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Report from WiGS Chair Henrike Lähnemann on Franco-German Conference on Britain’s Academic Relationship with the Continent

Franco-German Conference on Britain’s Academic Relationship with the Continent

The conference “Taking stock and moving where? Britain’s Academic Relationship with the Continent in Challenging Times” took place on Thursday 22 November 2012, at the Royal Geographical Society London. I attended on behalf of the School of Modern Languages but also as Chair of ‘Women in German Studies’.
The day was jointly organised by the Cultural Department of the French Embassy and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in partnership with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the ‘Times Higher Education’ (THE). To bring these different stakeholders in Higher Education at one table under the heading of Modern Languages was an achievement in itself, even more so to be able to get top people to represent their institutions.
This included on the university side Peter-André Alt, the VC of the Freie Universität Berlin and speaker of the newly founded ‘U15 group’, Germany’s answer to the Russell Group and Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive Universities UK, on the “public” side two representatives of the THE, Phil Baty (Editor-at-Large and Rankings Editor, Times Higher Education) and  Matthew Reisz (Features Writer, Times Higher Education) who were made chairs of the two afternoon panels.

The set-up thus was pertinent and the questions asked urgent (Could closer engagement between the UK and its most important European partners, France and Germany, help strengthen global competitiveness in Higher Education in all three countries?), the outcome slightly less impressive. There was the eternal problem of preaching to the converted – most, if not all of the audience knew the figures about the lack of language learning in the UK and the problems of outward mobility by heart and were practising international research collaboration

The panels had been deliberately large to turn as many as possible stakeholders into speakers but that made for very long statement time and very little in the way of real discussion. Nevertheless, the lunch break allowed for some networking and the venue plus the following reception to celebrate 60 years of the DAAD London added some splendour to the day.

The highlight of the day was provided by Colin Riordan who opened the whole day with a statement on the panel “Does the Continent still matter in times of Global Academic Endeavours?”, then took the following statements with him to an afternoon meeting with David Willetts where he presented as Chair of the International Policy Network a new report on strengthening outward mobility in UK students – and was able to announce at the evening reception that they had been granted an additional million pound to boost the taskforce on ‘UK National Outward Mobility’.

Hopefully, the message of the day “to discuss shared aims and different perspectives in international Higher Education with a range of senior university leaders and practitioners in research and teaching from the UK, France and Germany” will after all find their way into university strategies and widen the horizon of the political and public stakeholders.

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