Alastair Fitt, Vice Chancellor, on the role of the PVC International (PVCI), Thursday 23 April 2015
These comments and reflections are mine and do not necessarily represent the views of the Vice Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University or any other member of the audience.
The Vice Chancellor’s talk, which opened the Internationalisation Steering Group’s Away Day, was a personal reflection on his time as PVCI at Southampton. A business and marketing-driven corporate mission and an individual researcher-driven research mission were the mainstays of the reflection.
Although framed within “Partnerships”, the PVCI role is highly market-driven and recruitment focused. Many of the observations made were how to be effective at recruiting and marketing while also promoting partnership.
International, institutional partnerships need to be driven by the university, that is, centrally and top-down. Partnerships can be very one-sided. There were warnings against micro-managing the International Office, against trying to track too much in too much detail, against “advertising” your own institution: promote UK PLC. Network charts and spreadsheets do not work because they are not updated; track a few key networks. International branch campuses are very hard work and costly and rarely profitable in a holistic sense. Nottingham’s branch campus in KL and University of Liverpool in China were mentioned as being (maybe) exceptions.
We were advised not to underestimate the value of personal relationships which were framed in terms of Christmas cards, business cards and national holidays. There are a lot of social demands on the PVCI: hosting of students, alumni, donors, agents, embassies, ministries, etc. The travel demands will eventually be the downfall for anyone in the role. The role is not unlike that of a diplomat. Cultural events may not resonate with shared value. Law, police and students may clash. There may be inter-group violence. Histories of these may lie close to the surface. Sometimes the PVCI may enter dangerous spaces. PVCIs must expect to see Special Branch and be drawn into UK’s counter terrorism strategies.
Joint international research initiatives, however, cannot be driven top-down. Recruitment onto taught programmes can and, seemingly, must be. But the wider culture of scholarship was left silent. The role of university teachers and teaching exchanges was only raised late, from the audience. Teaching cultures were not explored.
Student exchange is excellent, but UK students do not appear thrilled. Is this because they bring little immediate commercial advantage to any of: the UK, the host nation, or the student? We expect international students to pay high fees to study here. While the few students who do go abroad expect fee reduction and usually do not pay their home institution while they are away. Institutions invest heavily in international students coming to the UK. UK students are expected to invest individually and as little as possible in going abroad.
There are many nuances between value systems. The most salient question, perhaps, was raised from the audience at the end: what might the philosophical underpinnings of an international strategy be? I conclude there be no grand narrative: don’t get too high-level or all you end up with is fuzzy statements. Is this, also, then about bolstering certain networks and deprecating others? Is this healthy? If so, how?