Ending 4 years in London [fr]

Reaching the end of his position, French counselor for science and technology Mr. Cyrille van Effenterre reflects on the department’s last 4 years.

I have left my post of Science and Technology Counsellor at the French Embassy at the end of August, just a few weeks after the referendum on Brexit. Despite being a coincidence, these are two good reasons to assess these past 4 years in London and to mention a few perspectives for the Department I directed.

In Europe, London is one of only two Embassies of France still having a Science and Technology Department, the other is Berlin. Although our missions and actions have grown in importance with the progression of science diplomacy globally, they may become essential in accompanying the soft revolution which will be brought by Brexit.

A commendable assessment and a definite added value

It is thanks to the highly skilled science officers I have worked with (Claire Mouchot, Maggy Heintz, Eliette Riera, Olivier de Montalembert, Alice Jombert, Mariana Beija, Eva Legras and Ludovic Drouin) that the Science and Technology Department has carried out their basic missions of UK-wide watch on STEM, Science and Innovation policy as illustrated by the several hundred notes and the 15 in-depth studies published on our website.

We have organised 10 Franco-British symposium and seminars on a wide spectrum of high priority science and innovation areas: big data, clinical research, marine energy, synthetic biology, smart cities, telehealth, composite materials, MOOCs, digital government, with one more to come this autumn on intelligent transport systems.

The issue of climate change has obviously been paramount and we have organised several high level political economic and scientific conferences ahead of the COP21, as well as a seminar series on low-carbon energy.

In parallel, several medium to long term agreements between our Department and British research institutions put in place by my predecessor Serge Plattard or previously have been maintained while new ones have been signed. A selected few are agreements with Churchill College Cambridge, Eurofusion, Diamond, UCL, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Royal Institution…

Thanks to the excellence of French research teams in STEM and through our missions of public engagement, we have facilitated bottom-up collaborations via the organisation of approximately 20 seed meetings, all of which had been awarded through calls for proposals and a selection process. On a more top-down, institutional side, several French federal universities (Comues) are making contacts and establishing relationships with top-ranked British universities.

The seed meetings allow existing bilateral collaborations to expand at the European level for the emergence of research networks of excellence. The questions of innovation have been held in high priority and were accompanied by benchmark studies on financial and institutional tools with the view to facilitate relationships between similar or complementary bodies. Much time was spent on Catapult Centres and their counterparts in France, the Instituts de Recherche Technologique and competitiveness clusters.

The Department’s new perspectives

With the referendum result on Brexit, the actions of our Department will undoubtedly see some evolution. It will be crucial for our country and for a healthy cooperation to understand the emerging questions and issues both for British universities and more widely for the science and innovation sector. It may be indeed possible that these cooperations and collaborations need new strategic thinking and tools.

Although independent of the referendum result, a new organisation will be taking place at the Embassy from September 2016. The office for University Cooperation, traditionally within the cultural Department, will be integrated within the Science and Technology Department. This evolution had long been in the pipeline for this Embassy, given the strong correlation between research, innovation and higher education; it has received a push in recent years in the view of the increasing importance of interdisciplinary research integrating social and economic sciences and humanities in all topics (health, IT, climate change …).

Jean Arlat, previously director of research at CNRS, will be taking over from me from 1st September as Counsellor for Science and Technology. I thoroughly enjoyed the work, both fascinating and complex and now wish him much success in his time in London and I hope that the number of our followers on our website and social media will continue to grow.

Published on 01/09/2016

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