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London's Global University


Vice Provost (International): Partnerships start at home

By Kerry Milton, on 16 October 2014

We are London’s Global University.

And we have a new strategy, 2034, that says we will deliver global impact through a network of innovative activities, collaborations and partnerships.

Dame Nicola Brewer

Tuesday’s Town Hall meeting marked the formal start of an open consultation process on a new Global Engagement Strategy to set out why and how we’ll achieve our goals, and what it will look and feel like. (I’ve shifted from talking about “international” to the phrase “global engagement”, to emphasise that we’re thinking more broadly than, say, just recruitment or brand awareness, and making engaging with others a central feature.)

Where we’re starting from

In the First Impressions piece I wrote for The Week@UCL back in July, I offered a starter for 10 for our new international strategy:

To be a force for good in the world by developing a targeted set of reciprocal international relationships in research and education [I’d now add enterprise], in ways that increase UCL’s impact and enhance UCL’s reputation for producing wise, shared solutions to global challenges.

I’ve had some critical feedback on the ‘force for good’ phrase – is “force” the right word, and isn’t it better to stick to the language in 2034 about working “for the long term benefit of humanity?” But otherwise people seem to like the general direction that’s pointing us towards. Other core themes that keep coming up in informal consultations include: enduring partnerships, listening and learning and helping to build capacity, co-creating knowledge, widening access and dismantling barriers to quality Higher Education, all of which are in tune with UCL’s founding remit and ethos. And there’s a repeated theme about outreach.

Partnership is definitely integral to how people are seeing our new international approach. We currently have thousands of individual academic collaborations, driven by curiosity, the search for excellence or for solutions to shared problems, initiated by UCL faculty. I call these the sea of academic freedom and creativity we swim in. They are our natural element, part of our DNA.

My interest in those individual-led partnerships is threefold – to avoid doing anything to get in the way of them, and to make them easier if possible, for example through framework agreements; to see what currents they form or patterns they make, so we can all tell the story of UCL’s global impact better; and very occasionally to steer away from the odd reputational iceberg!

As John Tooke wrote in The Week@UCL last month, “The successful academic institutions of the future will be those that can build the mutually beneficial collaborative networks and partnerships to answer the questions that no one institution, however, prestigious can answer alone.”

Partnerships are a prerequisite and they start at home.

Existing activity and what you could call development of ‘business as usual’

In terms of international business as usual, we’ve started discussions on shifting the operating model of UCL Australia to focus even more on partnership working; in Qatar, we are recalibrating our relationship with the Qatar Foundation; in Kazakhstan we are rounding off our successful operations there; and UCL President and Provost, Professor Michael Arthur has just led a cross-institutional visit to discuss widening the UCL Yale Collaborative into other discipline areas beyond biomedicine and taking it into ‘Phase 2.’

We’re also following up the visit in May of the Japanese Prime Minister and 12 Japanese universities, to explore tapping into their new government funding for international university partnerships, and to consolidate the historical reason why Japan sees UCL as the gateway to the UK Higher Education sector.

I won’t do a complete world tour, but just as another example of how we’re looking to focus our efforts, in Europe we are increasingly emphasising how we can leverage networks like LERU. And we’re beginning to consider the difficult choices inherent in strategy: if we try to do everything, we’ll have less impact than if we concentrate our attention on where we can make the biggest difference.

Together with the five regional Pro-Vice Provosts and the Office for International Affairs, we’re also putting another round of effort into mapping or capturing a picture of that sea of individual academic collaborations, to help us tell UCL’s global story more vividly and raise the profile of what UCL is good at, and what we are good for.

Emerging ideas and activities

We are developing some new activities where I am confident they will be in line with the emerging Global Engagement Strategy. I’d highlight the scoping work we are doing on a partnership with a leading university in Beijing; the bid we’re making to the Wellcome Trust to become the host university for the Africa Centre in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and seeking to set that in the context of our long standing work in Malawi.

We’ve also initiated a new conversation with the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg about partnership between universities of the global south and north, and how we can support a network of African universities wanting to enhance their research capacity. And we are exploring five particular markets in South America. Next in my sights is a coherent approach to our engagement with India – but I‘ll leave that for next year.

What happens next?

The reason I am so keen for us to tell UCL’s story better is that there’s so much interesting and impactful stuff going on – but not enough people know about it, or about UCL. The news of John O’Keefe’s Nobel Prize echoed around the world. But not even UCL can produce a Nobel Prize winner every year! So we have to articulate ourselves how we add up to more than the sum of our amazing parts. Thank you to Gregory Thompson for a better ‘more than the sum of its parts’ image – the winning 2014 FIFA World Cup team – than the one I used at the Town Hall!

We’ve already had the first few in a series of smaller consultation events, with Faculty Managers, with SLMS Partnership Board, at the Bartlett’s Away day, with the Africa Regional Network. There are plenty more to come, with the various groups, with Heads of Department, and with students. Shortly, we will be adding all of our upcoming consultation activities to our UCL Global website, so you can see who we are engaging with.

We’ve set up a small steering group, which I chair. It includes Vice Provost (Enterprise and London) Steve Caddick, two Deans, two Directors, and a student volunteer is about to join it. It will meet for the third time later this term and three times next term. I hope to get a first draft of the Global Engagement Strategy to SMT in early 2015 and will be revising it in light of feedback from more consultation groups. The aim is to send it to Council for final approval at the end of March 2015.

In the meantime, please do complete our Global Engagement Strategy Staff Survey  and encourage your colleagues and friends to sign up to the UCL Global News e-newsletter which will give regular feedback on emerging themes and findings throughout the consultation period.

Nicola Brewer

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