President's page#

Marja Makarow

Science for Peace: a message from AE President, Marja Makarow#

In this end-of-year edition of Academia Europaea’s Newsletter, I wish to highlight the role of novel research practices and research collaboration in building trust and enhancing peace.

The Covid-19 crisis accelerated international collaboration onto a global level. Collaboration practices shifted from primarily national, towards more intensive international collaboration. There was a move from safeguarding one’s own research findings, to enhanced data-sharing across borders; a shift from silos of fundamental research, to the translation of research findings into innovation; and from ring-fenced public and private sector research, to public-private partnerships. All of this works through an enabling of mutual trust – surely one of the most important foundations of peace. The value and impact of these practices can be seen in the formidable success of the coronavirus vaccines, which were developed at an unprecedented speed. This was the direct result of the crossing of all the borders and barriers described above.

Researchers and research funding organisations are increasingly acknowledging that the outcomes from publicly-funded research are a public good that are expected to benefit society. All scholarly and scientific disciplines have, and will have, an impact on society, albeit in their own form and timeline. Impacts from research findings have both indirect and direct beneficial effects on our society, culture, economy, health, environment, public policies and services, and enhance our quality of life. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been encompassed as areas of research by universities and research funding organisations, and researchers themselves are inspired to contribute to the tackling of global challenges.

However, current wars and conflicts pose challenges for international research collaboration. Collaboration is one of the key missions of Academia Europaea.

At the same time, a new term - knowledge security - has emerged. Whilst cross-border collaboration is instrumental to the originality and quality of research and innovation, we can see that under the current tensions, research findings and data have become targets for hostile actors. Geopolitics are invading science policy and research practice. Universities are being urged by national and EU-level authorities to put processes in place to mitigate the risks that may arise out of international collaboration. Such risks include a lack of reciprocity, funding dependence, violation of ownership of intellectual property and the misuse of open data.

When institutions withdraw from collaborations due to conflict, the role of academies and learned societies comes to the fore. These organisations are able to maintain contacts with individual researchers who work in those countries affected by conflict. They can serve as neutral stakeholders, more able to maintain collaborative activities at an individual level. Activities that will ultimately build a foundation for peace.

In addition to threats to collaboration, another of our key Academia Europaea missions is at stake – academic freedom. Freedom of investigation and of education is the prime enabler of original research and ground-breaking innovations, and a basic condition for a healthy democracy. Therefore, it is protected in the constitutions of many countries. Nevertheless, we are witnessing an erosion of academic freedom in Europe. As a response to this challenge, the European Parliament has established a Forum for Academic Freedom, to monitor breaches of researchers’ freedom in EU Member States, and it urges the Commission to propose a legal definition and a framework for protecting the rights of scientists and scholars in areas like governance and labour conditions. Our HERCuLES Group (Higher Education, Research and Culture in European Societies) has chosen a timely topic for their next conference in 2024, “Academic Freedom in the 21st Century”.

The European Union, based on its four freedoms of mobility of people, capital, goods and services, is a peace project. But also, the Framework programmes of research and innovation are in themselves peace projects. Why? Because they implement the “fifth freedom”, that of the mobility of researchers, their methods and findings, new technologies and knowledge, and of students. The fifth freedom matters. It helps to advance science through peaceful collaboration, the sharing of knowledge and trust. It advances the development of societies through new innovations, and safeguards the freedom of research and of the democratic values underpinning peace.

Amidst all these challenges, we do have reasons to celebrate. These include our own Members’ accomplishments in pushing the frontiers of knowledge, and also the re-connection of the UK research community with that of continental Europe’s following the UK government’s decision on association to Horizon Europe.

Wishing you all peace at Christmas and for the year ahead.

Marja Makarow
December 2023

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