International Collaborations: An alternative perspective

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Up until last week, all of my international collaboration work had been from the perspective of the UK partner. At Cloud Chamber, we have supported academics and institutions to develop funding applications with international partners where the UK partner was in the driving seat. Being the lead applicant we needed to take account of the working practices, cultural context and time differences of the international partner but we probably didn’t always appreciate how they saw the collaboration and what challanges arose.

Last week I had the opportunity to see how confusing and challenging it can be for a non-UK partner to approach and navigate the UK funding landscape. I spent two days, with Dr Helen Hanna (Leeds Trinity University) and Professor Gary McCulloch (Institute for Education), working with early career academics at East China Normal Universities’ Institute of International and Comparative Education. The workshop, funded by the British Academy, was designed to support Chinese education researchers to better understand and access English language journals and UK funding opportunities.

I spent time during the workshop supporting the academics explore some of the opportunities open to them in the UK with a particular focus on how to develop international collaborations with British universities. Some of the lessons I learnt, looking at collaborations and funding from the overseas partners perspective were:

  1. They may have very different ways of measuring success. For these academics publishing in SSCI Journals was the be all and end all. For them, whatever the research outcomes, the key outcome for them had to be publishing in an SSCI journal of the highest quality. China really is a publish or perish culture. Impact, for example, was of no real relevance to them.
  2. The Chinese scholars had a fear that if they hadn’t already been published in an SSCI journal then they wouldn’t be seen as a credible research partner to a UK researcher. It was important to stress that each partner and collaborator brought something different to the partnership. Where and how often someone published was not always essential, their research expertise, access to networks or international perspective can be just as important.
  3. Research questions and therefore challenges are not as different as we might imagine in different parts of the world.  For example, the operational context for educational research may vary between countries (and even within countries) but the key drivers for the research remain common.
  4. They, like UK counterparts, have their own bureaucracy to deal with and this needs to be factored into any research collaboration that is developed. It will be of particular importance at the funding application stage. Being upfront about these requirements is really important.
  5. The most important lesson for me was the levels of enthusiasm and interest in being involved in UK research collaborations and the fact that they are bringing research ideas, questions and methods of equal value to these research partnerships. Sometimes they may need some help in developing those relationships and understanding the wider context but lets be honest, don’t we all at times?

International research collaborations can be time-consuming and challenging to establish but they can bring such richness to research data, findings and solutions to a wide range of problems faced locally and globally. The appetite for international research collaborations is growing. The opportunities are limitless – but always remember, it is important to see any collaboration from all perspectives to ensure success.

If you are interested in learning more about international collaborations in research and how we might be able to help then please do get in touch: lachlan.smith@cloud-chamber.co.uk or via twitter @HEResearchfund

Lachlan Smith

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