Inside track - 10 April 2017 - Professor Hai-Sui Yu

Pro-Vice-Chancellor: International, Professor Hai-Sui Yu outlines how we plan to achieve our international strategy objectives.


International Leeds: seizing the opportunity

Welcoming international talents has been a Leeds tradition for over a hundred years. We have discovered a fascinating photograph of those early forerunners (see below). What has changed since that time is the scale of our international community and global reach. There were just 14 international students in the 1919-1920 cohort from eight different countries. Nearly 100 years later, more than 8000 international students from over 140 different countries choose to study with us at Leeds. So we have come a long way over the past century in terms of developing our international community, global reach and impact.


Although we are a successful, internationally-facing university, with some impressive accolades for our teaching and research and some impactful international partnerships, we cannot afford to be complacent about our international standing.

This is mainly due to the fact that an increasingly globalised environment has offered a wide range of opportunities and incentives for international research collaboration and transnational education and this is particularly true for the past two decades. For the same reason, however, we have seen an increasingly fierce competition among world-class institutions to seize these opportunities and secure their top global university rankings.

Our last international strategy was developed back in 2010, so it is very timely that we now have a fresh look at it given the rapidly changing external environment in higher education both in the UK and internationally. Through consultation with the University community and external stakeholders in recent months, I’m pleased to report that we have developed the University’s new international strategy and associated high level delivery plan: International Leeds. An extensive benchmarking exercise has helped us to understand better the threats and opportunities and has also enabled us to identify our strengths and weaknesses in relation to our main competitors.  

International Leeds articulates concisely what we need to achieve internationally, why we need to do so, how we should do it, and what KPIs we plan to use to monitor and measure success.

Put simply, our new International strategy has three high level objectives:

  • to achieve a sustainable student cohort mix by recruiting and supporting additional international students and staff to enhance the student experience and employability
  • to enable world-changing research and innovation through effective international collaboration to maximise global impact
  • to enhance our international profile and reputation through impactful engagement with a broad range of stakeholders.

Its overall aim is to help deliver the University’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan by ensuring that we develop into a truly world-class university that is firmly ranked as a global top 100 university (noting that our current rankings in the QS World University Rankings and THE World University Rankings are 93rd* and 133rd respectively). Such high-profile global rankings tangibly affect how attractive we are to the best potential international students, staff and overseas partners.

This goal is more valid than ever: in an increasingly globalised world, our future opportunities and success will increasingly depend on our international standing and global partnerships. As a result, our thinking right across the University needs to become even more internationally-focused, so that it becomes as natural and embedded to us all as our high-quality approach to teaching and research.

To help us do this effectively, we have developed some high-level delivery plans focused on five priority areas, some of which are obviously more urgent than others:

Recruiting and supporting an international community of talented students and staff
Actions in this area will look at:

  • how we plan as a University in terms of our optimal size and shape
  • how we balance and create a sustainable student cohort mix
  • our transnational education development and in-country presence and support
  • our approach and capacity to engage with overseas partners and to welcome and support international staff and students.

Creating global opportunities to enrich the student experience and enhance employability
Already a key area of strength for Leeds, these plans will focus on:

  • increasing the flexibility of schemes such as work placements and summer schools
  • benefitting more from links with our global alumni community and partners
  • supporting a more internationalised curriculum
  • better using technology-enabled learning.

Increasing world-class, scholar to scholar research collaboration to produce highly-cited research outputs
These plans will address a major area of our weakness and help oil the wheels to make it easier for academic staff and researchers to conduct high quality, internationally collaborative research that leads to highly-cited, internationally co-authored outputs.

Fostering strategic global institutional and industry partnerships to secure global impact and international funding
Plans for this priority area will involve providing some pump priming of funding for major international research and innovation opportunities and making greater use of global higher education networks, plus more support to scale-up the volume and scale of existing partnership activity.

Making the most of broader global engagement to generate international opportunities and raise global profile and reputation
These plans will focus on proactively building relationships at home and abroad through a number of new regional priority groups to create education and research opportunities and increase our profile and reputation. This priority area will also include a working group focused on developing our institutional approach to understanding and optimising the impact of Britain’s exit from the EU. 

You may be thinking that we do a lot of this work already. And to an extent, in pockets, that’s true.  As a University, however, many of our key competitors in the Russell Group are clearly doing more or better, collectively, than we are. This is particularly true in the key areas of international student and staff recruitment, international research collaborations and co-authored publications, and global engagement and international profile.

Now it’s time for a step-change – we should seize the opportunity to be more ambitious and make international activity more the norm at Leeds. To help us embed and implement these ambitious international plans across the University effectively, I am pleased to announce that a new role of Pro Dean: International will be created in each faculty. 

These new roles demonstrate a real change in our approach to international activity and will suit those who are keen to take leadership in this important area at an exciting time.  In particular, I would like to encourage a diverse range of applications and so the roles are open to applications from University of Leeds academics who currently hold a grade 9 or 10 post.

The role description is available to view on our jobs webpages. I am available to discuss this in more detail; please contact Sarah Touloupis if you would like to arrange this. The closing date for these roles is Friday 5 May 2017.

In the meantime, please start or continue to think about how you can play a part in contributing to International Leeds. We will continue to share more about the strategy, its delivery and impact over the coming months.

A Council paper which outlines International Leeds is published on the Secretariat website (campus or remote access only).

Hai-Sui Yu

*Since publication on 10 April 2017, the QS World University Rankings 2018 have been published. Despite dropping from 93rd to 101st overall, Leeds was named in the top 100 universities for both academic reputation and for reputation amongst employers, where we are now ranked 75th, a rise of 12 places.

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