Posted tagged ‘Iceland’

The way we live now: the long-term legacy of volcanic ash?

April 20, 2010

We were so so close. Right up to late last night the suggestion in the news was that the airlines would take to the skies again from Ireland from this morning.  But they haven’t, and the Irish air space is still closed. Meanwhile on BBC television last night, the Icelandic President was helpfully suggesting that a bigger and better volcano in his country was about to erupt and that we might have to live with the aviation consequences for years. At least I am writing this from my office, not from some hotel in another continent where I might have been stranded.

There are of course now lots of news reports on how the volcanic ash is affecting tourism, trade, and so forth; but we are only beginning to think about its impact on the business of universities. All over the world, the top institutions now rely on overseas input and participation: in examination marking, in support for interview panels, in expert reviews of research proposals, in giving strategic advice. Some of this can be done remotely, online or through videoconferencing or other technology. But even in this age we still rely on travel to provide us with access to and by overseas partner institutions. This is true also of research projects carried out by international teams.

Really, we have hardly begun to think through the implications. Of course this may turn out to be another example of what some are calling the avian flu (or swine flu) phenomenon – a very serious situation that does not however turn out to be as long term or widespread a problem as at first assumed. But we cannot be sure of that. We had better look again at how we manage international engagement; because, surely, we will not want to go back to being insular.

Britain and the Continent cut off!

April 16, 2010

The cloud of ash from Iceland has provided us with an immediate reminder of the degree to which we are now a globalised community. Although nothing of any significance has been affected within Ireland, suddenly all schedules and arrangements have been thrown into complete chaos: colleagues cannot travel to attend meetings and other engagements, international visitors here to assist us in various ways are suddenly our guests and protégés as they find they are unable to return, urgent parcels and mailings don’t arrive or cannot leave; and all of this is aggravated by our not knowing how long it will last. I have personally had to make radical changes to my schedules for next week.

We are a global community depending on each other. It is hard to see how we could return to the self-contained units we once were. But this week’s events have shown us how fragile all of that is.