Science Diplomacy in Times of Crisis

- EN - DE

The Volkswagen Foundation is funding a Berlin University Alliance project that focuses on crisis management in scientific relations

Diplomatic crises between different states have been putting scientific relations under immense strain in recent years. The Berlin University Alliance (BUA), made up of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, wants to improve its ability to respond to the diplomatic challenges of internationalization. The Volkswagen Foundation is set to fund the project "Facing Challenges of Internationalization Together: A Network for Diplomatic Resilience at the Berlin University Alliance" with 410,000 euros over the next three years.

"Global cooperation in research remains of central importance, and all the more so in the context of climate change and the pandemic, which is only now drawing to a close," says Dr. Herbert Grieshop, director of the Division of International Affairs at Freie Universität Berlin, who applied for project funding on behalf of BUA. However, Grieshop adds, universities increasingly operate in an international context that is fraught with tension. "For several years now the issue of cooperation with partners in authoritarian regimes and academic freedom has been pushed to the forefront. The accumulation of serious political and diplomatic crises with different countries makes it clear that the problem must be understood and addressed not as an unfortunate coincidence, but as something that requires long-term consideration," he says.

The project "Facing Challenges of Internationalization Together: A Network for Diplomatic Resilience at the Berlin University Alliance" aims to provide assistance in acute diplomatic crises at universities and thus to strengthen the BUA institutions’ ability to respond when unforeseeable events arise. The project also seeks to go beyond "permanent crisis mode" and to promote instead a continuous, long-lasting engagement with the challenges of internationalization in research by developing recommended courses of action. BUA intends to test three types of measures and, if they prove successful, to establish them in the long term: an internal, rapid, and confidential advisory system; a long-term, expertise-based reflection on the position of universities in the new environment of internationalization; and a sensitization to the diplomatic challenges of internationalization across institutional and disciplinary boundaries.

"We want to set the course for a cooperative, responsible approach to internationalization with this project," says Grieshop. While the diplomatic challenges of international cooperation apply to all universities individually, a cooperative approach between the universities seems appropriate and promising.

In order to navigate the new global scientific landscape, universities should pool their regional and disciplinary expertise much more than they have done so far, share their experiences, and take on shared responsibility in handling diplomatic challenges. Moreover, they should reflect across disciplines on their position in this new global situation together with non-academic partners.

The Volkswagen Foundation has approved funding for the project as part of its initiative "Pioneer Projects - Impetus for the German Research System." The goal of the program is to enable improvements to the German science system by supporting the development of innovative intellectual and practical approaches in governance, administration, research, teaching, and transfer.

The Berlin University Alliance is an alliance comprised of the three universities based in Berlin - Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin - and Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Its aim is to work together to shape the future of research in Berlin. The four partners of the alliance joined forces to make Berlin a leading site for collaborative academic and research, not just in Germany but worldwide. A key part of this collaboration involves the joint investigation of social challenges, strengthening academia’s ties with society, supporting junior researchers, dealing with questions of quality and the significance of research, as well as more broadly based projects that deal with topics such as research infrastructure, teaching, diversity, equal opportunities, and internationalization. The Berlin University Alliance is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the state of Berlin as part of the German federal and state governments’ Excellence Strategy.