Spotlight on UQ in the UK

24 November 2014
Matthew Custance (front, centre) with other members of UQ’s London Business Economics and Law (BEL) Alumni Ambassador Council at a meeting at Australia House.

With an abundance of career and overseas travel opportunities, the United Kingdom is a popular destination, with approximately 1425 UQ alumni currently living and working in the UK.

Money is no longer the major driving force behind Australian graduates heading to the UK. That’s the view of KPMG Partner, Matthew Custance (Bachelor of Commerce (First Class Honours) ’91; Bachelor of Laws ’94) and Chair of the London Business, Economics and Law (BEL) Alumni Ambassador Council.

“It’s the buzz of working in the world’s financial capital and the extraordinary travel and cultural opportunities,” Custance explains.

“Most expats I speak with are now motivated by the career opportunities available in a bigger and more connected economy.

“And for some of us, it’s the place we now feel comfortable and call home.”

As well as the many alumni who are based in the UK, the University’s deep and longstanding links and shared interests with the UK are reflected across a range of student exchanges, scholarships and research agreements.

UQ has student exchange arrangements with 15 universities in the UK (e.g. UQ Abroad, research collaborations and self-funded, short-term study) and the country remains one of the most popular student exchange destinations for UQ students. Over the past five years, more than 600 students have enjoyed a UK exchange, with around the same number of UK students coming to UQ to study.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Joanne Wright said UK university students and UQ had developed a strong and robust exchange relationship.

“In 2013, there were 196 UK students enrolled across undergraduate and postgraduate programs and approximately 22 per cent of UK students at UQ are completing Research Higher Degrees,” Professor Wright said.

The UK is one of the top two destinations for UQ students participating in UQ Abroad. From 2009 until 2013, around 20 per cent or 461 of all UQ students going on UQ Abroad exchange headed for the UK and in 2014, 172 students are destined for placements there.

Professor Wright attributes the UK’s popularity as a UQ Abroad destination to it being an English-speaking country (with courses taught in English); the quality of the partner institutions UQ students could attend while still gaining credit towards their degrees; and the UK’s proximity to Europe, opening up a myriad of travel possibilities.

“UQ’s network of UK partner institutions is extensive through our Universitas 21 (U21) membership.

“The University is one of only three Australian founding members of U21, an international consortium dedicated to world’s best practice to foster global citizenship and institutional innovation,” she said.

Provost Professor Max Lu said UQ’s enduring relationship with universities and organisations in the UK as well as the many alumni who lived there made sense.

“Australia and the UK have a special connection, with around 5.5 per cent of Australian residents born in the UK,” he said.

“The UK is also Australia’s major source of visitors. We have a shared heritage, common values, and closely aligned strategic outlook and interests, which includes international security, multilateral cooperation and climate change.”

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Advancement) Clare Pullar said UQ’s global profile owed much to the achievements of alumni including many based in the UK.

Prominent UQ alumni living and working in the UK include current High Court Judge (Queen’s Bench Division) Sir Ross Cranston (Bachelor of Arts ’69, Bachelor of Laws ’70); Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen, Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, Samantha Cohen (Bachelor of Arts ’88); and refugee advocate and CEO of GlobalGiving UK, Eleanor Harrison (Master of International Studies ’04).

“Their endeavours, together with those of all our alumni in the UK and elsewhere, help to validate the excellence of a UQ education,” Pullar said.

She said it was also wonderful to know that alumni spread far and wide had formed groups to network with each other as well as to provide a channel for news from their alma mater.

“These groups can encourage members to tap into University expertise as well as maintain a relationship with UQ over the years.”

One such group is the London BEL Alumni Ambassador Council, which supports members by offering networking, mentoring opportunities, coaching and leadership.

Custance said chairing the Council was his way of giving back to UQ.

“I was very lucky to have the benefit of a UQ education and the opportunities which flowed from that,” Custance said.

“I’ve also been lucky since then to work for large firms which have provided me with a support network, which is particularly important when you are moving between countries.”

The council was formed in 2012 to maximise networking opportunities for UQ alumni based in the UK.

“Our goals are to promote networking among alumni; create opportunities, especially for alumni at earlier stages in their careers; and to provide avenues for alumni to give back to the University, the broader community and to each other,” Custance said.

The group meets regularly to discuss ways to contribute to the University community and has so far held two networking functions at Australia House thanks to the assistance and support provided by the Queensland Trade Commission. 

“The alumni network is another way the University can help overseas graduates to have support in London,” Custance said.

Research partners

UQ academics are currently conducting around $13.25 million worth of research with UK universities through a number of bilateral partnerships and through membership of U21.

Three of UQ’s “top 10 partners” are within the UK – the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham. UQ has also formed active research partnerships with eight member institutions of the prestigious Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities committed to maintaining the very best research, outstanding teaching and learning experiences, and unrivalled links with industry and the public sector. UQ’s strong history of research collaboration with the UK is reflected in the fact that the UK is second only to the US among countries that co-publish with UQ, with 2714 co-publications for the period from 2008 to July 2013.

Of these co-authored publications, 429 were with the University of London, 330 with the University of Oxford and 246 with Imperial College London.

The main subject areas covered in UQ–UK co-publications for this period were genetics/heredity, multidisciplinary sciences, biochemistry, molecular biology, ecology 
and neurosciences.

Professor Lu said it was not just the number of publications that were important, but the quality.

“Since 2008, there have been 60 UQ–UK co-publications in PLOS ONE, 34 in Nature Genetics and 23 each inLancet and Nature, which is a great result,” he said.

Key collaborations

  • Professor Ian Frazer has collaborated with the University of Oxford on a number of high-profile cancer-related studies.
  • Professor Paul Young from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Bioscience has worked with the University of Oxford’s Centre for Tropical Medicine and its Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City on a “Therapeutics for Dengue” study.
  • Dr Peter Nixon from UQ’s Global Change Institute is collaborating with Imperial College London on biofuels.
  • Professor Matt Cooper from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience is working with a group of researchers led by scientists from the London Centre for Nanotechnology and University College London to help understand how an antibiotic is effective against bacteria.
  • Dr Kerryn McClusky from the School of Education in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) has initiated a reciprocal international experience for Education students. 

Keep in touch

The University is keen to stay in touch with all of its alumni living and working around the world. Update your details.

To contact the London BEL Alumni Ambassador Council, email

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2014 edition of Contact Magazine.