Oxford Partners with 4 Berlin Unis to Ensure Eminence after Brexit
Currently only Germany secures more EU research funding than the UK:
The University of Oxford is partnering with four Berlin universities to continue to benefit from continental funding after Brexit.
This might seem surprising to some but a big concern in the British academic community is that UK institutions will have even less funding for research after Brexit. Statistics already show research funding in Britain has flatlined since 2010 — about the time university tuition fees in England were controversially raised to £9,000 per year amid large and loud protests from students.
With reduced government funding already happening inside the UK, the 15 percent extra in funding from the European Union, on top of what the British government gives is highly desirable. To quantify this: at the moment around £730 million a year of EU money is spent on a research and development in the UK and that’s money universities aren’t sure the British government will be able to replace.
Meanwhile Germany has poured money on the sector. For example, German Research Foundation (DTG) and non-university research networks such as the Max Planck Society have been steadily increasing their budget. Data from the German Research Foundation also shows that from 2006 to 2016 its funding to projects with a UK connection nearly tripled.
The University of Oxford believes the agreement underlines its determination to remain connected with Europe and its European partners, and to ensure that its collaborations with European colleagues continue.
“Although the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, it is not leaving Europe. This research partnership, involving some of the very best research institutions in Europe, is intended to build on Oxford’s wide-ranging participation in cutting-edge European research.”
— Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford
The Berlin universities participating in the alliance are:
1. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
2. Freie Universität Berlin
3. Technische Universität Berlin
4. Charité — Universitätsmedizin Berlin
It offers benefits to both sides:
- Closer collaboration will allow British and German researches to pool grants from UK and German national research bodies.
- It’s expected the German institutions will establish a ‘Berliner Haus’ in Oxford while Oxford will establish a reciprocal research center in Berlin.
- Oxford academics and researchers will be able to spend more time in Berlin developing new projects which could be eligible for common funding from both German and British agencies.
To be clear, what’s different about Oxford’s link with Berlin is that it’s spread across the whole university as opposed to one department or faculty. Typical research collaborations are just between an individual department or faculty.
Ulrich Dirnagl, neurologist at Charité is a visiting professor from Oxford and was instrumental in initiating the project. He believes the partnership is attractive because he says Oxford and Berlin scientists have been working together for a long time.
“In times of European uncertainty, it is of paramount importance that scientific research continues to thrive beyond national boundaries”.
— Professor Dr Karl Max Einhäupl, Head of the Charité Medical University
For those who aren’t familiar with Charité, its one of the most prestigious and competitive medical schools in Germany with admission rates lower than five percent. More than half of all German Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine come from Charité.
The collaboration between Oxford and Berlin was established by the signing of a memorandum of understanding by all five partners last month. The initiative also has the full support of the Mayor and Senate of Berlin.
“By teaming up our universities are creating a unique alliance and leading the way in shaping the future of European research.”
— Michael Müller, Governing Mayor of Berlin
From research to commercialization:
There is an interesting point to note. Before this deal was announced, Oxford was named in the British press as the worst university in the world when it came to commercialization rights for academics.
Innovation is thriving at UK universities. Data shows Oxford produced 20 major spinouts from 2011 to 2016 and 21 during the five previous years from 2006–2011. Meanwhile spinouts at the University of Cambridge grew from 13 to 33 during this time.
There are of course huge ranges in how universities deal with spinouts. Oxford aims to take a 50 percent equity stake in any spinout, although the University says it does negotiate down. Oxford also asks for IP royalties. After commercialization the University hands half of its stake to a venture fund called Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI).
Staying within the UK for comparision, the University of Cambridge does not automatically take an equity stake. Staff can choose to launch their business through the University’s technology transfer office (Cambridge Enterprise) or do it themselves. Startup funding can be supported by the University as it often invests in its spinouts. Through investment the University gains a shareholding plus Cambridge does take a portion of IP revenue generated by the firm.
Meanwhile the requirements for commercialization at universities in Berlin are considerably lower than at Oxford.
University commercialization processes are important because these startups spun-out by academics are potentially worth big money. For example, one of the major British university spinout success stories comes from Cambridge’s ARM Holdings which was bought by Softbank for £24 billion ($32 billion USD) in 2016.
More alliances to come:
The move by Oxford hedges some of the uncertainty around Brexit. There’s a lot that is still unknown. British institutions are waiting on negotiation outcomes to hear if they will be able to remain part of future European Union research frameworks including the European Research Council (ERC) and Erasmus.
Forming partnerships with continental universities means research will not only go on but it allows British institutions to continue to make their mark internationally.
It’s reported other universities in the UK are working on similar arraignments and we can expect to hear more about British university partnerships with continental institutions over the coming months.
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