Editor’s note: this official response to the Agora report we briefly profiled on 7 December was submitted to GlobalHigherEd today by Professor Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor, The University of Nottingham.
Higher education news outlets reporting the conclusions of the think tank ‘Agora‘ have mostly given an account of a handful of parochial views. The conclusions attributed to those quoted are at odds with many distinguished colleagues working in science and engineering across British universities, and also with the United Kingdom’s Research Councils.
Professor Ian Gow, who received an OBE in recognition of his considerable efforts to help us establish a world first – the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (pictured to the left) – could have been reported out of context, but his views as published were unwarrantedly defensive. The manner in which they were presented does little justice to his previous achievement as Foundation Provost at our award-winning and successful China campus.
Professor Gow, a social scientist, and the other contributors to the Agora think tank paper which you reported unchallenged, can be reassured that individual UK research councils, as well as RCUK, and the European Union, are fostering collaborative research with China across medicine, science and engineering. They regard it as an important development in their thinking and their funding programmes. Recently a consortium of British universities including Nottingham, King’s College London and Southampton, and more than twenty universities in China, agreed to pool their expertise in order to bring joint innovation to the worldwide marketplace. Innovation China-UK is now supporting academic and business partners in funding proof-of-concept research, and in commercialising intellectual property.
The University of Nottingham has, for several years, been undertaking tripartite plant genetics work with two distinguished Chinese institutions, Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Amongst our shared goals are combining the experience of all three universities in plant genetics. Happily, the venture is also promoting joint applications for international funding, and it is providing exciting training and exchange opportunities for research students and staff in both nations. This is just one example from a vast range across the sciences. It is extremely difficult to decipher in it, and countless research projects like it, any kind of ‘threat’ to British scholarship or to the UK economy, and fortunately the UK Research Councils and the British government agree.
Globalisation means that our country cannot “stay at home”. Nor, to quote Professor Michael Shattock (with perhaps the most depressing view to have emerged from Agora’s exercise) can UK universities “stick to their knitting”. Professor Gow, claimed your article, ‘called British institutions “incredibly naïve” for handing over their research in key disciplines to get a foothold in China.’ In fact, he was cautioning ‘emerging’ joint ventures, and not those already well established, but little matter. Leading international universities are very carefully managing the risks involved in any overseas venture, in order to expand their sphere of influence. Research, like student exchanges with China, has to be two-way in order to be sustainable. The “win-win” situation we are being urged in undeservedly panicked tones to “engineer” is in fact already underway, on a fair and reciprocal basis, and it is flourishing. We have huge confidence that the world will be better for it.