University ‘dual nationality’ plan for Brexit

University 'dual nationality' plan for Brexit

​A top UK university is planning a "unique" post-Brexit arrangement with a German university in which staff will be appointed jointly by both institutions, with the aim of keeping access to EU research funding for UK academics.

​Imperial College London, ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the world, has signed a partnership with the Technical University of Munich.

​The agreement will create academic posts jointly recruited and shared by the UK and German universities, with these staff having a form of academic dual nationality.

​Both universities specialise in science and technology and the shared research will be in areas such as computer science, medical science, bioengineering, physics and aerospace.

​The intention is for these "shared" academics - whether German or from the UK, and whether based in London or Munich - to continue to be eligible for EU research projects, through the Technical University of Munich's access to EU funding.

'Dangers of barriers'

​The German university says it will "send a strong signal against the dangers of new barriers in the European scientific area"

​University leaders in the UK have been worried about losing access to research networks which are often organised and funded on an international basis.

​Imperial College and the Technical University of Munich have previously worked together on 21 European-funded research projects.

​The top four biggest individual recipients of EU research cash are all from the UK - Oxford, Cambridge, University College London and Imperial College.

​In the current EU research funding round, Imperial has received 161m euros (£141m).

​But UK universities are concerned that after Brexit they will not be able to join the next even bigger research round, worth about 100 billion euro (£88bn).

Most EU staff

​Apart from the funding, they say it is important to stay part of the latest developments in research, in areas such as transport, robotics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

​The greatest concentrations of EU staff are also to be found in these leading research universities - with Oxford, Cambridge, University College London, Imperial and King's College London having the highest proportions

​A quarter of Imperial's academic staff are from other EU countries and about a fifth of its students. Professor Alice Gast has said: "Imperial is and will remain a European university."

​"We should do everything we can to preserve the historic achievement of unlimited European cooperation," said Professor Wolfgang Herrmann, president of the Technical University of Munich.

​The German university also expects the partnership with Imperial to help its chances in bidding for a share of research projects.

French in London

​The idea of "unique joint mechanisms" for appointing staff across both universities is the latest stage in Imperial's preparations for Brexit.

​Earlier this year the university announced a deal with France's National Centre for Scientific Research to co-fund a maths laboratory in London, which will allow its UK mathematicians to have the same access to EU funding as French staff.

​In the Brexit plans so far, the UK government has committed to underwriting any cash promised to UK universities from the current EU research funding, which runs up to 2020.

​For EU research post-Brexit, the UK government has suggested paying to have an associate member status. But the terms of participation - and whether UK universities could remain as net beneficiaries - will still have to be negotiated.

​Ludovic Highman, senior research associate at the Centre for Global Higher Education, says that leading UK research universities have been building a range of strategic partnerships with European universities.

​He says they are worried about keeping access to EU staff and research expertise, as well as finding ways to protect eligibility for funding.

​But he warns, with so much still to be decided, "the rules of the game could be changed at any moment".

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