25 Nov 2015   |   Network Updates

European university leaders discuss future of higher education at Imperial

Representatives from 21 of Europe's leading research universities met at Imperial on Friday and Saturday.

The College hosted the Rector’s Assembly for the League of European Research Universities (LERU).  Among the delegates were Presidents, Vice Chancellors and Rectors from the universities of Amsterdam, Cambridge, Munich and Zurich, among others.

During the two-day event, university chiefs discussed issues around the UK’s upcoming EU referendum, strengthening relationships between Imperial and EU institutions, and how the institutions represented could better work together to address global challenges.

Delegates were welcomed by Imperial’s President Alice Gast and Vice President (Development & Innovation) David Gann. Professor Gast and Professor Gann invited the group to explore the College’s Global Data Observatory (GDO) at the Data Science Institute (DSI), the largest data display of its kind in Europe. Designed, built and housed by the DSI, the project aims to improve growth, innovation and profitability for businesses by using big data, and is part of a £20m investment by KPMG.

Collaborative innovation

This was followed by an evening at the Natural History Museum (NHM), with lab tours of some of the museum’s 80 million-strong collection. This included the museum’s efforts to digitise its UK butterfly specimen collection, which dates back far enough to trace the impact of climate change over many decades. NHM specialists collaborate with Imperial researchers and postgraduate students in this work.

Professor Gast told the group that "LERU universities are united by our strong academic foundations. In Imperial’s strategy we emphasise strength in core academic disciplines and from that comes our brilliant multidisciplinary research. From our depth and excellence, we have the confidence to forge great collaborations and to build great teams. We work together with many colleagues across LERU and beyond – our network is very powerful."

During his speech to the group of academic and business leaders, NHM Director Sir Michael Dixon said: “It’s no happy accident that we’re next door to Imperial… collaborative research and strong research links with Imperial are very important to us. Working with Imperial, we can do much more than on our own.”

Another longstanding collaborator with Imperial and many other LERU universities, Andrew Wolstenholme, CEO of Crossrail, used the occasion to emphasise the academic links that are helping Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure project, innovate and keep to budget and schedule.

Mr Wolstenholme spoke about his work with Professor Gann and Imperial colleagues: “Crossrail is a story about people, and with David’s help it’s also a story about innovation.” A key objective of Crossrail is “moving London forward”, which means “links with research, innovation and academia  matter” – from uncovering millennia-old archaeological objects to digitising transport  infrastructure, Mr Wolstenholme said.

Addressing grand challenges

During dinner, instead of floral centrepieces, artefacts relating to research and innovation at Imperial were placed on tables to stimulate discussion about the College’s work. These included examples of personalised knee joints, energy storage devices, Virtual Reality goggles developed by an Imperial alumni start-up, and models made using 3D printing in the college’s interdisciplinary Hackspace.  

Alice GastProfessor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “Imperial is a profoundly European university. Our rich education and research ties with European partners makes us stronger, and deepens our global impact.

“It was a pleasure to welcome so many colleagues from across Europe to Imperial to work together on important matters of common interest. Our collaborative research and educational efforts truly allow us to address the grand challenges of the day and to benefit society in Europe and beyond.”

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up