Internationalisation is about more than student fees

International partnership is a vital part of higher education, says Sir Pete Downes ahead of the THE MENA Universities Summit

January 21, 2016
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Come to our MENA Universities Summit from 2-4 February 2016

There are 195 countries in the world. In three-quarters of them you will find someone who has been to, is working with, or is planning to join the University of Dundee.

We are a Scottish university through and through, but we are also very much an international one, engaged with students from 145 countries and with staff from every corner of the globe. But why is our international outlook such a major part of our activity?

As is the case for many of our counterparts in the UK and elsewhere, international engagement is of course a source of commercial activity. Universities leverage academic reputation to create income streams that are necessary for them to remain competitive.

Despite this obvious driver, international engagement must first and foremost align with an institution’s wider strategy and uphold its core values. Our core mission at Dundee is to transform lives, locally and globally, through the creation, sharing and application of knowledge.

This can be achieved by giving people educational opportunities they would otherwise be denied, it can mean helping develop treatments for some of the world’s major diseases, or it can be creating economic impacts that benefit wider society.

What is clear is that there is no one way of achieving these aims. Increasingly, universities have to look at innovative partnerships and collaborations beyond established models such as developing foreign campuses or bringing students to the UK for their study.

Our current partnerships at Dundee touch every continent. We partner a research institute to tackle diabetes in Kuwait, we attract life sciences doctoral students from Brazil, we work with 17 leading Chinese universities, mainly in science and engineering, and we are pioneering staff exchanges with the University of Technology Sydney in Australia.

Particularly relevant to universities in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is our work across the spectrum of healthcare, particularly with our partners in the Middle East.

We teach nurses in Eritrea and Kenya, we train orthodontists in Egypt, and in collaboration with the Dasman Diabetes Institute and Kuwait’s Ministry of Health, we are tackling the chronic diabetes problem in that country.

In each of these we are using a different model, but all are based on sharing specialist areas of world class strength with selected international partners. Each programme has been individually developed with our partners, adapting to the different cultures and needs of those we are working with. Our international strategy requires us to be agile and dynamic.

If our research and teaching is truly to have a global impact and transform lives, then we have to share it, building mutually beneficial partnerships that transform the lives of staff, students and society as a whole.

For home students it builds friendships around the globe and promotes deep intercultural learning. For international students, as one of our summer graduates observed, it means ‘you leave Dundee with a friend in every nation’. 

International education is above all about people, helping them to connect, to live and learn together and to build ties that span the continents and the generations. It is a transformational process that enriches all, impoverishes none and beckons us all to a deeper understanding of our fellow travellers on the road of life and learning. 

We have much to bring to the world, and the world has much to bring to us.

Sir Pete Downes, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee, will deliver a keynote address at the THE MENA Universities Summit.

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