Re­searchers keen on a global fund­ing coun­cil; govern­ments less so

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LEADER - Chris.haver­gal@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Aca­demics and univer­sity lead­ers have ex­pressed re­newed in­ter­est in the cre­ation of a global plat­form for com­pet­i­tive re­search fund­ing, but the idea must first over­come the re­luc­tance of govern­ments to pool their re­sources.

The for­ma­tion of an in­ter­na­tional fund­ing coun­cil has been dis­cussed more widely since the UK’s vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, which brings with it the prospect that Bri­tish higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions might fall out of the bloc’s col­lab­o­ra­tive re­search frame­works. The launch of a sci­ence fund­ing body open to schol­ars from around the world – or po­ten­tially, from across the Com­mon­wealth – is seen by some as a pos­si­ble al­ter­na­tive means of build­ing cross-bor­der part­ner- ships and en­cour­ag­ing ex­cel­lence.

The EU’s fund­ing schemes are mov­ing in the same di­rec­tion, with an in­flu­en­tial re­port com­mis­sioned by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion propos­ing last year that coun­tries such as Aus­tralia and Canada should be al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in the suc­ces­sor pro­gramme to Hori­zon 2020. The re­port, pro­duced by a group chaired by Pas­cal Lamy, for­mer di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion, said that as­so­ciate mem­ber­ship of EU schemes should “not [be] con­fined to a par­tic­u­lar part of the world” and that sci­ence was get­ting “more and more open”.

Un­der such an ar­range­ment, par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries would be ex­pected to con­tribute to the frame­work pro­gramme bud­get, or to al­low re­searchers from EU na­tions to par­tic­i­pate in their na­tional fund­ing schemes.

Paul David­son, pres­i­dent of Uni­ver­si­ties Canada, told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that there was “quite a bit of in­ter­est” in his coun­try about the pos­si­bil­ity of the UK launch­ing a global re­search fund. Stronger links with EU fund­ing schemes were also an in­trigu­ing pos­si­bil­ity and, while Cana­dian re­searchers can al­ready take part in EU-led col­lab­o­ra­tions, do­mes­tic fund­ing for such part­ner­ships was typ­i­cally in­suf­fi­cient, he said.

“We think now there is a new op­por­tu­nity: we have a gov­ern­ment that is ex­pressly in­ter­na­tion­ally ori­en­tated and that val­ues sci­ence, and a re­search com­mu­nity that has grown up as in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tors,” Mr David­son said. “I don’t think it would be a huge leap for Cana­dian re­searchers to see the ben­e­fits [of mu­tual fund­ing ar­range­ments] be­cause, when you look at other coun­tries that have par­tic­i­pated, they have seen very great ben­e­fits.”

Dun­can Ivi­son, deputy vicechan­cel­lor (re­search) at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, said that Aus­tralian re­searchers would “wel­come fur­ther dis­cus­sions with our fund­ing agen­cies and gov­ern­ment col­leagues in Aus­tralia in terms of ex­plor­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties of par­tic­i­pat­ing in EU fund­ing schemes”.

“I think it would be a pow­er­ful sig­nal of in­tent about the im­por­tance of re­search for Aus­tralia’s and

Europe’s fu­ture pros­per­ity and se­cu­rity to see this as some­thing [that the gov­ern­ment] would ac­tively sup­port,” Pro­fes­sor Ivi­son said.

Vice-chan­cel­lors in the UK and Aus­tralia have al­ready ini­ti­ated dis­cus­sions about the pos­si­bil­ity of set­ting up a bi­lat­eral re­search fund post-Brexit.

How­ever, Philippe De Wilde, deputy vice-chan­cel­lor (re­search and in­no­va­tion) at the Univer­sity of Kent, said that any global re­search fund would prob­a­bly be “very small” be­cause of coun­tries’ re­luc­tance to share re­search fund­ing. Global re­searchers were al­ready able to join EU-funded projects but tended not to, he pointed out.

A Cana­dian gov­ern­ment spokes­woman said that the coun­try al­ready had ex­ten­sive sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion (ST&I) links with the EU.

“Cana­dian par­tic­i­pa­tion in these ST&I un­der­tak­ings is con­tin­u­ously sub­ject to Cana­dian [gov­ern­ment] strate­gic ST&I pri­or­i­ties and/or op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as its avail­able re­sources,” she said.

A spokesman for Aus­tralian ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Si­mon Birm­ing­ham ruled out his coun­try’s in­volve­ment.

“The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment in­vests bil­lions in lo­cal re­search, in­clud­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tions with lead­ing over­seas re­searchers. There are no plans for the cur­rent ar­range­ments to change,” he said. “Aus­tralian tax­pay­ers ex­pect their money to be in­vested in Aus­tralian re­search.”

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