Collaboration in a changed world

How the DAAD involves itself in foreign science policy – and why internationally networked research is now more important than ever.

Issue 2 | 2023

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine marked a watershed moment for politics and the German academic system last year. It accelerated a discussion that had in fact already begun: How can German foreign science policy meet the challenges of a changed world?

“We live in a new ‘world disorder’, and this requires a new approach to Germany’s foreign science policy relations,” says DAAD President Professor Joybrato Mukherjee. “In our multipolar world, we need today more than ever a strategically positioned ‘science diplomacy’ that enables understanding, dialogue and negotiation of conflicts in the scientific sphere, even in times of increasing conflicts and fierce global competition.”

The DAAD had already voiced support for a new and practical foreign science policy in 2021. “We should not assume that all partners involved in academic cooperation and exchange always pursue the same goals and share a common set of ­values,” says Dr Sven Werkmeister, Director of Strat­egy at the DAAD. He believes that what is need­ed is an “objectively rational view”. “It is a matter of precisely analysing and reflecting on the opportunities and risks of cooperation: especially in the context of geopolitical conflicts, it is necessary to weigh up the possibilities that a specific cooperation project offers against any risks it may potentially entail, such as espionage or knowledge drain, and to do so in an informed manner.”

At the same time, Werkmeister emphasises that internationally networked research is now more important than ever: “The climate crisis, the loss of biodiversity or issues relating to our future supply of energy and raw materials cannot be addressed at the national level – they must be tackled globally.” He also believes that Germany is continuing to profit considerably from international academic exchange: not only thanks to the new insights gained in research, but also through better academic qualifications and greater intercultural competence among students and teaching staff. Last but not least, says Werkmeister, global alumni networks create lasting frameworks for exchange and cooperation.

In a position paper entitled “Foreign Science Policy for a Multipolar World”, the DAAD proposes five principles for shaping a science diplomacy approach that consciously faces up to global crises and system rivalries: foreign science policy should be values-based, responsibility-oriented, interest-driven, regionally differentiated and risk-reflect­ive. Werkmeister explains that China exemplifies all these aspects: “China is on the one hand a partner without whom the global ‘community of responsibility’ will be unable to resolve the challenges of the Anthropocene. China has become one of the world’s leaders in terms of key research indicators such as the number of scientific publications, and is also a country that sends a large number of international students to Germany. On the other hand, China is a country in which there is no academic freedom as we define it, and in which the boundary between ­civilian and military research is often blurred.”

“In our multipolar world, we need today more than ever a strategically positioned ‘science diplomacy’.”

Professor Joybrato Mukherjee, DAAD President

For this reason, he argues that German universities and scientific institutions have a responsibil­ity to carefully and repeatedly consider the interests that are served by a particular collaboration in a specific situation and context, as well as the moral compass upon which it is based. In his opinion, the line has been crossed in the case of Russia: for as long as the illegal war of aggression against Ukraine continues, no scientific or academic cooperation with state institutions is possible.

The strategy of the DAAD reflects the realignment of Germany’s foreign, security and defence policy. In July 2023, the German government adopt­ed a National Security Strategy for the first time. This strategy also involves strengthening a ­values-based and interest-driven science diplomacy. “Competent intermediary organisations” such as the DAAD have an important role to play in this context. Thanks to its global network in more than 70 countries, the DAAD has a comprehensive picture of the situation in the various regions.

The knowledge generated by this network is pooled at the DAAD’s Competence Centre for International Academic Collaborations (KIWi), which advises universities and academic institutions on international cooperation. “Policy talks” organised by KIWi were launched in January 2021 – hybrid and online events that also address current foreign science policy questions. “We cooperate closely with our colleagues in the DAAD’s external network. They are very good at judging which topical issues from their respective countries will be of particular interest to German universities,” says DAAD Head of Section Dr Claudia Nospickel. The policy talk “Science diplomacy in times of war” that was held in March 2022 attracted particularly great interest, with around 1,000 people registering to take part.

A number of DAAD programmes pursue (science) policy goals in a narrower sense: for ­example, the Ta’ziz Partnerships with universities in the Middle East and North Africa support democracy, the rule of law and civil society participation in the region. Alongside new programmes for Ukraine, the scholarship programme Empower Future Female Afghan Leaders (EFFAL) was also launched in 2022. Funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the programme is targeted above all at young women from Afghanistan who have fled to Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan or Pakistan to escape the Taliban and aims to give them the opportunity to study in these countries. “As a result, they have continued access to education and will ­later be able to help rebuild Afghanistan,” says ­Malek Tarhouni from the EFFAL team.

With a view to being better able to discuss this important subject, the DAAD is also cooperating with other organisations. Together with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), for example, it organised a workshop in July 2023 entitled “Science diplomacy in times of geopolitical conflicts” in which representatives of the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and members of the Bundestag participated. “In an atmosphere of mutual trust, the opportunities and limitations of science diplomacy as an instrument of foreign and security policy were explored,” says SWP Deputy Director Dr Simone Burkhart, who has also worked at the DAAD for many years. The idea is for this deeper collabor­ation to continue, for instance by arranging events on specific regions or topics. “The SWP follows a science-based approach to policy advice, while the DAAD has very broad experience and knowledge of the possibilities and forms of international science cooperation,” explains Burkhart: “It is this combin­ation that makes the exchange so interesting.” —