairs; and - next month - Education

And we kicked off a review of the GES, 18 months after its approval by Council, in the light of Brexit and also of our experience so far of implementing it. 

We will shortly be taking some emerging conclusions out to 'sense check' with our networks of Vice-Deans International and regional Pro-Vice-Provosts, and we'll then take a small set of recommended changes in emphasis or priority to Academic Board, the Global Implementation Group, SMT and Council for formal approval.

The emerging direction of travel is likely to be to confirm that partnerships of equivalence and co-creation of fair solutions to global challenges remain the core of the GES; that all five strategic drivers are still valid; but that maintaining the diversity of our student and staff communities perhaps needs to be foregrounded. 

We also need to re-think how we grow our global profile in the light of the UK's future departure from the EU, perhaps through even closer connections between the GES and UCL's developing London Strategy. As we de-couple from the EU, our inter-twined identity with London may provide an even higher-profile rationale for networking with other global cities.

In terms of progressively reducing the uncertainty around what Brexit means, we know more now than we did in June about the likely timetable: the Prime Minister intends to trigger Article 50 exit negotiations by March 2017 which sets a two-year clock ticking. 

European leaders Angela Merkel and Francois Holland seem to have read the various policy statements at the Conservative party conference last week as underlining a 'hard Brexit'.

Within my GEO team, we are also reviewing our geographical priorities: not being able to rely in future on the multiplying effect (in so many ways) of the EU means that we'll need to work harder at bilateral partnerships in Europe. 

It also means that there may be opportunities to develop partnerships outside Europe more quickly. But doing more without much more resource isn't feasible. So we're also having to look hard at which priority actions we can drop or delay: developments elsewhere in the world also affect the prospects for achieving new partnerships. 

We'll be consulting the academic and professional services communities on these proposed changes later in the year, alongside revisions to the GES. Expect evolution not revolution! 

And don't forget that institutional priority countries in no way impede individual academic collaborations ('Type 1' partnerships) in any country: we'll just be able to facilitate your work more readily where it aligns with some strategic choices of where to invest senior time, attention and (a bit of) money. 

A good parallel is how the UCL Grand Challenges (UCL GC) work in enhancing the visibility of research to a wider audience within and beyond the university. UCL GC encourages and facilitates interaction across academic departments in addressing societally-complex research challenges; and gives researchers the chance to achieve wider impact through peer publications, public engagement and policy development. 

Before I move away from Europe, here's an example of great 'business as usual'. UCL's European Institute recently received the accolade of becoming a Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence. This is testament to the quality of its teaching and research in the field of European Union studies. We hope it will facilitate further opportunities for collaboration while we remain within the EU and establish a 'bridge' to future European partnerships.

Campaign for UCL goes global

This week UCL's eye-catching new global philanthropy and engagement campaign, It's All Academic, launches in the USA, with a further splash in China to follow shortly (see below).

The Provost at the Campaign for UCL launch

This is a great vehicle for raising UCL's global profile, strengthening perceptions of us as one of the world's top universities. We've also been using these key launch events to help strengthen our partnerships locally and ensure that they continue to thrive; this week, the Provost and I are visiting Stanford (on 11 October) and Columbia and NYU (on 13 October).

China: further developments

A year on from the visit to UCL by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and 6 months after PKU President Lin Jianhua's visit, we will be in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing to launch the Campaign there, connect with UCL alumni and take forward our collaborations with PKU and Shenzhen. 

The return visit by the Provost to PKU on 3 November will be an important step in the development of this key strategic partnership with one of China's top universities.

Among the UCL delegation to China in November will be academics from UCL's School of Management, which last month opened a new space in London's Canary Wharf to help attract academic talent from across the world.

As one strand in our partnership with PKU, UCL students with an interest in China can apply for the fully funded Master's scholarship available at PKU's Yenching Academy. Please do encourage your students to consider this (and other) options for gaining international experience.

UCL Institute of Education's Confucius Institute (CI), which has partnered with PKU since 2006, was recently selected to deliver the Department for Education's £10m Mandarin Excellence Programme, in partnership with the British Council, to increase British schoolchildren's fluency in Mandarin Chinese.

UCL Institute of Education’s Confucius Institute

This successful bid was led by Pro-Vice-Provost (East Asia) Katharine Carruthers, Director of the CI, who will also be in the UCL delegation to China in November.

In another angle to our collaborations with China, UCL academics from the global 'Why We Post' social media project launched their two newest publications live online from the University of Hong Kong (HKU)

Professor David Price will be in Hong Kong with the UCL delegation in November to take stock of our research and other academic collaborations with HKU, with whom UCL Laws has particularly strong links.

Strengthening engagement with India

With 2016 being the UK-India Year of Education, Research and Innovation, it's been a good time for us to explore opportunities to develop or deepen partnerships with India.

Following a scoping visit by academics from across UCL to Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi earlier this year, SMT recently approved the recommendation to intensify our engagement with India incrementally. 

An example of what this means was the event we hosted in July for Universities UK International - a roundtable including top CEOs from the Confederation of Indian Industry

Top CEOs from the Confederation of Indian Industry visit UCL

We are planning to build stronger networks and collaborations with top Indian institutions over the next two years, with a view to accelerating activities in 2018/19. 

