That was one of the themes of a conference in London last week, Britain’s Academic Relationship with the Continent in Challenging Times, organised by cultural department of the French Embassy and the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) in partnership with the Higher Education Academy and Times Higher Education.
According to Ian Diamond, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, the response to Times Higher Education’s 2012 World University Rankings had focussed on the theme of “Asia on the rise, the UK on the slide”. Yet the real picture they revealed was “Europe leads the world”, he argued.
Colin Riordan, president and vice-chancellor at Cardiff University, put the case for European collaborations built on “institutional structures, proximity and cultural similarity”, while noting that government strategy currently “prioritises engagement outside Europe”.
Herbert Grieshop, managing director of the Center for International Cooperation at the Freie Universität Berlin acknowledged that “the big biography of Schiller or the monograph on English Romanticism can’t be replaced by conversations on Skype”.
Yet collaborative research projects still often offered “more advantages than drawbacks”, in terms of “the pooling of resources, speed, complementarity and quality management”, he told the conference, held on 22 November at the Royal Geographic Society.
Jan Palmowski, who will become pro-vice-chancellor at the University of Warwick in February 2013, presented evidence that “internationally co-authored papers are cited twice as much as others”.
Europeans needed to recognise that the endowments of many American universities meant that they could spend as much on equipment and infrastructure as whole national systems elsewhere. Yet he worried that “internationalism is still not built into many universities”.
Universities must learn to track far better all the links they had already established and often failed to develop, argued Isabelle Tapiero, vice-president for international affairs at Université Lyon 2. It was only when her institution looked at the data in detail that they realised they had the most research partnerships, but no student exchange programmes, with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.