UK’s higher education institutions urged to ramp up research collaboration with Chinese universities

UK higher education
UK higher education institutions are facing uncertain times post-Brexit, but there is opportunity for global ties. Source: Shutterstock

Post-Brexit, UK’s higher education industry is facing certain challenges due to research funding. While UK universities and research organisations have pledged to continue their partnerships in Europe – which includes the popular Erasmus+ scholarship programmes – some higher education experts warn of an upcoming “storm”.

According to Simon Baker in Times Higher Education, the shift in UK’s research funding relationship with the EU is bound to be affected, as currently Germany, France and Italy are three of the most important partners when it comes to paper co-authorship.

He also wrote that the citation impact between the UK and these countries when it comes to research collaboration is higher than with the US and China – UK’s “other two major partners”.

However, some are seeing the new post-Brexit era as an opportunity for change and growth – the chance to take it in a new and more fruitful direction.

At the recent Higher Education Policy Institute seminar in London, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford Simon Marginson said that UK’s higher education institutions now have the opportunity to “shape national identity” by focusing on sustainability research and forging partnerships with Asian universities, such as those in China.

He said that the UK should leverage on the chance to deepen ties with East Asia, “an economic and cultural zone larger than Europe and very dynamic,” and that “South Korea has 50 million people and brilliant industry research. Japan is still an innovator.”

But the most important country is China. Marginson stressed that developing relations with China will be a great puzzle and challenge for UK’s higher education industry.

He advised higher education institutions to look at the US and Australia’s research collaboration efforts with China, saying that despite exceptions such as Nottingham Ningbo and Liverpool Xi’an, UK-China’s research collaboration falls “well below” their levels.

He also said that the US-China fallout may create opportunities for UK institutions but they need to understand what they are in for.

“I have no doubt that forging fulsome relationships in East Asia is the most pressing strategic need for British universities.”

“British science sustains a stronger domestic authority than does American science. Higher education agrees with the government about the value of science. Here the sector can advance both its global role and its domestic position.”

“What happens when the lacuna in the national strategy persists for a time after Brexit? I think this provides the sector with the opportunity to make its own rules. Take initiatives, define the framework, build the alliances, build a global position of its own, and in doing so help shape a new national identity.”

Marginson urged institutions to “get to know China, draw lines in the sand when we must, and watch this space,” saying it might be tricky to engage them but abstention would be the larger error.

“We should not sit on our hands as we had to do during the long Brexit debate. The window will not stay open for very long.”

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