I attended and spoke at the UK Research Office (UKRO) conference in Bristol last Friday. The conference is an annual event but this year was also celebrating 30 years of UKRO in Brussels. Since 1984, UKRO has been promoting effective UK engagement in EU research, innovation and higher education activities and operating as the Research Councils’ office in Brussels.

The conference attendees were primarily European Liaison Officers, European Research Managers and policy makers. I talked about some of my experiences in the past of working at the industry:academia interface on European programmes under EU Framework 7 and its successor, Horizon 2020. I also described some of the ways that BBSRC works with industry both within the UK and in Europe.

There are a number of projects and programmes that we are involved with including ELIXIR, which will soon be launching an ELIXIR cloud specifically for SMEs and other infrastructure projects such as AnaEE. BBSRC is also involved in a number of ERA-Nets including ones in plant sciences, synthetic biology, industrial biotechnology and bioenergy. BBSRC, together with INRA leads on the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (FACCE-JPI) – this is a European equivalent of the Global Food Security programme, aiming to support research to support sustainable agriculture and the bioeconomy under a common strategy across 21 countries while maintaining and restoring ecosystem services. It’s definitely worth checking out the FACCE-JPI website and keeping a watch out for calls.

There are a number of other ways BBSRC is involved in Horizon 2020 programmes and if you want to know more about this or any of the other initiatives or partnerships mentioned here please visit BBSRC’s ‘International programmes’ online. For specific queries, please contact Tim Willis, Associate Director, BBSRC International Relations (at the Swindon office) or colleagues at UKRO.

One of the themes that emerged from the conference was that although UK academics do very well in attracting EU grants, UK companies do a lot less well than other countries. So the real challenge is to see whether, in Horizon 2020, UK academics can bring UK companies, especially SMEs, alongside them whilst maintaining their high success rate.

Of course BBSRC’s international activities are global, not just focussed on Europe. Funding streams like the Newton Fund give BBSRC and BBSRC-funded scientists more potential opportunities to connect and work with scientists globally. Our Chief Operating Officer, Steve Visscher has been very active in leading on the establishment of international consortia, such as the International Wheat Yield Partnership. Indeed he represented the UK at a recent G20 Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists (MACS) in Australia where he was involved in discussions on a range of topics both within and without the meeting. The theme of the MACS meeting was to explore the opportunities provided by internationally coordinated research and innovation in agriculture. The representatives present shared information on their countries innovation systems and research prioritisation models. Of course international collaborations bring their own challenges and are often more resource intensive to run than nationally focussed schemes. In the future, it will be important for all funders to maintain the flexibility in approach to allow co-funding in international projects and programmes where timelines and mechanisms may differ significantly from those at a national level.

Lastly on the theme of international cooperation and recognition, I was very pleased to be invited to the Japanese Embassy in London for the awarding of the Order of the Rising Sun to Sir John Beddington. I first met Sir John when I was asked to be on a panel he convened to review the use of scientific evidence by BIS and was extremely pleased that he recently accepted the position of Chair of the Rothamsted Board. The Ambassador gave many examples of how Sir John had facilitated better Japanese-UK links but specifically mentioned his role post the tsunami in stressing the use of evidence to drive policy on response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It’s a very nice example of how an individual – albeit with a strong team behind them – can make a real difference.

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