New partnership with Germany: The Centre for Cultural Relations and IfA collaborate on online learning.

IfA office

IfA headquarters, Stuttgart

The Centre for Cultural Relations (CCR) has today signed a Memorandum of Understanding with IfA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), Germany’s Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, which is supported by the Federal Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, the state of Baden-Württemberg, and the City of Stuttgart to provide a link between practical issues arising in the field of cultural relations, academia and the media.

The aim of the collaboration is to promote co-operation and align expertise in the study of international cultural relations, continuing professional development and research.

The signing is an exciting opportunity for the CCR which came about following two conferences in January and March this year which the CCR organised on the theme of Germany’s unique approach to international cultural relations as one of the three pillars of its foreign policy.

The Secretary General of IfA, Ronald Grätz, spoke at the first of these conferences, stressing the importance of IfA’s role in the creation and exchange of knowledge through culture, and the need to align international education and cultural policies with science, the media and business, in order to contribute to good relations in Europe, conflict resolution, peace, democracy and social dialogue.

He also spoke of IfA’s role as a hub for research in cultural relations and of the importance of IfA’s library as a crucial archive of Germany’s international cultural relations. Finally, he announced that IfA had a new Academy that will offer training on key issues in cultural relations. This collaboration will be with both the Academy and with IfA as a whole.

On 24 June, following the vote to leave the EU, the Principal of the University, Sir Tim O’Shea, reiterated the University’s commitment to international engagement:

“Edinburgh is and always will be a truly global university and I think it is very important to stress in times of uncertainty the stability and strength of the institution… Our priority will be to maintain our research and exchange partnerships across Europe.”

This collaboration therefore comes at an important time, and will be built on specific co-operation, initially to develop a MOOC on the subject of the migrant crisis. Germany played a key role in the crisis and remains at the heart of debate in Europe and beyond.

The MOOC should be seen in the context of the University of Edinburgh’s strong commitment to the development of online learning and the CCR is at the heart of that, as we develop a new online Masters course in Cultural Relations.

The University is also at the leading edge of developments in Informatics. On the 12th of July (last week), at a round table on flight and migration, Germany’s Foreign Minister Steinmeier announced that Germany would be funding development of a new global migration analysis tool, to be set up in Berlin with the IOM (International Organization for Migration).

While we are not involved with that development, we hope that, in time, as our partnership evolves, there will be wider opportunities for collaboration with IfA and with Germany. These will be in learning and research, but we hope to be able to work with colleagues in Germany in other areas where this University has specific expertise, perhaps in the development of digital platforms which help address complex transnational issues.

This partnership has only just begun. We look forward to strengthening and deepening it in the years ahead.

Digital Citizenship in Pakistan


Digital Citizenship in Pakistan, Centre for Cultural Relations for REMU, British Council, Pakistan

The report Digital Citizenship in Pakistan by the Centre for Cultural Relations (CCR), for the Research Evaluation and Monitoring Unit (REMU) of British Council Pakistan, provides a snapshot of the status of digital citizenship in Pakistan 2015-16.

Pakistan is a country with low levels of internet access, high levels of contestation in society in terms of attitudes to internet freedom, and high levels of inequality, all of which pose severe challenges to the practice of effective digital citizenship. “Effective” practice is defined by regular, skilled use of the internet to engage in society to access services, practice politics, get an education, conduct business and so on, i.e. to engage in civic life.

Our work on the report was made possible by the involvement and collaboration of academics from across the university. The Centre for South Asian Studies brought expertise in Pakistan, and, crucially in understanding the linguistic aspects of digital citizenship, and the Informatics Department was able to build on earlier research for the British Council on the UK’s digital connectivity to analyse the uses of social media (Twitter) in Pakistan.

The report presents survey data collected by Nielsen Pakistan, and qualitative interview material collected by University of Edinburgh researchers in Pakistan. The data was not only collected from internet users, but included household data from non-users. This was important is that data collection can be challenging in Pakistan and surveys of internet use there can tend to focus on existing users only, which inevitably distorts the picture.

Headline findings related to the need for a coherent strategy to redress regional imbalances in infrastructure, implement a regulatory regime which drives internet use without undue restrictions on internet freedom, and the need to focus on users’  needs for relevant content and services, made available in ways that overcome the digital divide.

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Workshop, Lahore, March 2016

REMU organised a series of events to discuss the preliminary research findings with Pakistani stakeholders and others with an interest. The first was held in Edinburgh in February, the second in Lahore in March, and the third in London in May. These workshops were invaluable in allowing us to get feedback from high level Pakistani officials and those active in digital media in Pakistan on the relevance and likely impact of the research.

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Workshop, London, May 2016

From the point of view of the CCR, this research has generated a wide range of questions directly relevant to the practice of cultural relations today. Firstly, it is important to understand specific contexts such as Pakistan in as much detail as possible if we are to understand the nature and impact of transnational flows of information, knowledge and influence. This is only possible through truly interdisciplinary collaborations between academic disciplines and practice organisations. Secondly, digital diplomacy needs to be viewed as more than communications strategies which aim to influence perceptions, events and behaviours. It is also about understanding the multi-level, complex nature of digital policy and strategy and how that works in different societies and cultures. Thirdly, research on digital citizenship raises questions about citizenship more generally and about the often troubled interface between global communications with all their potential for positive development and how people view the practice of citizenship, the exercise of cultural rights and cultural production in their own societies. Finally, the research shone a light on digital divides at a range of levels, both within and between societies.

This research project was particularly timely. There is a turn towards international development in the practice of cultural relations. It is essential that we do what we can to understand the dynamics of development in relation to the economic and cultural drivers of globalisation such as the internet in specific places if we are to develop better theories of change and understandings of impact.