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November 09, 2011

Research Globalisation Live Blog

Session 3: Intercontinental partnerships - building a track record of success.

Speakers for this session are Alan Langlands, chief executive at HEFCE, Howard Newby, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, and Pramath Sinha, director of the International Foundation for Research and Education, India. The session is chaired by Richard Daniel, environment reporter at the BBC.

Please refresh for updates and read from the bottom up.

Alan Langlands, our first speaker, says disproportionally high amount of REF funding will go to those who are internationally competitive. He adds that governments must sustain balance between curiosity-driven research and research targeted on national priorities. The grand challenges must be tackled, but UK strengths in basic research must be protected.

Next up is Howard Newby, who will talk about how international collaboration can be made to pay off. Newby's university, the University of Liverpool, works closely with the Xi'an Jiaotong University in China. For Liverpool the collaboration provides an opportunity to be present in emerging markets and access untapped research opportunities. For the Chinese partner institution the collaboration means access to new knowledge and "upskilling" for present staff. Newby says this also helps international partners to counter brain-drain.

The UK's current HE system, he says, offers too many incentives to move activity offshore, as through overseas campuses. These include avoiding visa problems and mitigating the administrative burden. This is good for Liverpool but bad for UK Plc.

Newby staves off worries about Chinese interference. Never in the history of the collaboration has the Chinese government tried to interfere with the partnership's projects and curricula, he says.

Newby says Liverpool tries to convince Chinese students not to spend all time of their course in Liverpool, which is very attractive to them. At present they have just under 5,000 students in China and 1,000 in Liverpool on the programme. He says it is a problem to give these students a high-quality English education experience, and not let them spend four years surrounded by their friends.

Lessons learned: You have to be in this for the long-term, there is no quick money to be had. Language is not so much a problem, but intercultural communication is. It is important to lay groundwork in own organisation, to take the risk and prepare staff for what is to come.

Our last speaker is Pramath Sinha. He says India harbours huge opportunities, but it is not all in research. Those serious about collaboration have to engage in teaching as well. Teaching is the country's greatest challenge. There is a huge opportunity for surplus teaching, which will eventually trickle down into research.

At Sinha's institutions there are no more departments. The real research nowadays happens at the fringes of departments and inderdisciplinary, so you might as well do away with them, he says. Instead they have a bunch of partner institutions and "mental leaders" for their scientists and students.

India's central universities are only entitled to $2,000 a year per department for research. Research spending overall is only 0.6 per cent of GDP. Business reseach provides a model for near-market, fast-turnaround research which could provide a model for higher-education, says Sinha.

India needs 1,000 additional universities and 50,000 new colleges to meet its targets to have 50 million Indians in higher education by 2020. This is where the opportunities for collaboration really come in, Sinha says. Industry has been so successful in accessing India's talent pool, he says, and Europe's universities should follow that example. There is also a lot of philantrophist funding in India, and collaboration with the West will help institutions access this money.

We are now entering the Q&A part of the session.

Syed Hassan from Lahore University asks how Liverpool university managed to achieve Western education standards in China. Newby answers that standards of recruitment in China are based on Liverpool, and reputation of university attracts high-level applicants. Sinha adds that getting international staff in is difficult for undergraduate courses, as this requires a long-term stay. It works better for post-grads, he says.

Pramath Sinha asks how Liverpool funds its Chinese university. Newby says it is funded through student fees, which are around £6,000. He adds that this could even open up the possibility for Liverpool students to go to China and spend £6,000 a year for the same degree which would cost £9,000 in the UK.

That's the end of this session and the end of our conference. Thanks a lot for joining us today!

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Nice and informative post.

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