Higher education is one of the UK’s strongest sectors internationally. This success is built and reliant on the strength of our international staff and students, international partnerships and our global impact.
Across the globe, international partnerships—on everything from student exchange programmes to cancer trials—form the essential glue in how the leading universities work together to make a difference to the lives of millions of people and their communities.
As a research-intensive institution, we are working with international partners to tackle some of the most critical issues facing the world: from the State Government of Haryana in India to advance the use of ‘clean cold’ technology, to academics in the University’s NIHR Global Health Research Unit on Global Surgery working to improve surgery around the world. Alongside dozens of other research projects, their success and impact are reliant upon global partnerships.
The University of Birmingham has been an internationally-minded institution since it was founded in 1900. Being international has been, and remains, a core part to fulfilling our mission. At the University, we believe that our strength is rooted in diversity: diversity of beliefs and backgrounds, diversity of characteristics and knowledge, and diversity of lived experiences. So today, around 37% of our academic staff are non-UK citizens; around 32% of students joining us are from outside the UK. Every year, over 650 of our students benefit from a study year abroad, with 850 students now joining from institutions across the globe: both numbers that have grown significantly over recent years.
Without this international outlook, almost 2,000 international staff would not be able to make a critical contribution, every day, to the University’s continued success. There is huge strength in this diversity, and we will continue to ensure that our international staff feel supported and welcomed and want to remain in the UK.
Without this international outlook, we would lose all the benefits that student exchange brings. At the University and in our local community, we see the huge transformative effect of studying abroad. Student exchange also supports the development of our partnerships with institutions across the globe, including the University of Melbourne, the University of Amsterdam, Fudan University, Hong Kong University, the National University of Singapore, and many others.
Without this international outlook, we would lose the benefit of over 7,000 international students who make a significant contribution to the academic work of the university, campus life and over £160 million, every year, to the regional economy. But more than this, our international students ensure that we can all benefit from a rich and diverse exchange of ideas and we hope that many of them find their time with us as transformative as we do, and that they ultimately become international ambassadors for Birmingham, the West Midlands and the UK.
As a University, we are taking a proactive response to the challenges presented by Brexit. We are establishing new international partnerships, for example with Trinity College Dublin, and strengthening others. But we must not let Brexit obscure a more important point about how crucial our international staff, students, partnerships and research are to our University’s success. This is why we have four other strategic regions for engagement, in addition to Europe: Brazil, China, India, and North America. And we have a further two strategic partners, in addition to Trinity College Dublin: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of Melbourne. We are also founding members of Universitas 21—a network of 27 member institutions across 13 countries.
Without this international outlook, the University of Birmingham, our city, region, country and the world would be a much poorer place. The University, and the sector, must be bold and persuasive in making the case for the continued importance and value of an international outlook within higher education. We must continue to celebrate the fact that we are home to so many international staff and students; without them, we would not be the leading and vibrant university that we are.
Professor Robin Mason, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International), University of Birmingham.