Vision and impact spread beyond these shores

University of Dundee has set up a relationship with a diabetes institute in Kuwait. Picture: Jane Barlow

University of Dundee has set up a relationship with a diabetes institute in Kuwait. Picture: Jane Barlow

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SCOTLAND’S universities are grappling with some of the biggest challenges to face our world today says Pete Downes.

A couple of weeks ago my University held a graduation ceremony under the sort of blue skies we have come to associate with this occasion in Scotland’s sunniest city, our newest graduates and their families celebrating the pinnacle of years of hard work and dedication. However, it was considerably warmer than we usually feel in Dundee in winter. This was a graduation ceremony 3,000 miles away in Kuwait City, the latest indication of the University’s global reach.

How did we come to be celebrating the achievements of over 50 postgraduate students in Kuwait, including our first Masters level graduates in the country? The University of Dundee has been working with the flagship Dasman Diabetes Institute in Kuwait since 2011, helping to deliver its mission to prevent, control and mitigate the impact of diabetes there. Diabetes is a significant problem in Kuwait where it has been estimated that up to 1 in 4 of the adult population suffers from the disease.

Sir Mark Walport, now the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said of the city’s contribution to diabetes care and prevention when he was Director of the Wellcome Trust, “If you live in Dundee and suffer from diabetes, you have recently been participating in a medical revolution.”

He was citing evidence that in Dundee and Tayside the number of amputations due to diabetes had fallen by 40 per cent, while the number of diabetics requiring laser treatment to preserve their sight had recorded a similar reduction. The reason? The introduction of confidential electronic records, collaborative clinical and managerial leadership across an entire health system and a focus on quality improvement, allied to earlier diagnosis and more targeted treatment.

It is this expertise we can export to our global partners. We can help effect the same dramatic improvements in diabetes care elsewhere that we have seen in Dundee. And the same approach can be applied to other chronic diseases.

Scotland’s universities are one of our greatest assets and the international outlook is more important than ever, as we are operating on a global stage. For us that means welcoming students from all over the world.

Our work in Kuwait is only one example of this. Our long-term aim is to become Scotland’s leading university and one of the ways we can reach that goal is by grappling with some of the biggest challenges that face our world. To do this we have identified three broad areas as part of a transformation agenda for the University.

One such aim is to improve social, cultural and physical well-being.

As well as a ceremony in Kuwait, we also have one in Eritrea where we have been working for several years to educate the new generation of nursing and healthcare managers.

In the last year we have also entered into a project with the Bangalore BioCluster in India with the aim of creating a joint Drug Discovery Centre to tackle antimicrobial resistance. To do this we will leverage the experience of the UK’s leading academic Drug Discovery Unit in Dundee with the aim of establishing a replica centre in Bangalore.

Antimicrobial resistance is of course a hugely significant issue in relation to hospital-acquired infections and in major diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. We are launching our first Massive Open Online Course to help educate health professionals on best practices. And through our work on neglected diseases we have designed new drugs with the potential to improve the treatment of malaria.

The second aim is to promote the sustainable use of global resources. The University is leading the way in providing expertise in law, policy and governance for the oil, gas and energy sector through our Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, with particularly strong links in Africa and South America, and similarly in the area of water law and policy, a prime emerging concern to the world today.

We also plan to shape the future through innovative design. Dundee, of course, is a newly minted UNESCO City of Design, illustrating the global impact of our artists and designers at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design but also those working across disciplines such as engineering, architecture, forensic sciences and medical technology.

We are a Scottish university but our vision and impact spreads far beyond these shores. That is what our universities must continue to be supported to do to maintain Scotland’s leading position on the global stage of higher education.

• Professor Pete Downes is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee

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