UK, US launch global university partnership initiative

In a new global initiative, America and Britain have joined forces to forge university partnerships with emerging economies. The aim is to achieve 40 trilateral partnerships involving 120 universities worldwide in the first year, and up to 600 over five years.

The UK-US Global Innovation Initiative, which will last for up to five years, was announced by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington DC, after the signing of a memorandum of understanding on 10 June.

At a joint press conference on 12 June, Kerry said the initiative would support multilateral research emphasising science, technology and engineering, and would focus on issues such as climate change and sustainable development.

The project would, he added, “bolster collaborations between universities in the United States and the United Kingdom” and further higher education cooperation between the countries – a priority for both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron.

The initiative was billed as “the first multilateral higher education programme working directly with the US and UK governments”. It will be funded by the US State Department and Britain’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, or BIS.

Not to be too collaborative, the countries will run “two coordinated annual competitions under the same programme name”, the British Council said in a press release.

“Institutions in emerging economies will be the first to be targeted in the programme, with an aim that up to 40 trilateral partnerships involving 120 universities worldwide will benefit in its first year and up to 600 over the five-year period,” it added.

An advisory board comprising around five representatives from each country’s funding bodies, university sector leadership and government, will provide the initiative’s strategic direction. It will be administered by the British Council and a US agency still to be selected.

And not to be too generous, universities will need to contribute a share of the grant cost – “for example 25%” – and the initiative expects that from year two, contributions will be made by other participating countries.

Programme details will be announced with the first call for proposals in October, and first grants will be awarded in early 2014.

The press release said that the initiative’s roots were in a UK-US report commissioned by the British prime minister in 2009 and refined during two large-scale policy dialogues organised by the British Council between university vice-chancellors and presidents in New York in 2010 and Windsor in 2011.

In May 2011, during Obama’s state visit to the UK, an official joint statement on Higher Education and Science noted that the two countries' leaders encouraged strengthening institutional higher education links, the British Council reported.

These included “international internships and other modes of mutual mobility for students and faculty members” between the US and the UK in cooperation with global partners, “to better equip American and British students with the skills needed to succeed in and bolster the global economy”.