Science is particularly well placed to boost international relations between countries whose links are politically “tense”, according to the deputy chair of the British Council.
Baroness Prashar said it is important that the UK “continues to engage with countries on science and other aspects of culture even when high-level diplomatic relations may be tense”.
Speaking as part of a panel debate on “Global science diplomacy and the role of universities in international relations” at the University of Nottingham’s In Parliament Day on 25 October, Baroness Prashar said that “science can be a very good connector” between nations and international scientific collaboration will be “more important” for the UK as it tries to “make its way in the world” post-Brexit.
She added that the British Council has enhanced its activities with Iran, Russia and Israel in recent years, focusing on areas where researchers in the countries can “work together on common goals, moving beyond cultural and political differences”.
The British Council has supported the involvement of Palestinian researchers as part of its collaboration with Israel and funded the first student from Gaza to apply to study in Israel for 10 years, she said, explaining that the organisation has “tended to work in sensitive areas”.
“This is where science can be so useful because it is a neutral activity less affected, although not always, by politics,” she said.
“From my point of view, the laws of physics are the same whether science is carried out in Iran or the Home Counties.”
Lord Willetts, former UK minister for universities and science, who also spoke on the panel, recommended that the UK introduce a more flexible policy on graduate earnings for international students applying for work visas after they graduate.
Overseas graduates looking to work in the UK must earn at least £20,800 to be granted a Tier 2 skilled worker visa. Lord Willetts said this figure should be lower in regions of the country that are unable to offer such high salaries.
“That level is set uniformly across the whole of the country, with the effect that it tends to attract those graduates down to London and the South East, which is where the jobs are likely to be that command that higher salary,” he said.
“It would be sensible to have a bit more flexibility in how that level of graduate pay was set so the parts of the country outside London and the South East could set a lower level reflecting the conditions of their job market.
“Students from China that famously travel to Nottingham could stay and contribute to the economy of the Midlands if we had a rather more flexible approach to setting those terms.”