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London's Global University


UCL at Going Global 2016, South Africa: exploring the impact of international university partnerships

By Sophie Vinter, on 5 May 2016

Dame Nicola Brewer with Professor Zeblon VilakaziDame Nicola Brewer, UCL’s Vice-Provost (International), joined a panel of higher education leaders from around the world at the British Council’s Going Global conference in Cape Town this week.

Speaking at the session ‘University partnerships: delivering international impact?’, Dame Nicola – who was formerly British High Commissioner to South Africa – presented UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy and our collaborative approach to partnership working with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

She outlined how both institutions have been taking forward a number of initiatives as part of their emerging partnership. These range from classic forms of international activity (visits and lectures by faculty in each university, exploring funding opportunities to support student mobility) to more ambitious plans for joint appointments, as well as an idea for a co-designed and co-hosted conference about ‘equal partnerships in an unequal world’.

Dr Peter Clayton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, chaired the session, and fellow speakers represented Brazil’s University of Campinas, The University of Tokyo and Heriot-Watt University.

Wits University Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Zeblon Vilakazi (pictured above with Dame Nicola) also attended the session.

Dame Nicola Brewer addressing delegates at Going Global 2016 in South Africa“As London’s Global University, UCL is looking to build reciprocal relationships of mutual trust and respect with partners around the world to co-create fair solutions to some of the most pressing global challenges,” said Dame Nicola.

“Our Global Engagement Strategy provides the framework and the focus for this approach. UCL’s partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand is a great example of how diverse and geographically distant universities can work together and learn from each other to deliver greater impact together than they could apart.”

Professor Vilakazi said the partnership is a perfect fit for Wits, adding: “Wits is located at the heart of a large metropolis that is grappling with a set of dynamics that are often characterised as a collision between the challenges of the ‘developed global north’ and the ‘developing global south’. This makes Wits and UCL ideal partners, as Global City Universities, to share expertise and make a unique contribution in addressing some of these challenges.”

Going Global is an annual conference offering an open forum for global leaders of tertiary education to discuss issues facing the international education community. This year’s theme was “Building nations and connecting cultures: education policy, economic development and engagement.”

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

Vice Provost (International): First impressions

By Kerry Milton, on 9 July 2014

Since I started at UCL, I’ve met hundreds of amazing people who research, teach and study here or who support those who do. I’ve been able to sit down and listen to around 50 colleagues and students talking about UCL’s current international activities, our global impact and the future direction of our international strategy. Thank you all very much indeed for your warm welcome, time and frankness.

What follows is my distillation of what I’ve heard so far – which may not be exactly what you said, or meant! It combines some blindingly obvious observations about this wonderful university, aspects which we must hang on to at all costs, with a few things people are telling me they’d like to change about UCL’s global impact. Please let me know at vpi.global@ucl.ac.uk if anything in this article provokes a strong reaction – positive or negative – from you, or if you think I’m missing something important.

Firstly, how proud everyone is of UCL. In Whitehall, civil servants bemoan the lack of thinking time. Bloomsbury (I haven’t ranged wider yet, except for a short excursion to Arizona to see what Arizona State University is doing internationally and online), is a sea of intellectual creativity, with a strong tide of interdisciplinary working. A long way from my experience as a doctoral student in linguistics back in the 1980s, when I was urged to keep my research focused on one discipline only.

To extend the ‘sea’ metaphor, I see my job as not getting in the way of the many thousands of individual academic international interactions taking place, but as identifying the ‘currents’ – where institutional-level attention, effort and investment can make UCL activities more than the sum of their parts. I want to apply my knowledge of the geo-political ‘wind and waves’ to help those currents take us in a positive direction, towards solving global problems and grand challenges – and avoid the rocks!

