International Research Collaboration
International research collaboration has grown greatly in recent years in response to several factors: growing recognition of the value of diverse global perspectives on common challenges, the desire to work with the best minds around the world on pressing research questions, the relative scarcity of highly specialized and expensive scientific equipment, the rise of ‘big data’ projects requiring massive inputs from many sources, and communications technologies that facilitate long-distance teamwork. A fifth of the world’s scientific papers are now coauthored internationally, and researchers around the world are increasingly collaborating in the production of knowledge and innovation. In Canada, 43% of scientific papers published from 2005–10 were authored with an international collaborator, the seventh-highest level in the world. The top three countries — Switzerland, Sweden, and the Netherlands — all had collaboration rates of around 50%.17 Figure 14 shows international collaboration patterns for AUCC members that resulted in publications in 2013. These collaborations involved thousands of institutions in more than 180 countries or territories around the world, illustrating the breadth of research ties established by Canada’s universities.
This year’s survey explores a new area in how Canadian universities are using diverse administrative arrangements to manage efforts at promoting research collaboration with international partners. At 37% of institutions, there is an office responsible for international research, while another 17% have an individual in charge of this function; the other 46% of universities don’t centralize their efforts in either of these ways.
Of universities that do have either a designated office or individual in charge of promoting international research collaboration, almost all help researchers to access international research funds and more than 80% help promote academic research collaboration opportunities. Two-thirds of offices or persons in charge of international research help pursue industrial international research partnerships for faculty members; slightly less than half support international research incubation activities and give advice on international technology transfer and/or intellectual property negotiations. From a regional perspective, universities in the East and Ontario are more likely to support incubation activities, while those in the West are least likely to provide advice on technology transfer and intellectual property.
Many institutions identify the country or regional partners that are of strategic importance for research collaboration. Of those, 80% target China, 62% the U.S., 62% India, 56% Brazil, 53% Germany and 51% France. However, universities are not targeting research funding in proportion to those priorities: only about a third of the institutions that identified countries of strategic importance offer targeted financial assistance to support or encourage research collaboration with these countries.
Despite the priority that many universities put on their own faculty engaging in international research collaboration, some barriers remain. The lack of research funding opportunities is most often identified as a barrier cited by 83% of universities, followed by the lack of institutional support 42% and the temporal alignment difficulties created by the funding cycles of different countries 37%. Additional issues for institutions that merit further reflection include the different risk profiles and overhead costs associated with international research collaboration, and geographically coordinating an institution’s international recruitment and co-op placement activities with priority regions for research collaboration.
Our survey was unable to gather useful data about the financing of international research efforts: although we asked about the dollar amounts of current research collaboration, we received few answers. It may be that institutions were unable to respond because administrative structures haven’t been set up to collect total figures in this category, or it may be that institutions were unwilling to answer due to competition for lucrative international research collaborations. Nonetheless, it would be desirable to track this financial data for an overall picture of this dimension of internationalization in Canadian universities.
While the survey lacks a comprehensive aggregate portrayal of international research funding at Canadian universities.
Examples of international research collaboration
University of Victoria
Since 2013, the Centre for Global Studies has housed the Borders in Globalization (BIG) project, a seven-year international research collaboration exploring the understanding of borders— real, remote and virtual—in the 21st century. BIG creates a partnership involving 23 universities and 34 non-academic partners from Canada, the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It is funded through a $2.3 million Partnership Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council as well as $1.4 million from project partners. The partnership promotes quality in border studies, creates new policy and fosters information transfer in order to address globalizing forces of security, trade, and migration flows, and to understand the challenges of technologies, self-determination and regionalization around the globe that are affecting borders and borderlands.
Launched in 2009, the Brain@McGill is an umbrella program aimed at increasing the value and visibility of neuroscience research across all McGill faculties, fostering partnerships and exchanges with selected outstanding international institutions and exchanges of talented graduate students and trainees. In 2013, the Brain@McGill initiated a tripartite partnership in neuroscience with the University of Oxford and Neuroscience Centre Zurich. It is a collaborative network of world-renowned scientists, teaching hospitals, research labs, and clinics and institutes, all of which share an advanced interest in molecular, cellular systems, behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. McGill University enjoys a world-leading capability in basic and clinical neuroscience research. The Brain@McGill provides the focal point for a network of internationally recognized institutes that contribute to this standing. The Brain@McGill has established successful international graduate exchange programs including with Oxford University, University of Zurich, ETH Zurich, Imperial College London, and Tel Aviv University.
In 2014, Dalhousie launched a partnership to create world-class ocean research with the seven Israel universities that participate in the Interuniversity Institute (IUI) in Eilat, Israel. The partnership, funded by Canadian philanthropist Seymour Schulich, encompasses scientific and academic programs from both countries. Partnership activities include pure and applied joint research projects, co-supervision of doctoral students, industry research internships in both countries, joint field courses (in the winter in Eilat and in the summer in Halifax), co-taught courses, and scientific conferences and workshops. Combined expertise from Dalhousie and the Israeli universities involved in the IUI will advance collaborative research in areas such as physical oceanography, aquaculture biodiversity, marine security, and transportation.
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