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University of London Knowledge Diplomacy Conference 2023

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Written by
Lilija Alijeva

The University of London Institute in Paris hosted the first University of London Knowledge Diplomacy Conference on 3 - 4 July 2023. The conference was co-organised with the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the School of Advanced Study, Centre for Online and Distance Education (CODE) and ICR Research. The inaugural conference was supported by the University of London Knowledge Exchange Fund enabled by UKRI Research England. The conference brought together around 50 practitioners and academics from a variety of disciplines and regions to discuss the rapidly developing topic of Knowledge Diplomacy. The conference specifically focused on key issues surrounding the accessibility and exchange of knowledge. 

The nature of modern international relations has undergone significant transitions with the emergence of new actors and processes that are reshaping the way diplomacy operates. In this setting, international higher education institutions have had a long history of contributing to international collaboration among states and building transnational cooperation among different stakeholders. Despite this, the international higher education institutions and the functions they play in the present diplomatic processes are only starting to grasp the attention of scholars and policymakers. A study examining the function of international higher education, research, innovation, and knowledge exchange in international relations is being led by the Knowledge Diplomacy project, which is led by and housed at the University of London Institute in Paris. 

As part of the project's Phase 3, the Knowledge Diplomacy Core Group Team and Steering Group Members focused on delivering the first University of London in-person conference titled ‘Facilitating Access, Participation and Exchange of Knowledge in a Fragmented World.’ The conference consisted of six panels, and one workshop on a range of topics including the Franco-British perspectives on Knowledge Diplomacy, international higher education institutions in diplomacy, the way knowledge is used in diplomacy, geopolitics of knowledge, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), the work of Science Diplomacy in the Arctic region, the importance of environmental humanities, accessibility of academic knowledge, and the challenges and opportunities encountered in cultural relations projects.

On the first day, conference participants learned from panellists representing various institutions of higher education and diplomatic practice, including DAAD - German Academic Exchange Service, British Council France, French Embassy in the United Kingdom, University of Leeds, Conférence des grandes écoles, Asialink, University of Waterloo, London School of Economics and Political Science, King’s College London, Higher School of Economics, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, University College London, University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, European Union External Action, and the University of Lapland. The recurring themes of the day were the facilitation of trust and positionality in Knowledge Diplomacy processes.

Photo from the Knowledge Diplomacy Conference 2023

Continuing the discussions on the second day, the panels were delivered by representatives of the School of Advanced Study, Queen Mary University of London, Institute for Foreign Affairs – Germany, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, Ukrainian Institute, British Council, and British Council France. The recurring themes during the second day of the conference were interdisciplinarity, transnational collaborations, and accessibility and ownership of knowledge. 

The successful delivery of the Knowledge Diplomacy Project Phase 3 was assisted by four students: Hazel Stevenson from CODE, Emma Pearce from the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (School of Advanced Study), Monja Stahlberger and Virginia Ghelarducci both from the Institute of Languages, Cultures and Societies (School of Advanced Study). Summarising their impression of the conference, the four students are enthusiastic about future projects and collaborations between the attendees as they argued that in Knowledge Diplomacy, the objective is not only for higher education institutions and scholarship to participate in international relations - it is about creating and maintaining an environment that promotes trust and collaboration. 

Four students recruited for the Knowledge Diplomacy Project 2023

They hope the project in its future phases will provide a safe space where transcultural cooperation and exchange can happen, and facilitate a platform for sharing and learning about different projects that are taking place across the modern transnational diplomatic landscape. 

Overall, this was an important step for the project that initially started in 2019. Along the way, the project received a significant amount of interest and support enabling it to move from public online seminars to in-person international gatherings. If you would like to learn more about the project and keep up to date, please consult the dedicated project webpage here and follow University of London Institute in Paris on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn