Opportunity, not crisis

December 14, 2007

The handful of parochial views about China and the conclusions attributed to those quoted in the story "Expert warns ‘naive’ British", (December 7) are at odds with many colleagues working in science and engineering across British universities, and also with the UK’s research councils.

Ian Gow, who received an OBE in recognition of his efforts to help us establish a world first, the University of Nottingham Ningbo China, could have been reported out of context, but his views as published were unwarrantedly defensive.

Gow and other contributors to the Agora think-tank paper reported can be reassured that UK research councils, as well as Research Councils UK and the European Union, are fostering collaborative research with China across medicine, science and engineering.

Recently, a consortium of British universities including Nottingham, King’s College London and Southampton, and more than 20 universities in China agreed to pool their expertise. Innovation China-UK is now supporting academic and business partners in funding proof-of-concept research, and in commercialising intellectual property.

Nottingham has, for several years, been undertaking tripartite plant genetics work with two Chinese institutions, Fudan University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Among our shared goals are combining the experience of all three universities in plant genetics. It is extremely difficult to decipher in it, or in countless research projects like it, any "threat" to British scholarship or to the UK economy, and fortunately the research councils and the Government agree.

Globalisation means that our country cannot "stay at home". Nor, to quote Michael Shattock, can UK universities "stick to their knitting". In your story Gow calls British institutions "incredibly naive" for handing over their research in key disciplines to get a foothold in China. In fact, he was cautioning emerging joint ventures, and not those already well established. Leading international universities are carefully managing the risks involved in overseas ventures. Research, like student exchanges with China, has to be two-way to be sustainable. The "win-win" situation we are being urged in panicked tones to "engineer" is in fact already under way, on a fair and reciprocal basis. We have huge confidence that the world will be better for it.

Sir Colin Campbell
Nottingham University

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