Global Research Funding Network Is Only A Pen Stroke Away

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International collaboration is critical to global efforts to address shared challenges, to the impact that research makes in our communities and to the careers of the researchers themselves. As the primary drivers of international cooperation, though, researchers face a real and long-standing funding barrier.

With some notable exceptions, national governments and funders typically take the stance of ‘money doesn’t cross borders’ for academic research. This stance is often inconsistent with other government initiatives that facilitate international trade and development.

Unfortunately, it also makes jointly funded bilateral and multilateral research programmes clunky, burdensome and relatively small in scale.

Research councils need to acknowledge these deficiencies and counter them by reforming their funding rules and ‘opening up’ to create a global mechanism for international collaboration that is more flexible, efficient and impactful.

Funding International Co-investigators

In Australia, and in many other countries around the world, funding council policies stipulate that international co-investigators cannot receive funding for their contributions. International airfares may be in scope, but this is a limited incentive for many top-level researchers who are time poor and not attracted to carbon-generating, long-haul flights.

While many funding councils may argue that they already maintain co-funding arrangements with several counterparts and consortia internationally, these efforts only support a handful of joint projects that have a high administrative transactional cost and require either codification of existing research budgets or commitment of entirely new funds.

By contrast, the opening up of funding councils to support international co-investigators would have a low transactional cost as the funding levels and internal review processes of each council would remain unchanged.

The benefits of the proposed change have been articulated by the United Kingdom’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, which recently adopted the policy of funding international co-investigators after trialling the change and reported as follows: “Experience demonstrates that the policy not only offers a great opportunity to recognise international researchers’ contributions to UK projects, but also provides a more transparent understanding of the nature of such collaboration. It is designed to be a simple and straightforward policy that can be implemented through existing schemes with no differences in peer review or post award administration.”

Going Global

The benefits of opening up by individual countries won’t be fully realised, though, until the mechanism is used to establish reciprocal arrangements across multiple global funding councils.

To do this, we propose a two-tiered approach that not only fosters more open and transparent collaboration globally, but also enables funders to accelerate joint research with countries they consider strategic partners.

This two-tiered approach would permit project leads to allocate:

• Up to 10% of eligible costs to international co-investigators from any country; and

• Up to 50% of eligible costs to international co-investigators from a partner country as decided by their research council, where there is potential to create reciprocal access to research funding in those countries.

The first tier, or open level of eligibility, would permit any co-investigator to receive up to 10% of project funds to enable joint research to be undertaken where it might not otherwise occur on the basis of goodwill alone.

The second tier, or strategic level of eligibility, would permit co-investigators to receive up to 50% of project funds if they are based in a partner country, as defined by their funding council or government.

This two-tiered approach would create a larger, more accessible global network of reciprocal research funding arrangements that could be used as a science diplomacy tool to strengthen beneficial patterns of global collaboration.

This would be an improvement to the current status quo of funding for collaborative research across borders, where international co-investigators either need to successfully negotiate multiple funding mechanisms or rely on niche and relatively small-scale funding programmes to facilitate collaboration.

No matter where we live, our communities expect our researchers and institutions to be at the forefront of addressing the world’s most complex and urgent shared challenges. Knowing this, funding councils around the world should be taking the initiative to create a global research funding network that enables those shared challenges to be addressed, especially when they could do so at the stroke of a pen.

CREDITS
University World News.
Adrian Collins is associate director, research collaborations at the University of Melbourne, Australia. Maria Roitman is senior advisor, international research strategy at the University of Melbourne, Australia. This is based on a longer article in Science|Business.

University World New

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