‘There is no doubt in my mind that the British University System is one of the best, if not the best, in the world. Those of you who are thinking I’m paid to say that are right. But so are those who believe I’m speaking from the heart.’
Sir Giles Paxman, British Ambassador to Spain, at the UKAN launch
Following the recent launch of the UK Alumni Network in Spain (UKAN), we asked Carolina Jimenez, Head of Higher Education and Society for the British Council in Spain, to tell us more about the association and how graduates from the UK can benefit from joining.
How did UKAN get started?
For a long time, we have been discussing at the British Council the need to initiate an association of British alumni, including those that received British Council grants. In parallel, the same type of conversation was taking place in the British Embassy and among the heads of alumni in Spain within Cambridge, Oxford and LSE. Somehow, all of these conversations converged and the decision was made to jointly push this initiative.
Why start it at this time?
Probably because I was new in the job, because it seemed to be a type of activity which was possible, feasible and seemed good fun and because I felt that it could be sustainable.
What are your hopes for its future?
We will need members who are willing to pay a small fee so that the association can sustain itself (there are accountancy costs, web maintenance costs and, of course, activities to be organised). There will be an annual meeting to elect the board of governors. It is early days but I hope the association is still there when my kids study in the UK.
How will it be helpful to graduates from UK universities in Spain?
Measuring the power of networking is difficult but providing networking opportunities is the association’s main aim. Yet, we have also set it up to include a jobs section and a growing number of discounts from important companies for members. The association will organise social events and talks on key areas of interest to its members, and announce relevant news. We will promote online networking as well as live meetings. And we hope it also offers a lot of good fun!
Why is networking so important?
In a very competitive market, networking is one of the most efficient ways to get through successfully. It is through your network that you have access to the right information and can find out about employment and other opportunities. Some of the members will be Spanish, others will be British and a smaller group will belong to other nationalities. Yet, they all share a knowledge of both UK and Spanish culture. With well over 100,000 people who have studied in a British university and live in Spain, many of them in key positions, this association can become an “exclusive” club for people wanting to progress in their careers.
What events do you have planned?
The launch was fantastic. We had nearly 200 guests all enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Ambassador’s residence, chatting and talking about ways forward. As the summer is ahead, we are not planning further activities until September. In the autumn, we will offer a couple of events, some social (probably in Barcelona) and some professional (we have two key professors coming to give a public talk and an Educational Fair in November where we want to offer a talk specific to members – and parents of future alumni, like myself).
But the most important thing is that we get a good number of members and that some of them are willing to be active and collaborate. I need to stress that this is an association set up by volunteers. We need more members who believe in this and want to give us a hand!