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In the field of science, internationalisation is a major issue. After a series of incidents involving China and the outbreak of war in Ukraine, some European member states now look at international co-operation and the exchange of researchers and students with distrust.

In the Netherlands there are plans for stricter screening of international students and scientists. Major nations like Germany are also working on restrictions. The door is not yet locked, but as the European Commission puts it: co-operation with China is ‘increasingly nuanced and transactional’. Other countries are also coming under the magnifying glass.

Trump card

That heightened distrust appears to be one of the reasons for a joint statement by the academies of science of the 27 EU member states, including the KNAW. International co-operation and the exchange of knowledge, researchers and students are one of the European Union’s most important trump cards, they write.

Policymakers should not raise barriers, they believe, but instead protect academic freedom and the exchange of people and information. Scientists and students should be able to do their work ‘under safe conditions, at all times’.

In addition, they advocate investment in science. Member states should allocate 3 percent of their GDP to research and development. In her contribution to a press conference announcing the statement, KNAW president Marileen Dogterom pointed out that the Netherlands has not yet achieved that agreed figure.

Climate, migration, food

The academies list some of the ‘challenges’ facing member states: climate change, biodiversity loss, international migration, food security, the energy transition and so on. These can only be tackled through a trustful dialogue between science, politics, civil society and economic actors. A dialogue in which all disciplines need to be involved, Dogterom stressed.

One audience member raised the question of the military and geopolitical situation: how can you undertake open and free science in a world with so many threats? Scientists should not be naive, Dogterom replied, and always look carefully at who they are collaborating with. They should also assess whether their research could have military applications. Nevertheless, she still believes that openness should be the starting point: that is how you find solutions faster. “We have to find the right balance”, she asserted, “otherwise we are not doing ourselves any favours”.

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