Imperial College strengthens European ties with French partnership


Imperial College London has established a far-reaching partnership with CNRS, France’s National Center for Scientific Research, with the aim of sustaining cross-Channel collaboration in the wake of post-Brexit barriers to academic cooperation.

The International Joint Research Center for Transformational Science and Technology will apply mathematics and data science to areas ranging from medicine and materials science to climate change and chemistry, including projects funded by the EU. The two institutions will collaborate to train early career scientists and share facilities, infrastructure and data.

“This partnership demonstrates Imperial’s commitment to strengthening our ties with Europe by improving mobility and providing researchers with opportunities to exchange ideas,” said Alice Gast, President of Imperial Oil. “The international research center will bring the highest level of collaboration between French and British scientists.”

Alice Gast: “The international research center will bring the highest level of collaboration between French and British scientists. © Charlie Bibby/FT

The initiative will help maintain Imperial’s involvement in European science in the face of the EU’s continued refusal to admit the UK as an associate member of its €95 billion Horizon Europe R&D program after its departure of the block.

Antoine Petit, who was recently reappointed for a second four-year term as head of the CNRS, is a strong advocate for continued UK and Swiss participation in EU research, which Brussels is blocking. due to political disagreements.

“We are looking for an exception for science,” he said. “We need to show politicians that scientific collaborations between our countries are important for all of us. Everyone will be missed if the collaborations decline.

Petit said the CNRS was negotiating a similar research partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. With an annual budget of 3.8 billion euros, the CNRS is one of the largest scientific organizations in Europe and the first institution in terms of receiving EU research grants.

James Wilsdon, professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, commented: “It looks like a coup for Imperial, and I’m sure it will encourage other top UK universities to seek bilateral opportunities. similar.”

Imperial’s International Research Center builds on existing collaboration with the CNRS which has grown significantly over the past 15 years, including a joint mathematics laboratory established in 2018. EU-funded projects on which Imperial and the CNRS have been collaborating since 2007 had a total value of more than €1.4 billion.

Antoine Petit: “We must show politicians that scientific collaboration between our countries is important for all of us. Everyone will be missed if the collaborations decline. © Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

The two institutions declined to say how much they expect to spend on joint projects in the future, but the sum is expected to reach tens of millions of pounds a year.

Jo Burton, policy manager at the Russell Group of research-intensive UK universities, said: “The new joint CNRS-Imperial research center demonstrates the close and enduring links between leading researchers from the UK and France.

Burton said she remained optimistic, although there was no sign of an end to political disagreements between the UK and the EU, particularly over renegotiations of trade deals in Northern Ireland, which are blocking the UK participation in EU R&D programmes.

“Despite the delay, the UK’s association with Horizon Europe would be a win-win situation for the UK and our international collaborators at a time when cooperation across Europe is more vital than ever.” she declared. “We hope to see the association finalized as soon as possible and look forward to working with our European partners on a range of research projects.”


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William D. Babcock

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