Language Science & Global Mobility

Universitas 21 – Global Research Alliance in Language
April 25 – 26, 2016
Edinburgh, UK





About the Workshop


Representatives from Universitas 21 member institutions are meeting at the University of Edinburgh on April 25-26 2016 to develop plans for a U21 initiative in language science, tentatively known as the Global Research Alliance in Language (GRAIL). Recommendations from the workshop will be reviewed by leaders from U21 institutions at meetings in early May 2016 in Washington DC and Singapore.

Language Science is a broad interdisciplinary field that aims to address challenges for modern society by connecting fundamental science of language (from philosophy to neuroscience) with applications in education, technology, and health. Language stands at the heart of all human activity, and the science of language is both necessarily global, and globally necessary.

Language Science and Global Mobility covers two closely related themes. One theme involves the internationalisation of research and higher education. Over the past two years, U21 member institutions have begun to explore new models for international partnerships in language science. Another theme surrounds the role of language in global mobility of populations, including migration of refugees and mobility of human capital. The workshop will explore opportunities for language scientists and migration experts to combine forces around this pressing societal issue, together with policy makers and governmental bodies. Across both themes, a central aim is to align the interests of students, researchers, and institutions, whose internationalisation interests are often pursued independently.

This page is evolving. Check back for updates.


Some of the workshop attendees. Back row, L to R: Bryan Gick (British Columbia), Jane Stuart-Smith (Glasgow), Ian Mitchell (Dir of International Affairs, Scottish Government), Brendan Weekes (Hong Kong), Martin Pickering (Edinburgh), Steven Frisson (Birmingham), Jeanette Schaeffer (Amsterdam), Colin Phillips (Maryland), Anna Bruce (Lund), Sanimir Resic (Lund); Front row, L to R: Eva Wiberg (U21/Lund), Marcela Peña (PUC Chile), Mitcho Erlewine (Singapore), Holly Branigan (Edinburgh), Antonella Sorace (Edinburgh), Karen Geekie (Education Scotland), Marianne Gullberg (Lund), Carl Coelho (Connecticut), Eleanor Cornelius (Johannesburg). Not pictured: Mark Steedman (Edinburgh), Caroline Heycock (Edinburgh), Laura Wagner (Ohio State), Walter van Heuven (Nottingham), Ruth Filik (Nottingham), Kathy Conklin (Nottingham), Jason Brown (Auckland), Anouk Tso (Amsterdam).



The current schedule for the workshop is here.

Meeting Materials


Draft proposals for the GRAIL initiative were shared at U21 meetings in 2015, as a departure point for further discussions. If you look at only one thing, the best place to start is the 2-page summary for U21 presidents/VCs. A slide presentation for the VPs for Research meeting in Shanghai summarises the key points. And a more detailed proposal was prepared for researchers who want to know about specifics.

Some participating institutions have contributed short white papers for the Edinburgh workshop, and more are anticipated. Feel free to contribute to this pool – anything from a paragraph to two pages, explaining you or your colleagues’ views on attractive opportunities in the area of the workshop.

(i) Lund University (migration)
(ii) University of Hong Kong (human capital)
iii) University of Edinburgh (bilingualism)
(iv) University of Amsterdam (funding opportunities)

(v) University of Auckland (language science summary)
(vi) University of British Columbia (language science summary)
(vii) University of Connecticut (language science summary)
(viii) University of Edinburgh (language science summary)
(ix) University of Glasgow (language science summary)
(x) University of Johannesburg (language science summary, updated)
(xi) Lund University (language science summary)
(xii) Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (language science summary)


