Penn State Intercom......June 21 , 2001

Global research and graduate
school partnership launched

Eleven research institutions of international standing have come together to create a worldwide research and graduate education partnership, to be known as the Worldwide University Network (WUN). Unlike other international partnerships whose focus is on undergraduate education and distance learning, the WUN is based primarily on collaboration in research and graduate education. Cooperating institutions also will develop online distributed learning programs to facilitate the delivery of graduate and continuing educational programs.

The founding members in the United States are The Pennsylvania State University, University of California-San Diego, University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Washington. The members from the United Kingdom are the universities of Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Southampton and York. Universities in other countries will be added as the partnership evolves.

The agreement to work together was reached in Washington, D.C., in April following several months of planning. A number of pilot initiatives already are under development. The initial cooperative graduate programs will focus on rapidly developing, interdisciplinary areas of global significance.

"The partnership's first programs will be in the areas of bio-informatics, geography of the new economy, public policy and management, smart materials and nanotechnology," according to Alan Wilson, vice chancellor of the University of Leeds and Chairman of the WUN.

The network's teams of experts will have the collective expertise to tackle major global challenges on behalf of corporations, governments, the United Nations and other global agencies in ways that are not feasible by individual institutions.

"Research collaboration between faculty and graduate students in these areas and in areas that will be launched in the future will create significant intellectual and educational synergy, opportunities to share expertise and increased access to the partners' facilities," according to President Graham B. Spanier, vice chair of the WUN.

The partners are launching an international graduate exchange program in order to enhance research and educational experiences for graduate students. Travel awards and stipends for fellowships and assistantships will support graduate students who wish to undertake a period of research and study at another of the partner institutions.

Faculty from WUN member institutions already have participated in a series of colloquia to support the development of research and course proposals of a scope that could not easily be delivered by institutions alone.

"Some of the universities in the partnership are among the leaders in distance and online education," said Spanier.

"The universities are committed to collaboration in the development of courseware, pooling expertise in the development and operation of delivery platforms and emphasizing quality assurance," added Wilson.

The alliance hopes to increase student choice, enhance pedagogical effectiveness and provide better learning outcomes. The UK partners currently are bidding for funding being made available by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which is providing approximately
$100 million over the next three years to establish a global platform for the delivery of online distributed learning and the commission of eLearning programs.