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Beyond Borders: Multinational Collaborations for Global Impact

July 10, 2023 — Across the globe, leaders are realizing the value of collaborative research to advance discoveries that can change the world for the better. Multinational research funding offers a powerful approach to partnership, leveraging diverse expertise, resources, and perspectives to address complex challenges. By fostering cross-border collaboration, these efforts leverage research strengths and work across boundaries to enable innovation and discovery. Understanding these multi-government, multinational solicitations can provide insight into global funding opportunities and expand networks.

Collaborative Countries

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) research directorates have a long history of collaborating with their UK counterparts, often in sector-specific areas matching NSF Directorate and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) councils. The latest “Dear Colleague” notice was released last Friday for engineering and physical science proposals. The agreement allows a single international collaborative expression of interest to be submitted to either NSF or UKRI.

But NSF also has research partnerships in Asia and South America. A recent announcement from NSF highlights a collaboration between the agency and the Technology Council of Taiwan (NSTC), including a $6 million investment into six projects for fundamental research on semiconductor chip design and fabrication.

The EU’s strategy for international cooperation in research is channeled through Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship research funding program for 2021-2027. Horizon Europe aims to strengthen Europe’s research competitiveness through funding opportunities, networking platforms, and other support mechanisms. With a budget of €95.5 billion, Horizon Europe is open to researchers from across the globe, who are encouraged to collaborate with EU partners to prepare and submit proposals. You can find funding opportunities through Horizon Europe here.

Bilateral agreements also enable cross-border collaboration by outlining the terms and conditions for the partnership, including how research is shared, joint-funding mechanisms, IP rights, and more. The Swedish Research Council has utilized these bilateral agreements to foster collaboration with a number of countries, including NSF’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, to enable Swedish researchers to participate in select calls for the NSF’s Convergence Accelerator Program.

How they work

Multinational solicitations are often guided by an agreement between the agencies that outlines the framework for the partnership. For the recent partnership between NSF and NSTC, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the corresponding Implementing Arrangement for Cooperation in Advanced Semiconductor Chip Design and Fabrication was signed by the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States. These documents outline who can receive funding—in this case, U.S. researchers will be the primary beneficiaries of funding from NSF, and Taiwan researchers will receive funding from NSTC. But collaborative teams with researchers from both countries are expected to pursue research together. Although both agencies will issue the funding in parallel, each research team will submit a single proposal that undergoes NSF’s merit review process. Grouping researchers and their respective agencies for the funding element ensures that they won’t be hindered by language barriers, unfamiliar proposal processes, or other challenges presented by international collaborations.

Why it matters

There is substantial interest in the U.S. legislative and executive branches to protect the country’s intellectual property and defense R&D from illicit use by China. The CHIPS and Science Act set new boundaries for chip manufacturers, and congressional opposition to renewing the bilateral Science and Technology Agreement may mean, for the first time since 1979, that China and the United States are without a joint research structure. With conflict of interest reporting and export control requirements on the rise, some institutions may find multinational research funding too cumbersome to pursue. UIDP hosted a member town hall on July 6 on implementation of the U.S. National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM-33) research requirements, with timely advice from Kristin West and Bob Hardy, COGR; Debbie Altenberg, APLU; and Toby Smith, AAU.

Collaborative research must be conducted in an environment of mutual trust and goodwill. With these criteria as the foundation, multinational solicitations and cross-border collaborations can have significant impact. Leveraging multinational solicitations allows university-industry partnerships to tap into a bigger pool of expertise (and, at times, more funding). International may open the door to more opportunities for research outcomes to be leveraged and disseminated around the world.

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The 3-Minute Read is a UIDP member information piece and does not represent the opinions of our members or representatives. We welcome your comments on our LinkedIn profile.