One regret, one hope with Derek MacLeod

Reading time: 4 minutes
In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.

This week Mona’s guest is Derek MacLeod, Head of Global Partnerships and Community at Edinburgh Global.

Mona Siddiqui: Can you share a little bit about the work that you do at Edinburgh Global, but maybe first of all you can talk about what Edinburgh Global does?

Derek MacLeod: We are effectively, what was the International Office, so we are the part of the University that supports and develops a lot of our international relationships, be that governments or other institutions and universities, and also works around a lot of other areas supporting our staff and student global community as well.

I’m the Head of Global Partnerships and Community. My role supports the development of our international partnerships and supports our colleagues who are working in our global community team who are working with the staff immigration service that we have, that supports staff who need to get visas to come to the UK, but who also work with our global community of students, trying to make sure we’re embedding the needs of the international community within the work of the University as well. For example, we work on issues where there are regional emergencies; if there’s a problem in a country, we have colleagues that work with the response to support students who are from those countries. We also work with refugees, at risk scholars and asylum seekers who are coming to the University so it’s a wide range of elements within the Global Community team. It’s hugely rewarded but also can be quite challenging at the same time.

MS: Do you think that Edinburgh has any distinctive aspect to this kind of work?

DM: I think we were the first University in Scotland to become a member of the Universities of Sanctuaries Network which is an organisation that works with students from, refugee, asylum seeker and at risk backgrounds and so we have got a long history and tradition of working in these areas. We’ve been working with CARA, the Council for At-Risk Academics, since they were founded just after the Second World War.

But like a lot of other large universities, it’s a very devolved institution as you know, and so I’m trying to understand what’s going on across the University and trying to harness that is always one of the challenges we have.

MS: And in terms of where we are at the moment in the middle of the pandemic and also post-Brexit, where do you think one or two of the biggest challenges are in terms of internationalisation.

DM: I think certainly with Brexit, a lot of the focus we’ve had in the past few years, particularly around Europe, has been trying to reassure our many partners that we’re still very committed and we’re very much outward looking; we’re not retreating into the UK solely. Our partners do get that and I think we’ve successfully managed to communicate that to our network, but it is a significant challenge to remain as engaged when funding structures are changing. In many cases they’re still unclear as to how we’ll be able to engage with some of the European networks and alliances that we’ve been working with in recent years so that is a challenge.

I think, post-pandemic as well, there’s an opportunity for us. We’ve found that through the last two years we’ve worked very successfully with our partners online, but there is that element of, it would be good to get back to meeting them face to face, but with the realisation that we can achieve a lot over the internet that maybe we didn’t realise we could have done beforehand. There’s a lot of learning we’ve done in the last two years and I think a lot of positives have come out of that but it is challenging trying to engage with partners all the time solely online.

MS: Is there one regret, from your recent or distant past, that you could share with us today?

DM: With COP26 just finished, we’ve spent a huge amount of work at the University trying to coordinate and pull together our colleagues who work across climate change and sustainability issues. My one regret is that we haven’t managed to capture a lot of that in the work we do as well as we could’ve in the past. I think there’s such a huge opportunity for us as a University, with so many people working in this area to come together, to pull together, to bring in policy and science and technical knowledge as well as best practice across Professional Services. I just wish that I, and colleagues, had really woken up to this before it took the COP26 to really show us.

MS: And what is one hope you have for the future?

DM: Well very much linked to that, with COP26 there’s been a lot of criticism about what has been achieved from it, but I think from the University’s perspective and certainly from Edinburgh Global’s perspective we’ve been engaging with colleagues in a much better, more coherent way than we have before. There’s a real opportunity for us as a University to really push ourselves as a global leader both in the higher education sector and trying to influence other universities. We’ve seen some excellent examples of that recently where using the PLuS alliance, which we’re a member of, we’ve been sharing some of our best practice around providing climate education to all students. We’ve also been trying to explain to other universities around the world how they can take similar paths that we have to try and reduce greenhouse emissions. We’ve been using the power of the institution, using the power of the brand of the University and the experiences and expertise that we have to develop really meaningful partnerships globally where we can be thinking about a climate conscious engagement but also in terms of our research and collaborations, really pushing some of these, or trying to develop research in a way or to enhance what we’ve done before.