Open research collaboration must be EU’s ‘default approach’

16 Jan 2024 | News

Europe remains ‘fairly open’ but there is a feeling that ‘things could get much more closed’, says Thomas Jørgensen of the European University Association

Open cooperation has to remain Europe’s default option in international research collaboration, despite the current challenging geopolitical situation, according to the European University Association (EUA). “Universities are by nature internationally oriented institutions,” it says. 

Europe’s universities acknowledge there are challenges to security and ethics that come with international collaborations, but there are ways to handle this without cutting cooperation. 

“Avoiding risks does not necessarily exclude cooperation. Rather, it can be done through various, concrete arrangements, for example, by implementing stricter cybersecurity measures in specific contexts,” the EUA says in its response to the European Commission’s call for comments on a proposal for Council recommendations on research security. 

The proposal aims to provide, for the first time in Europe, a joint definition of the problem of international research cooperation, along the lines of the guiding principle, ‘open where possible, closed where necessary’.

Research security is an increasingly sensitive topic in Europe. In 2021, the Commission proposed a new approach to international cooperation in research and innovation. Following this, in January 2022 it published guidelines on foreign interference in EU research, setting out measures on how higher education institutions and research organisations can identify and address risks of foreign interference. 

Thomas Jørgensen, director for policy coordination and foresight at the EUA, said collaboration is still “fairly open” in Europe, more questions are being asked and “there is a feeling that things could get much more closed.” 

He hopes the Commission’s move to propose Council recommendations on research security will create “coherence in Brussels and the member states. 

Managing cooperation

“It is important that the research discussion is an integral part of the larger security discussion, so that we do not just agree among ourselves how to balance openness and responsibility, but that there is a broad recognition within the whole security and strategic autonomy field of how academic cooperation can be managed,” Jørgensen said. 

The EUA also stressed the importance of universities’ self governance when it comes mitigating any risks associated with research collaboration. “Identifying risks in the areas of security, ethics and integrity can only be done in close dialogue between authorities, universities and the academic community that is developing collaborations in practice,” the association said

When the call for input on research security was announced at a Science|Business conference in December, Slaven Misljencevic, policy officer at the Commission’s research directorate, outlined the Commission’s reasoning saying, “Since the end of 2019 [] we have observed an increased number of foreign interference cases targeting EU higher education institutions and research performing organisations. 

“This was relatively new because at that time it was all about open science and being open to the world. Suddenly we were being confronted with an issue that has perhaps been made easier by this openness,” Misljencevic said.

The Commission aims to publish its proposal for recommendations on research security in the first quarter of 2024.

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