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Academics and University leadership attend China UK Humanities Alliance meeting

The China UK Humanities Alliance Executive Council meeting took place on 14th December, bringing together academics and university leaders from some of the best institutions in both China and the UK.

The Alliance is formed of 17 universities in China and the UK, each with an outstanding reputation for work in the Arts and Humanities. The University of Exeter has recently had the privilege to be invited to take a turn at leading the UK side of the Alliance and will work closely with the UKCHA Secretariat at Tsinghua University, and member institutions in both the UK and China, to support a number of new Alliance initiatives in 2021. The meeting was attended by representatives from Tsinghua University, Peking University, Fudan University, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Shanghai International Studies University, Wuhan University, together with the universities of University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, University of Manchester, University of Warwick, University of Exeter, University of Reading, and Kings College London.

The Executive Council meeting provided a chance to reflect upon activities the Alliance has supported from 2016 to 2020. In the 19/20 academic year, in spite of challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, members reported an array of publications, conferences, exchanges, and virtual events that have been hosted under the auspices of the UKCHA. Events and successes covered a huge breadth of academic activities of topics across the humanities, broadly defined. The meeting showcased the importance placed by institutions in both the UK and China in working together to tackle major global challenges, through promoting shared understanding and collaborative research. Conversations ranged from the importance of protecting heritage to the role universities can play in supporting the cultural sector to bounce back from the covid-19 pandemic. Amongst other successes, the University of Exeter was able to celebrate the successful hosting of the Higher Education Youth Talent Alliance Conference in August, which brought together over 160 students from China and the UK for a virtual conference exploring three themes: Digital Humanities and Special Collections; Intercultural Communication; and International Cultural Exchange

Prof Chen Xu, President of the China UK Humanities Alliance and Chair of Tsinghua University Council, gave the opening address at the meeting. She pointed out that since the establishment of the Alliance in 2016, the 17 leading colleges and universities from China and the UK have carried out humanities and academic exchanges through the Alliance to cope with the common challenges faced by humanities education and research, and to promote dialogue between the people of the two countries by enhancing all-inclusive capabilities and learning from others. She encouraged the Alliance members to give full play to their unique advantages in international humanities academics, humanities education, and cultural exchanges to continue exploring new avenues of research, deepen cooperation models, and expand the influence of the Alliance, for the comprehensive development of higher education, talent cultivation and better cross-cultural understanding.

Turning to plans for 2021, Prof Melissa Percival, Associate Dean for Global at the University of Exeter, set out her ambitions to see Exeter support a number of UK China events in 2021. Included in discussions were the importance of supporting the next generation of researchers in the UK and China, by establishing a virtual seminar series for members to allow PhD students and Early Career Researchers to present their work. Furthermore, the concept of a ‘Re-Imagining the Global’ virtual conference to be held in April 2021 was discussed and thematic areas of focus for the conference set out. Prof Percival also spoke of her desire to support building of new academic networks between members, and assorted speakers from Chinese member universities proposed exciting research themes where they were seeking collaborators. 

University of Exeter Vice Chancellor, Prof Lisa Roberts, spoke at the event and expressed her enthusiasm for these new initiatives: "I’m delighted that colleagues in the UK and China have asked Exeter to take our turn in leading the UK side of the Alliance’s development. This reflects the commitment of our College of Humanities, and indeed our institution as a whole, to work with our friends in China closely and to build links between China and UK. I’m really hopeful that the Alliance will support institutions here, and indeed across the UK and China, to forge ahead with some exciting new partnerships and initiatives in 2021."

Date: 4 January 2021

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