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Birmingham and Amsterdam boost partnership

The UK’s University of Birmingham is launching a strategic partnership with the University of Amsterdam which will focus on two key areas: equality, diversity and inclusion, and medical training and research.

The partnership launch was marked by a two-day joint EDI workshop featuring keynote contributions on issues in the sector. Photo: U of Birmingham

"EDI is one of those topics that affect all areas of universities"

The agreement will see the creation of a joint EDI institute, where exchange opportunities for both students and staff will be made available.

“It was quite natural for us to take the next step and formalise it into a strategic partnership”

The partnership builds on a long-standing relationship, and the EDI strand is a unique focus, according to Birmingham pro-vice-chancellor (International) Robin Mason.

“The collaboration with Amsterdam has been going on for a number of years,” he said.

“They are one of our best partners internationally. It was quite natural for us to take the next step and formalise it into a strategic partnership with focus areas.”

“EDI is one of those topics that affect all areas of universities. The issues that we see in particular are gender diversity, ethnic diversity and the area of LGBT+ issues,” he told The PIE News.

The institute will begin as virtual and will focus on student and staff exchange.

“In this academic year, we have exchanged 34 semesters between the two universities,” Mason explained. “The intention is to exchange initially three or four medical students, in addition to the current exchange students.”

Along with collaboration between the universities’ medical schools benefiting students during training, the agreement will also lead to joint research projects in areas including cardiovascular disease, and microbiology and infection.

As surveys suggest that Brexit is deterring students from studying in the UK, and university leaders have warned the prospect of a no-deal Brexit threatens research, Mason explained that Brexit has acted as a “catalyst”.

“One of the few silver linings to the Brexit cloud is that it’s accelerated initiatives to partnerships with Europe,” he said.

“We’ve been determined that we are not going to do anything as a result of Brexit that we wouldn’t want to do anyway.”

In January, the University of Birmingham signed a partnership with Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, he added.

However, uncertainty about the UK remaining in the Erasmus+ program after Brexit means future student exchange is not a given.

“In the event that we are out of Erasmus+, at least for some period we will continue to provide an equivalent amount for Birmingham students whose degree requires them to study abroad.

“The difficulty, of course, is that Amsterdam students won’t be able to receive an Erasmus grant to come and study at Birmingham,” he said.

Alternative destinations such as Ireland, or continental European universities which offer courses in English, may prove popular with European students, Mason suggested.

And if the UK is no longer part of the Horizon Europe program after leaving the European Union, it’ll be harder for EU universities to work with UK counterparts because there may not be enough funds to support it, he added.

“In five or 10 years, the research-intensive universities in the UK that go to universities in Europe for research collaboration in Europe no longer will be [doing so],” Mason said.

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