Given Brexit, India is a more important potential partner country than ever, both for the UK and for UCL. We are deepening relations with top institutions with the goal of two good Type 3 institutional partners by 2018. 

UCL's South Asia Network hosted the Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt, Chair of the UK India Business Council last week. The group discussed opportunities for UCL academics to engage with corporate partners to devise innovative solutions to pressing challenges facing society.

Patricia Hewitt visits UCL’s South Asia Network

We'll be joining colleagues from UCL Consultants to develop corporate contacts at next month's India-UK TECH Summit in New Delhi.

Celebrating UCL's collaborations in Africa and the Middle East

The Africa & Middle East Regional Network held two successful events in the last four months, Knowledge Africa and UCL in the Middle East

Bringing together academics and staff from a range of disciplines to share experience and learn from guest speakers, the events build on our commitment to enhance our local and global knowledge.

Speakers at Knowledge Africa included Professor Deenan Pillay, incoming director of the re-named Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI).

The new organisation was launched during the AIDS 2016 Conference in Durban in July and is based in KwaZulu-Natal. 

It brings together two South African research institutes (the Africa Centre for Population Health and K-RITH) with UCL, the Wellcome Trust, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of KwaZulu-Natal and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine supporting the collaboration. 

If the AHRI can find more effective ways of fighting AIDS and TB in a region where the incidence of both is incredibly high, then we will achieve direct benefits to local communities and global impact. 

PhD student Bonisile Luthuli at the AHRI

I visited AHRI's world-class facilities in May, together with Professor Ijeoma Uchegbu, Pro-Vice-Provost (Africa and the Middle East) as part of an institutional visit to South Africa to explore how GEO can continue to support this SLMS-led initiative. 

During the same trip, I was on a panel at the British Council's Going Global Conference, held in Cape Town, where I presented UCL's approach to global partnership, using our collaboration with Wits University (sadly in the news for other reasons at the moment, as they and other South African universities struggle to deal with the #FeesMustFall movement) as the example. 

Africa tends to get more attention at UCL than our collaborations with the Middle East. But in the last few months, as well as welcoming colleagues from UCL Qatar to Gower Street, we also heard about the consultancy work to spread best professional practice and teaching being pioneered by UCL's Medical Sciences Education Consultancy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. 

Chile: key updates

Our closer work with Chile over the past year led to UCL being chosen to host an event in May in conjunction with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Chilean Embassy London and Universities UK International

The Provost welcomed a high-level government of Chile delegation to UCL, led by Heraldo Muñoz, Minister of Foreign Affairs, with Professor Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Advisor to the FCO, and Fiona Clouder, the British Ambassador to Chile (and a UCL alumna), representing the British government.

A high-level government of Chile delegation at UCL

The visit included the FCO's first 'Project Showcase', displaying UK-Chile initiatives supported by the Newton-Picarte and Prosperity Funds. Discussions focused on education, science and innovation and how the UK and Chile can work more closely together in future.

Expanding healthcare in Thailand

Vice-Provost (Health) Professor David Lomas and I recently welcomed Her Royal Highness Professor Dr Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol of Thailand for her third visit to UCL. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen medical research and public health collaborations.

Through medical student exchanges, public health events and developing undergraduate curriculums, UCL will help open up medical treatments to remote rural communities in Thailand that otherwise would be unable to access them.

Funding grassroots partnerships

The GES is premised on partnerships of equivalence built from the ground up, and I am delighted that next month we will be celebrating the first year of the Global Engagement Funds (formerly Sea and Currents Funds - we took on board that many of you found the 'Sea and Currents' title obscure).

With the aim of supporting new and existing global collaborations across UCL's 11 faculties, this stream of GEF seed funding in its pilot year enabled 114 academics from 75 departments to partner with 186 organisations in 57 countries - mainly HE institutions or research institutes, but also global governments, NGOs/charities and businesses.

A map of UCL projects supported by the Global Engagement Funds

This includes both funding supporting partnerships at grassroots level as well as more strategic activity led by UCL's Vice-Deans International and regional Pro-Vice-Provosts.

GEO reported early indications to this term's meeting of the Global Implementation Group; these told us academics plan to:

• produce 35 collaborative publications, in part thanks to funding received

• submit 26 funding bids to external organisations to further their work

More than a third of the funding went to projects with European partners - most of which was allocated before the EU Referendum.

There is a clear appetite among UCL academics to engage in global activity - and the pilot has shown a relatively small amount of funding can act as a catalyst for more wide-ranging outcomes or to accelerate previously planned outcomes.

Applications for the second round of funding opened on 8 September - the deadline is 28 October. Please apply if you are looking for support for an international collaboration!

Open and welcoming

The GES is helping us to project the open and welcoming outlook that is more essential than ever in light of much of the national rhetoric about Brexit. 

Over the summer, I enjoyed welcoming the first two cohorts to the inaugural UCL-wide Summer School, organised by UCL's Centre for Languages and International Education. 

Feedback from international and UK/EU Summer School students has been fantastic - the complimentary Oyster cards were a particular hit. 

Now we need to get the numbers up and the news out, especially across Europe: you'll get a warm welcome, and we offer a rich, interdisciplinary academic experience in a fabulously exciting global city.

Dame Nicola Brewer
Vice-Provost (International)

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