UCL strengthens collaborations with France on doctoral research and AI

UCL hosted Sylvie Retailleau, French Minister of Higher Education & Research, this week as part of a high-level delegation exploring opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration with France.

Minister Retailleau and Her Excellency Hélène Tréheux-Duchêne, French Ambassador to the UK, were joined by Professor Alain Fuchs, President of Université Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) and fellow academics to meet PhD students from UCL and PSL. The students work on collaborative activities between the two institutions.  

UCL President & Provost Dr Michael Spence signed two agreements, the first a framework with PSL setting out plans to expand mutual research links including the UCL-PSL doctoral research internship programme, which will receive support from the Embassy of France in the UK from April 2024 onwards.  

The second was a Letter of Intent between UCL and Inria, France’s national Institute for Digital Science and Technology, establishing a roadmap to launch a Joint Centre on Artificial Intelligence later this year.   

The planned UCL-Inria centre will significantly advance research collaborations in computer science, with a core focus on AI. It will signal a pivotal step in supporting Franco-British cooperation on science, innovation and global engagement. 

The delegation is visiting the UK during the first governmental UK-France High-Level Scientific Dialogue, one of the outcomes of last year’s bilateral summit chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. 

The two countries plan to enhance scientific cooperation in priority fields such as emerging technologies (artificial intelligence and quantum physics), space, health and climate change. 

Minister Retailleau spoke of the increasing importance of connections and exchanges amongst disciplines, prompting a lively debate among the group doctoral students about their own experiences.  

UCL President & Provost, Dr Michael Spence, said: "At UCL, our community of students and staff benefits greatly from rich and impactful connections with our French counterparts. Together, we have consistently advanced the frontiers of knowledge and fostered positive change through pioneering research, transformative education and innovative breakthroughs. Strengthening our collaboration with PSL, the French Embassy and Inria will ensure we can continue to do this for years to come." 

The ministerial delegation also toured the Francis Crick Institute to gain insights into cutting-edge life sciences research, while colleagues from PSL spent a day in academic workshops at UCL East. Topics of discussion were aligned to three priorities of the UK-France High-Level Scientific Dialogue: Space, Energy Transition, and Artificial Intelligence. 

UCL has shared a longstanding partnership with the French Embassy for many years, most recently through delivering a series of interdisciplinary workshops in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.  

France is UCL’s fifth largest partner country by number of co-publications (excluding the UK). Over the last five years, UCL produced more than 8,000 collaborative publications with French institutions. 

The UCL-PSL internship scheme, which launched in 2022, invites applications from UCL doctoral students of all disciplines for funding towards short-term research stays at PSL. Students can gain international research experience by becoming integrated team members at PSL. 

PSL President, Professor Alain Fuchs said: "PSL and UCL are two sister universities that have developed radically through a firm commitment to placing the most advanced transdisciplinary research at the heart of teaching and at the service of society. This new agreement signed with a third partner, the French Embassy, will further strengthen this dynamic and consolidate the already rich ground covered by this partnership." 

Recent PhD graduate, Genevieve Caulfield (UCL History), who took part in the UCL-PSL doctoral research internship in 2022, said: "Both the material resources and the people resources on this internship programme were extremely valuable. I’m now involved in a long-term, European project, and if I wasn’t in Paris at that time, this wouldn’t have been possible." 

Applications for this year’s UCL-PSL doctoral research internship scheme will open in April.

French Minister of Higher Education & Research, Sylvie Retailleau, and Her Excellency Hélène Tréheux-Duchêne, French Ambassador to the UK, with academics and PhD students during a visit to UCL.

Sophie Vinter

(0)20 3108 7787

Email: s.vinter [at] ucl.ac.uk
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