July 23, 2012, by Paul Greatrix

The Value of International University Networks

There are more than you might think…

The July edition of the International Unit newsletter (which can be downloaded as a PDF here) has an interesting article on the value and power of international university networks. It identifies the following consortia as the main players:

Academic Consortium 21

Association of Commonwealth Universities

Coimbra Group

Santander Universities

Universitas 21

Worldwide Universities Network

It is suggested that these networks have become powerful players which are often integral to institutions’ internationalisation strategies:

The University of Bristol’s internationalisation strategy, for example, describes the Worldwide Universities Network as ‘successful, productive and well-established’, and refers to membership as ‘a key focus of international collaboration’. Similarly, the University of Kent presents its membership of the Santander Universities network as integral to its profound and longstanding European engagement.

U21 Presidents

The University of Nottingham is part of Universitas 21 which was founded in 1997 and now has 24 members from across the world:

Universitas 21 is the leading global network of research-intensive universities, working together to foster global citizenship and institutional innovation through research-inspired teaching and learning, student mobility, connecting our students and staff, and wider advocacy for internationalisation.

Collectively, its 24 members enrol over 830,000 students, employ over 145,000 staff and have approaching 2.5 million alumni. Their collective budgets amount to over US$25bn and they have an annual research grant income of over US$4bn. The network’s purpose is to facilitate collaboration and co-operation between the member universities and to create opportunities for them on a scale that none of them would be able to achieve operating independently or through traditional bilateral alliances.

All Universitas 21 member institutions are research-led, comprehensive universities providing a strong quality assurance framework to the network’s activities.

U21 has a range of key programmes:

  • Teaching and learning – including conferences, a network and a Global Issues Programme
  • Student Experience – embraces student mobility, summer schools, service learning and volunteering
  • Researcher engagement – for early career researchers, joint PhD arrangements and a network of Deans of Graduate Schools
  • Leadership and management – bringing together Presidents, Heads of Administration and other senior managers.

There is also a set of collaborative activities across the consortium including, for example, Water Futures for Sustainable Cities, projects in Health Sciences and work in Education. Beyond this, U21 has taken a distinctive lead by publishing an International Ranking of Higher Education Systems – a development covered in an earlier blog post.

The University of Nottingham gets a lot out of this, particularly student and staff mobility, scholarship opportunities, joint PhDs and benchmarking and sharing good practice as well as the programmes listed above.

So, international networks can offer a lot to members but the challenge for institutions is to exploit fully the benefits which are on offer.

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