Our Secretary General David Bohmert on 20 June delivered the following speech to the Westminster Higher Education Forum policy conference about deepening cooperation and the future of research relationships in the event of non-association of the UK with the EU Framework Programme for Research & Innovation .
Only the spoken word counts:
Good morning dear colleagues and friends
With sadness and hope I address you about deepening cooperation and the future of research relationships in the event of non-association of the UK with the EU Framework Programme for Research & Innovation.
Sadness because the proceedings between the EU and the UK and the upcoming deadlines point into the direction of a non-association.
Hope because you since World War II played the guiding role for European science & technology to help assure ‘never war and hunger again in Europe’. And you may well choose to play such a role also in the future.
I will share seven thoughts by firstly looking into past achievements, secondly address the current challenges and thirdly finish with future opportunities.
My first thought is that research cooperation highly depends on the free circulation of scientific knowledge, technology and their bearers. Deepening of such cooperation thus occurs along more free circulation.
From that angle, freedom in Europe in some ways was highest in the middle ages: students and scholars travelled across cultures, countries and conflicts to learn from and to work together with colleagues in institutions elsewhere. Recognition was based on letters from sending masters for the judgement by the receiving ones. Pandemics and wars of course disrupted such freedom locally and temporarily.
The subjection of academia to states as of the mid-seventeenth century and the subsequent nationalisation as of the late eighteenth century introduced more serious limitations to such good practice.
Moreover, from the Swiss S&T system as of the mid-nineteenth century we know that modern knowledge-based societies need substantial and sustainable funding levels for research, education and innovation.
My second thought is that the UK needs to (i) fund at least 3% of its GDP for private and public expenditures in research and innovation, and (ii) commit to at least 1.25% of its GDP from public sources for R&I AND higher education respectively, to stay in line with the best performers in the world.
We all know the devastating consequences of the nationalisation of S&T in Europe from the beginning to the mid-twentieth century too well.
The General Officer commanding the British troops in Berlin E. P. Nares in his speech delivered on the occasion of the opening of the Technical University Berlin on April ninth 1946 thus said:
“S&T can be and must be devoted to advancing the peace and civilisation of man and this can only be so if they are used with responsibility.” NARES CONTINUES: “The more you here devote yourselves to the development not of mere technicians but of whole responsible men the more you will advance the future peace and happiness of men …”
My third thought is that you may wish to deepen cooperation along and build your future research relationships upon your genuine leadership in European S&T cooperation since World War II. You rightly dismantled the subjection of academia to the state and taught us that the state must create favourable framework conditions for academia to flourish bottom-up and assume its societal responsibility autonomously.
Chased by globalisation and new public management in the remainder of the twentieth century, we have all gotten entangled in a competitiveness paradigm: S&T were summoned to create jobs and boost economic growth often serving vested interests in business & industry and government.
Which brings me to the part on presenting challenges.
We are tempted to perceive the EU’s behaviour to take research cooperation in Europe hostage to pursue other political objectives with regards to Switzerland and the UK as the core of the problems we are currently in. Buzz words and phrases of the day such as ‘strategic autonomy’ and ‘technological sovereignty’ add bitterly to this temptation.
Indeed after Brexit, the EU, led by the two remaining political superpowers France and Germany - both having admittedly bad track records when it comes to state intervention in academia - steers towards an exclusion of the two major scientific superpowers in Europe - Switzerland and the UK - from the longstanding research cooperation in the Framework Programmes. European academia made clear that such behaviour is outrageous and unacceptable.
You see, that is why Brexit was felt so cruelly in European academia: we see the return of states telling academia what to do and what not to and miss you terribly in defending scientific integrity, academic freedom and institutional autonomy.
However, President Macron in his Europe Day speech opened a window of opportunity by proposing a “European political community” composed of European states both in and outside the EU, including a “new European organisation that would allow democratic European nations adhering to our set of values to find a new space for political cooperation, security, cooperation in energy, transport, investment, infrastructure, and the movement of people, especially our youth”.
In my fourth thought, allow me to call upon you not to turn your back towards Europe and move overseas along ‘global Great Britain-first’, but to adopt a long term perspective and assume leadership directed towards that we all are best served when research and education are added to this list of greater Europe.
Because frankly, the true problems lie in the tremendous local and global challenges that loom behind creating jobs and boosting economic growth.
The list is long and utterly alarming: global spread of viruses; cultural, economic and social recovery and resilience; social exclusion; increasing inequality of the share of wealth; climate change; biodiversity loss; and pollution in general and plastic in particular.
And the war in Ukraine has demonstrated yet again that we need to add war, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Europe to this list.
My fifth thought is that not joining forces will render us all weaker and strengthen our enemies. Let us empower students, scholars and academics in Europe and beyond to release unprecedented forces and to act as agents of the great changes and transformations needed to help tackle these challenges and safeguard a future for civilisation.
I finish my two final thoughts on future opportunities.
At the end of his speech, Officer Nares calls upon the re-opened TU Berlin: “Do not let personal differences deflect you from pursuing the good of the community. Respect the right of your fellows to think differently even though they are devoted to the same aims. Be different individuals but not disunited. Do not submerge your own personalities in blind obedience to an artificial unity which takes no account of your personal responsibility, but let your community be one of free and responsible people, each acknowledging the claims of his own personality, but of his own free will putting the good of all before the good of one. And remember that Society is not one nation nor one class of men, but is the whole world and all men and nations in it.”
My sixth thought invites you to engage actively in the co-creation of a Global Framework for S&T Cooperation and establish the conditions needed to defend universal values, peace and the rule of international law, and prevent foreign government and business interference in European S&T.
So far I have put emphasis on spirit, vision and mission when speaking about deepening cooperation and the future of research relationships: they should guide the design of your international S&T cooperation policies and instruments and the ones dedicated to supporting them.
In my seventh and last thought, may I urge the UK government to implement the alternative fund - whatever shape and form that might take - in an agile and flexible way to allow your students, scholars and academic institutions to continue their long- standing cooperation with partners from all over Europe, perhaps in terms of partner-to-partner participation in the UK scheme. In so doing, it will bode well for possible future re-entry into the Framework Programmes. We must prevent European research and education from being divided again.
To conclude, I reiterate the strongest commitment and dedication of our association and our Members to maintaining the longstanding S&T cooperation across the channels and seas around the UK and to advancing knowledge-based societies in Europe and beyond for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future together with you.
Thank you for your attention!