Heriot-Watt plans to extend long global reach

February 24, 2011

It is not the biggest university in the UK - indeed, it is not even the biggest in Edinburgh - but on the global stage, Heriot-Watt University already punches above its weight.

It has unveiled plans to consolidate and expand its reach with a global strategy that it hopes will double its income from international activities over the next seven years.

Based in the outer suburbs of the Scottish capital, Heriot-Watt boasts 21,000 students in 150 countries worldwide. Just 7,000 of its cohort are based in Scotland.

Steve Chapman, Heriot-Watt's vice-chancellor, acknowledged the incongruity that his institution was so well known in far-flung corners of the world.

"I just got back from Trinidad where I graduated 280 students and was joined by the president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago," he said. "I do marvel at our global presence sometimes. We're quite a small university by UK standards in terms of the number of students...but worldwide, we're a big player."

Professor Chapman said the university's presence overseas stemmed from an MBA it launched in 1990.

"The business school decided it wanted to be the largest distance-learning MBA programme in the world. By 1995, it had more students than any other programme worldwide," he said.

"I think the university thought that this was something it could do beyond the MBA. A whole raft of learning partnerships grew."

As well as a campus in the Orkney Islands, Heriot-Watt also has a presence in Dubai. It set up a campus there in 2006 that now has 1,800 students.

It is also one of the main providers of higher education in Trinidad and Tobago, hence Professor Chapman's recent visit.

Heriot-Watt's global strategy, launched last week, aims to expand its academic base by 50 per cent by 2015 and increase its research activity. Professor Chapman argued that previous efforts had given it a head start over others.

"We already have a substantial infrastructure, so as we grow our business, it's much easier than (for) universities that have decided to come to the game later."

john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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