Fix it – European research cooperation after Brexit

Fix it – European research cooperation after Brexit

19th November 2018

On 19 November, WRB attended ‘Fix it – European research cooperation after Brexit’, an event held at the Representation of Lower Saxony to the European Union to discuss future plans for maintaining strong links between German and UK research institutions.

Germany and UK have a longstanding and fruitful history of scientific cooperation. They are top collaborators globally, secondly only to the US in each case. German academics have typically made up one of the largest foreign contingents at UK universities. Lower Saxony in particular is the partner working most frequently with the UK in Horizon 2020. For this reason, there has been considerable concern on their behalf with regards to the future of collaboration after Brexit.

Though it was emphasised that it was up to the UK to offer some certainty about Brexit, German stakeholders have been making contingency preparations for all possible outcomes. The German Presidency has decided to set up a working group between the federal level and the state to coordinate their response to Brexit. Lower Saxony are the first state to have screened all existing legislation on Brexit and have asked all relevant departments for the measures required for a no-deal Brexit in order to best prepare for this situation.

The panel consisted of Olaf Kranz (Head of Science and Innovation Network for Germany, Switzerland & Austria), Florian Laudi (Brexit committee, Germany in Europe), Torsten Fischer (KoWi, EU liaison office for European research), and Jorg Phillipp Terhechte (Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Honorary Professor at the University of Glasgow).

Key points from discussion

  • British science system is a lot more competition oriented than other states in the European Union. Money is less important than competitiveness – ‘great loss if British colleagues are no longer so competitive’
  • Top universities will retain their reputation and will likely be less affected than polytechnics. Worry that smaller universities will be overlooked
  • Need a new contractual basis for the relationship between UK and EU research; ultimate task is to gather ideas and opinions which form a mandate for this contract
  • Cooperation platforms – networks of universities are currently being set up, as well as bilateral agreements. But this is ‘not going to solve the fundamental problem of Brexit’
  • Germany and UK aligned on the interaction between industrial strategy and research. Research essential to stay ahead industrially
  • Free trade agreement will try to cover as many topics as possible but can’t cover everything – research often lags behind other subjects. UK must push for clear and positive agreement
  • Worry that if the UK becomes a third party, they will become a competitor in business. In terms of supply chains, UK is really far ahead so preferable to have as a partner than a competitor
  • KICs crucial to competing industrially with the US, and KICs will be damaged by UK exit: important to keep relevant British perspective to stay competitive
  • Potential positive is that the UK has now become more pro-active in forming new bilateral partnerships and making use of existing ones

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