During the week of 14-18 September the IU led a delegation of 15 UK universities to Ecuador and Peru. The delegation was organised with support from the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
The objective of this visit was to present UK higher education as the 'partner of choice' in the delivery of education reform programmes which are without precedent in scale or ambition for either country. Ecuador will commit 2.16% of GDP to its higher education sector alone in 2015, while Peru - confronting a decades-long absence of the state from HE - is also correcting sustained underinvestment; expenditure in education (primary, secondary and tertiary combined) and will hit a record high of 3.5% of GDP in 2015, with a target to increase this to 6.0% of GDP by 2030.
The UK delegation included the Vice-Chancellors of the universities of Greenwich, Reading and Abertay, as well as Pro-Vice-Chancellors and other senior representatives of Nottingham, UEA, Leicester, Heriot-Watt, Anglia Ruskin, Newcastle, Brunel, Goldsmiths, Lancaster, St Mary's Twickenham and Southampton. The delegation was led by Professor Colin Grant, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Internationalisation) of the University of Bath, and Chair of the IU's Latin America Community of Practice. The range of UK institutions, each with its own distinctive strengths, enabled us to make a compelling case to officials in Quito and Lima for governments to look beyond the world rankings when seeking UK partners. UK delegates had the opportunity to meet with over 30 highly regarded Peruvian and Ecuadorian universities during the week, as well as representatives from the private sector.
Teacher training, the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, satellite remote sensing technologies, university-industry engagement, and other specialist areas too numerous to mention were among those which emerged from wide-ranging discussions - first at Quito's 3,000m elevation (which took its toll on some among our UK group), and latterly at less lofty heights in Lima. A plethora of new national initiatives encompassing -- SME competitiveness (Peru), the transformation of mental health treatment (Ecuador), and English language learning in public schools (both), made for rich conversations with over a dozen government ministers and vice-ministers across the five day programme.
Officials in both countries recognise that international cooperation will be essential in the achievement of a stronger domestic research base, and particularly in the training of a critical mass of PhD-qualified staff (both countries have a very low proportion of PhD-qualified academics and researchers and have set targets to increase this).
Training of postgraduates in the UK will help to boost research cooperation in the medium term, and the IU will be supporting this directly through a new programme agreed with the national Peruvian scholarship agency PRONABEC - to support Peruvian applicants wishing to pursue Masters and PhD study in the UK. We celebrated the launch of this fully-funded scholarship scheme at a reception hosted by the British Ambassador in Peru during our mission, and held operational meetings with agency staff to agree next steps. IU staff will attend the PRONABEC fair in Lima which takes place at the end of October 2015 to promote the new student support service.
The IU is a small team and we focus our efforts where we believe we can add the greatest value, particularly in those locations where UK higher education is less well represented, or remains poorly understood. Working with colleagues operating on the ground - including FCO, UKTI, British Council, and our counterpart organisations overseas - we see particular value in helping UK institutions to build contact networks, and knowledge of the local context, where this does not already exist.
Our focus on Ecuador and Peru forms part of a wider commitment by the International Unit to work to strengthen links between UK universities and Latin America. Currently the region accounts for 6% of the world's globally mobile students, but only 1% of international students in the UK. Institutional partnerships are growing - especially in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Colombia - but remain comparatively underdeveloped across the piece. As we were keen to point out during this mission, on average the UK represents a cheaper study destination than the USA (a popular choice for Latin American students considering overseas study), our research impact is greater, and independent evidence confirms that we are among the highest performing sectors for university-business links in the world.
We hope that this IU delegation, and the resulting follow-up, will play a part in transforming the UK HE sector's relationship with Ecuador and Peru - helping our universities to be more visible, better understood, and committed 'partners of choice' for both countries as they continue on a path of educational transformation. We welcome interest from across the UK HE sector in supporting our work with Ecuador and Peru during the months ahead.