The University of Birmingham's library in the sunshine

Global higher education faces tremendous challenges as the world battles to emerge from the shadow of the pandemic. As we adjust to the reality of academic life in a post-Covid world, strong and productive international partnerships will be essential in forging a new future.

The University of Birmingham has always valued its international partnerships and their contribution to society – we are a global university with a civic heart that produces world-leading research. In a post-pandemic world, such partnerships will be more important than ever, and UK universities have a clear opportunity to help shape the global landscape of higher education. With over 8,700 international students from some 150 countries and more than 30 per cent of our academic staff from overseas, our campus is truly a diverse and global place.

We benefit from mutual partnerships with a wide range of international institutions – particularly in China and India. Through our China Institute, our long-standing research and education partnerships in China have delivered real benefits to the citizens of Birmingham’s sister city of Guangzhou in areas such as primary care, urban railways, translational medicine and children’s health.

Through our India Institute, we work with partners across India on more than 40 joint research projects to deliver impact in areas such as surgical hygiene, environmental pollution, sustainable cooling and applied sports science. In addition, Last month we officially opened our iconic new Dubai campus in the presence of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

We enjoy a number of enduring research and education partnerships with members of the Universitas 21 (U21) such as the joint Priestley Fellowships with the University of Melbourne, our shared interest in Shakespeare with Waseda University, in Tokyo, and the Widening Participation Summer School organised with Hong Kong University.

Against this backdrop of global partnerships, it makes us particularly proud to welcome academics and students from around the world to our beautiful Birmingham campus this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of U21 – of which we are a founding member – and host the network’s Presidential Symposium and Annual General Meeting.

U21 unites world-leading, research-intensive universities with a common belief in the value of collaboration and internationalisation. From China to Chile, South Korea to the United States, U21 is a global network of over a million students and more than 200,000 staff – representing 28 universities, the latest member of which is the University of Sydney.

Some people are unable to join us in Birmingham, but whether in person or virtually, this event brings together leading global universities to further improve the student experience and help researchers better engage with each other, whilst creating innovative educational opportunities.

At the heart of the programme was the Presidential Symposium, on the theme of ‘The Leaders of the Future’ – especially significant as the world continues to battle the pandemic. COVID-19 has affected all parts of our societies and young people have been hit hardest, but our students have demonstrated adaptability, innovation and resilience; a generation forged rather than marred by the pandemic.

We enjoyed a keynote address by Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam GB, followed by case studies on the theme of Leaders of the Future from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, University of Edinburgh, Hong Kong University and the University of Johannesburg. The Symposium provided a valuable opportunity to reflect on how knowledge, ideas, and opportunities within the U21 network will help our students build a better future.

It has been wonderful to welcome our U21 partners to our campus and further strengthen the bonds of collaboration. The partnerships consolidated at this gathering of the global academic community are a shining example of how UK universities and their international partners are shaping the future. The discussions and resulting actions from our time together here in Birmingham will have a significance for academic staff and students – not just at U21 partner universities but in the wider academic community across the world.