Alumni gather to discuss impact of Brexit

  • May 14, 2019
Alumni gather to discuss impact of Brexit

On 9 May 2019, after leaders of several European Union member states, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, gathered for an informal summit in Sibiu, Romania – a meeting where serious talk of Brexit was rumoured to be banned – a group of Gates Cambridge alumni convened in the same city to discuss that very topic. Spanning five Gates Cambridge cohorts from 2001 to 2017, including two alumni from the first cohort of Gates Scholars, they met in the Ramada Sibiu Hotel for a weekend of spirited conversation on the future challenges that Brexit will pose for the EU.

There were presentations by three speakers: Dr Romana Cramarenco, Lecturer in European Studies at Romania's Universitatea Babeş Bolyai; Ambassador Declan Kelleher, Permanent Representative of Ireland to the EU; and Ambassador Luminita Odobescu, Permanent Representative of Romania to the EU. Each speaker brought unique insights to the discussion, encouraging questions from Gates Cambridge alumni and guests, who included four high-achieving students from Gheorghe Lazăr National College in Sibiu.

Dr Cramarenco spoke about Brexit’s impact on free movement of labour, noting the difficulties that it would pose for skilled and unskilled workers alike. She cited an increase in the income requirements of skilled migrants to the UK as a major barrier to entry and acknowledged the egress of major agencies and businesses, including the European Medicines Agency and Sony Europe, from the UK as a reflection of other European countries providing more favourable trade and labour conditions. Dr Cramarenco also commented on the unique issues that a proposed cap on the number of certain types of migrants would pose, particularly for students coming to the UK to study. She summarised this by exploring the possible outcomes that could come from different scenarios ranging from a mutually beneficial agreement to a no-deal Brexit.

Ambassador Kelleher shifted the discussion to Ireland: a country that faces unique challenges, particularly concerning its border with Northern Ireland. Historically, this border has had a contentious past, with peace being brokered between Ireland and the UK, culminating in the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998. Among other things, this agreement established a “soft” border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, removing border checks for people and goods. Brexit poses a threat to this agreement, with the Withdrawal Agreement proposing a so-called “backstop” that would prevent the return of a hard border. This issue has been a core issue in Brexit negotiations, with a no-deal Brexit preventing the maintenance of a soft border.

As Romania currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council, Ambassador Odobescu discussed handling Brexit negotiations under the presidency, global challenges and the future of Europe.

After their presentations, the three speakers participated in a panel which began with a discussion on the stark differences in voting in the UK referendum between constituents in Cambridge and neighbouring city Peterborough. Following this discussion, the speakers pooled their expertise to address questions related to the Erasmus youth exchange programme; combatting the dissemination of false information; whether Brexit would act as a deterrent to other countries leaving the EU, given Britain’s unique circumstances; and the need to share the work of the EU with a wider audience.

The weekend was organised by Gates Cambridge Alumni Association Director of Membership for Europe Dr Szilard Fejer [2005 – PhD in Chemistry] with support from fellow Romanian Gates alumna Georgiana Epure [2016 – MPhil in International Relations and Politics] and Dr Sonia Ilie [2010 – PhD in Education].

Alongside the event, Gates Cambridge alumni connected through several group meals and outings to cultural hubs in and around Sibiu, including the ASTRA National Museum Complex, Saint Michael’s Church in Cisnădioara and the Brukenthal National Museum. Pictures from the weekend can be found here.

*Alex Kong [2016] did an MPhil in Biological Science [Pharmacology] and Szilard Fejer [2005] did a PhD in Chemistry.

