The IOP’s international work
The great challenges we face, such as climate change, developing clean energy, and healthcare, are international in scope. These issues are faced by all people without respect for borders. International collaboration is essential to tackling them; no individual country can solve them alone.
Physicists, who have a fundamental role in leading the development of technologies to address these problems, need to work internationally. As a discipline, physics relies on international collaboration. The physics workforce in academia and industry is multinational, and funding for physics, like other sciences, is provided through complex international systems.
About a quarter of UK university physics departments’ income from research grants and contracts is from overseas (23%) – totalling £79m in 2016/17. The UK and Ireland both attract a relatively large proportion of foreign investment in research and development (R&D). In 2016, 16% of the UK’s R&D, and 24% of Ireland’s, was financed from overseas, compared with an OECD average of 7%.
The advance of research and innovation in areas as diverse as space exploration, particle physics, photonics and quantum physics is evidence of the great things that can be achieved by people from different countries working together.
The IOP: international reach
In our 2020-24 strategy, we set out our ambition to strengthen the context for physics in the UK and Ireland. Our aspirations are far higher than can be achieved by the IOP alone and our plans to reach these goals must be based on effective collaboration and partnerships. This extends beyond the UK and Ireland; our international relationships and activities will play an important part in advancing the changes we want to see. As such our international work is integral to our strategy.
The IOP is the physical society for the UK and Ireland. But the IOP is also an organisation with an international reach through our work with other national scientific bodies, governments and industry, and our membership. Our subsidiary company, IOP Publishing, is an internationally respected scientific publisher, disseminating research in markets around the world.
Unlocking international collaboration
At the IOP we have international reach and global connections, but are independent of government or any academic institution or business. This enables us to play a role as a trusted broker and facilitator of cross-border collaboration. Our relationships and reputation mean we can bring together scientists and organisations from around the world, building the cross-border links that fuel scientific discovery and technological innovation. Our work also directly benefits our members in the UK and Ireland by opening up opportunities for research, business development and investment.
Case study: In 2017 prime ministers Theresa May and Justin Trudeau signed an agreement for the UK and Canada to collaborate in a number of areas including quantum physics. Following this agreement we played a role, along with our Canadian counterparts, to support funding streams for investment between the two countries. We have further strengthened ties with Canadian physics, recently hosting Nobel Laureate Professor Donna Strickland for a public lecture for students, arranged in association with the Canadian High Commission.
Case study: In July 2017 the IOP hosted a Chinese delegation and provided opportunities for senior UK and Irish scientists to meet with their peers from major Chinese institutions and facilities. Our role as a non-governmental body means we have the independence to provide a truly ‘neutral’ space, without seeking to privilege any individuals or institutions, and with no agenda other than encouraging the exchange of ideas and knowledge between scientists.
An international voice for UK and Irish physicists
The IOP represents UK and Irish physicists at the highest level, as a member of key international groupings.
European Physical Society
The IOP is a member of the European Physical Society (EPS), a body which brings together physical societies from across Europe. Through membership of this body, the IOP is able to represent the UK and Ireland in discussions about cross-European research and funding policy and the role physics plays in helping to solve the big challenges that are facing all our countries.
Improving inclusivity for physicists in Europe
In May 2021 we hosted a workshop alongside European member societies, funded by the EPS, which was the first stage towards creating and implementing codes of conduct for the safety of conference and event attendees across Europe. The workshop was part of our aim of fostering an inclusive and equitable culture in STEM across the continent. Our report features key recommendations (PDF, 276KB) from participants.
International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) is an international body which supports collaboration and cooperation between physicists around the world. The IOP is involved in working groups on a number of issues of global concern including the importance of supporting emerging economies.
Brexit advisory group
We work closely with colleagues representing the university, science, research and innovation communities to sit on the UK government’s High-Level Stakeholder Working Group on EU Exit, Universities, Research and Innovation. This group provides a forum for government and representatives to discuss issues of common interest in approaching the UK’s exit from the EU. Our shared aim has been to ensure UK science is fully represented in the crucial discussions about what happens when the UK leaves the EU. This includes lobbying for continued membership of Euratom, the European Atomic Energy Community, and ongoing access to the European space programme and other significant EU-supported research collaborations and talent through our country’s immigration policy.
Our international project work
We take a strategic approach to engagement in overseas projects. Our aim is to enable our members to create and exploit new opportunities, and we focus on those areas where we can make the biggest difference – in particular, start-ups that are taking forward research findings to develop innovations and grow businesses. These high-growth enterprises are vital to the economy of the UK and Ireland as they provide well-paid jobs, as well as developing technologies that improve lives. But they often need the most support to forge connections, develop collaborations and find opportunities for investment.
Our approach is to work where we can really make a difference, in ways that are appropriate, in partnership with local physical societies. Where we have a direct role in shaping a programme overseas, particularly where the programme sits within a country’s development agenda, we make sure there is an exit plan so that the work is ultimately owned by local physicists and the community. Our focus is on supporting physicists who need it most.
Case study: We support the Future STEM Business Leaders programme in Tanzania, which encourages secondary school students to apply their education in science to solve problems in the local community, through the creation of a business. To achieve this we connected the Tanzanian Physical Society and the University of Dar es Salaam with a government-supported incubator and businesses throughout Tanzania. The collaboration of public and private sectors with academics has developed into a programme that supports young people to understand how to connect their physics knowledge with business development – from an initial idea to pitching to investors.
The programme is primarily driven by local partners and is managed by a government-funded business and technology incubator in Tanzania, through support from the IOP.
Find out more about the Future STEM Business Leaders programme.
Case study: We support the Raising Enjoyment and Achievement in Physics (REAP), a project that is led by the Tanzanian Physical Society (TPS), with financial backing from Professor Sir Tejinder Virdee. The long-term goal is to improve the physics talent pipeline in Tanzania and see more students take physics as they move to A-level and university. To achieve this the project focuses on increasing the conceptual understanding and enjoyment of physics at the secondary level, and works with teachers to develop and implement interactive pedagogical techniques that are simple and effective at increasing understanding and engagement.
IOP Publishing (IOPP) has a significant international presence and produces academic journals, books and conference proceedings for an international readership. Much of its output is on an open-access basis. Reciprocal arrangements with several European countries allow the costs of subscription to IOPP journals to be offset by making research from those countries available to physicists in the UK and Ireland via open access.
Through IOPP we are active in promoting open-access publishing to support the ongoing proliferation of physics research and knowledge. IOPP launched the first open-access general physics journal, New Journal of Physics, with the German Physical Society in 1998, and developed the successful Environmental Research Letters. We have developed many other titles since and are actively developing new open-access journals. We seek to promote open-access publishing in a sustainable way with a balance between open-access and paid-for journal content.
As a publisher, IOPP provides opportunities for physicists from other countries to publish in respected peer-reviewed journals, increasing professional opportunities and aiding the dissemination of research. This supports and complements work by the IOP to develop international links and create opportunities for collaboration on issues of strategic importance.
Case study: In 2018 IOPP and the Egyptian Knowledge Bank signed an agreement which made all of IOPP’s journals and books accessible to every citizen of Egypt. IOPP has run a number of workshops for early career researchers in Egypt while the IOP has hosted a delegation of Egyptian secondary school teachers of physics, led by the Egyptian minister of education, which met with UK counterparts to share their knowledge of physics teaching.