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The somewhat unusual three-way partnership creates a formal link between the University of Toronto, the University of Manchester and the University of Melbourne.Carlos Osorio/The Globe and Mail

The University of Toronto has formed an alliance with universities in Britain and Australia aimed at furthering research collaboration and expanding opportunities for students in the post-COVID world.

The somewhat unusual three-way partnership creates a formal link between the University of Toronto, the University of Manchester and the University of Melbourne.

The universities expect the partnership to foster stronger ties in research. They share a focus in areas such as health, particularly cancer research, as well as advanced materials and artificial intelligence. They also have common interests in the social sciences and humanities, with a focus on cities and on issues related to Indigenous peoples.

Meric Gertler, president of the University of Toronto, said to his knowledge it’s the only tripartite partnership agreement the university has joined.

“A lot of the big issues of the day require collaboration – across disciplines, across institutions and across nations – in order to really accelerate progress,” Dr. Gertler said. “I think all three universities in a partnership like this see it as a platform for bringing even greater global prominence to the work that their scholars and students are doing.”

All three are large, public institutions with a significant global profile. The Toronto and Melbourne universities are often described as their countries’ leading research schools, while the University of Manchester is rated in the world’s top 50, according to the Times Higher Education rankings.

In addition to the research strengths they hold in common, the universities share a familiar institutional framework thanks to their Commonwealth ties.

Stephen Flint, associate vice-president international at the University of Manchester, said the arrangement can help each university augment the scale of its research, as well as provide some complementary advantages in labs, equipment and resources.

For students, the arrangement holds out the promise of a global classroom with collaboration across borders.

Prof. Flint said institutions have discovered over the pandemic that new pedagogical approaches, with some instruction done over the internet and some in person, can have powerful advantages. He said he could foresee students on each of the campuses attending courses co-designed by faculty at two or three of the partner universities and participating in lectures and discussions online.

“It opens the door to much closer work around teaching. A Manchester student could have a morning lecture from a colleague in Melbourne, be doing lab work or reading through the day and then pick up an afternoon tutorial from Toronto,” Prof. Flint said.

Graduate students could also have advisers at each institution, which would create intellectual partnerships across borders. Dr. Gertler said faculty are intrigued by the prospect because it gives them access to an even larger pool of graduate student talent. And once the pandemic has subsided and travel becomes easier, there will be a lot of demand for student exchanges, Dr. Gertler said.

The University of Toronto will spend $550,000 annually on the partnership, money that will support research and global classrooms, among other things.

The universities will offer relatively small grants as seed money to encourage faculty to collaborate with researchers at the partner universities.

The hope is that a small amount of funding for travel, workshops and symposia will bring in much larger amounts from granting councils in all three countries.

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