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UK and Australia map out stronger research partnerships

UK and Australian universities are mapping out plans for a closer partnership post-Brexit, with a focus on student mobility, research collaboration and mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications.

The report will map out existing partnerships between UK and Australia. Photo: skeeze/Pixabay

On the UK side, the report will help make the case for increased support for co-authored research with Australia ahead of the launch of a £110m UK ‘fund for international collaboration’

Following a round table with UK and Australia vice-chancellors in March, Universities Australia and Universities UK will prepare a mapping report investigating the current state of collaboration and identifying areas of growth and improvement.

“We have a very long-term bilateral relationship between our two higher education sectors”

One early area of work, Universities Australia chief executive Belinda Robinson told The Pie News, will be to assess whether qualification recognition can be eased further.

For Universities Australia, the future collaboration will build on very solid foundations and the two countries could see value in deepening their ties “irrespective of Brexit,” Robinson said.

“Irrespective of Brexit, Australia always has a keen eye out for opportunities to collaborate even more closely with long-term partner countries in areas of mutual interest,” she added.

“We have a very long-term bilateral relationship between our two higher education sectors with a strong track record of exchange and interaction of academic and student talent and collaborative research.”

The report assessing the current state of UK-Australia collaboration in higher education and research will be prepared over the next couple of months, UUKi’s head of international engagement (non-EU), Sean O’Connor, told The PIE.

On the UK side, the report will aim to make the case for increased support for co-authored research with Australia ahead of the launch of a £110m UK ‘fund for international collaboration’.

The fund was announced in the Industrial Strategy white paper and is currently being developed by UK Research and Innovation.

“When UUKi ran a call for applications on behalf of BEIS earlier this year – the Rutherford Fund Strategic Partner Grants –  35 of the 85 applications received referenced an Australian university as a partner,” O’Connor said. “This puts Australia significantly ahead of the next most popular partner country for the UK.”

“We are looking to prepare recommendations for how Australia-UK co-operation… could be enhanced in future, at a time when the government is exploring new global partnerships. We will certainly be recommending that Australia should be a priority,” he said.

The two countries could also collaborate on the exchange of policy ideas, with UUKi keen to take the lead from Australia to develop an international education strategy.

“We are convinced that the UK can learn from Australia’s deployment of a national strategy for international education”

The need for the UK to have a strategy for international education was discussed at the IHEF conference in March, with Universities UK president Janet Beer presenting a four-point wish list which included not only inward and outward student mobility, but also research collaboration.

“The UK can do more to provide effective support for international higher education across government departments,” O’Connor explained.

“While there are strong individual initiatives, what we lack currently is a coherent narrative and coordinated effort across Whitehall. Australia appears to have this well figured out.” 

Education is a strand of the UK government’s current publicity effort, the GREAT campaign, which has been run jointly across  government since 2012.

Aston University vice-chancellor Alec Cameron, who led the UK delegation to Australia, is confident Britain can learn from its partner.

“We are convinced that the UK can learn from Australia’s deployment of a national strategy for international education,” Cameron told The PIE.

“It sets out ambitious targets for growth and includes appropriate post-study work opportunities for talented international graduates – a key factor influencing prospective students’ choice of study destination.”

“It will require effective coordination across all relevant government departments, but I know that Universities UK would be delighted to work with colleagues in government to shape such a strategy,” he concluded.

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