University of Exeter and UP meet to discuss research collaboration

Posted on December 18, 2018

A delegation from the University of Exeter met recently with senior academics from the University of Pretoria (UP) to discuss areas of collaboration in inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary fields.

Led by Prof. Mark Goodwin, University of Exeter’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor: External Engagement, the delegation was hosted by Prof. Stephanie Burton, UP’s Vice-Principal of Research and Postgraduate Education, who gave the visitors and UP staff a tour of the university’s Future Africa Campus. This Hillcrest campus will be the place where Africa’s leading scientists and scholars from across the world and from a broad range of disciplines will come together to leverage the benefits of transdisciplinary research to address the challenges that face Africa and the world.

“The Future Africa campus will provide a dynamic living, learning and research environment where a community of scholars and other role players will come together to advance excellence in scholarship, dialogue and impact,” Prof. Burton said. She explained that the campus is next to UP’s Experimental Farm, and there is development close by – in UP’s Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology – that is focusing on transport systems.

Roz Pardee, Head, Global Partnerships, Exeter; and Prof Prof Mark Goodwin 

Exeter is a public research university in South West England, and is ranked second out of the 24 Russell Group universities by the 2018 National Student Survey for its teaching quality and learning experience. It has 22 540 students across colleges of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences; Humanities; Life and Environmental Sciences; Social Sciences and International Studies; Medicine and Health Sciences; and the Business School. It is offering 100 doctoral opportunities for the 2019/2020 academic year.

According to Prof. Goodwin, Exeter is trying to build on its interdisciplinary research, and has set up four interdisciplinary research institutes. These have “moved staff out of their home departments to allow them to work in an interdisciplinary way, placing, for example, social scientists and natural scientists alongside physical scientists.” This is part of an effort to bring people together in key areas. The university is focusing on data science, sustainability, mining and food security, among other fields.

He said the university is keen to pursue a split-site PhD programme with UP, as is currently being done with the University of Queensland, Australia. “There are 15 PhD students from Queensland and 15 from Exeter where there is a one-year exchange, and we find that this is a cost-effective way of bringing researchers together and thinking about joint publications.”

He explained that academic staff on sabbatical could take their PhD students “to experience another country, work in a laboratory and as researchers, and get the breadth and networks they need for career advancement”.

Prof. Burton said UP is interested in the split-site PhD project, and that 30 PhD students would be manageable in such an inititive. “South African students are hesitant to go abroad,” she said. UP intends growing the number of its international postgraduate students and is “very engaged in the way the City of Tshwane is run”. The University’s Experimental Farm is part of its community engagement, and UP “does research that matters”, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The delegates met with all faculties and identified areas of common interest, which include heritage studies and big data. “We are struck by your emphasis on data science and are doing similar work,” Prof. Goodwin said. He added that the UK is now looking to collaborate with overseas universities because of Brexit, and researchers can bid for new collaborative funding streams.

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