**Pictured from left to right: Ambassador Kelleher, Dr Cramarenco and Ambassador Odobescu. Credit: Alex Kong.

Szilard Fejer

Szilard Fejer

  • Alumni
  • Romania
  • 2005 PhD Chemistry
  • Downing College

Computational chemistry is becoming a more and more powerful tool for chemists as time goes by. One "mystery" of particular interest, which can be very well investigated with the help of computational chemistry, is how certain systems can self-assemble into well-defined structures. My years spent in Cambridge (in the group of Prof. David Wales) helped open up a whole new research direction involving modelling the self-assembly of complex structures from anisotropic building blocks. My current project is about how we can design building blocks capable of multi-level hierarchical self-assembly. My small research institute is slowly expanding through state- and EU-funded research projects, and our long term aim is to become internationally relevant players in the field of nano- and biotechnology.As of 2018, I am also the European Director of Membership for GCAA, so feel free to get in touch with me with any ideas you might have which would contribute to strengthening the alumni community!

Previous Education

University of Szeged, Hungary Chemistry MSc 2005

Georgiana Epure

Georgiana Epure

  • Alumni
  • Romania
  • 2016 MPhil International Relations & Pols
  • Christ's College

Georgiana is currently working on accountability, liberty and economic justice at the Open Society Justice Initiative in London. Before her current role, Georgiana was a trainee in the Strategic Planning Division at the European External Action Service in Brussels. Prior to this, she was an intern in the Investigation Division, at the Office of the Prosecutor, at the International Criminal Court.

She holds an MA in Social Science Research Methods from the University of Leeds, an MPhil in International Relations and Politics from the University of Cambridge (Christ's College) and a BA in International Relations from the University of Leeds. Her main interests lie in the area of responses to gross human rights violations, especially accountability.

Georgiana is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Responsibility to Protect Student Journal, the first global student-led journal on responses to gross human rights violations (www.r2pstudentjournal.leeds.ac.uk). She is a passionate advocate for gender equality and as a Women Deliver Young Leader alumna and a member of the Association for Liberty and Gender Equality she has been involved in advocacy projects for fighting sexual harassment in the workplace and introducing comprehensive sexuality education in the national scholar curriculum in Romania.

Previous Education

University of Leeds

Alex Kong

Alex Kong

  • Alumni
  • United States
  • 2016 MPhil Biological Science (Pharmacology)
  • Churchill College

Being a Gates Scholar has been one of the defining moments of my life so far, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to remain engaged as Co-Chair of the Gates Cambridge Alumni Association. After earning my MPhil in Pharmacology, I completed my PharmD at the University of Kansas and made a critical decision to switch fields from the pharmaceutical sciences to global health. For two years, I worked at the Access to Medicine Foundation, a global health non-profit based in Amsterdam that assesses the policies, commitments, and actions of some of the largest global pharmaceutical companies in ensuring access to medicine for patients in low- and middle-income countries. My role as the R&D lead on the Access to Medicine Index involved dissecting the pipelines of 20 pharmaceutical companies and challenging companies to ensure that these projects were available as quickly and broadly as possible through systematic and advance access planning during clinical development. This fall, I will begin a PhD program in International Health at Johns Hopkins University with the goal of advancing access to medicine issues related to innovation and honoring the Gates Cambridge commitment to improve the lives of others.

Previous Education

University of Kansas

Szilard Fejer

Szilard Fejer

  • Alumni
  • Romania
  • 2005 PhD Chemistry
  • Downing College

Computational chemistry is becoming a more and more powerful tool for chemists as time goes by. One "mystery" of particular interest, which can be very well investigated with the help of computational chemistry, is how certain systems can self-assemble into well-defined structures. My years spent in Cambridge (in the group of Prof. David Wales) helped open up a whole new research direction involving modelling the self-assembly of complex structures from anisotropic building blocks. My current project is about how we can design building blocks capable of multi-level hierarchical self-assembly. My small research institute is slowly expanding through state- and EU-funded research projects, and our long term aim is to become internationally relevant players in the field of nano- and biotechnology.As of 2018, I am also the European Director of Membership for GCAA, so feel free to get in touch with me with any ideas you might have which would contribute to strengthening the alumni community!

Previous Education

University of Szeged, Hungary Chemistry MSc 2005

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