Speed networking in Brussels – taking the University’s Specialist Research Institutes to a European audience

By Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, New Campus Development

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of leading a University delegation to Brussels were we hosted two very differing but complementary events.

Not to negotiate a withdrawal agreement, I hasten to add – quite the opposite – but of course the ‘B’ word was mentioned on a regular basis!

In the morning we welcomed guests from a variety of EU, European Commission, UK and other member state bodies with interests in research and innovation policy to an interactive event to highlight the University’s strengths in research and underline our commitment to ongoing collaborations in Europe.

Headlined ‘Combining R&I capabilities in Europe to meet the world’s challenges’ it was a chance for our seven Specialist Research Institutes (SRIs) to showcase their world-leading specialised research programmes. I was delighted that we had representatives from each to lead a speed-networking session with guests to explain more about their cross-disciplinary work – aligning research fields with regional, national, and international priorities and ambitions to meet the demands of government, business and society.

The morning also included a fascinating panel debate on the EU Research and Innovation landscape with guests from the European University Association, Swedish R&D sponsors Vinnova, the European Commission and Brussels-based Science|Business all joining me on stage.

The event ended with an update by Inga Benner, Deputy Director of the UK Research Office (UKRI’s agency in Brussels), on the current arrangements to facilitate continued UK engagement in EU Research and Innovation in the context of Brexit.

Despite the continuing twists and turns of Brexit, the workshop felt timely, and it reassured all present that, irrespective of the current political turmoil, we at Bristol are totally committed to building on our research relationships in Europe and continuing to work with the very best researchers from across the continent and beyond.

I made the point to a number of Brussels audiences that we have a key role in Bristol at this time to enable and grow partnerships and cohesion, both locally and internationally. We must seize the opportunity to be bold and embrace new ways of working together. And of course, as well as continuing to develop our collaborative research endeavours such as our SRIs, we are building a new University campus in the very heart of Bristol in partnership with our city, its communities and businesses.

This was the theme for our evening event for Brussels-based alumni which was kindly hosted by Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West, at the European Parliament.

It was great to meet a wide range of alumni of all ages to talk about our exciting future plans as well as reminiscing about the past.

It reinforced to me how lucky we are to be located in a city as progressive, outward-facing and independent as Bristol.

It also reinforced that whatever the outcome of Brexit, we must, and will, continue to be internationalist, civic and collaborative in our approach to research and teaching.

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