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Show me where the world is going

2 February 2016
Vivienne Stern

Vivienne Stern

Director
Universities UK International

A few years ago, when I was an infant wonk responsible for innovation policy at Universities UK, I came across a guy who was responsible for research and development at BT. He talked about the fact that he spent large parts of the year hanging out in the MIT Media lab 'because those are the people who can show me where the world is going'. It is a phrase that really struck me, and has stuck with me ever since.

This year's International Higher Education Forum, on 1 March at the Olympia Conference Centre, takes its title from that conversation. We chose it because, as I work my way around UK universities talking to Vice Chancellors and senior teams, it seems to me that that imperative: 'show me where the world is going', hangs in the air. University leaders have complicated and sometimes risky strategic decisions to make. They all have aspirations to increase the profile and improve the performance of their universities in teaching, research, and knowledge exchange. They understand that internationalisation is fundamental to achieving excellence. More than anything, they look to the International Unit to provide information, advice and access to people who can help them navigate in this vast terrain.

So, for this year's International Forum we are bringing together a group of people around big themes. We want the conference to create an opportunity to step back. In the morning, we will start by thinking about the impact of social, demographic and economic factors on the development of tertiary education policy around the world - starting with Dr Stuart Basten of the University of Oxford, whose work on demographics and social policy in Asia informed the Chinese government decision to drop the one-child policy. He will be followed by the Director Generals of Higher Education from Egypt and Peru - both going through major system reform - and the President of the Institute of International Education in the United States, in a session chaired by Phil Baty, Editor of the Times Higher Education Rankings, which we hope will illustrate how vastly different countries approach the challenge of adapting higher education to the urgent needs of their countries.

In the afternoon, Minister for Trade & Investment Lord Maude will describe the government approach to education exports, followed by a discussion about what makes a university global. This discussion will bring together the President of Qatar University - which recently topped the THE internationalisation ranking - Professor Bertil Andersson, President of Nanyang Technological University Singapore, and Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice Provost (International) of UCL.

And, given the pressing political issue of the day is the EU referendum, we have asked Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, to speak about the importance of EU membership for universities.

Finally, we will hear (we hope) from the Secretary of State for International Development about a major new Department for International Development initiative of direct relevance to UK universities.

During the day, parallel sessions will focus on five themes: strategy; reputation building; small and specialist; research; and intelligence and analysis. Highlights of these sessions include a session led by Conrad Bird, Director of the GREAT Britain campaign and Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of International Higher Education, talking about how government is promoting UK universities abroad - and how we might help them do it better. I am also particularly excited about a session led by Jonathan Adams, author of The Fourth Age of Research, whose work on the impact of international co-authorship in research has guided much of our thinking about why it is so important to foster broad international opportunities for research collaboration, including with emerging economies. Meanwhile, Professor Jaime Ramírez, Rector of UFMG, Brazil, will describe his approach to institutional partnership with Strathclyde.

The conference will bring together an extraordinary group of people. We hope the opportunities to network and form connections with some interesting university and policy leaders from around the world, and with colleagues from the UK each wrestling with the same challenges, will provide some genuine opportunities for people who attend. We also hope that some of the insights from discussions will help shape our work and inform our priorities within the International Unit over the coming years.

I hope to see many of you there.

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