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Shaping the future: rethinking the role universities play in international relations

Event information>




Senate House

Event type

Conference / Symposium

Second annual conference on Knowledge Diplomacy

As part of the University of London Institute in Paris’ Knowledge Diplomacy project, this conference will look at ways universities should support the work of diplomats and other policymakers, including through policy-relevant scholarship and the soft power exercised by cultural institutions.

The world is facing an onslaught of complex and pressing challenges, from growing geopolitical instability to the ongoing impact of the global pandemic and the existential threat of climate change.  In this context, policymakers face a dizzying array of challenges. The need for sound, evidence-based, actionable policy advice has never been greater.

Universities play a significant and active role in international relations, including harnessing their resources to facilitate cross-sector and inter-disciplinary research collaboration. The response to the global pandemic is just one example of the demonstrated need for coordinated collaboration across regions, sectors and disciplines, relying on academic expertise from immunologists to human rights lawyers.

However, challenges and questions remain. For example, in an increasingly fast-paced global environment, how should universities develop relationships and work effectively and efficiently with policymakers in order to provide policy recommendations that are timely, relevant and accessible?  To what extent should universities prioritise developing policy that is anticipatory and long-term focussed rather than short-term and in lockstep with national election cycles?  Where relevant, to what extent does the involvement of “non-traditional” policy-focused disciplines such as history and philosophy provide context and nuance to policy advice that is useful to policymakers? Is policy adjacent support useful to policymakers, such as the provision of education and training in relevant fields?  And what should universities do to better support the valuable input of civil society on policy advice, particularly from the global south?

Event Description

The conference will bring together leading policymakers, academics and other stakeholders to identify the challenges and opportunities universities confront when defining their role in international relations.

Cross-cutting questions, such as those set out above will be explored in the context of a number of key thematic areas, including addressing geo-political instability, combatting climate change and addressing the impact of emerging technologies.

The aim will be to develop a summary report containing the key recommendations arising out of the conference.

Key Speakers

Sir Geoffrey John Mulgan CBE, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at University College London, will give the opening keynote address. Mulgan brings a wealth of experience and insight at the intersection of research and practical application. As the Chief Executive of Nesta, a global innovation foundation, and a former director of policy under Prime Minister Tony Blair, he has been a prominent figure in shaping policies and initiatives that bridge the gap between academic research and real-world impact. Mulgan is poised to deliver an engaging and enlightening keynote address that will inspire attendees to explore new avenues for collaboration and innovation in their respective fields.

Simon Marginson, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Oxford and Director of the ESRC/RE Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), will deliver the closing keynote address, focusing on the pivotal role of universities in global knowledge diplomacy and the evolving landscape of global science. With a research focus on global and international higher education, Marginson's work explores the multifaceted contributions of higher education institutions and their implications for addressing social inequality. While economic definitions predominate in English-speaking policy circles, Marginson's research underscores the broader individual and collective benefits of higher education recognised in diverse jurisdictions like France, Finland, South Korea, and China. Marginson's insights promise to be a thought-provoking conclusion to our conference, illuminating pathways for enhancing knowledge diplomacy in an interconnected world.

The Goethe Institut London will host the evening event on 3 July at their library in South Kensington. Focusing on the value of language learning and educational diplomacy, the event will give insights into the real-world application of bridging the gap between research and practice. It will showcase how research findings are more likely to be adopted and implemented if they are grounded in real-world relevance, while practical approaches are more likely to be effective and sustainable if they are informed by rigorous research evidence on the very concrete example of language teaching.

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