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Reflections on internationalisation

Professor Eric Thomas

Professor Eric Thomas

11 May 2009

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Eric Thomas, explains why the University has sharpened its focus on internationalisation and invites comments on a new document that outlines Bristol's rationale and priorities in this area.

International collaboration of this kind is not, of course, a sine qua non of good research, but it is a strong feature of the way that universities – especially ones like Bristol – conduct their business. How could it be otherwise when many great intellectual challenges are inherently global in nature, the specialist expertise required to address them is spread around the world and has to be marshalled, and worldwide communications are good enough to make extensive collaboration a practical reality?

It is important to acknowledge, however, that innovative global research is only one of the characteristics of a truly global university. In a paper drafted by me and improved through close consultation with senior colleagues, six other characteristics are identified:

  • comprehensive excellence in research, teaching, academic staff, facilities, communications, leadership and governance;
  • global brand penetration;
  • an international curriculum and global distribution of teaching and learning;
  • strong and diverse international student and staff demand;
  • impact on global issues and policy formulation;
  • close interactions with global business.

The paper – called Internationalisation and the University of Bristol – also offers a rationale for pursuing internationalisation and identifies the principal benefits to be gained from it. Finally, the paper suggests priority areas for action, most of which relate to objectives set out in the new University Vision and Strategy

What the paper does not do is articulate an internationalisation strategy as such. I wanted to avoid this principally because I believe that staff at Bristol should be free to pursue international opportunities in the ways that they and their colleagues judge to be most promising. The role of those at the centre of the institution is to be supportive rather than prescriptive, whilst establishing a clear ideological context that can serve as a guide.

It is not unknown for universities to declare that they are ‘global’ organisations without defining what that means or why internationalisation is a good thing. I believe that Bristol can justifiably claim to have achieved clarity on such matters.

I hope you will choose to read the paper and that you will find it of interest. If it sparks off some thoughts, positive or otherwise, I would be delighted to hear them.    


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