The close ties between the University of Cambridge and the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) were reaffirmed at a ceremony on November 24 at which the Memorandum of Understanding first signed between the two institutions in 2009 was renewed.

The agreement, intended “to formally recognise a privileged partnership” and to record the mutual interest “in promoting and furthering academic links between the two institutions”, was signed by Dr Jennifer Barnes, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International Strategy at the University of Cambridge, and by Prof Serge Schiffmann, Vice-Rector for Research at the ULB.

Speaking before the signature, Belgium’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, H.E. Guy Trouveroy, spoke of his great satisfaction at being present at an event that strengthens the very considerable ties that already exist between Belgium and the United Kingdom. He thanked all attendants for helping to bring two of the world’s finest higher education institutions closer together.

Dr Jennifer Barnes said: “Cambridge is committed to excellence in all areas, including in its international partnerships, which is why we value this relationship with the ULB”. She cited the growing number of full-time Belgian students enrolled at Cambridge (there were 66 in the academic year 2013-‘14) as evidence of the trend towards increased bilateral links.

She expressed her special gratitude to the Fondation Wiener-Anspach (FWA), a Belgian public interest organisation established in 1965 to foster academic exchanges between the ULB and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The FWA promotes the development of scientific exchanges between the ULB and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge by awarding fellowships and grants, and by supporting research collaborations in all fields. It also organises conferences and encourages contacts between academics by funding short-term visits.

It was established in 1965 by UK-born Phyllis Agnes Beddington to honour the memory of her husband, Philippe Wiener, who died during World War II at Esterwegen concentration camp.

Mrs Beddington later added to her husband's name that of Maurice Anspach, a close family friend and ULB alumnus, in appreciation for his generous help during and after the war.

Representing the FWA at the signing event were its president, Prof Pierre Francotte; its Executive Director, Prof Kristin Bartik; Prof Christina Redfield, a member of the FWA’s Board of Directors; and Prof Mikhail Kissine, a linguist currently involved in a collaborative Cambridge-ULB project funded by the FWA.

Prof Francotte, a ULB and Cambridge alumnus, said: “My time as a student in Cambridge was very important to me, so I am especially pleased to be back today to see this agreement being renewed.”

He remarked on the differences he observed: “The excellent quality of research remains the same in Cambridge. What has changed is the number of tourists. I’m glad we’re meeting on a cold November day, and not in the Summer.”

Among its many activities, the FWA supports the annual Philippe Wiener Lecture, delivered alternately at Cambridge or Oxford by academics and researchers from the ULB, and vice-versa. To mark the renewal of the agreement, the ULB’s Prof Pierre Vanderhaeghen delivered a lecture entitled "From pluripotent stem cells to cortical circuits".

He was welcomed by Prof Ole Paulsen, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

In 2015, the FWA will be launching a programme of trilateral activities to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Image credit: Natalie Glasberg
Back row, L-R: Prof Kristin Bartik, H.E. Guy Trouveroy, Prof Pierre Francotte
Front row: Prof Serge Schiffmann, Dr Jennifer Barnes

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