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Dual academic nationality: Taking a creative approach so UK academics can access EU funding after Brexit

Imperial College London has announced a post Brexit arrangement with the Technical University of Munich to jointly recruit academics.

The new employees will be shared by the UK and German universities, giving the staff a form of dual academic nationality so that UK academics can access EU funding after Brexit.

Here, Ashmita Das, co-founder and CEO of online platform for freelance scientists Kolabtree, discusses why the scientific industry should turn to new, creative economic models to remain competitive post Brexit.

The agreement between Imperial College London and the Technical University of Munich will focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) industries, such as computer science, medical science, bioengineering, physics and aerospace. The two universities have worked together on 21 European-funded research projects in the past and are well placed to collaborate long-term on projects in these fields.

The partnership has been established to address the concerns of UK academics and institutions losing access to EU research networks when Britain leaves the European Union. Working collaboratively on EU projects will also ensure that Imperial College London can stay part of the latest research developments.

Hitting the objective

The priority for any research project is to achieve its scientific objectives. However, there are other challenges that can obstruct a project, such as access to funding and skills. To remain competitive, it is vital that the UK develops new funding and employment models so that we do not limit scientific progress.

Imperial College London’s partnership with a German university demonstrates a creative way to access ongoing EU funding to ensure that academic progress continues unabated. However, we shouldn’t treat EU funding as the pot of gold at the end of the Brexit rainbow.

We should develop new economic models, such as commercial or UK funding or hiring freelance scientists to be more competitive. Commercial funding is already an established channel of research funding. By partnering with a business, Universities and research organisations can access the skills, resources and funding required to deliver a project.

Access to skills

A quarter of Imperial’s academic staff are from other EU countries, as are about 20 per cent of its students. It is no surprise, then, that universities are concerned about access to skills. However, thinking creatively about employment models for scientific projects could offer a low-cost solution that transcends international barriers. For example, hiring freelance PhD-level scientists provides low-cost access to specialist skills.

The gig economy has already taken over several industries — just look at the rise of Uber. This model is also becoming a popular choice for a wide variety of scientific industries, with over 5,500 freelancers with backgrounds in the life or physical sciences now registered to Kolabtree. Because a large majority of the project work can be performed remotely, hiring a freelancer provides access to academics internationally — borders are no limit.

Ongoing research is critical in solving the environmental, medical and engineering challenges of the future. Imperial College has taken a leading stance by thinking creatively and I urge the rest of the scientific community to do the same.

Ashmita Das, co-founder and CEO of Kolabtree

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