What Boycott? The U.K.-Israel Science Partnership Is Booming

In regards to British universities, the positive reality does not match the scare stories.

Sir Mark Walport
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Stem cell-derived neurons. Research done together is better research. Credit: Reuters
Sir Mark Walport

A breath test for Parkinson’s disease, artificial egg and sperm systems that revolutionize fertility treatments, shared efforts on problems from desertification to Ebola – these joint British-Israeli projects are my answer to claims that U.K. scientists are boycotting Israel.

And there are many more examples. In the last year we have launched major collaborations in stem cells, neuroscience, nanoscience and water science. We have seen scholarship programs set up to send Israelis to Oxford and Cambridge. We have seen our prime minister, the leader of the opposition, the minister for universities and numerous university presidents visit Israel.

The scientific partnership between Israel and Britain is booming. In 2015, hundreds of Israeli researchers will work in U.K. universities due to our new programs, and hundreds of their British colleagues will experience first-hand what Israeli science has to offer.

I know a lot of Israelis have heard a different story – about boycotts and hostile universities. The truth is that the British Government is completely opposed to boycotts of Israel. And the positive reality in British universities does not match the scare stories. Not a single U.K. academic university has adopted a policy of boycotting Israel. On the contrary, British businesses and universities are keen to collaborate with the “start-up nation” for the benefit of both our countries and the wider scientific community.

From the prime minister down, the government of the U.K. is committed to a stronger research and innovative partnership with Israel. This is why 2014 was a record year for trade between the two countries. This is why our cutting-edge collaborations – such as the 10-million-pound-sterling BIRAX Regenerative Medicine Initiative and the U.K. Israel Tech Hub – are expanding in 2015.

And this is why I am in Israel this week to launch new researcher mobility programs, to meet with Israeli students wanting to study science in Britain, and to discuss our priorities for future collaboration with the U.K. Israel Science Council.

Also in Israel with me this week is a delegation of senior British scientists and companies looking to work with Israel on dementia. They are following up on the excellent joint meeting of the British Neuroscience Association and the Israel Society for Neuroscience in Eilat.

In research, we are working together because the best ideas do not have international borders: Research done together is better research. And the best research has the power to change lives and drive economies.

The U.K. and Israel make for excellent partners in research and innovation. We are scientific superpowers. The U.K. has only 1 percent of the world’s population but with four universities in the global top 10, we produce 14 percent of the most highly cited publications.

Israelis represent less than 0.1 percent of the global population but account for over 1 percent of all scientific articles. We are increasingly working together on innovation and translating the great science we do into tangible applications.

The opportunities are boundless, and there is so much more we could do together. My visit is not just to celebrate our past achievements, but also to look to the future of our science relationship. There is enormous potential.

Sir Mark is chief scientific adviser to the British Government.