Member profile: Keith Johnstone - University of Southampton

Name: Keith Johnstone
Job title: Director of International Relations
Institution: University of Southampton
ACU Internationalisation Community member since: 2015

Keith Johnstone

How long have you been working in the area of international education?

Ten years including at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the University of New South Wales, most recently returning to the UK to work at Southampton.

What do you enjoy about your work and what inspires you in your career?

It has to be meeting new people, especially from different cultures. Through work I have met Heads of State and Government, Members of Parliament and amazing academics who are changing the world. The most inspiring has been our students though, especially our Commonwealth Scholars who are clearly our future leaders – their intelligence, humour and ability to communicate is outstanding and always gives me hope for the future!

What does your role involve?

I'm very lucky to have an exciting role developing strategic international partnerships for Southampton and gaining support for them within the university. I travel internationally with colleagues helping to raise Southampton's brand and profile. I lead an amazing team in international partnerships, legal agreements, international scholarships and student mobility.

What are your current projects/initiatives?

We have committed to the UUKi Go International campaign, pledging to double the number of our local students doing a period of outbound international study. A period of overseas study for British students as part of their degree increases employability and strengthens communication skills, so we need to ensure we have the right systems and opportunities in place to allow this to happen more.

Southampton is a truly global university with over 800 agreements with international partners – and while it's great to have so many friends we worry sometimes we are not servicing our relationships as well as we could, so we are keen to have fewer, deeper partnerships that may include student and staff exchange, and joint programmes. We have established a list of priority countries where we desire deeper engagement and in each of those countries we have identified our higher education partners of choice, relevant government agencies and industry partners, as well as key alumni based there so that Southampton can have real impact and together we can help address global challenges.

What are your university's priorities in terms of international work?

Our key priorities are to:

  • Attract outstanding staff and students from across the globe
  • Deepen our connectivity with our international alumni community
  • Create a rich international experience for our staff and students at our campuses
  • Increase funding from international sources to allow us to grow
  • Further deepen our global profile with academic, government and corporate partners to influence opinion-formers and policy makers, particularly with regards to the Sustainable Development Goals

What challenges do you face in your day-to-day work and how do you overcome these?

Sadly universities around the world are having to work with a smaller envelope of government funding so we need to find ways to access other sources of finance while influencing internally and externally to ensure current funding is maintained. Often internal and external policy and process is never as fluid, dynamic and adaptable as you would like or necessarily geared to support internationalisation. Perhaps the best way to overcome these challenges is one conversation at a time, being calm, concise, clear and on message and listening to ensure you understand all potential competing priorities and stressors. Often you will have to have that one conversation with the same person multiple times – but stick with it and remember having a sense of humour helps!

What have been your main successes recently and what's your top tip for fellow Community members?

This year we've received more Commonwealth Scholars! We have also been pleased to see an increase in international students coming to Southampton, including through transnational education pathways we have established with key partners. We are in the process of developing a major research consortium with three partners from different countries with a focus on global environment and health. We have initiated new exchange agreements with UNSW Sydney, Victoria University of Wellington and ETH Zurich and have widened agreements with Auckland, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Nanyang Technological University amongst others. My top tip is to always consider research and education across all partnerships, think short and long term, and ensure a good geographic spread in your global relationships so there are plenty of opportunities for students and staff.

What big changes have you witnessed and what do you see as the key issues or trends for international education in the future?

As above, universities are increasingly needing to behave like businesses because central government funding is reducing. This is far from ideal but it seems set to continue. We need to work together more across international borders to ensure the benefits of a university education and the research we do are properly understood and that government and intra-government policy decisions are based on good science.

What are your future aspirations for your work and your university?

The University of Southampton is an incredible university, the quality of its research and teaching is outstanding and it's truly an honour to represent the institution in my role. We would love our impact to be more visible locally and internationally, not only the research we do but our positive economic impact within the city and region, the way we commercialise our research and work with industry, the huge impact our alumni make globally and our desire to work more closely with the Commonwealth and developing nations in addressing the issues society faces. We have a huge task ahead of us and I firmly believe there will always be a place for education and research.

What do you value most from your professional networks, like the ACU Internationalisation Community?

That's easy – the chance to chat with colleagues who truly understand the issues you face. We all need support from time to time and we often seem to be facing the same issues to a greater or lesser degree no matter where we are in the world. It always helps to use colleagues in other institutions as a sounding board as they might be able to suggest something you're yet to try or help you to laugh on a tough day!

Do you want to join the ACU Internationalisation Community? View more information here or email

Last modified on 28/02/2019