UK universities have not put sufficient effort into building meaningful collaborations with institutions in “critically important” South America, a vice-chancellor has said.
David Eastwood, head of the University of Birmingham, made the comments as he visited Brazil as part of a high-level delegation from his institution and the University of Nottingham to extend partnerships in three cities.
The two universities have jointly agreed to invest £4 million over three years, starting in 2011, to help attract Brazilian partners, including the São Paulo Research Foundation, Fapesp, as part of a wider collaboration between the two UK institutions.
Concurrent with the visit earlier this month, the universities launched a second joint funding call with Fapesp for collaborative British-Brazilian research projects as well as announcing the third year of the Brazil Visiting Fellows programme, which allows Brazilian early career researchers to work in the UK with British counterparts.
Speaking in Rio de Janeiro at the end of the visit, which included trips to São Paulo and Brasilia, Professor Eastwood said the partnerships meant that Birmingham and Nottingham now had links with all the leading universities in Brazil.
“To build a strategy, it has to be based on genuine collaboration,” said Professor Eastwood, who is also chair of the Russell Group of research-intensive UK universities.
“This wasn’t a matter of coming into a country and signing some memorandums of understanding and saying we had done something.
“We took a strategic view that UK universities didn’t have the kind of engagement in South America that they ought to have, in critically important parts of the world. We think it’s important to the future of UK higher education.”
Professor Eastwood added that the focus on Brazil was already bearing fruit, with the number of jointly authored publications between Birmingham academics and Brazil rising from 22 in 2005 to 224 in 2012.
In addition to partnerships with universities, the internationalisation effort has seen the forging of links with other Brazilian institutions.
Birmingham is the first British partner of Inca, the Brazilian National Cancer Institute, while officials from Nottingham used the trip to meet partners at Fiocruz, a major public health research institute.
David Greenaway, vice-chancellor of Nottingham, who was unable to join the delegation to Brazil because of last-minute commitments, said the two UK universities’ strategy was “deeply embedded” and extended beyond recruiting international students.
“I don’t believe in internationalisation as a basis for short-term fixes and short-term margins,” he said, adding that because the commitment to Brazil was part of a five-year plan, “we’re not going to evaluate it as we go. We are going to invest; we’re going to put real skin in the game.
“My read on Brazil is if we are coming here to recruit a few students, to sign a few signatures, then we’re not going to get much traction but nor should you,” he said.
“Brazilian institutions want to see a seriousness of commitment. They want to see you returning. When they see that, there is genuine enthusiasm to collaborate.”