Participating Institutions

University of Amsterdam

Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

University of Hong Kong

UNSW Australia

National University of Singapore

University of Auckland

University of Connecticut

University of Johannesburg

University of Nottingham

University of Birmingham

University of Edinburgh

Lund University

The Ohio State University

University of British Columbia

University of Maryland

University of Queensland

University of Glasgow

Institutional Representatives


Holly Branigan, University of Edinburgh (Psychology)
Jason Brown, University of Auckland (Applied Language Studies and Linguistics) – participating remotely
Anna Bruce, University of Lund (Law)
Carl Coelho, University of Connecticut (Speech Language, & Hearing Sciences)
Kathy Conklin, University of Nottingham (English) – participating remotely
Eleanor Cornelius, University of Johannesburg (Linguistics)
Ruth Filik, University of Nottingham (Psychology) – participating remotely
Steven Frisson, University of Birmingham (Psychology)
Simon Garrod, University of Glasgow (Psychology)
Bryan Gick, University of British Columbia (Linguistics)
Marianne Gullberg, Lund University (Humanities Laboratory, Centre for Languages and Literature)
Caroline Heycock, University of Edinburgh (Linguistics)
Marcela Peña, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (Developmental Neuropsychology)
Colin Phillips, University of Maryland (Language Science Center)
Martin Pickering, University of Edinburgh (Psychology)
Sanimir Resic, Lund University (Vice Dean of Humanities; European Studies)
Jeannette Schaeffer, University of Amsterdam (Amsterdam Center for Language and Communication)
Antonella Sorace, University of Edinburgh (Linguistics)
Mark Steedman, University of Edinburgh (Informatics)
Jane Stuart-Smith, University of Glasgow (English, Critical Studies)
Marcus Taft, University of New South Wales (Psychology) – participating asynchronously
Anouk Tso, University of Amsterdam (Senior Policy Advisor, International Relations) – participating remotely
Walter van Heuven, University of Nottingham (Psychology) – participating remotely
Laura Wagner, The Ohio State University (Psychology) – participating remotely
Brendan Weekes, University of Hong Kong (Speech and Hearing Sciences)
Eva Wiberg, Lund University (Pro-Rektor) and Universitas 21 (Executive Director)
Janet Wiles, University of Queensland (Information Technology and Electrical Engineering)
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, National University of Singapore (Linguistics)


Scottish Government


Anna Boni, Education Scotland, Lead Officer for International Strategy
Karen Geekie, Education Scotland, Development Officer
Ian Mitchell, Scottish Government Deputy Director, International Division


Students and researchers in different countries have different needs for internationalisation. Language science is configured differently at different institutions. We need to understand these diverse situations in order for an initiative like GRAIL to succeed.

In order for the workshop to be as effective as possible, we ask institutional representatives to gather information about the context of their institution, its expertise, needs, and available resources. Please consider the context of your institution as a whole, not just yourself, or your home department or research group.

We do not need precise figures or a polished report. But we will need you to make brief reports to the workshop on your institution’s status. We expect to use the collected information in two ways: (i) collectively: workshop recommendations and supporting evidence will be shared with U21 meetings in Washington DC (May 2-4) and Singapore (May 11-13); (ii) within institutions: we encourage you to be in touch with your institutional representatives who will be attending the early May meetings.

Institutional expertise in language science
  • What individuals and academic units (departments, labs, research centres) contribute to your university’s expertise in language science?
  • What are the existing connections between language scientists at your university, whether informal or formalised? E.g., collaborations, joint programmes, research initiatives.
Context for internationalisation
  • Student mobility: what do (under)graduate students currently do? How common is international study or research for students? Is there integration between student mobility and research? What do students in your country typically hope to gain from international mobility?
  • Researcher connections: what is the current status of international collaborations involving your teaching and research staff? What are the motivations for researchers to be involved in international collaborations?
  • E-mobility: do any of your colleagues currently undertake joint teaching or research projects that involve electronic collaboration rather than travel? E.g., some institutions now offer joint seminars using video conferencing tools.
  • What connections currently exist between your institution’s partnerships, your researchers’ connections, and your students’ international mobility?
Public engagement

Institutions and governments are expected to show the societal impact of their investments. This shapes university priorities to different degrees in different countries. Language science has enormous societal relevance, but this is often under-appreciated by universities and the public. Some countries are more aware of this than others.

  • What are the societal issues, if any, that are most interesting to language scientists at your institution? E.g., some of the participating institutions have a strong interest in language and migration.
  • What kinds of public engagement are language scientists at your institution already engaged in? This could involve outreach activities with families and schools, working with special populations or indigenous communities, or public communication via editorials, blogs, etc. (Example, Ohio State researchers run the Language Pod research lab within a large science museum.)

We are interested in knowing the existing resources that could potentially be used to support GRAIL activities. “Resources” includes not only money, but also logistical support with finding hosts, arranging visas or course access, or any other kind of support.

  • What institutional or national resources are available to support student mobility? Do students self-fund? Does student mobility depend on personal or family resources? (Example: Maryland’s International Graduate Research Fellowships use a model in which  host and visitor co-fund research visits.)
  • What institutional or national resources are available to support international research partnerships?
  • How does your institution support or value international engagement?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Universitas 21?

It’s like OneWorld, Star Alliance or SkyTeam for universities. 25 research universities from around the world have created a network to facilitate student mobility, researcher cooperation, and institutional expertise. Leaders from member universities meet regularly, and U21 sponsors various activities, such as the 3-Minute Thesis contest for graduate students, the Health Sciences Network for researchers and administrators, and the U21 Ranking of National Higher Education Systems for broad audiences. U21 activities are funded primarily by the member universities themselves. U21 was founded in 1998 and there is occasional turnover in membership. Some U21 members are also involved in other networks, such as WUN or LERU.

What is GRAIL?

The Global Research Alliance in Language (GRAIL) is an initiative proposed by U21 member universities. Its focus is on Language Science, a broad field that spans fundamental science of language (from philosophy to neuroscience) and applications in education, technology, and health. GRAIL aims to facilitate cooperation among students, among researchers, and among disciplines. The combined strength of U21 institutions could raise the profile of language science internationally, and highlight the importance of language science for broad societal challenges. If successful, GRAIL represents a scalable model of internationalisation that aligns the needs of students, researchers, and institutions.

The idea for GRAIL was floated in the Spring 2014 meetings of U21 leaders, and discussed further at meetings of U21 leaders in 2015. There have been many bilateral discussions among researchers, but the Edinburgh workshop represents the first time that researchers from across U21 have come together to develop more concrete plans for GRAIL.

Draft plans circulated in 2015 can be found here (2-pager for presidents), here (more detailed version for researchers), or here (slides for VPRs).    

What is the motivation for GRAIL?

Language science is an attractive theme for a global initiative: it requires a global perspective, and allows institutions throughout the world to contribute expertise in many different ways, without domination by the most expensive technology.

U21 brings together a remarkable range of talent in language science. And GRAIL aims for the backing of top university leaders. For these reasons, GRAIL offers an exceptional opportunity to raise the profile of language science internationally. Its multi-disciplinary focus already contributes to within-institution synergy.

Why rely on U21 rather than a hand-picked set of language science groups? Because of the existing commitments and infrastructure that U21 provides. The institutions are already invested in cooperation at the highest level. Mechanisms are already in place for student mobility and coordination among leaders. A hand-built researcher network could not easily achieve this level of institutional buy-in.

What is the role of this workshop?

To show whether the proposed initiative is feasible and has broad buy-in from member institutions. And to make recommendations to be considered by meetings of U21 leaders in the following 2 weeks.

The Vice Presidents for Research and Graduate Deans will be meeting in Maryland on May 2-4. The Presidents/Vice Chancellors will be meeting in Singapore on May 11-13. The workshop is tasked with generating recommendations that they can consider. The recommendations should address the feasibility, impact, and cost of a broad U21 initiative in language science. 

GRAIL has emerged as a grassroots initiative, primarily led by researchers, and with engagement from across the U21 network. This is an attractive feature. The Edinburgh workshop has the opportunity to demonstrate to U21 leaders that this broad engagement is genuine.

Why language and migration?

Because it is a societally important issue where language science could make a difference.

Institutions are strongly motivated to show that their investments address pressing societal issues. Their stakeholders expect this (governments, trustees, alumni). University leaders are accountable to large numbers or to stories that generate broad visibility. Fundamental questions in (psycho)linguistic theory are fascinating, but they do not cut it on their own. For a language science initiative to get buy-in from institutions and governments, it is important to engage with societal challenges, in addition to fundamental science.

Language and Migration has been proposed by some member institutions as a particularly promising example of a societally important challenge that can benefit from a global perspective on language science. Some U21 groups are already active in this area. The workshop will explore this idea. Some possible public-facing outcomes are a larger conference on this topic in 2017, or op-eds co-authored by migration experts and language scientists. Note that the term “migration” covers diverse topics. In some countries there is much current interest in refugees. In other countries there is long-term interest in the international mobility of human capital, or in the status of women and children who are affected by migration of labour.


Will GRAIL provide funding for my research or travel?

Yes and no. U21 is not a research funding agency, and GRAIL is not a grant proposal in the normal sense. 

But one of the aims of the initiative is to open up new funding streams for international projects. The GRAIL proposal aims to create cross-institution infrastructure to support more ambitious research initiatives and funding requests to governments, foundations, and international bodies. 

