Carole Hémard (CH), Project Manager for Higher Education and Research at the British Council France was able to interview Matthew Johnson (MJ), Head of the European Bilateral Research and Innovation Team at the UK Government Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the aims and benefits of the Hubert Curien Alliance joint research programme, for which the fourth call has just been opened.
CH: In 2018 the Hubert Curien Alliance joint research bilateral programme was relaunched to support mobility for early career researchers between France and the UK. Can you speak about the ambition for the programme, especially leading into the next Franco-British Summit expected later this year?
MJ: France and the UK have a strong bilateral relationship in research and innovation. We have now launched the fourth call of the Alliance Hubert Curien Programme, which has grown significantly and since its launch in 2018, with the quality of applications improving at each call. I am confident that we will be able to support excellent projects through the latest call.
CH: After two years of roll-out, what are the major changes that the programme has undergone?
MJ: The programme has undergone significant change, not least, because of the current travel restrictions. We’ve changed the programme so that it can support researchers to collaborate virtually until it is safe to travel again. Another area we’ve seen change is through broadening out the eligible disciplines, expanding this to include important research areas such as the social sciences and pure mathematics.
CH: Can you give us some examples of funded projects that you have found interesting?
MJ: I am always impressed with the high quality of applications, and I have always appreciated the wide variety of projects proposed. These have included areas such as Carbon Capture and Storage, AI all the way through to the Medical Sciences. The programme very clearly demonstrates the breadth and quality of Franco-British collaboration.
CH: How do you intend to improve equal representation to such a programme?
MJ: One way we’re doing this is by promoting those existing projects that are led by Principal Investigators from underrepresented groups. In terms of gender balance, we had a good year in 2020 with 40% of all projects having at least one female Principal Investigator. Going forward we want to capture better data to identify where action needs to be taken to improve participation from all underrepresented groups.
CH: How does this programme help us harness the potential of Franco-British collaborations to resolve global challenges?
MJ: Ultimately this programme is designed to seed fund and support growing collaborations. We carefully consider those projects with the potential to generate real impact, for example by having a clear plan to go on to apply for larger grants, perhaps through Horizon Europe. Noting the UK’s upcoming presidency for COP26, we will also be taking a close look at those projects that propose novel ideas in helping us understand and combat climate change, which will require a multi-disciplinary approach.