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Imperial College strengthens European links with French partnership

Imperial College London has established a wide-ranging partnership with CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research, to maintain cross-channel collaboration following post-Brexit obstacles to academic collaboration.

The joint International Research Center for Transformative Science and Technology will apply mathematics and data science to areas from medicine and materials science to climate change and chemistry, including EU-funded projects. The two institutions will work together to train young scientists and share facilities, infrastructure and data.

“This partnership demonstrates Imperial’s commitment to strengthening our ties with Europe by improving mobility and providing opportunities for scientists to exchange ideas,” said Alice Gast, President of Imperial. “The international research center will bring about the highest level of collaboration between French and British scientists.”

Alice guest
Alice Gast: “The international research center will bring about the highest level of collaboration between French and British scientists.” © Charlie Bibby/FT

The initiative will help maintain Imperial’s commitment to European science amid the EU’s ongoing refusal to accept the UK as an associated membership in its €95 billion research and development program Horizon Europe after leaving the bloc.

Antoine Petit, recently reappointed for a second four-year term as CNRS executive director, is a vocal supporter of continued UK and Swiss participation in EU research, which Brussels is blocking over policy disagreements.

“We’re looking for an exception for science,” he said. “We have to show politicians that scientific cooperation between our countries is important for all of us. Everyone will be missing out if collaboration goes down.”

Petit said the CNRS is negotiating a similar research partnership with Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. With an annual budget of 3.8 billion euros, the CNRS is one of the largest scientific organizations in Europe and the leading institution in terms of receiving EU research grants.

James Wilsdon, Professor of Research Policy at the University of Sheffield, commented: “This looks like quite a coup for Imperial and I’m sure it will encourage other top UK universities to seek similar bilateral opportunities.”

Imperial’s International Research Center builds on existing collaborations with the CNRS, which have grown significantly over the past 15 years, including a joint mathematics laboratory established in 2018. The EU-funded projects on which Imperial and CNRS have been collaborating since 2007 have had a total value of over €1.4 billion.

Anton Petit
Antoine Petit: “We have to show politicians that scientific cooperation between our countries is important for all of us. Everyone will be missing out if collaboration falls.” © Stéphane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

The two institutions would not say how much they will spend on joint projects in the future, but the sum is likely to amount to tens of millions of pounds a year.

Jo Burton, policy manager at the Russell Group of research-intensive UK universities, said: “The new joint research center from CNRS and Imperial demonstrates the ongoing close ties between leading researchers in the UK and France.”

Burton said she remains optimistic although there are no signs of an end to political disagreements between the UK and the EU, particularly over renegotiations of trade deals in Northern Ireland that block UK participation in EU R&D programmes.

“Despite the delay, the UK’s association with Horizon Europe would be a win-win for the UK and our international staff at a time when collaboration across Europe is more important than ever,” she said. “We hope the coalition will be completed as soon as possible and look forward to collaborating with our European partners on a range of research projects.”

https://www.ft.com/content/c6fa9647-768b-4f8b-a5fa-0501c1111bdf Imperial College strengthens European links with French partnership

Adam Bradshaw

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