Imperial College London

Exploring Imperial's commitment to a global outlook

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Professor Richard Craster

Professor Richard Craster

In the uncertainty of Brexit Imperial is determined to keep its doors open to students, collaborations and colleagues from around the world.

With thousands of international students and staff, and partners from every corner of the world, Imperial is truly a global institution. This mix of talent, collaboration and reputation has led to Imperial being ranked among the world's most international universities by Times Higher Education.

A recent analysis of research publications revealed that more than half of Imperial’s research involves an international partner, while Imperial academics have collaborated with peers in over 190 countries in the last few years.

The College has announced major partnerships with France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Germany’s Technical University of Munich (TUM), the USA’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and China’s Tsinghua University.

This international flow of talent moves both ways and Imperial has many programmes that allow staff and students to spend time experiencing other cultures and building their international networks.

From the students who take the leap to undertake study abroad or research placements, to the researchers forging long-lasting partnerships with colleagues in these countries, we explore what it really means to be the UK’s most international university.

Bringing mathematics together

France is one of Imperial’s closest research partners, with more than 1,000 papers co-authored by French and Imperial academics every year.

Having international links will become more important. Ideas don’t have a passport and don’t go through customs control. Professor Richard Craster Department of Mathematics

The Department of Mathematics has developed a strong relationship with France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) – the largest fundamental research organisation in Europe.

This culminated in the launch of a joint mathematics laboratory last year – the UMI Abraham de Moivre – based at the South Kensington Campus and named after the great French mathematician, Abraham de Moivre who, with fellow Huguenots, moved to England in the 17th century and was instrumental in the development of geometry and probability theory.

France has a rich history of brilliant mathematicians. The country has produced six Fields Medal winners since 1990, including the mathematician Cedric Villani, often described as the ‘Lady Gaga of Mathematics’, who helped launch the UMI at Imperial.

The UMI has equal status to a CNRS laboratory in France and is led by Imperial’s Professor of Applied Mathematics, Richard Craster (pictured). He hopes that the UMI will lead to decades of fruitful partnerships between Imperial and French mathematicians and eventually have “ties with every maths department in France.”

Professor Craster said: “Having international links will become more important. Ideas don’t have a passport and don’t go through customs control. We want the ideas to come and go completely freely.

The geographical proximity is an advantage – it’s important to collaborate in person and France is so close that you can go for a day trip. We are genuinely friends and neighbours.”

The UMI has already hosted mathematicians from Paris, Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon for up to three months at a time. The visiting French mathematicians have worked with Imperial colleagues on areas such as swarming behaviour, optimal transport and simulations of rare events, and have already published papers together.

Professor Jan Nekovár , who visited the UMI last year from the Sorbonne, said: “I think that the ideas which began developing in my mind during my stay at Imperial will be an important source of inspiration for my further research.”

Learning and teaching in Japan

Global higher education is changing rapidly with increased globalisation, marketisation and competition, which together with demographic and societal changes and the fourth industrial revolution, is changing educational need and consumption.

Imperial could soon be working with universities in Japan to ensure that its students are well equipped to be the leaders of tomorrow.

In March, Professor Martyn Kingsbury, Director of the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship, visited Japan to share ideas on how Imperial is implementing its new learning and teaching strategy.

Professor Kingsbury and Nobel physicist Carl Wieman were invited by Tohoku University to give keynote presentations at their ‘International Symposium for Evidence-based Transformation of STEM Education’.

They also discussed their ideas on transforming education and active learning – moving away from primarily lecture-based classroom sessions and moving towards more interactive teaching.

Professor Kingsbury said: “They were extremely interested in hearing about our learning and teaching strategy and how we are introducing active learning.”

“We hope to explore whether we can now work more closely to share ideas and learn from each other’s experiences. In terms of evaluating our innovations in science education, being able to compare our own delivery with another country and context will be really useful.”

Studying abroad

Our diverse international research collaborations and our own international community produce breakthroughs benefiting us locally, regionally and throughout the world.

In her recent Address, President Alice Gast urged students to take opportunities to experience study and life in different countries and cultures.

The exchange programme gives me an extra layer of experience that other people don't have. It's like gap year travelling but on an intellectual level. Rebecca Jones Chemistry student

President Gast said: “Collaboration is important not only across disciplines, but also across cultures. It brings new insights, leads to new approaches and to new discoveries. Spending my postdoctoral year in France opened my eyes to how these differences are beneficial when we work together.”

Through Erasmus+, the College funds around 50 undergraduate year abroad students and 20 undergraduate and postgraduate industrial placements. The College hosts around 100 students from its partner universities for study and up to 70 from various universities for research internships.

There are also several student exchange programmes with institutions such as MIT and the University of Melbourne. Carla Smith, who studies Biochemistry in the Department of Life Sciences, was funded through the Erasmus+ programme to undertake a lab-based research project at the University of Valencia, Spain.

Carla said: “Conducting my own research as part of the cellular neurobiology department was extremely rewarding and allowed me to develop valuable skills that I will always be able to draw upon. I was able to meet so many students from other countries and learn about their culture.

“It was also the perfect opportunity to travel and see more of Spain, to really learn more about how different the culture is across the whole country.”

A new exchange with MIT gives students from Imperial the opportunity to spend up to a year in Boston and vice-versa.

Chemistry student Rebecca Jones decided to join MIT through the exchange as it would set her apart from everyone else.

Rebecca said: “I never thought I would get an opportunity like this and so to be a part of MIT and its research is amazing. The exchange programme gives me an extra layer of experience that other people don't have. It's like gap year travelling but on an intellectual level.”

This article was originally published in Imperial College London's Reporter magazine on the 26 April 2019 Issue #310. View the original publication.


Stephen Johns

Stephen Johns
Communications and Public Affairs

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Claudia Cannon

Claudia Cannon
Faculty of Natural Sciences