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UCL’s triple track European strategy

By Nicola M Brewer, on 7 November 2018

Dr Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost InternationalAs the clock ticks down to 29 March 2019, doubts about what the future holds are growing, not reducing.

But at UCL we aren’t sitting on our hands. We’ve been consolidating existing links with Europe and identifying new partnerships that will last beyond Brexit day. We’ve also been preparing for a range of Brexit scenarios and determining how best to support our EU staff and students in each of these, most recently by stepping up our planning for a ‘no deal’ or ‘hard’ Brexit, as the Provost’s View this week explains.

I want to give you more details of the triple track European strategy we’ve devised in response to Brexit. Many academic colleagues have worked with support from the Global Engagement Office to develop this; this article only mentions some of their names. I’d like to thank everyone who has given their time and thoughts on how to counter the negative effects of Brexit on research, teaching and enterprise.

We are lucky to have an extraordinary breadth and depth of partnerships and collaborations with colleagues across Europe[1]. So we neither need, nor want to take a top-down, single EU partner approach, as some other UK institutions have chosen to do. Our existing relationships allow us to take a more inclusive approach, as part of our triple track European strategy:

  1. UCL is consolidating existing partnerships, initially focussing on nine priority European Higher Education partners

Several Faculties already have clear priority EU partner organisations. These include:

  • a new partnership framework with KU Leuven, set up this year, focused on neurodegenerative research. Professor Bart de Strooper, now jointly appointed to UCL and KU Leuven, supervises this partnership from the UK Dementia Research Institute, which he leads
  • the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, led by Professor Ray Dolan, is being renewed this month. Another major collaboration with the Max Planck Society is in the pipeline, which I hope to be able to update you on shortly
  • in the humanities and social sciences, UCL has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Paris Sciences et Lettres, the first-ranked French collegiate university, to support a three year £90k research collaboration aimed at academic staff and PhD students.

These developments are additional to the range of existing programmes, dual degrees, joint appointments and research partnerships that have been in place across many European Higher Education Institutions for some time.

Having analysed patterns of existing activities by Faculties and individual academics in detail, we are prioritising our support for developing the partnerships with nine HEIs and research organisations in Europe. In addition to the three organisations mentioned above, we are currently prioritising links with:

  • Sorbonne Université – our partners on a Dual Masters in Brain and Mind Sciences
  • Sciences Po Paris – with whom we share a Dual Bachelors in European Social and Political Studies
  • TU Delft – a member of the Bartlett’s BauHow5 consortium, currently developing projects on sustainability in the built environment
  • Utrecht University – with whom we share a joint appointment and a number of major research grants
  • ETH Zurich – a fellow member of the BauHow5 group and one of the highest ranked institutions in Europe
  • LMU Munich – with whom we are currently engaged on nine Horizon2020 projects
  1. UCL is launching the Cities partnerships Programme (CpP)

The second track of our European strategy is the launch, this year, of an entirely new programme, the Cities partnerships Programme. It begins in Europe, with the aim of deepening UCL’s partnerships, expanding our networks and communicating our high-profile activity in global cities. We invited applications for the role of Academic Director, one per city, from UCL’s academic community. Applicants were asked to propose cities with which they already have significant links. Based on the strongest applications, our first two cities will be Rome and Paris. Activity in Rome is led by Dr Florian Mussgnug, from the School of European Languages, Culture & Society, and in Paris by Dr Claire Colomb from The Bartlett School of Planning.

The Cities partnerships Programme consists of three main strands: seed-funding for academic collaborations in research, teaching and learning; a series of public-facing events co-created with institutional partners and inspired by the seed-funded projects; and activities engaging the wider UCL network of students, alumni, schools and other partners.

Our focus on a city rather than a specific partner is unique for the sector. It means that UCL academics from any discipline are able to work with the partners they feel are the best in their field. Collaboratively, they will shape a coherent programme of activities, developing a broad programme of multidisciplinary research and education that is relevant and innovative.

The CpP will run in each city over three years so that we can establish long lasting impact. The small programme team will work with academics to develop partnerships which lead to joint appointments, research hubs, short courses, dual degrees, research fellowships, student mobility, publications, and access to bids for European funding.

Rome is a good place to start. More than 50 years after the Treaty of Rome, the Italian capital continues to represent European unity, as well as its current challenges. It is a fitting location to explore the Future of Europe – the theme for a series of academic events curated by Dr Mussgnug. We have a strong record of collaborations in Rome with high-ranking universities and other prestigious partners, and a growing network of colleagues, from archaeology to neuroscience with an interest in activity in the region.

Applications for Cities partnerships Programme seed-funding for collaborative projects in Rome are now open and the deadline to apply is 30 November. Further detail is available from the Global Engagement Office. Please do consider applying, and share the link with colleagues. Work will begin with partners in Paris in early 2019 with applications for seed-funding opening in the spring. We’ll be welcoming applications for an Academic Director who will identify a third city later next year.

  1. UCL has stepped up advocacy and UCL engagement in networks, platforms and policy

The third track in our European strategy has been to step up our support for EU research collaboration. We have encouraged our staff to take on coordination roles in collaborative research grants.  UCL has a rich history of academic collaboration across Europe and we are redoubling our efforts to ensure that this will continue; it is a non-negotiable part of our long term vision as a global university.

We’ve done this in a number of practical ways. Engaging with existing research partners, advocating effectively through networks and platforms, and supporting UCL academics in their funding bids, has helped  UCL to become the top-ranked HEI in all of Europe for Horizon 2020 collaborative projects.

We have increased our advocacy and lobbying on European issues which most affect the HE sector and the UK’s economy and society. These efforts are led by the Provost, not least in his roles as a member of LERU, as chair of the Russell Group’s EU Advisory Group, and the UK Universities Minister’s high level stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation.

Our academic community plays an important role in influencing and driving national and international policy around the Brexit debate. Members of UCL’s European Institute, Faculty of Laws and Department of Political Science in particular, like Professor Piet Eeckhout and others, have done a huge amount to inform and influence the debate on EU issues relevant to the Brexit negotiations. Dr Alan Renwick and Professor Meg Russell (UCL Constitution Unit) established the Independent Commission on Referendums, and published their findings in a 200-page report, which is the most comprehensive review of referendums in the past 20 years. They are engaging with policy makers to bring about legislative change that will improve a key aspect of our democratic process. A UCL-wide forum, the Brexit and Beyond Steering Group, has brought together colleagues from across UCL to help inform UK policy on Europe through our research since 2016.

UCL staff with connections in Whitehall and Westminster, like Professor Graeme Reid (and I), contribute through those channels, speaking at conferences and seminars as well as private meetings and hosting visits to UCL by UK and other EU Ministers and senior officials involved in the Brexit negotiations. UCL colleagues also play an important role through sitting on bodies such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the Government’s high level stakeholder group , the Council of Research England and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

I would welcome your comments on this triple track European strategy, in particular ideas for expanding it or making it more effective as the Brexit crunch gets ever closer.

Best wishes,

Dame Nicola Brewer
Vice Provost International

[1] In 2016, our figures show that that UCL academics collaborated on journal articles with colleagues from over one thousand European organisations, including more than 475 universities.

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