Postgrad swap starts with 50

June 7, 2002

Fifty young researchers from the UK and the US are crossing the Atlantic this summer to work with their overseas counterparts as part of the first exchange programme run by the Worldwide Universities Network.

The 13 universities in the network hope that international experience and the chance to make contacts in highly specialised fields will be invaluable to the development of individual careers and to research programmes.

A group of priority subjects has been drawn up, including climatology, bioinformatics, nanotechnology, oceanography and climate, geography, informatics and public policy, to tackle what Wun believes is a cultural shift in graduate education and training.

"This transcends geographic and disciplinary boundaries," chief executive David Pilsbury said. "Our programme supports this change and contributes to widening student participation and the development of a diverse, globally aware workforce."

A longer exchange programme is being developed that will lead eventually to full joint doctoral programmes among participating universities.

Wun was set up last year to develop multidisciplinary research in new areas of global significance. Dr Pilsbury said experienced researchers in these fields were scarce and international collaboration was the only way to assemble the full range of knowledge available.

He points to the success of the human genome project that relies on an international network of scientists building critical mass. "Joint research and distributed research are increasing in significance as the problems we face become more complex and require access to a broader spread of expertise and research facilities."

He said the exchange encouraged joint working and gave participants the experience of working in different research cultures.

Anthony Vigor from Manchester University was awarded a scholarship to travel to the University of Wisconsin to study different approaches to local economic development.

"The studentship enabled me to enhance my UK-based research and the liaison with academics and access to resources in Madison has provided a new perspective on my research," he said.

Fellow traveller Richard Elliss from Leeds University agreed. He said: "The funding allowed me to undertake a pathway of research I would never have considered without my visit to Seattle."

The network includes five US universities. The UK contingent is made up of Bristol, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton, Leeds and York. Two Chinese institutions have also joined.

Dr Pilsbury said: "Ultimately Wun hopes to create a kind of virtual global graduate school. That would be quite an achievement."

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