Foreign academic policy role in science diplomacy growing

Joybrato Mukherjee, president of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), has stressed the growing role of foreign academic policy in science diplomacy.

He was presenting the organisation’s annual report, which notes that the DAAD-supported academic mobility programmes appear to have almost returned to pre-COVID levels.

“In the past year, we witnessed the return of imperialism and aggressive war to Europe. Russia’s attack on Ukraine has brought a delusional pursuit to forcefully adjust history back to our continent. These significant changes have an impact on higher education institutions and the DAAD too,” Mukherjee said in Bonn.

Mukherjee, who was re-elected as DAAD president in June, noted that the DAAD had responded quickly to the new situation, putting contacts with Russia on hold and launching support programmes for Ukraine.

Reinforcing research cooperation

He also highlighted the role of foreign academic policy, referring to it as “an increasingly significant and responsible task of science policy”. For the DAAD, this meant reinforcing research cooperation in what was now a “new ‘world disorder’” and stepping up promoting academic exchange and the European Higher Education Area.

Aid programmes for Ukraine accounted partly for an increased budget of €775 million (US$870 million) for 2022. Extra funding was provided both by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Federal Foreign Office.

“The budget increase was extremely important in this context, to be able to absorb the significant cost increases in Germany and around the world at least to some degree, and to avoid imminent cutbacks for the time being,” said Kai Sicks, DAAD secretary general, adding that intense negotiations had been held with the federal government to ensure the organisation’s future funding.

Sicks noted that with a total of 140,873 students, doctoral candidates, researchers and other higher education staff, international academic mobility was almost back to the pre-pandemic level.

In 2022, the DAAD provided funding for 71,051 individuals from Germany and 69,822 individuals from abroad. Support included funding for around 10,000 Ukrainian students, researchers and higher education staff members.

The DAAD has welcomed the National Security Strategy recently presented by the German Federal Government. In the parliamentary debate on the draft strategy, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock emphasised that Germany’s first National Security Strategy reflected a new understanding of “how we see security against the background of Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and a European peace order”.

Security ‘not just a military concept’

Baerbock explained that security could not be understood merely as a military concept but addressed all policy fields. Protecting supply chains and critical infrastructure was not without significance but “creates more security for us because we are no longer dependent on autocracies and dictatorships”.

In its draft strategy, the Federal Government views Russia as “the greatest threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic region for the foreseeable future”. China is referred to as a “partner, competitor and systemic rival”.

Mukherjee commented: “The National Security Strategy is an important step towards a comprehensive view of Germany’s security. As the DAAD, we welcome in particular the development of the notion of security towards a holistic and integrated concept.”

“Such an understanding of security is important in particular with regard to foreign academic policy. It has become apparent in these times of crises that science diplomacy and the field of academic cooperation are making reliable and significant contributions to German security.

“Today, science is a ‘hard currency’ in foreign and security policy, and we welcome that the Federal Government has recognised the role of mediating organisations in this context,” he said.

Michael Gardner, email: