De­cep­tive di­ver­sity

US in­sti­tu­tions ‘hide’ low mi­nor­ity counts in sta­tis­ti­cal sleights of hand

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Anna.mckie@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

UK- Europe col­lab­o­ra­tions risk be­ing in­creas­ingly re­stricted to an elite “club” of re­search-in­ten­sive uni­ver­si­ties post-Brexit, an aca­demic has warned.

Lu­dovic High­man, a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at the UCL In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion and the Cen­tre for Global Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, said that the re­place­ment of bot­tom-up col­lab­o­ra­tions un­der Euro­pean Union pro­grammes with for­mal tieups pushed by vice-chan­cel­lors and pres­i­dents was likely to ex­clude less pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions.

Since the UK’s vote to leave the EU, sev­eral British uni­ver­si­ties have es­tab­lished part­ner­ships with con­ti­nen­tal coun­ter­parts in a bid to mit­i­gate the po­ten­tial in­ter­rup­tion of col­lab­o­ra­tions set up un­der Brus­sels’ Eras­mus+ and Hori­zon 2020 schemes, and the loss of fund­ing cur­rently avail­able from the lat­ter.

Most of the ma­jor deals signed so far have in­volved in­sti­tu­tions from the UK’s pres­ti­gious Rus­sell Group. In June, the Uni­ver­sity of Glas­gow an­nounced plans to jointly es­tab­lish a Euro­pean Cen­tre for Ad­vanced Stud­ies in Lower Sax­ony with Le­uphana Uni­ver­sity of Lüneb­urg. That came just weeks af­ter the Uni­ver­sity of War­wick ex­pressed its hope that its part­ner­ship with the Uni­ver­sity of Paris Seine and Vrije Univer­siteit Brus­sel would be el­i­gi­ble for EU fund­ing as a “Euro­pean uni­ver­sity al­liance”.

Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don has founded a joint math­e­mat­ics lab­o­ra­tory with France’s Na­tional Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific Re­search, the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford has formed an al­liance with four Ber­lin uni­ver­si­ties, and an ex­ist­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween King’s Col­lege Lon­don and TU Dres­den could lead to the UK in­sti­tu­tion’s open­ing a branch cam­pus in Ger­many.

Dr High­man said that at the mo­ment aca­demics “can choose to work more or less with col­leagues at any uni­ver­sity”. How­ever, the grow­ing hur­dles in the way of UK-EU col­lab­o­ra­tion had led to a “ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion” of part­ner­ships in which “re­search-in­ten­sive uni­ver­si­ties in the UK are pri­ori­tis­ing en­gage­ment with other re­search­in­ten­sive uni­ver­si­ties”, he ex­plained.

As UK uni­ver­sity lead­ers took the lead in se­lect­ing part­ners, they were likely to fo­cus on work­ing with topranked in­sti­tu­tions of­fer­ing cour­ses in English, leav­ing “quite a nar­row base” of op­tions, ac­cord­ing to Dr High­man.

“It will cre­ate a big­ger di­vide be­tween re­search-in­ten­sives and teach­ing-fo­cused in­sti­tu­tions, forc­ing them to move in dif­fer­ent cir­cles,” Dr High­man said.

“If ev­ery­thing be­comes very in­sti­tu­tion­alised and frag­mented, that’s not good for re­search, as ex­cel­lent re­search is to be found in pock­ets across in­sti­tu­tional type. This cre­ates a club syn­drome,” he added. “It also di­min­ishes the di­ver­sity of op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to go to cer­tain coun­tries that are not nec­es­sar­ily con­sid­ered re­search pow­ers.”

The is­sue will also af­fect col­lab- ora­tions out­side Europe, as UK uni­ver­si­ties are en­cour­aged to build closer ties with Com­mon­wealth in­sti­tu­tions, Dr High­man con­tin­ued. They are likely to fo­cus on coun­tries with highly re­garded higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems, such as Canada, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, he said, adding: “No one is talk­ing about Uganda or Pak­istan.”

The in­ter­ven­tion came as a re­port from Uni­ver­si­ties UK In­ter­na­tional con­firmed data pro­vi­sion­ally re­leased ear­lier this year that showed that ex­pan­sion of UK uni­ver­si­ties’ transna­tional ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties had dwin­dled af­ter years of strong growth.

The Scale of UK Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Transna­tional Ed­u­ca­tion 201617, pub­lished on 3 Oc­to­ber, shows that the num­ber of stu­dents pur­su­ing UK awards over­seas in­creased by only 1 per cent year-on-year. The new re­port high­lights, how­ever, that once the three main providers – the Open Uni­ver­sity, the Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don and Ox­ford Brookes Uni­ver­sity – are ex­cluded, growth for other uni­ver­si­ties re­mained a rel­a­tively healthy 4.2 per cent.

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