Session highlights

“We can’t be naïve. We have to pick our way carefully, and make sure staff and students are protected. But we cannot fail in our duty to work across borders.” Prof Dame Janet Beer, Vice-chancellor, University of Liverpool 

  • It’s been widely remarked that we are going through a period of geopolitical tension. But Professor Dame Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool University, UK, said it is vital to build alliances and “ride these waves”. While the pandemic has shown the potential for international collaboration, the impacts have still been felt unequally. She urged HE institutions to continue working across boundaries to tackle issues such as health, justice and equality, even when optimism is harder to come by.
  • Tom Fletcher CMG, Principal of Oxford University’s Hertford College, said knowledge diplomacy was “another tool in the diplomat’s toolkit” at times when your country might not be particularly “magnetic”. But people who use it need to be “on the right side” of the debate when it comes to issues of distrust, technological change, and perception of inequality. He predicted that the successful institutions of the future will be those that nurture lifelong learning, and see university as something more than “a sabbatical from life”.
  • DAAD Secretary General Dr Kai Sicks stated that – when national conflicts bubble up - universities should be even more resolute in working toward Sustainable Development Goals. He called for a continuation of the “experimentation and possibility” seen during the pandemic. Likewise, NAFSA Chief Executive Dr Esther Brimmer declared there was an opportunity to bring “global education to the classroom”, helping to answer big questions on themes such as climate change that really matter to the next generation. 

Session summary

Research and higher education have always played an important role in building and strengthening relations between and among countries. But in the aftermath of the global pandemic and in the face of increasingly toxic geo-politics will they still have a role to play?

During this session we'll ask:

  • Is knowledge diplomacy just a “feel-good” academic concept with little of value to offer the real world? 
  • How drastically would the role of HE/research need to be re-shaped to offer something valuable in the current global context? What would that role look like? 
  • As HE and research are increasingly drawn into geo-politics, this presents major risks that are hard to manage. What are the risks? Are they worth it – or should institutions stay clear and stick to academic pursuits? 
  • What is the role of education agencies in supporting institutions to navigate the global context and to re-think their role?


  • Chair: Phil Baty - Journalist and Chief Knowledge Officer, Times Higher Education, UK
  • Dr Esther Brimmer - Chief Executive, NAFSA, USA
  • Dr Kai Sicks - Secretary General, DAAD, Germany
  • Maddalaine Ansell - Director of Education, British Council
  • Tom Fletcher CMG, Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University, UK
  • Prof. Dame Janet Beer - Vice Chancellor, University of Liverpool, UK

See also