The Guild’s Vice-Presidents gathered on 8 January to discuss priorities for the new European Research Area (ERA) whilst welcoming the network’s 21st member: Pompeu Fabra University. Alongside academia-industry collaboration and promoting the diversity of university staff, topics such as Brexit and foreign interference were also part of the highly-attended meeting.
Coinciding with the start of the Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council, the first meeting of The Guild in 2021 focused on research careers with a comprehensive exchange with Anna Panagopoulou, Director of Research & Innovation Outreach at the European Commission. The Guild’s Vice-Presidents stressed the need to highlight and enhance the diversity of academic careers and of researchers, including a multidimensional notion of excellence. According to them, it is crucial for quality assessment systems to mirror this diversity. Furthermore, the new ERA must reflect on how to foster collaboration between academia and other sectors (such as public sector, or the industry), strengthening the competitiveness and attractiveness of universities to researchers across the full disciplinary spectrum.
Worrying trends across Europe prompted an exchange on academic freedom. Vice-Presidents welcomed the reaffirmation of the principle of freedom of scientific research in the recent Bonn Declaration. At the same time, participants stressed that as populist movements focusing on disinformation and anti-vaccine agendas unfold across the EU, the role of universities as independent institutions where scientific discovery is based on the freedom and responsibility of researchers must constantly be stressed as vital to healthy democratic systems.
The Guild’s Vice-Presidents were pleased with the planned association of the UK to the EU’s framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon Europe, which was announced by Brexit negotiating teams in late 2020. They also regretted the UK’s drop-out of Erasmus+, which represents a huge loss to both EU’s and UK’s university students and staff. While welcoming any UK government initiative to support student mobility, Vice-Presidents emphasized the importance of finding new ways to sustain patterns of student mobility across Europe, not least among member universities of The Guild.
To close the day, The Guild’s Vice-Presidents exchanged views on international collaboration and the risks of foreign interference. Vice-Presidents shared their experience in relation to research and education, raising some common concerns and underlining the complexity of the issues. At the same time, Vice-Presidents noted the crucial significance of ensuring equitable international partnerships, as critical to the success of the European Research Area.
This article was first published on 13 January by The Guild.