Universities UK hosted the strategic dialogue which was attended by Vice Chancellors of nine leading universities; senior UK Government officials; Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer; and representatives of Universities Australia, Universities UK and Universities Scotland.
Universities UK and Universities Australia have been working closely together for some years on policy exchange and joint projects, and has previously convened an advisory group of senior vice-chancellors to lead this dialogue.
The meeting was significant in terms of the context. The strong prospect of a trade deal between the UK and Australia in the foreseeable future; and an opportunity to reappraise and reenergise UK-Australia collaboration in the lead up to the UK’s exit from the EU; created the conditions for a very constructive and targeted discussion.
The meeting examined how to deepen bilateral ties through the exchange of academic and research talent, university research collaborations, reciprocal access to data and infrastructure, and the prospect of establishing a special reciprocal visa for academic talent.
The group also examined the feasibility of establishing a new bilateral research fund to take joint research to a new level of collaboration.
Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said: 'The time is right to reappraise and reenergise this relationship. Today’s meeting will convene some of our most experienced university leaders, alongside senior UK and Australian officials, to identify those areas of university-led education, training, research and innovation in which our higher education systems can work together to achieve even more impact - regionally, nationally and globally.'
Professor Ed Byrne, President and Principal of King’s College London, added: 'The quality and impact of the research when UK and Australian university researchers work together to tackle complex questions has been strong. Whether it is in blue skies research, or in developing innovative, applied solutions for business and industry. Those partnerships provide us with a firm basis for building even stronger collaborations in future.'
Universities Australia Chief Executive Belinda Robinson commented: 'We see enormous potential to expand the depth and breadth of the bilateral relationship through our respective university sectors.'
High Commissioner Alexander Downer said: 'Australia and the UK are old friends, and we hope the friendship will become even closer as the UK makes its preparations to leave the EU. I am encouraged to see that higher education institutions have taken the initiative and started to think about the benefits of greater collaboration between our two countries, particularly in the field of academic research.'
University of Wollongong Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings, who was instrumental in the establishment of the dialogue, said it was an historic opportunity that would benefit both nations: 'As the UK’s relationship with the EU shifts, Australia has a unique opportunity to enhance bilateral relations with the UK and to position itself to participate in any new third or multi-party consortia. “There’s an important role for the Australian Government to help position Australian education and research institutions to be part of any future UK research networks.'
Universities Australia also formally extended its deepest sympathies to UK colleagues in the wake of the attack in Manchester this week.