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Competitiveness Council debate

In parallel to the Education Council meeting, the Swedish Presidency facilitated on 23 May a policy debate on knowledge security and responsible internationalisation as part of the latest Competitiveness Council meeting. This topic was defined, in the preparatory note that supported the debate, as implying a “structured process for identifying, assessing, managing, and monitoring opportunities and risks in research collaborations”. In the note, which acknowledges it is a major challenge to maintain a balance between open, trust-based scientific collaborations and protective, restrictive regulations, some of which become necessary to mitigate the risks of foreign interference and unwanted technology transfer. It also cautions on over-regulation or excessive intervention, which can undermine academic freedom and exchange.

In the recorded debate, the member states were invited to, on the one hand, share their experiences and best practices on measures taken at national level to address foreign interference and raise awareness of threats and risks, while also continuing to promote openness and international cooperation, and on the other hand, to suggest additional measures that could be taken to further strengthen coordination and the exchange of best practice between the stakeholders involved, including the wider research community. One of the proposals put on the table comes the Dutch minister of education and research Robert Dijkgraaf, who aired the idea of an EU centre for collecting and sharing knowledge, to strengthen the detection capacity of foreign interference in research or attempts to misuse intellectual property.

The policy debate takes place at a time when the Swedish government got under national and international scrutiny after a decision to shorten the mandate of external members of university boards from 36 to 17 months, labeled by several stakeholder organization as a dangerous precedent to limit institutional autonomy (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, May 2023).

The questions of openness of international cooperation in higher education and the role of knowledge diplomacy compared to knowledge security are also topics intensely discussed by ACA members, some related considerations being captured in a reflection paper “Europe’s International Higher Education and Research Cooperation in Times of Uncertainty – the Quest for Sensible Openness”, published in November 2022, and highlighting many examples of good practice from the national level. ACA’s 2023 Think Pieces seriesEuropean higher education cooperation in a global context – is also addressing these dilemmas, featuring also upcoming contributions from outside of Europe.