‘No academic boycott’, Willetts reassures Israelis

Universities and science minister at BIRAX conference affirms intention to encourage partnerships for joint scientific research projects

April 3, 2014

Source: Avishag Shaar Yashuv

Willetts: called for ‘an engagement of intellectual equals’

David Willetts has spoken of his shock at discovering that there is a belief in Israel that the UK is hostile to working with its scientists and students.

The minister for universities and science was visiting Israel and the Palestinian Territories with a delegation of vice-chancellors and university leaders last week.

He spoke to Times Higher Education during the second BIRAX (Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership) conference, hosted by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

BIRAX – so far worth £10 million – has already funded seven research projects between teams in Britain and Israel and a second call for proposals has now gone out.

The conference was designed to assess progress to date, access further funding and facilitate partnerships that might want to submit joint research proposals for “grants of a value up to £400,000 over three years”.

Mr Willetts called for “an engagement of intellectual equals” between the UK and Israel in scientific research, adding that he thought the UK “has lagged behind” the US and several European countries in terms of establishing partnerships.

“Israel is a world-class scientific nation,” he added. “We should be doing science with them. We can both gain and humanity can gain.”

He said he had also been “shocked” by a “belief in Israel that there is a boycott, that there is hostility to Israeli scientists” in the UK.

Mr Willetts said he was pleased that Israeli radio headlines during his visit had cited his comments denying there was any boycott and reiterating that Israeli students and academics were welcome in the UK.

But he added that it “was sufficiently newsworthy to be reported, which tells you the scale of the problem we are facing. That’s where the British government needs to send out a message.”

Mr Willetts’ Israeli counterpart – Yaakov Perry, minister of science, technology and space – told THE that he hoped BIRAX could form the basis for “a huge partnership”.

Topics he had discussed with the British minister during their meeting included ways of boosting low levels of student exchange, “cooperation between the British and Israeli space agencies”, possible cooperation in the field of cyber-security, and how the British government met the challenge of funding science museums.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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