career has taken me twice to America –
San Francisco and New York – where I
worked alongside people of many nationalities;
on the last occasion, in a laboratory where
13 people with 11 languages were investigating
fundamental aspects of liver cell biology.
And as a student in the 1970s I was lucky
enough to have an elective in a hospital for
black people in (apartheid) South Africa.
These experiences were enormously enriching
and productive on a number of levels. They
changed the way I thought about the world
and improved my understanding of the dynamic
relationship between diversity and creativity.
People of different nationalities, I discovered,
frequently take different approaches to a
problem, so a research meeting can be fantastically
creative and uplifting, with people from a
wide range of backgrounds, cultures and educational
systems, offering diverse perspectives and
methodological approaches, each one sparking
off a new series of thoughts or line of enquiry.
More simply, working in an international context
gives you the chance to see how others do
things; I learnt how the American work ethic
contributes to that nation’s success
in research. And it’s also good fun
to interact with other cultures.
On the other side of the world, I found at
the start of my career in South Africa a dimension
to world medicine I had never properly thought
about, and realised how context restricts
your knowledge and view. In a hospital where
clinical standards of students and doctors
were truly impressive, I learnt about medicine,
of course, but also realised how important
was the much wider dimension.
So how does my experience read across to our
University’s vision to be ‘world-class’
and ‘internationally recognised for
excellent research and outstanding graduates’
and our purpose ‘to make an impact on
global society’? How does it relate
to one of our key strategic themes –
to enhance our international profile?
There is of course a difference between world-class
research, and that which has a global impact.
I have said we all need to aim for world-class
– work commended by international peer
review and published in a high quality journal
or as a top-class monograph. But where possible
we should also be researching issues of global
importance, such as climate change or AIDS
– I’m sure you will identify other
global issues of direct relevance to your
Intervening in these big questions clearly
takes more than the resources of one university
– so when Leeds looks at tissue engineering
and stem cell research, it collaborates with
researchers in Japan, America and with our
White Rose partners. Our transport researchers
work with institutions across Europe, America
and South East Asia on issues from emissions
to networks; and the Nuffield has partners
in Uganda, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Ghana,
Nepal and Swaziland on interventions for tuberculosis,
malaria and HIV.
So collaboration and partnerships are key
to enhancing not only our profile around the
world but also our reach and capability. Our
membership of the Worldwide Universities Network
is central to this – giving us immediate
access to top-class colleagues worldwide who
share our values, goals and ambitions.
Staff should take advantage of sabbaticals
and exchange programmes to go to other countries
(although not all at once!) and learn about
other approaches in their field. We will of
course welcome visitors on exchange programmes
to conferences. One school suggested that
external members from other countries on our
advisory boards would bring a fresh perspective
of how we are seen from elsewhere; a biomedical
advisory board I sat on in a Scottish university
had two North Americans bringing a formative
international dimension to the table.
An international perspective will see more,
better-qualified students come to Leeds, while
we will give our students every encouragement
to broaden their understanding by studying
in other countries. Travel will also encourage
their concern about international issues,
and their willingness to address global problems.
Fostering an international outlook is all
about getting your daily thoughts up a plane
– about consciously thinking beyond
your own immediate area or sphere of influence,
and working out how to extend your influence.
So when you have choices, you can say –
let’s take the option that will enable
us to make a truly international impact.
Much of this is not new to Leeds, rather it’s
an attempt to articulate support for on-going
activities. Distinguished alumni from the
1960s and 1970s tell me how truly ‘international’
they found Leeds, and how meeting people from
other countries and cultures helped shape
their lives and careers.
We will ensure our current staff and students
have the same privilege. We might not have
11 languages in one team. But as the number
of languages I hear on the way to a campus
meeting – and it’s rarely less
than three – reinforces the point that
we have an international diversity at Leeds
on which to build.
Professor Michael J P Arthur