The Chair of the Russell Group, Sir David Greenaway, believes that Brexit is the catalyst needed for British universities to become more global and outward facing

Written by Muhammad Rahim
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Images by Jeremy Segrott

Whilst acknowledging that 90% of academics voted to remain, Sir David goes on to say that, ‘it suggests either the  academic world knows something the electorate doesn’t or we’re hopelessly out of touch.’

As the political reality of the UK leaving the EU edges closer, universities must find new opportunities to benefit from or risk being left behind. Writing in the Telegraph, Sir David suggests that forming new global partnerships and building a stronger network for learning is key for UK universities.

Either the academic world knows something the electorate doesn’t or we’re hopelessly out of touch

The article was written a week before representatives from Russell Group, the UK’s twenty-four leading research-intensive universities, travelled to mainland China to meet with leaders from the nine elite universities known collectively as the China 9. The topics discussed were focused on building relationships with Chinese universities and exploring the prospects for collaborating on complex global challenges. The University of Birmingham was represented at the event by Professor Sir David Eastwood, the vice-chancellor of our university.

This is thought to be the first of many delegations of its kind as Sir David, who is also the vice-chancellor at the University of Nottingham, explores the possibilities beyond Western Europe. He goes on to discuss Nottingham’s Chinese campus and how it has benefited not only China, but also the area around Nottingham.

‘We have to make sure we develop the right connections outside Western Europe and build on what we have in Asia. We’ve been in China for more than a decade, so our Chinese students are already taking influential jobs in government and business in China. That translates into commercial benefits at home and we can see that happening across the Midlands.’

Whilst international students contribute around £7 billion a year to the UK economy, the primary focus of this movement is to increase the influence of universities on their local area. This is a direct result of one of the most frequent criticisms, that the UK focused too much on London and the South East, which was aroused as a result of Brexit.

We have to make sure we develop the right connections outside Western Europe and build on what we have in Asia

‘One of the things that came out of the referendum was the message that politics and power is far too focused on London and the South East. That makes it all the more important that our universities are on the front foot and developing their role as hubs in our cities and regions.’

In order to be successful in this endeavor, it is important that universities are invested in by the government and that it is made clear what aid is required. There are several ways this could be done, for example, one of the key things is increasing research funding to encourage talent to come and study in the UK. Whilst it is unclear what impact Brexit will have, it is clear that there are opportunities for universities to benefit from it.

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