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International Collaboration Makes Us Better
June 3, 2011 - 9:00am

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending Vice-Chancellor Nigel Thrift’s presentation: Taking Global Research Cooperation to a New Level.

Thrift’s talk was provocative and engaging. Rather than try to summarize it here, I’ll share some of the pieces that are more relevant for University of Venus readers:

---The sciences and areas that share expensive equipment are more likely to collaborate and research areas where collaboration is common are more likely to collaborate internationally. This seems like an obvious point but I found it compelling for rethinking the future of academic work and for thinking through what drives institutions to cooperate with other institutions and with corporate partners. The impetus can be something as simple as a goal of efficient use of scarce resources and the necessity of bringing folks together can change the way we think about innovation, creativity, research, and design. For those struggling with trying to have a meaningful personal life and a meaningful work life, collaborative work offers some interesting solutions.

--- There is an increased expectation that those of us in higher education will live and work in more than one country in our careers and students and faculty are seeking opportunities that will facilitate their success in navigating life in multiple countries. One way of meeting this demand is through the creation of international education spaces such as international branch campuses, education hubs such as Singapore and higher ed free zones like Dubai International Academic City. These spaces facilitate the movement of people, ideas, culture, and technology. Short-term teaching opportunities exist for faculty and study and internship opportunities for students. The interaction of new spaces, ideas, languages, and cultures has the potential to encourage creative collaboration and cooperation. These spaces are living-learning spaces not just for students but also for faculty, staff, and administration. (Most of the writers at University of Venus have lived and worked in multiple countries.)

--- Current models of international collaboration do not challenge the basic architecture of higher ed with its reliance on traditional universities and on individual international champions on campus. Thrift outlined his view of the future and networks figured heavily in this vision. However, as he pointed out, universities find it difficult to cooperate and collaboration is “hindered by academic snobbery.” Institutional collaboration is not the only thing hindered by snobbery. It prevents risk-taking, innovation, creativity -- I could go on! If we don’t collaborate and cooperate, we are doomed to be stuck in an outdated model based on individual contributions and higher education will no longer be a key player in the constantly evolving knowledge economy. (perhaps this era is already ending?)

--- Lack of management infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges to creating successful partnerships, networks, and international higher ed alliances. Thrift recommends that universities with similar values and cultures can facilitate collaboration by hiring a consultancy for management. While higher ed is often viewed as a risk-averse sector, relying on the management bandwidth of a corporate partner allows universities to focus on what they do best: research, teaching, and learning.

--- Why should universities engage in international collaborative research? Because it makes us better universities and enables us to produce better research and better student experiences.

What a refreshing way to define what makes a university a good institution - one that is based on quality research and quality student experiences.


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