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Proposed travel ban impacts Australian research community

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Latest anecdotal evidence indicates Australian universities already have felt the effcets of the US President’s proposed travel bans on Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Lingering uncertainty surrounding the proposed bans are not only impacting research students’ ability to work with colleagues in the US, but also resulting in changes to major research events according to Professor Emma Johnston, UNSW Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) and President Elect of Science and Technology Australia.

“Australian universities have very strong relationships and research ties with the US and with researchers from a number of the banned countries,” Professor Johnston said.

“Many Australian universities, including UNSW, have researchers whose country of origin is among those directly affected, so if implemented, the travel ban may prevent them from being able to interact with researchers in the US.”

UNSW currently has 209 higher degree research students from the affected countries, 16 of whom travelled to the US in 2016. The majority of these students are Iranian, and UNSW has 175 joint publications and many Memorandums of Understanding with Iranian institutions covering a range of disciplines.

“Higher degree research candidates reported having to cancel or change their planned conference travel to the US this year, when the original ban was in force,” Professor Johnston said.

With a significant number of research-related conferences hosted in the US, Australian university researchers can also expect to see the relocation of major international conferences.

“I have personally been involved in coordinating an international environmental sciences workshop planned for September in the US, which was relocated to the Netherlands due to the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the proposed travel bans,” Professor Johnston said.

“A researcher’s priority is to ensure all researchers can access these vital opportunities for collaboration. Where necessary and possible, researchers may seek to relocate an event from the US to facilitate full open access.”

The US is a significant source of peer review research income for Australian universities each year, so the greatest challenges will exist around the many contracts, workshops and collaborations held directly between these universities and US agencies. As those types of activities cannot be easily relocated, Professor Johnston says they will need to be managed on a case-by-case basis.

“Research is international. It also fosters friendship and peaceful scientific interactions that help build strong relationships between countries. We simply can’t sustain these relationships and facilitate globally-leading research without international travel,” she said.

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