Forging links outside Europe post-Brexit ‘not realistic’

Vice-principal tells SRHE annual conference that arts and humanities scholars cannot suddenly shift area of focus to different cultural settings 

December 8, 2016
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The UK government’s expectation that academics can suddenly forge new international research collaborations in the wake of Brexit are unrealistic and ignore the fact that scholars have already built such links where they are beneficial.

That is the view of Rosemary Deem, vice-principal for education at Royal Holloway, University of London and chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education, who will make a plenary speech on the issue this week at the Society for Research into Higher Education’s International Conference on Research into Higher Education.

In light of the UK leaving the European Union, the government message has been for academics to take their research collaborations to other countries, but that assumes there is a “mass of money” to be drawn from and that it is straightforward for scholars to move long-established European collaborations to countries where their research may be of “no use whatsoever” because of different cultural and political settings, she said.

Speaking to Times Higher Education ahead of her presentation, “International Contexts and Collaborations: The Implications and Impact of Brexit”, Professor Deem said that the UK government, in advising academics to think more globally, had in effect urged scholars “not to be European”.

“There [have] been some statements recently that you should rush out and get collaborations with researchers in India, China and the US…[and] that outside of European funding, there’s this mass of money to be made. Problem is, there isn’t lots of money,” she said.

“Where there is, UK universities have already benefited from that. Many countries are reducing funding. My guess is that the US post-Trump will have very little money for research because Trump doesn’t really like higher education.”

Professor Deem added that in any case “many institutions already have those collaborations” outside Europe, and in the case of arts and humanities disciplines, it may not be appropriate for scholars to suddenly shift focus.

“If it’s lab-based science, then that’s pretty much the same wherever you do it – so you go where the best people are to collaborate. When you look at social sciences and arts and humanities, they have collaborative work not just based on proximity to Europe per se, but on researching...similar cultures and practices,” she said.

“It’s not really possible to suddenly take that work elsewhere. If you’ve been working all your life on things that have been happening in Europe, you’re not going to suddenly start doing it in India, because you don’t know any of the people and everything you’ve written would be of no use whatsoever because it’s a completely different historical, social, cultural, political setting.”  

Professor Deem also said Brexit will have a detrimental effect on European higher education, because they too want to continue collaborating with “good [UK] scholars” whose participation in European projects and organisations is key for research standards.

“The potential withdrawal of UK participants [from] Horizon 2020 and [the] European Research Council [is] going to affect the overall standard [of research]. Many other countries in Europe use the ERC as one of the benchmarks of [research excellence] but with us out of it, I think the standards will fall.”

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