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Oriental Museum, Durham University

Our Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global) Professor Claire O’Malley discusses our new membership of RENKEI and talks about the collaboration opportunities with Japan it offers.

We recently joined RENKEI, the Japan-UK Research and Education Network for Knowledge Economy Initiatives – a strategic partnership for research collaboration between universities in Japan and the UK.

I feel this marks the start of an exciting new chapter in the University’s engagement with Japan. Building on our strong tradition of collaboration with Japanese partners, membership of this prestigious group of 12 universities will support our researchers in forging new connections to address pressing global issues and will present new international opportunities for our students and their counterparts in Japan.

RENKEI: collaboration

RENKEI, which is also the Japanese word for collaboration, was established in 2012 in recognition of the common interests and long history of partnership between both countries. At Durham, we have our own long-standing relationship with Japan, built around similar shared interests.

Durham’s engagement with Japan began in earnest in the second half of the 20th Century with the establishment of our Oriental Museum’s renowned collections and the commencement at Durham of teaching of Japanese language and culture. These initiatives continue at the epicentre of the Durham-Japan nexus, accounting for many of the University’s valued bilateral partnerships with Japanese institutions.

Close links and friendships

Our Oriental Museum has significantly expanded its Japanese collections in recent years, and maintains numerous connections with Japan, including a flagship partnership with the National Museum of Japanese History.

Our researchers have worked closely with counterparts in the National Museum of Japanese History (NMJH). We signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2017 with a focus on collections research projects to promote the collections, educational engagement and special exhibitions. NMJH curators and researchers regularly visit Durham and contribute to both the HE teaching at taught MA level and Widening Participation activities. NMJH and Oriental Museum staff are currently collaborating on two exhibition projects.

As part of our flourishing Japanese Studies programme, we engage in research collaboration and exchanges students with universities across Japan, including current members of the RENKEI network. The Oriental Museum, Japanese Studies Department and our colleges also collaborate on cultural activities with Teikyo University’s branch campus in Durham.

Research collaborations

Collaboration with Japan is now an important facet of Durham’s international research portfolio. Over the last five years, researchers across all four of our Faculties collaborated with colleagues at some 175 institutions in Japan to produce over 550 joint publications. Collaborations span a breadth of disciplines including health- and climate change-related research, the two priority areas of the RENKEI network.

Durham-Japan collaborations have conducted cutting-edge research to improve lives across the world, in fields such as developmental psychology, disaster prevention, sea-level change, and fertility science. Some of these joint projects have been generously supported by Japanese agencies such as Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and MEXT.

Durham researchers also actively engage with industry partners, including Japanese multinationals based in the North East of England, and Durham spin-out enterprises have also attracted the attention of Japanese investors.  

Part of the wider UK-Japan friendship

Durham’s membership of RENKEI comes at an interesting juncture in the wider relationship between both countries. As part of its post-Brexit vision, the UK government has identified Japan as a country of strategic importance.

Indeed, ‘Global Britain’s’ first major trade deal after leaving the EU was with Japan. An earlier Joint Declaration (2017) highlighted research and innovation as a key focus for collaboration and has since been followed by a number of UK-Japan funding calls. The Turing Scheme, another post-Brexit development, will also support outbound mobility to Japan for educational and training placements.

Equitable international partnerships and networks such as RENKEI are crucial to help the University flourish in this dynamic external context. Membership of RENKEI will offer a platform for Durham staff and students to take advantage of new opportunities, enhancing Durham’s long-held and greatly valued relationship with Japan.   

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