Awareness of UCL’s current international strategy is very low. The International Strategy Board, earlier this year, defined the “previous approach” as “increasing UCL’s global footprint through… research-intensive overseas campuses associated with postgraduate education”. There’s a sense that our international institutional presences, in Kazakhstan, Qatar and Australia, don’t quite ‘wear the strategy on their faces’. Our teaching activity in Astana will conclude by August 2015; our relationships in Qatar need to be reviewed in light of a changed political context there; and our operation in Adelaide has now shifted to the Faculty of Engineering Sciences, and is concluding a strategic review that will see an enhanced focus on energy and natural resources engineering.

Also in the pipeline is ‘rebooting’ the UCL Yale Collaborative, building on Professor John Martin’s sterling work, now that both institutions have new Presidents keen to explore opportunities to extend that strategic alliance. We’re exploring other ‘anchor’ partnerships with leading universities and organisations, in China, Hong Kong and Japan. Starting with those countries is deliberate. We are also thinking hard about how to engage in North and Latin America, Africa, Europe and India. I am pretty confident that new overseas campuses are not going to be part of our revamped international strategy. Introducing a new undergraduate international summer school might be.

The clearest messages I’ve been picking up include: UCL needs to have a higher profile and reputation globally, in line with our world leading university status; our international strategy should be aligned with the 2034 Strategy, particularly the Global Impact theme, have a clear purpose and be based on a set of principles consistent with our radical history and ethical values; and we need to give more support to and opportunity for our students, as global citizens and professionals. As means to achieving those goals, we need: a finite set of strategic or ‘anchor’ partnerships, which could be with corporates, NGOs or Trusts as well as universities; networks across the globe especially with the fastest growing parts of the world; closer links with other world cities; better ‘mapping’ of and coordination between our existing international activities, with clearer responsibility and accountability for them; more investment in marketing and in relationship management, including with our alumni networks; deeper area expertise, on the lines of SSEES, the European Institute and the Institute of the Americas, joined up with or applied to our interdisciplinary strengths; and improved communication.

That’s my initial diagnosis. Where we go from here depends on the feedback on this message, and on a process of open consultation which we’ll kick off in the new academic year. The International Strategy Board met on 1 July. We’re aiming for a ‘town’ meeting in early October. We may set up a small steering group to oversee the consultation process. In the meantime, the various UCL teams with international responsibilities will be getting together to pool their analyses of the critical stakeholders to engage in developing our new international strategy, starting with students and staff. I’ll continue my one-to-one conversations with colleagues – now that I’ve met the Deans, Vice Provosts and Pro Provosts, I’m looking forward to a session with Faculty Managers and to meeting more Heads of Department and the new SABs and STARs. And we are commissioning a piece of research into the international strategies of other world class universities. We don’t want to copy them – our international strategy needs to be distinctively UCL in character – but it’s good to get the literature review out of the way before getting down to your own research. If I have a ‘starter for 10’ notion of what might be at the core of our new international strategy, it might be, ‘to be a force for good in the world by developing a targeted set of reciprocal international relationships in research and education, in ways that increase UCL’s impact and enhance UCL’s reputation for producing wise, shared solutions to global challenges’.  I’m sure that together we can refine that and work out what it would look like in practice.

Nicola Brewer

Dame Nicola Brewer named as new Vice Provost (International)

By Kerry Milton, on 19 March 2014

UCL’s Office for International Affairs is delighted to welcome Dame Nicola Brewer as the new Vice Provost (International).

As VP(I), Dame Nicola will be responsible for developing UCL’s international strategy and continuing to expand the university’s global profile.

A highly successful senior diplomat, Dame Nicola has lived and worked all over the world, including South Africa, India, France and Mexico. She created the first flexible job share for a Director role at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and was the first Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Until last year, she served as High Commissioner for South Africa.

Dame Nicola said: “I am absolutely delighted to be joining UCL, London’s global university and one of the world’s leading universities. I am particularly pleased to be coming to the first university in England to admit women on equal terms with men. And it’s an exciting time to join the Provost’s senior management team at a time when UCL’s strategy, in which international engagement features strongly, is being refreshed.”

Dame Nicola will take up her appointment on 7 May 2014.