The expectation is that if U21 member institutions agree to make language science a leading theme for the network, then they will invest in facilitating the activities, at the level of students, researchers, leaders, or fund-raisers.

We have research partnerships with non-U21 institutions. Can they participate?

Yes, we hope so.

GRAIL is being developed through the existing structures of U21, but it is not an exclusive club. One goal for the workshop is to address how non-U21 partners can participate.

I'm from a non-U21 institution - can I get involved?

We’re happy that you found this page, and we would like to hear from you.

The April 2016 workshop is for representatives from U21 institutions, due to the need to make recommendations to institutional leaders for meetings in early May. But an explicit goal of GRAIL is to be non-exclusive. Please get in touch, and let us know about your institution and your interest.

Why not just rely on individual connections?

Because small scale partnerships don’t scale up.

Individual partnerships are great if you already have them and if they are well supported. But these arise sporadically and they are less likely to lead to additional partnerships for your colleagues or your students. And they are less likely to attract high level financial or logistical support. You’re largely on your own.


Are there existing examples of initiatives like this?

We do not know of any that are just like this one. But if you know of any, please let us know.

The potentially distinctive features of GRAIL make it risky, but also an attractive target for investment. Especially if it is a generalisable model. It emphasizes aligning the interests of students, researchers, and institutions. This approach has a potentially high return on investment. GRAIL aims to facilitate synergy within institutions, and to raise the profile of an interdisciplinary field. This could yield further value for institutions and for language scientists.

U21 already has one well established thematic cluster, the U21 Health Sciences Group. This provides a useful model for how GRAIL could operate within U21. It is also different in some key respects: health sciences is a massive and well funded field; and hence it is an area where U21 is unlikely to make such a difference on a global scale.

Why all the fuss about being global?

Students are entering a world that is interconnected like never before. They need to be prepared for this.

Researchers occupy a global marketplace of ideas. And in language science the need for a global perspective especially acute.

Research universities know that their success depends on them being active and visible internationally. Their greatest resource is the talent that they attract, and they cannot afford to focus on domestic talent pools. In some cases there may be greater potential for advancement on a global scale than on a national scale, because there are fewer pre-conceptions to overcome.

So there’s broad interest in globalisation of higher education. But different strategies for achieving this. Some institutions use their established global brands to attract worldwide talent to them. Some institutions open new campuses in economic hot spots. And others invest in alliances like U21. One size probably does not fit all.


Travel & Locations


Workshop Venue: Assembly Room (level 2), Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), High School Yards, Infirmary Street, Edinburgh EH1 1LZ.
Workshop Hotel: Ten Hill Place Hotel, 10 Hill Place, Edinburgh EH8 9DS.
Monday night dinner: L’Osteria del Tempo Perso, 208 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh EH10 4DE.
Sunday evening gathering (optional). The Potting Shed, 32-34 Poterrow, Edinburgh EH8 9BT. We’ll meet from 7pm at this pub close to the hotel. Feel free to stop by for a bite or a drink and conversation, according to your energy level after travels.

The workshop venue is just 4 minutes walk from the hotel. The Monday dinner venue is a pleasant 30 minute walk from the hotel (or an easy taxi ride).

How to get from Edinburgh Airport. The airport is around 8 miles from Ten Hill Place Hotel. Various options are available. You could take a taxi (cost around £17-20 each way). But the cool new option is the tram line that connects Edinburgh Airport to the City Centre. A return ticket costs £8.50. If you get off at St Andrew’s Square (close to Waverly Station), it’s a scenic 15 minute walk to Ten Hill Place Hotel. Google Maps suggests that there are also many bus connections between Waverly Station and Ten Hill Place (alight at Surgeon’s Hall / Edinburgh Festival Theatre).


What to bring


A laptop or tablet. In order to achieve the workshop goals we will be making extensive use of shared documents, via Google Docs. Please send Colin Phillips the email address that you prefer to use to access Google Docs.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city at any time of year, but it is occasionally cold or wet. Plan accordingly.


Remote participants


Some participants who are unable to to travel to Edinburgh in person will join the workshop via Skype. If you are in this group, please coordinate with Colin Phillips ( on specific times, and share your Skype login information. Also share an email address that you use to access Google Docs, so that you can be given access to meeting documentation.

When joining by Skype, please try to use a location with a fast internet connection, in order to maximise the quality of the connection.


Emergency Contact Information


For phone contacts see the email sent to participants.