By Professor James Smith, Vice-Principal International, the University of Edinburgh
Yesterday we visited the University of Delhi – our strongest Indian partnership – as the Principal was guest of honour at the opening of the Innovation Plaza at the Antardhwani Cultural Festival 2015. Coincidentally, several thousand miles and 20 degrees Celsius away our own students were coming to the end of Innovative Learning Week. The more we move, the more there is to share….
We arrived a little late for the full pageantry (we can blame typical Delhi traffic for that) but the reception at the Innovation Plaza was incredible. The Plaza is a showcase of the efforts of hundreds of undergraduate students who have been working in groups of up to ten, with small teams of academic supervisors to undertake research that is socially, economically, environmentally and technologically transformational.
This is an area close to my own heart. How do we generate social innovation? How do ensure that technology meets local needs? How do we ensure that students are equipped for tomorrow in a rapidly changing, globalising world? These are questions that strike to the heart of multiple threads of internationalisation within the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere.
The student projects were outstanding. Many of the students were second years but I witnessed neural network simulations controlling robots, new formulations of biodiesel, waste recycling projects, alternative energy models – an endless array. At the core of each project is interdisciplinary collaboration, problem-focused research and a real zeal to ensure that undergraduates are fully-fledged student/researchers.
The similarities between our aspirations for our own students, indeed the aspirations of our own students, was telling. While we can debate whether there are truly Indian problems to be grappled with or whether Indian problems are simply the transformational problems of the rest of the world to a greater or lesser degree, it is clear that part of the solution at least lies in ensuring our graduates combine disciplinary strength, interdisciplinary flexibility and innovative vision. I would add international perspective to that list and I hope that next year we can find a way to combine some of our Innovative Learning Week with Antardhwani 2016 through student exchange, interaction and collaboration. The results, I am sure, will be amazing.