Published: 26th June 2019
We have been lobbying very hard for the 2 year after-study work visa: Ian Greer, Vice-Chancellor of Queen's University Belfast
Cost of living is an awful lot cheaper, he says. "The quality of the course here is good and we do offer a good package in terms of reasonably priced courses and very good quality of living," he says
It had only been a few months since Ian Greer was appointed the new Vice-Chancellor of
Queen’s University Belfast when he decided to visit India, “one of the first countries I visited in my tenure,” he says. This was to explore opportunities, both the one's Queen's can offer and take. "I am very keen on transnational education and research," declared Greer as we sat down for a long chat with him at Queen's. And it is because of this interest that he is exploring more and more opportunities with India and will be visiting the country this November again.
To tell you a little about the man himself, Greer is a medical doctor who has served as Vice-President of the University of Manchester before taking on the role as the 13th VC at Queen's. He also serves on the board of various alliances and committees including Chair of the Translational Stem Cell Research/Regenerative Medicine Committee (2008-14) and more. So we ask him about life and research possibilities at Queen's along with his views about the healthcare sector. Excerpts from an insightful interview:
You've said before that Indian students are hard working and technologically very sound. In what ways can Queen's help in enriching them?
Yes, the students that we get from India are very good students and it is a pleasure to work with them. Also, people in Belfast are warm and this is a hospitable and easy place to live in. Part of the benefit of coming to Queen's is that you get to interact with students from across cultures. We do provide a multi-cultural environment and I think diversity is very important, and not just in terms of culture but the kind of perspectives that people bring. I want to see the very best brains coming to Queen's and learning together.
A view to admire: The architecture of the buildings of Queen's is amazing | (Pic: Queen's University Belfast)
You've been lobbying for easy visa and work permits...
We have been lobbying very hard from Northern Ireland and this is not just universities, but even business sector has joined us as they value international students coming to work with them, even if it's just for one or two years after graduation. So we have been lobbying very hard with the government to bring back the two-year post-study work visa. We know that it has been well-received. Though the focus right now is Brexit, we have been making multiple approaches to the government, all the way to the top. There are signs that we are seeing changes as there is a Migratory Advisory Committee in place, so maybe within next year or so, we might see a change in the UK's position.
Despite that, we know courses are more attractive if students can have some time in business. So wherever possible, we try to build placements in as many courses we offer. We are working with employers in Northern Ireland to give students some exposure to business. We think it is important because we need our students to be business-ready.
Since you are the director of so many healthcare-related alliances, we wanted to understand from you a little bit about a recent report we came across which said the UK is short of almost every healthcare professional and even in India, there are 20 health care workers for 10,000 people. Why do you think such a huge gap exists?
Part of the problem is driven by the fact that we are an ageing society and with ageing comes diseases. There are technological advances made in healthcare and medicine which means we can do things we weren't able to do 10-15 years ago.
One of the issues when it comes to global healthcare is that it is very expensive. But you also see that it doesn't matter how much money you throw at the problem, money alone won't solve the problem. For the answer, I will have to take you back to 1944. The UK government commissioned a report to look at the future of medical schools and what they concluded was, in university hospitals, education and research was equally important as patient care. One of the problems we face right now is that we are spending a lot of money on patient care and we have to change the model of patient care. The traditional model of treating diseases at a later stage is very expensive and doesn't work. So in clinical research, you see a problem and inform researchers who will fix that problem and then, they inform the education system and with it, the next set of professionals to take that new knowledge based on research back into practice and this is a virtuous cycle of improvement. We can solve the problem if we have universities working with health service. So universities working in the health field can raise contracts from pharma companies or raise grants from governments, we can come up with solutions that can change things because the health service on its own doesn't have enough capacity to deliver research in education. The partnership between universities, to do the research and the industry which can bring in technology can make a difference.
Here, we recently launched Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland and what we have done is brought all assets of Northern Ireland which are considerable. We have big diagnostics company, we have lots of small medium-sized companies, technological companies doing healthcare, expertise in digital pathology, which uses AI to analyse tissue biopsy. One of these leading global systems was developed by Queen's and we can deliver more systems like that and change how we manage pathology services, driven by technology which is in turn driven by research. We need to focus on early prediction, prevention and the treatment of any disease because the cost of vaccination is modest when compared to treating the ailment at a later stage. For example, cancer of the cervix, which was an issue with women in the UK. It was recognised through research that the cancer was driven by a virus infection, if we immunise teenage girls and boys against it, over the years the cancer will die and this has happened.
We have a very strong public health department who do a lot of research and can make a real difference.
Here it is: Part of Lanyon building | (Pic: Queen's University Belfast)
You are also going to launch 40 full scholarships to give a push to the cyber security sector and you already have UK's largest cyber security centre CSIT. Can you tell us what scope do you see for it in the future?
We are the leading university for cybersecurity internationally and part of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre. Just a few weeks ago, I was opening a conference which was the ninth annual Cyber Security Summit, an international conference which is always held here. The opportunities are fantastic. Students can also work with National Consortium, which is not just here, but is a part of universities who are working on cyber security issues nationally. There are also opportunities to work with companies here. Having a great R&D function in Belfast linked to business communities in South India will be a very exciting marriage of bringing the two together and I would love to explore it.
What about the scope of creative industries in Belfast?
There are a lot of investments in the creative industries. I should mention the Belfast Regional City Deal which is an injection of funding from the government to drive the economy. It's worth a billion pounds and $350 million pounds is dedicated to innovation which is led by the university sector in Northern Ireland. It has four components - creative industry, advanced manufacturing, health research and computer science analytics and AI. So we have this major investment which will drive the research capability and capacity up and the need for jobs will go up. It will create a really exciting environment to do research. This is not just research for the sake of doing research, it is research that will change the future for many sectors.
If Greer had to formulate an ideal healthcare policy for India, these would be the priority -
- Focus on public health issues
- Have research and education built into the system because otherwise, "you will keep doing the same thing and health care will be the same," he says
- Significant investment in public health care and investment in workforce, capability and capacity of the system to do research