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London-Paris: Building a Post-Brexit Future in Higher Education

22 May 2017

Now more than ever, it is crucial to maintain and build upon the close academic links between institutions and researchers in London and Paris, argue Nicola Brewer and Tim Gore


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London and Paris are truly global cities. With their diverse populations of close to nine and twelve million respectively, world-leading culture, media, innovation and business quarters, they both play a major role in the world economy. Higher education is an integral part of driving economic prosperity.

We believe that London and Paris, and other global cities, can deliver positive global impact at scale, if we work together on shared interests to address shared challenges.

Brexit raises a lot of questions regarding the future relationship between the UK and the EU. How those questions are resolved will have major impact on the contribution to innovation and knowledge creation that the higher education sector makes. Knowledge creation and dissemination are fundamentally international. They thrive on mobility of staff and students, research collaboration, and joint programmes.

The negotiations taking place around the UK leaving the EU do not have to be a matter of “London wins, Paris loses,” or vice versa. There is room for two fabulous global cities separated only by 344 kilometres, or 2 and a quarter hours by train.

Developing bilateral and multilateral activities and relationships does not have to be a zero sum game. But multilateral activity has been a multiplier: a great example is the Horizon 2020 programme. There is no other scheme in the world that facilitates and funds research collaborations across more than two borders in the same way.

As UCL Professor and Royal Society Foreign Secretary Richard Catlow wrote recently: “International mobility and collaboration are essential for good research. Researchers travel in order to work with the best, share their expertise, access equipment and resources, and develop their careers.”

Universities in global cities give opportunities for knowledge exchange, enterprise and innovation that connect communities, so that they can, collectively, deliver transformational impact with global reach.

Connections between the historic universities of London and Paris run deep. For example: UCL has more Erasmus (student and staff exchange) links with Parisian Higher Education Institutions than with any other city in the world – 17 institutions and 28 agreements. The University of London Institute in Paris itself traces its roots back to the end of the 19th century and a few years before L’entente Cordiale! 

London is home to three universities in the top 50 recipients of EU research funding in 2015.

Since the EU referendum last June, universities across the UK have worked hard to make clear to our non-UK staff and students that they remain very welcome, and an integral part of our academic communities, for example through the #WeAreInternational campaign.

We are championing the positive impact that collaboration with our neighbours in Europe, and further afield, has on our staff and students – both in terms of enriching their university experience and preparing them for global careers. Cities don’t have to choose between being European or global: London and Paris are both.

Staff and students at universities located in global cities play a unique and important role in the growth, development and innovation of that city through research, public engagement, and finding new ways to reach out and collaborate including through volunteering. Global cities spark growth and innovation despite (and sometimes because of) complex economic environments. Universities help link cities up to diverse knowledge and talent networks capable of addressing the global challenges that we all face and that no one country, or city, can fix alone.

London gets more inward investment from Paris than any other global city, attracting £2.6bn and generating almost 10,000 jobs over the last ten years.

Paris is the largest continental European destination for foreign direct investment from London. Since January 2006, over 160 London-based companies have set up in Paris, creating 7,500 jobs in the French capital.

Now is the time for UK universities to concentrate on how we can continue to collaborate with partners in Europe without being in the EU. We can do this in three ways:

Firstly, partnerships develop between people who look for shared values and interests, and are prepared to work to create mutual benefit and reciprocity, based on trust and respect. When Paris is inside the EU and London is outside, we’re going to have to work even harder at this.

Secondly, London might, from outside the EU, be able to link our European neighbours and our historical but geographically more distant friends more easily.

We also have a job to do, in the next two years, to explain to our policy makers why science and knowledge are fundamentally international. In 2015, academics at UCL co-published 1,255 academic papers with French colleagues, continuing a 10-year trend of year-on-year increases. Brexit must not stop that positive progression. 

Finally, it is up to all of us on the London side to demonstrate that despite leaving the EU, we all remain committed to the ideals of a cooperative and closely integrated European higher education community.

Image of King's Cross St Pancras - Peter Coughlan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


  • Dame Nicola Brewer is UCL's Vice-Provost International. She is responsible for UCL's global engagement strategy.
  • Tim Gore is the CEO of the University of London Institute in Paris.