Britain seeks scientific collaboration with Spain

Britain is reaching out to scientists in Spain in the hope of strengthening the exchange of knowledge to further scientific research.

Britain seeks scientific collaboration with Spain
Photo of a scientist:Shutterstock

A new initiative launched on Thursday by the British Embassy in Madrid aims to capitalize on the so-called "brain drain" by linking up scientists that have moved abroad.

The new British Scientists in Spain (BSS) Network establishes a communications platform between the British and Spanish scientific communities.

"There are a huge number of Spanish scientists that have gone to Britain to follow research opportunities but there are also some British scientists who have moved the other way," Sara Cebrián, the science and innovation attaché at the British Embassy in Madrid told The Local.

"This project aims to strengthen collaboration between them all, for the benefit of both countries and the scientific world as a whole." she said.

Spain has experienced a brain drain during the economic crisis, losing many of its researchers to institutions and companies abroad as austerity policies saw drastic cuts in public funding.

But, according to Cebrián, Spain still retains many areas of expertise that are ripe for collaboration.

"Spain has made huge leaps in areas such as renewable energy, agri-technology and in the 'new materials' sector so we are working to boost partnership in those areas."

The field of biomedical research is also an area where bridges can be made.

"Our job is to promote scientific innovation and there are certain areas where there can be an obvious link up between the UK and Spain. The field of dementia research for example is a pet project of Prime Minister David Cameron, and one that is seen as a global problem that we can unite efforts to tackle,” explained Cebrián.

The project, which has the support of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology, (FECYT) will see the creation of a dedicated LinkedIn group that will be used as a tool to spot bilateral co-operations opportunities.

Simon Manley, the British ambassador to Madrid, emphasized the importance of collaborative endeavour.

"Successful collaboration lies at the heart of successful science," the ambassador said as launched the initiative on Thursday with a reception at his residence.

"And investing in science is absolutely essential in building a stronger economy," he said.

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Minute of silence mourns death of Spanish science

Scientists held a minute of silence at universities across Spain on Thursday to protest against drastic cuts to the country's science budget which they say are killing research.

Minute of silence mourns death of Spanish science
Spanish students and teachers at the Day of Action in Defense of Science protest against government's spending cuts at the Complutense University in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

In Madrid dozens of researchers, some wearing mourning black, others decked out in their white lab coats, gathered at noon at the steps of the science departments at the Complutense University, one of the world's oldest universities, to mark the moment of silence.

The "day of mourning for science" was organized by the Open Letter for Science group, a platform grouping the main scientific bodies in the country.

It was timed to coincide with the 79th anniversary of the death of Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1906.

"We want to send the message that the government is completely paralyzing research in Spain and condemning it to death with its budget policy," Carlos Andradas, the president of the Confederation of Scientific Associations of Spain, told news agency AFP.

Spending on science and research has been cut dramatically as part of the Spanish government's broader austerity programme aimed at reining in a public deficit that has ballooned since a property bubble collapsed in 2008, sending the economy into a tailspin.

Researchers complain there is sometimes not even enough money to pay for gloves, lab coats and basic materials such as liquid nitrogen and that new research posts are few and far between, driving many scientists to leave the country.

Public investment in scientific research fell by 45 percent between 2009, the year after the economic downturn started, and 2013 even though Spain's research and development budget already ranks far below that of other European nations, according to the Confederation of Scientific Associations of Spain.

The government's budget for 2014 sets aside €5.6 billion ($7.6 billion) for civil research and development, a 1.3 percent rise over the previous year and the first increase since 2009.

But critics say the rise in funding is insignificant and they accuse the government of undermining the country's long-term economic prospects by underfunding science.

"It is true that there has been an increase in funding but it is a very small increase. At this rhythm it will take us 30 years to return to the level of funding that we had just three years ago," said Andradas, a 57-year-old mathematician who attended the silent protest in Madrid.