Oxford announces new German research partnerships

The move is expected to bring more collaboration in the sciences and humanities

Oxford University has announced a new research partnership with four German institutions, beginning what Berlin’s Mayor has called “a new era of cooperation for Berlin and Oxford”.

The partnership will span across the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, consolidating existing research links as well as providing opportunities for new projects.

The collaborating institutions — Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and the Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin — have already begun a programme of academic workshops in several fields.

It is also anticipated that an Oxford-Berlin Research Centre will be built in Berlin and a Berliner Haus in Oxford.

Louise Richardson, vice chancellor of the University, said: “Although the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, it is not leaving Europe.”

These new collaborative research projects may also be eligible for common funding not only from British, but also from German foundations and funding agencies.

Oxford also hopes to introduce new investment streams to the Berlin institutions through its experience in fundraising and knowledge transfers.

Professor Dr.-Ing Sabine Kunst, President of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, said: “we hope to put together a targeted collective strategy in order to circumvent any possible consequences of Brexit.”

The UK government’s current Brexit negotiating position has caused concern among some academics, who fear it may limit research and funding opportunities.

Dr Rob Davidson, Director and Co-Founder of Scientists for EU and Healthier IN the EU, told Cherwell: “when a PI (principal investigator, or research group leader) applies to participate in an EU program like Horizon 2020, there is a question on the form that asks, ‘do you foresee that your national government would accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ?’ — under current plans, even if we were paying to access EU science, we would be excluding ourselves from completing the forms for participation.”

Whilst Dr Davidson praised the partnership, saying that scientific research in general required such “strong international links”, he expressed reservations about these kind of partnerships becoming the norm for UK and European institutions after Brexit.

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Such partnerships, he said: “would likely reduce the chance of close ties with all the other institutions.”

“We also need to remember that while institutions can develop specialisms, even well secured professors move on. Should we not think having special relationships through consortia of mobile researchers, rather than special links between brick buildings?”

“We’ve seen major cuts announced this year from Durham, Heriot Watt, Aberystwyth and several more. They have all cited existing conditions and the certain damage of Brexit as their reasoning. Most of our universities will not have funds to create special partnerships like this one.”

Alastair Buchan, Oxford University’s Head of Brexit strategy, told The Telegraph in January this year how institutional partnerships will not just be limited to European countries in the future.

“One of the things that we did lose [after joining the EU] was that nice and easy flow of clinicians and clinician science from Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa,” he said.

“We had really good collaborations, which hopefully in this Brexit climate might be reinvented, because that movement of English-speaking medicine was actually a casualty of joining Europe.”