Guru Mantra: Prof. Nigel Thrift, University of Warwick

Professor Nigel Thrift
Vice-Chancellor
University of Warwick

Professor Nigel Thrift is a leading human geographer and social scientist, He is an Academician of the Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences and was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003. His current research spans a broad range of interests, including international finance; cities and political life; non-representational theory; affective politics; and the history of time. He took up his role as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick in July 2006. He joined Warwick from the University of Oxford where he was made Head of the Division of Life and Environmental Sciences in 2003 before becoming Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research in 2005.

Rahul – In your recent article in the Chronicle you mentioned that there are very few significant institutional relationships and building relationships takes time and continuous effort. What are your top two recommendations for the Indian institutions who are seeking to build partnerships with UK universities? How should they prepare themselves for building successful partnerships?
Nigel – Building a significant international institutional relationship takes time and concerted effort. One should not expect instant results and one should not simply leap at the first opportunity that presents itself. Rather than seeking to sign a meaningless Memorandum of Understanding with the first, or every, prestigious overseas University that becomes of interest, Indian universities should seek a select group of partners with whom they can create a real and sustained programme of activities that last for all concerned.

Indian universities should also only seek partnerships that involve true reciprocity and real respect: being the subsidiary partner should never be good enough. Any exchanges of staff and students and research partnerships must be mutual and balanced.

Rahul – One of the key goals of the Warwick’s Vision 2015 is to raise the international profile of the university. Please share your experiences and initiatives while pursuing these goals. What are your priorities in achieving the internationalization goals?
Nigel – One of the most important goals of a truly global university is that it should ensure that it maximises its potential to be a source of genuine hope in the contemporary world. Universities are arks containing the knowledge that can help us to get out of the problems we have created. As part of Warwick’s Vision 2015 strategy we have created a series of “Warwick Commissions” designed to apply academic research to real world problems. I was particularly pleased with the success of the latest Warwick Commission on International Financial Reform, chaired by Professor Avinash Persaud, which actually launched its final report in India and received a significant degree of interest from policy makers and media across the globe.

I have also been pleased to see that the decision to take time to build up real partnerships with a select group of fellow international Universities is not only beginning to produce real benefits for us but is also producing clear benefits for our partners. Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) here at the University of Warwick has been key to forming a partnership with IIT Kharagpur in India. IIT Kharagpur have been able to draw on this partnership to help mentor the creation and development of a new IIT at Bhubaneshwar. WMG’s technology specialists have advised on IIT Bhubaneshwar’s multi-million pound plans to set up laboratories in materials and tomography and a dozen WMG research staff and allied industrialists will now visit India in November to continue to build the overall partnership with Kharagpur and Bhubaneshwar.

Rahul – In another Chronicle article you argue that “Internationalization is difficult.” The failure of overseas campuses like MSU Dubai and George Mason at RAK, is making institutions rethink about the pace and approach of internationalization. What are the top two trends you foresee in terms of internationalization plans of universities in next five years?
Nigel – One is greater integration between universities in different countries. Global partnerships between universities could become so intertwined that they eventually become like global “holding companies”. Such close formal agreements would also allow the seamless exchange of students without the need to set up foreign campuses, and joint scientific projects would become easier to organize, permitting universities to share research that might otherwise have been less usefully held by single institutions.

The second is a greater degree of realism about the time scales involved in internationalization – about which institutions and organizations are possible to produce rapidly and which are not!