The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities has published a five-point statement stressing that risk mitigation “must not thwart ambitions to address pressing global challenges”.
The Guild, which has 21 member institutions in Europe, underscored the importance of its members’ research, with international cooperation seen as “crucial” and academic freedom being “core” to responsible collaboration.
“Exchange of information between scientists from all over the world was a cornerstone in our response to the pandemic,” said acting secretary-general, Ole Petter Ottersen.
“Undue restrictions on the global exchange of ideas and knowledge would have denied societies the capacity to respond effectively… we should all be reminded of the risk of not collaborating internationally. ”
It comes as the UK’s Russell Group published a manifesto urging the country’s government to match the ambition shown by international competitors on R&D investment.
The UK’s Guild members King’s College London, The University of Glasgow and The University of Warwick are all part of the Russell Group.
It says that an additional £4 billion in public R&D funding annually by 2029/30 is needed to sustainably meet a commitment of at least 3% of GDP invested in R&D.
A 3.5% GDP investment by 2034 would bring the UK closer to competitors in the OECD, the group said.
Among the proposals included in the document was an annual £80m investment in the Higher Education Innovation Fund, a new £400m ‘Spark Fund’ to support hundreds of new deep-tech spinouts from universities and a new medical training taskforce to meet NHS workforce demands.
The Group also called for an “ambitious” new 2030 International Education Strategy.
The plan should include a “supportive visa system alongside the current Graduate visa” which would help UK universities continue attracting the best global talent.
Stakeholders have been calling for the home office to take a more ingrained role in the UK’s international education ambitions as they view visa challenges and policy as hampering efforts.
Every additional 1% market share for international students could boost the UK economy by more than £5bn a year, the group noted.
The Russell Group also called for universities and government to work together to create a sustainable funding model for higher education in the UK.
Writing in HEPI this week, managing director and co-founder of dataHE, Mark Corver, reiterated that the funding system for undergraduate teaching in UK universities has “drifted into crisis”.
Chief executive of the Russell Group, Tim Bradshaw, emphasised the importance of the group’s university members on delivering research breakthroughs that give the UK “a competitive advantage in new fields like AI and [give] the NHS new treatments and technologies to help keep us healthy” – and is “crucial to building a bright future for the UK”.
“A long-term commitment to be a global leader in R&D investment would harness the potential of our world-leading research-intensive universities,” he said.
The Guild in turn noted that it is inconceivable how global pandemics, climate change or “other fundamental human challenges” can be addressed without “truly global research partnerships based on free flows of data and ideas”.
It states that institutional autonomy provides the space for academic self-regulation and urges governments to stop addressing international research collaboration risks in “top-down ways”.
Universities, it contends, are best placed to implement security checks that “can grapple with the complexities of research alongside wider implications in a timely manner”.
“If governments seek to determine specific restrictions on research collaborations in specific topics or fields top-down, they will always be behind the potential risks and benefits to society that research and innovation can provide,” the statement reads.
“A case for not pursuing academic collaboration should only be made by governments on an exceptional basis”
Institutions must also be equipped with accurate information to “assess the risks and possibilities of international collaboration”, it added.
“A case for not pursuing academic collaboration should only be made by governments on an exceptional basis, based on very specific intelligence and well- founded (and articulated) concerns.”
If public funders are “increasingly concerned about Europe’s strategic autonomy in key fields”, they must provide universities the long-term funding and the means to ensure they are not over reliant on research workers from particular third countries, the group said.
“Similarly, if Europe’s governments are concerned about attractive overseas programmes to recruit research talent, they need to provide attractive alternatives for researchers to stay,” it says, echoing the continent “must be competitive” in talent retention.