Exploring the opportunities and challenges of UK research engagement with China

Two scientists working on a computer in a lab, photo by Gorodenkoff Productions OU/Adobe Stock

Gorodenkoff Productions OU/Adobe Stock

What is the issue?

Research cooperation with China (whether individual projects or joint ventures between research institutions) has always been complex for UK academics, because of both the cultural gap and the policy and regulatory context. The rapidly shifting geopolitics and global strategic competition in science and technology (S&T) areas make this landscape even more uncertain.

Despite these challenges there are many successful partnerships and links between the UK and China, including institutional links, joint teaching, research projects and large, well-established centres. Within those successful partnerships there is a huge amount of experience and knowledge, which could be drawn on and shared with the wider UK academic sector to help support future joint work.

How are we helping?

The British Embassy Beijing, on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, has commissioned RAND Europe to conduct an independent, evidence-based study into research engagement by UK academics with China. Specifically, the study seeks to:

  • improve the UK government’s wider understanding of how and why UK academics engage with China on joint research activities and the benefits of collaboration
  • gain insight into how UK research organisations manage any resulting risk
  • inform ongoing efforts by UK government and research organisations to help navigate this complex landscape, given intensifying global competition over S&T and the risks associated with cross-border research collaborations.

What is our approach?

To achieve these objectives, the RAND Europe research team will use a mixed-method approach comprising three main elements: targeted literature reviews; engagement with UK academics and support offices through interviews and a survey; and a synthesis workshop. The workshop will involve both RAND analysts and key external experts who will draw on the findings to identify evidence gaps, the challenges that the UK government could help to mitigate, and to develop study recommendations.