Experts predict a reset of transatlantic collaboration

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) expects academic collaboration with the United States to improve under the new presidency of Joe Biden. Prospects for a reset of transatlantic relations were discussed online two days before Biden took office by a roundtable of experts from both countries.

DAAD President Joybrato Mukherjee views Biden’s choice of geneticist Eric Lander as presidential science advisor and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy as an indication of academia assuming a high significance in the forthcoming administration.

And whereas academic relations between Germany and the USA took a nosedive last summer following the announcement of plans to introduce more stringent visa regulations that would also have affected German academics and students, Mukherjee now perceives better prospects for collaboration.

“If the new administration now does away with these plans once and for all, this will be a clear sign that the new administration is again seeking a cosmopolitan stance and opting for international cooperation,” Mukherjee said in Bonn.

Addressing a panel of academics from various institutions, he expressed the hopes of universities and academic organisations in both countries that tendencies towards restricting entry to the US for students and researchers from all over the world would soon be ended.

Mukherjee also noted that collaboration was particularly important given the pressure higher education in the US had been exposed to over the past few years.

“We followed with concern attempts made by the Trump administration to interfere with university self-governing and change liberal visa regulations for online students, visiting academics and doctoral students,” he said. “We hope that this is now over.”

“Science is of considerable importance to Biden,” said Joann Halpern, director of the Hasso Plattner Institute in New York, in the online debate. “This is a great help for the academic community.” Halpern also drew attention to the new president’s quick choice of a science advisor, a step which Donald Trump had waited 18 months to take.

Christian Martin, a professor of political science at the University of Kiel in northern Germany and holder of the Max Weber Chair in German and European Studies at New York University, referred to a “post-truth society under Trump clashing with the culture of enlightenment and devoid of valid subject matter, matched by a cabinet of incompetence”.

Biden’s choice of a Latino candidate for the post of education minister and a generally highly skilled and diversified cabinet membership gave rise to hopes of resuming developments under Barack Obama’s presidency, Martin maintained.

Benedikt Brisch, director of the German Center for Research and Innovation New York and head of the DAAD Regional Office New York, backed this sentiment. “Science is rapidly regaining its former status, and there is a growing demand for transatlantic scholarships,” Brisch said.

“True, international students did not feel welcome following last summer’s announcement of visa restrictions, although the planned move was criticised by both the international and US science communities. Such steps can only harm US science, which thrives on talent from all over the world, including Europe and Germany, and reflects a high level of diversity.”

Biden’s announcement that the US would rejoin the Paris Agreement on limiting global warming was clearly welcomed by the roundtable, and Thomas Boving, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and geosciences at the University of Rhode Island in the US, noted that there were many opportunities to bring together German and US skills in this field. US institutions were already collaborating with German universities in several areas.

Jeff Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University in the US, added that American academics were keen to cooperate with Germany, also given that the US had forfeited much of its significance worldwide, so that cooperating with its closest partners, especially Europe, was crucial, also in developing countries.

On the other hand, one could reckon with restrictions for Chinese students, regarding the threat of spying on US technology, he said.

“Biden has no new initiatives, but he is open to new proposals,” Rathke maintained. “It is important for him that the US’s partners come up with proposals.”

However, Biden’s multilateralism should not be seen as an end in itself. Foreign policy would be pursued according to the US’s own interests, and while there might be common ground, disappointment could be considerable if Germany was not willing to adopt US positions, for example, regarding China, about which both US Democrats and Republicans had voiced their concerns.

Michael Gardner E-mail: