The disconnect between universities and their communities revealed by the votes for Brexit and Donald Trump has led some institutions to question whether they focused too much on their global activities, and not enough on their own backyards.
But the Global University Engagement Summit, held at the University of Melbourne, heard that universities should not regard these priorities as being in opposition; and that they should, instead, search for ways in which the two could support each other.
Deborah Bull, assistant principal for London at King’s College London, told the summit how researchers’ work with the Somalilander population in Lambeth had led to the identification of healthcare problems that had their roots in the self-declared African state, and the formation of a partnership looking for solutions to these.
Ms Bull said that many communities felt that they had not enjoyed the benefits of globalisation but that, by ensuring knowledge exchange was a two-way process, a more positive relationship could be created.
“I think that universities may perhaps have been perceived to focus on their global missions a little bit more than their local missions. And I think that we have a job to do in ensuring that we are drawing down our global connections to support local communities at the same time as leveraging our local connections to create transnational knowledge,” Ms Bull told the event.
Andrew Petter, president and vice-chancellor of Simon Fraser University in Canada, explained how the South Asian community in the Vancouver region had been invited to contribute to the development of the institution’s India strategy. This had not only improved the strategy, but had also helped to build stronger links locally, he said.
“Where you are in a situation where you have within your own community people who have international connections, there is a chance to get benefit going both ways,” Professor Petter said.