Iain Watt, Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) of the University of Western Australia in Perth, visited Queen’s University last week. UWA and Queen’s are members of the Matariki Network of Universities, an international group that focuses on research partnerships and undergraduate teaching. Communications Officer Andrew Stokes spoke with Mr. Watt about his trip.
Andrew Stokes: What are your priorities for your time at Queen’s?
Iain Watt: One of my primary goals is to discuss international exchange opportunities for Australian students. Our target is to have 40 per cent of our students go on an overseas exchange during their undergraduate degree, and to attract more students to come to Australia. Our current exchange rate is between 20-25 per cent, so I’m trying to find out if we’re not doing some things as well as other universities.
AS: How does Queen’s fit into those exchange goals?
IW: UWA and Queen’s have been significant partners for student mobility, but we’d like to strengthen the tie. When international exchanges first began, there were fewer students doing them, so having partnerships with a large number of institutions made more sense. Now, the administrative work required to maintain partnerships with around 150 schools is very expensive, so we’d like to have a smaller number of partners, but send a greater number of students there each year.
Since UWA and Queen’s signed our exchange agreement in 2001, we’ve had more than 300 students exchange between us, so it’s a strong relationship. We’re an isolated country and city, so from Perth it’s easier to get to Jakarta or Singapore than a city on Australia’s east coast, like Sydney. For international exchanges, students want to go somewhere more exotic than Singapore, so Canada is an interesting option.
AS: How is UWA benefiting from its membership in the Matariki Network?
IW: The network is still in its formative stages, trying to decide what it wants its goals to be, but we generally want to share and talk about research strengths, student exchanges, teaching opportunities and anything that the other schools are doing well. One of the things we’re looking at is how we might fund research cooperation networks. The seven member universities fund research rather differently, so a structure that works for us may not work for Queen’s or for the University of Otago — we need to find something that works for all of us.
AS: You’re visiting Innovation Park during your visit, is the focus on innovation growing in Australia?
IW: I’m very interested in seeing what Queen’s has done around innovation. Australia is lagging behind most Western countries and UWA wants to be better at commercialization, innovation and incubation. Right now we’re not great at taking research from universities and making it marketable. Also, because many of the major businesses in Australia are headquartered in the United Kingdom or the United States, much of their research is done overseas. While there are good reasons for that, we need to find ways to improve it.