Last week I was an invited participant in a British Council sponsored conference in London “UK-U.S. Higher Education Partnerships: Realizing the Potential." The goal of the symposium was to explore the issues affecting collaborations and identify strategies that can strengthen UK-U.S. collaborations overall.

A recent study commissioned by the British Council noted the historical importance of the UK-U.S. relationship in research, mobility of students, scholars and faculty, and collaborative degrees, as well as the changing global context for these exchanges, which indicate a trend toward a smaller market share for the United Kingdom, even as the international market for mobility and research collaboration grows. By the end of 2010, more than a quarter million U.S. students will have studied in the United Kingdom in the previous ten years. Clearly there is considerable goodwill and close friendships between the United Kingdom and United States, but the study concludes that this friendship should not be taken for granted. At the same time, the report noted a changing landscape for U.S. academic relationships, with a growing emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region as source countries for international students, destinations for U.S. study abroad, and partners for research collaboration. And, as Asia students/scholars establish long term relationships with U.S. institutions, the focus on Asia will continue to grow.

There are many UK-U.S. research collaborations, yet still many UK universities have no U.S. partnerships, and most partnerships are with U.S. institutions on the east or west coast. U.S. universities in the “heartland” have few research collaborations in the United Kingdom. Although the United Kingdom remains the top destination for U.S. study abroad students, and is the largest European country sending to the United States, the trend indicates a reduced market share in both directions as students seek opportunities in other parts of the world. For UK students, the various EU initiatives to encourage mobility within Europe, and for U.S. students, the growing interest in Asia, are seen as key influencers.

U.S. perspectives were presented by Kim Wilcox, Provost of Michigan State University; Joel Harrington, Assistant Provost Global Affairs, Vanderbilt University; and Abraham Varghese, Vice Provost for International Strategy, University of Miami. The stories of these outstanding campus international programs also reflected the diversity of U.S. higher education institutions. We urged UK campus leaders to be clear about their goals for collaborative partnerships, to seek institutional partners with the strengths to complement their own, and to look seriously at the institutions in the heartland of the United States, where there are many important research institutions.

Among the goals for UK institutions identified in the study and reinforced during presentations and discussions at the meeting: (1) research collaborations that involve multiple disciplines produce longer term, deeper relationships between institutions; (2) co-written research papers are more likely to be published; and (3) UK institutions desire a role in U.S. island education abroad programs as well as in greater student exchange opportunities with U.S. institutions.

There is tremendous interest among UK institutions in expanding all levels of collaboration with U.S. institutions, and considerable experience to build upon. There was recognition that leadership is key, that long term institutional relationships require participation of multiple departments/colleges as well as the student mobility leaders on campuses. And there was considerable awareness of NAFSA’s role. Of the 160 UK higher education leaders attending the conference, more than half were well aware of NAFSA’s role in study abroad, international student services, and campus internationalization. More than one third of the attendees had been to a NAFSA conference or are planning to attend the conference in Kansas City this year.

So, for those of you interested in expanding opportunities for your institutions in the United Kingdom, the conference is a great place to start. And, Conference Connection is an excellent tool to help you find that potential UK partner. See you in Kansas City.