Building global bridges

Published: 27 March 2017 at 12:55

Dear Colleagues, I am writing this on the way home from a week in China visiting a number of our partner universities there. It has been, as most trips to China are, both stimulating and thought provoking.

As we shape our strategy that will guide us in the coming years, one of the key questions we will have to consider is how we grow our international profile. There is perhaps an earlier more fundamental question and that is what are the reasons and benefits for us working internationally? These benefits are substantial but we do need to be very clear as to our reasons and ensure that we focus efforts on those activities for which we are best equipped to bring real value to our students, our partners and the regional and international communities we work with. Whilst we are not at a point to articulate in detail what the international plan will look like it is very clear, at least to me, that a strong and vibrant international profile is non-negotiable for us. Our education, research and engagement activities will be much the richer for it.

That brings me back to the China trip. I have been visiting China regularly for some 15 years and the transformation that is taking place is extraordinary. Whilst it has come with economic, social and environmental challenges, the rate at which China is improving the economic well being of their population is staggering.

In meeting with partners what always strikes me is the ability of universities to work across geographical, cultural and political boundaries. Although the context of our partners is, in many ways very different, a number of strong common themes emerged.

The first of these is the importance of universities to their cities and regional economies, and the need to work closely to build very strong regional networks. Linking these regional networks to international activities has the potential to really increase the value of these linkages.

The second point was that we are all grappling with similar issues, even within very different systems. The contribution of universities to challenging issues like healthcare, the environment, sustainable transport and infrastructure, water and food security is a common theme. Within our educational programmes there is commonality around the challenges and opportunities afforded by technology, the balance between subject specific education and the very important core generic skills, and how we balance large scale higher education with the need to provide a personalised experience for our students.

The third point was a continually reinforced dialogue about how we integrate creativity and design into other discipline areas. In this respect we have some real opportunities to build our profile - we had really productive conversations with Tsinghua University, one of China's two leading universities (in many ways their Cambridge University) about how we work with their Art and Design Faculty to build creative innovation collaborations. I have spoken and written about design thinking in my time at ARU and these discussions absolutely reinforced why this could be a distinguishing feature for us that both builds on our traditions and history and looks to the future.

Altogether, it was a very positive week indeed and one that reminded me powerfully of the importance of universities in building global bridges between people in a way that few organisations have the ability to do. I want to ensure that we continue to play an important and yet focussed role internationally in a way that brings global relevance to our regional focus.