USF-Exeter Relationship Extended

Already a strong partnership, the two leading research universities will explore opportunities for greater cooperation.


USF President Judy Genshaft and University of Exeter Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Professor Sir Steve Smith sign documents expanding the collaborative relationship between the two universities. They are joined by Exeter Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Neil Armstong, and USF Provost Ralph Wilcox, an Exeter alumnus.


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Dec. 6, 2012) — Collaboration between two leading research universities on either side of the Atlantic Ocean will expand after the signing of a new memorandum of understanding by leaders of the University of South Florida and the University of Exeter in England.


USF President Judy Genshaft and Exeter Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive Professor Sir Steve Smith inked the agreement during a meeting on Exeter’s Streatham campus in late November. It sets the stage for both institutions to explore in greater abundance common objectives and specific projects in fields ranging from archaeology, business, education, and engineering to ethno-politics, geography, marine science, and sports medicine.


Since 2009, the University of Exeter has been part of USF’s Global Academic Partners (GAP) Program, comprising a select international group of “like” universities and promoting increased global literacy and impact, community engagement, integrated interdisciplinary inquiry, and research and innovation. The consortium also includes Nankai University and Ocean University in China, as well as the University of Ghana and University of Cape Coast in Ghana, West Africa.


The University of Exeter was named the Sunday Times 2012-13 University of the Year and one of the top 200 universities in the world by the Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings.


Through the GAP Program, USF faculty members are awarded the opportunity and resources to work with colleagues at the five partner universities on projects that serve as the foundation for external funding, collaborative teaching, or creative scholarly activities.


Currently, USF and Exeter have in place a half-dozen collaborative ventures including joint research by USF Professors Linda Whiteford (Anthropology) and Graham Tobin (Geography) and their Exeter colleague, Prof. Paul Cloke (Geography), examining the politics and policies of socioeconomic responses to and recovery from environmental hazards or disasters. Specifically, the trio is considering the role of social networks and “Third Sector” organizations — voluntary and/or nonprofit groups working in an intermediary space between business and government where private energy can be deployed for public good — in recovery efforts following the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, that claimed 185 lives and caused widespread damage throughout New Zealand’s second-largest city.


Tobin, also USF’s vice provost for strategic planning and budget, calls the growing relationship with Exeter “fruitful” on several levels, bringing together researchers with a broad range of experiences, expanding opportunities for them to seek financial support from both U.S. and European agencies such as the National Science Foundation (U.S.) and British Council, and facilitating international exchange of both faculty and students.


He and Whiteford already have visited Exeter, last October, for meetings with Cloke, who plans a spring 2013 visit to USF, where he’s agreed to give a public lecture sponsored by the USF Citizenship Initiative. Meanwhile, their joint project is expected to provide positions — known as the Exeter-USF Studentships in Post-Disaster Recovery — for two PhD students (one from each institution) for up to three years of in-the-field research in New Zealand.


“It certainly speaks well to USF’s strategic goals of promoting globally-competitive graduates and expanding world-class interdisciplinary research,” said Tobin of the Exeter partnership, which also takes in a five-year student exchange agreement signed between the two universities in August 2010 for the benefit, specifically, of students in business studies.


The first students in the program were exchanged in 2011-12, with three from USF studying at Exeter for one semester and two from Exeter taking classes at USF for the academic year. For 2012-13, Exeter has sent two students to USF for the year, while one USF student made the reverse journey for the fall semester.


Among other documents signed by Genshaft and Sir Steve during their meeting was an extension of the student exchange agreement, now to include students in all disciplines and fields of study.


Eager to begin the process of identifying potential new collaborations made possible by the broader accords, USF Deans Jacqueline Dixon (Marine Science), Moez Limayem (Business), and John Wiencek (Engineering) accompanied Genshaft and Provost Ralph Wilcox, an Exeter alumnus, on the autumn visit to southwest England.


In 2010, USF Engineering Professor James Mihelcic and colleagues Maya Trotz, Qiong Zhang, and Mahmood Nachabe helped Exeter Professor of Water Engineering David Butler put together a research proposal that was successful in winning a grant from the British Council’s UK-US New Partnership Fund to examine using green infrastructure for more effective management of water resources in arid environments.


The competition for such funding is fierce, with only about one in 10 applications receiving approval, and the early positive outcome has resulted in both regular exchanges between Exeter and Tampa and additional bids for funding from the UK Research Councils (Butler) and the NSF’s Partnerships for International Research and Education program — the latter announcing on Nov. 28 it had awarded Mihelcic and his team $3.9 million for a five-year project addressing “Sensitive Implementation of Synergistic Water-Energy Systems.” It is USF’s largest global sustainability grant to date.


“We want to take that initiative and use it to move things to the next level,” said Wiencek, explaining that he spent a significant portion of his time at Exeter in the company of its faculty experts in functional materials.


“They are some folks I’d like to introduce to our people in the Nanotechnology Research and Education Center. We think there could be real opportunities for new collaboration, particularly in the areas of nano-biology and tissue engineering.”


Such leading-edge research holds the promise of helping people with an array of physical disabilities, Wiencek said, mentioning deafness and the work of Professor Robert Frisina Jr. in USF’s Global Center for Hearing and Speech Results as a possible early focus for the enhanced partnership.


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.