Promised land proffers cash

UK/Israeli link-ups to get funding from two states' governments and pro-Israel charities. Zoe Corbyn reports

July 31, 2008

New money is up for grabs for junior academics who are willing to collaborate with their Israeli counterparts on research projects.

The scheme, known as the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership, is worth £740,000 over five years and is aimed at fostering academic links between the UK and Israel. Launched last week by the British and Israeli governments, the initiative has been criticised as a symbolic move against calls in the UK for an academic boycott of Israel, in protest against Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

"We have much to learn from each other and our researchers have much to gain from working to- gether," said Bill Rammell, the UK Higher Education Minister, in launching the scheme.

The main contributor to the scheme is the UK Jewish charity, the Pears Foundation, which is investing £500,000 over the period. Other contributors are the United Jewish Israel Appeal, which is investing £200,000 over the five years, and the UK and Israeli governments, which are each contributing £20,000. The UK's contribution will come from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (£15,000) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (£5,000). Israel's contribution comes from its Ministry of Science.

The programme will be run by the British Council in Israel. It is to be managed by a steering committee of representatives from the British Council, the UK and Israeli governments, Universities UK and Israel's Association of University Presidents.

Gordon Slaven, the director of Education, Science and Society at the British Council, said the scheme, developed over the past six months in collaboration with funders and academics, was the first structured programme for research that the UK and Israel had run together.

"There is great interest in Israel to work with us and increasing interest in the UK (to work with Israel)," he said.

Invitations for proposals, along with detailed criteria, will be issued in September or October, with the intention to award the first grants in December.

Mr Slaven said that the scheme, which would issue two calls a year, would consist of a number of funding strands. Money would be available for individual researchers from the UK to study in Israel (or vice versa) for a period of between three weeks and six months. There would also be funding for joint research projects and funding for researchers in the two countries to work together to develop large-scale research proposals, which could then seek other backers.

"I anticipate individual grants will be fairly small, joint grants will be bigger and preparing for large-scale research proposals might be bigger still," Mr Slaven said, adding that grants would be unlikely to last for longer than 12 months.

Weighted towards pure and applied sciences, some funding would also be available for social scientists, he said.

The scheme is targeted at more junior academics, from postdoctoral students to mid-career researchers and lecturers, who have far fewer international opportunities. "It is trying to open up the field, helping those at earlier stages who don't have the international experience," Mr Slaven explained, saying that it was particularly keen to attract Arab Israelis and those from UK minority groups.

A cadre of academics from the UK and Israel to peer review proposals and select winners will be chosen, he said. "I suspect nothing will get through unless it is of interest to both sides (UK and Israel)," said Mr Slaven.

He encouraged academics to begin making contacts in preparation for the call. "If you already have links with academics in Israel that is where you can start from ... If you don't, finding out more about which universities in Israel might have something of interest for you or do work in your field would be a good place to start."

The British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, the main organisation in the UK promoting the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, urged UK "academics of conscience" to shun the funding.

"Much of the finance for these partnerships is clearly coming from parts of the private and voluntary sectors that are allied to Israel ... We are urging our colleagues not to touch any of this funding with a bargepole. It is blood money and they should recognise it as such," said member Mike Cushman of the London School of Economics.

Mr Slaven said that to reject the funding would be counterproductive and claimed that the call for a boycott did not have the support of Palestinian academics.

He added that the British Council was developing a parallel scheme to support academic links between British and Palestinian universities, to which the UK Government would offer equal funding.

"We are in consultation at the moment with organisations and potential funders and a separate announcement is expected in due course," he said.


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