Panel 404 - Research Without Borders: Funding Agency Case Studies on International Collaboration

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 14th 2019
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Research Without Borders: Funding Agency Case Studies on International Collaboration 

Organized by: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) North America 

Speakers: Rainer Gruhlich, Director, North America Office, German Research Foundation (DFG); Claire A. Hemingway, Program Officer, Office of International Science and Engineering, National Science Foundation (NSF); Jean-Christian Lemay, Scientist in residence, Québec Government Office in London; Chloë Somers, Director, UKRI North America; Jennifer E. Decker, Consul, Principal Advisor, International Innovation Office, National Research Council of Canada, Germany (NRC Germany)

Moderator: Monica Gattinger, Full Professor, School of Political Studies, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy, University of Ottawa


  1. Benefits of international collaboration include: excellence working with excellence (scientists and infrastructure); sharing research resources and large infrastructure; sharing skills training to expand the talent pipeline; and access to future markets.

  2. Challenges to international collaboration: mobility; top-down priorities do not always align with bottom up research; language barriers; ensuring ownership, not “donorship”, when working with global south. 

  3. Some examples of how the National Science Foundation encourages international collaborations: 

  1. Joint programs that call for international research efforts (e.g., with UKRI, Fonds de recherche du Québec, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, DFG) and funding opportunities that welcome international collaborators.

  2. Workshops that enable research communities to get to know each other early in the process before engaging in large-scale collaborations.

  3. Embassy science fellowship program with the U.S. State Department

  4. Expanded global foot print by closing offices abroad in favour of a more nimble approach that sees NSF experts deployed for short-term expeditions to selected areas to explore opportunities for collaboration.

  1. Some examples of how UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) encourages international collaborations include:

  1. Currently developing an international strategy to set out our international ambitions more clearly. Among its priorities: promote the UK as a world-class designation; target high-performance research and innovation jurisdictions (e.g., Canada); address global challenges (e.g., through the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund); and build capacity and capability of UK-based research ecosystem. 

  2. Leverage international aid budgets to support research collaborations with the global south. (e.g., Global Challenges Research Fund)

  3. Lead agency opportunities which enable a single application and peer review process for a bottom up joint project involving Principal Investigators from two countries (e.g. UKRI-NSF SBE Lead Agency opportunity).

  1. Some of the way’s Québec’s FRQ encourages international collaborations:

  1. Joint call for projects (USA, France, Massachusetts, UK, etc.) and take part in multilateral programs (Trans-Atlantic Platform, ERA-NEts, etc.)

  2. Increase capacity in Québec’s network of science officers abroad. Two scientists in residence have joined the 11 science officers in Québec’s government offices abroad to help facilitate partnerships in research and innovation.

  3. Financial support for international research centres (e.g., International Observatory of Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence, FutureEarth)

  1. How the NRC encourages international collaborations:

  1. Connect Canadian and international R&D capabilities to solve global research challenges 

  2. Secure preferred access to partners (e.g., by partnering with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Trade Commissioner Service)

  3. NRC contacts in Germany and Japan as points of entry for researchers and businesses.

  4. Access to resources to carryout exchange/collaboration/co-innovation projects (e.g., Initiative support joint R&D between companies in Canada and Germany).

  1. How the DFG encourages international collaborations:

    • Focus on the researchers: International collaboration enhances the quality of science. 

    • Take a systems approach by internationalizing the German research landscape (e.g., using English in labs).

    • Science diplomacy: including work on international standards development, international research policies and, with the global south, on agenda setting (e.g., via the Global Research Council).

Suggested Actions:

  1. Develop an international research strategy in consultation with others in the research ecosystem to ensure a coordinated approach.

  2. Planning grants and funding for travel help researchers from different countries meet early in the process to gauge compatibility and develop trust (e.g., the BBSRC Canada Partnering Awards, e.g., planning grant track in NSF Navigating the New Arctic program).

  3. If a research funder provides seed funding, it needs to ensure there is follow-on funding for scaling up an international project.

  4. Identify or establish similar funding programs between countries that can be leveraged for collaborative projects (e.g., the DFG’s International Research Training Groups and Natural Sciences and Engineer Research Council’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience program - IRTG/CREATE)