New global research alliance between Melbourne and Toronto

A wide-ranging partnership between the University of Melbourne and the University of Toronto will give staff and students new opportunities to collaborate on, and generate insights into, areas of common scholarly interest.

The newly formed Global Research Alliance, developed over the past four years, will provide funding for joint research projects, a collaborative academic program to train PhD candidates, and ‘global classrooms,’enabling tudents in Toronto and Melbourne to study and learn together in person and virtually.

Adrian Little, the Pro Vice-Chancellor (International) at the University of Melbourne, says the similarities between the two universities make them natural partners: Both are large institutions covering many academic disciplines that have deep connections to a diverse, multicultural city.

Joseph Wong, University of Toronto’s Vice-President, International, agrees.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for our two institutions, as flagship universities of settler countries, to do some really great work,” he said.

There will be advantages for individual researchers at each university, too, with academics gaining from wider, global exposure for their work.

The two universities issued a call for joint research proposals for the first time last year, awarding six projects up to $30,000 each. The winning proposals spanned several disciplines, from sociology to geography to medicine. Common to all the funded projects are a commitment to academic excellence and a clear articulation of how a Toronto-Melbourne collaboration adds value to the research. Projects that showed potential for growth were also prioritised, creating a pipeline of future opportunities.

Justin Zobel, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate and International Research) at the University of Melbourne, said “faculty at both institutions are keen to partner with each other. As the leading institutions in our regions, with deep and complementary strengths in areas of global importance, working together creates the opportunity to address challenges across all fields of research.”

On the teaching side of the partnership, Wong envisions more opportunities for students to travel abroad and, through the ‘global classroom’ project, engage virtually with their peers.

Professor Little also sees advantages for staff as well as students. “As an academic, the idea that I could get my counterpart in Toronto into an online classroom with my students to be exposed to knowledge and expertise that is complementary to my own is an exciting prospect,” he says.

Rounding out the partnership is an International Research Training Group (IRTG) that brings together researchers to co-supervise PhD candidates. Professor Zobel sees IRTGs as one of the most effective ways that Universities can work together, noting that “highly motivated research candidates studying in two different institutions can build a link between their cultures and are an engine of collaboration.”

Last year, 12 projects from disciplines such as computer science, public health, sociology and engineering were selected for the program. The next round of 10 successful projects across a diverse range of fields has just been announced and are now recruiting PhD candidates to those projects. Interested candidates can find out more here.

While the partnership serves as a platform for all academic divisions at each university, some particular areas of focus have been identified because of previously established relationships or common scholarly interests. These include Indigenous studies and Indigenous health, social work, migration, medicine and public health.

For Professor Little, the potential for advancing knowledge around Indigenous topics in the two countries is particularly appealing.

“It seems to me we’ve got an awful lot to learn from one another,” he says. “And it must begin from sharing Indigenous knowledge – not the elite, top-down form of knowledge, but by building connections with Indigenous communities in each of our places – so we can reckon with our past and do better in the future.”

Regardless of the academic discipline, though, the two universities are interested in combining forces to generate research and learning with a global impact.

“By bringing together two of the world’s best universities, the capacity for genuine advances is greatly accentuated,” said Professor Little.

Banner image: Picture: Supplied

First published on 15 February 2022.

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