‘Our purpose extends beyond Yorkshire’

As Brexit realities begin to bite, The University of York is establishing a new European campus in Greece, with over 700 students set to enrol in autumn 2021. We asked Rachel MacSween, director of international recruitment, partnerships and mobility at the University of York to tell us more

The University of York has been planning for Brexit since before the referendum result.

Now, as Brexit realities begin to bite, the Russell Group university is establishing a new Europe Campus in Greece, with over 700 students set to enrol in autumn 2021.

Vice-chancellor Professor Charlie Jeffery has called it “a flagship initiative supporting the university’s ethos of internationalism”. We asked Rachel MacSween, director of international recruitment, partnerships and mobility at the University of York what lies behind this bold new move, and what it means for the institute.

University of York Campus West from above. Photo: University of York/Joe Burn and Andy Carman
University of York Campus West from above. Photo: University of York/Joe Burn and Andy Carman 2018

Why is an international presence for York an important thing? 

An international outlook has always been central to the vision of the University. We have deep and lasting relationships across the globe through our research, our graduates and our industry connections. We cherish deeply the international students who choose to make York their home to complete their studies, and those who study with us online. Our purpose of being a ‘university for public good’ extends beyond Yorkshire. We have world-class initiatives that are undertaken every day here at York and it is important we look at how we extend that reach.

Partnering with an institution like CITY College is a first for the University of York. We have taken our time to think about what we want to achieve with international partnerships, and this opportunity presented so many natural synergies that this felt like the right time to start.

When did the University of York start planning for a post-Brexit world?

We have been scenario planning for Brexit realities since before the referendum. Our connections to the EU are vital to who we are as an institution.

We remain a welcoming and inclusive institution that thrives on the richness of thought, ideas, challenge and change brought about by the eclectic global community we have on campus and the richness of our links and partnerships with the EU and worldwide. For staff, students, researchers, businesses, alumni and investors, Brexit has been unsettling and disruptive so we’ve strived to be open and transparent through the period of negotiations and transition. We have continued to highlight the challenges for research, student exchange and freedom of movement in higher education, and lobby for a creative and sensitive approach on these issues. We have continued to encourage and support people from around the world to come to York to live, work and study.

Our purpose of being a ‘university for public good’ extends beyond Yorkshire

How does this announcement fit into York’s post-Brexit plans?

This announcement shows our continued commitment to internationalism at the University of York. The diversity and richness of our university community resembles the world in which we live, promoting equality of opinion and perspective, and giving credibility to our international community contribution. Although we are acutely aware of the regulatory changes that Brexit will bring, our mindset and outlook remain resolutely global. We continue to be a proud founding member of the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), which is a partnership of 23 research-led universities with members in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Latin America and North America, working together to promote research and teaching collaborations beyond the scope of an individual university.

Why Greece?

We looked at the opportunity that CITY College presented us with, rather than Greece as a location being the driving factor. The location was not a strategic driver for the relationship, it was the shared outlook and commonality of purpose that drove this decision, and would continue to drive future decisions within this space. That is incredibly exciting, to discover institutions with the same overall aims at the University of York, and who want to bring about global change with public good at the centre.

The feeling in the virtual room was one of immense excitement about what lies ahead

What have been the biggest challenges in setting up a partnership of this kind?

The only challenge for us was that we had no precedence for a relationship like this but that has turned out to be a huge benefit as we were able to think broadly and creatively about how a relationship of this nature could grow and develop. This is a flagship moment for us but other similar opportunities will follow and the open-mindedness shown by our staff and theirs has really captured the scale of the possibilities ahead. We – like most during 2020 – have been challenged by the inability to travel and to meet face to face with counterparts at CITY but we have had incredibly enriching conversations by Zoom, including a virtual away day where colleagues across teaching and learning, academic support, marketing, communications, study abroad, research and admissions came together to discuss shared purpose and ambitions. The feeling in the virtual room was one of immense excitement about what lies ahead.

What lessons/principles were you able to take from your experiences in Maastricht?

The York-Maastricht partnership was York’s first venture into a major strategic partnership in Europe, and we’re incredibly proud of how rapidly that relationship has developed a number of joint research and teaching initiatives. Three key strengths of the partnership have underpinned our success – alongside our shared vision and mission for the partnership, we’ve also found developing strong working relationships and being flexible in how we achieve our shared goals to be essential in developing a sustainable relationship between our two universities. York and Maastricht had enjoyed a close relationship for several years through mobility programmes, research collaborations, and through their joint membership of WUN, and that allowed us to build strong working relationships on both sides. That commitment and the strength of those working relationships was something we were keen to replicate with CITY College. We’ve had a number of visits between York and Thessaloniki – both in person and virtual – and weekly meetings and working groups are now really allowing those personal connections to flourish.

What does the new partnership with CITY college mean for existing staff and students at the University of York?

The relationship goes well beyond validation of degrees. We can foresee a time where there are a multitude of opportunities around staff and student exchange, joint global experiences, co-supervision of research students, shared curriculum and co-designed learning and teaching practice. This is very much a two-way relationship and we have as much to gain from CITY’s experience as they do from ours so we will be looking at how we capture best practice from both sides and use it for continuous improvement. We want CITY staff and students to feel part of the York family and will be working in partnership to ensure that we maximise all opportunities available to us.


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