Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Encouraging EU-US Research Collaboration

The 2013 EARMA Conference kicked off with a full and frank assessment of the progress on the Bilat project. This had been funded under the FP7 Coordination pillar to try and encourage more involvement of American researchers in European projects. Who wouldn't want that?

Well, a whole raft of American universities, as it turns out. Although over 4,000 American academics and researchers have got involved in FP7 applications, of which around a quarter are successful, 40 per cent pull out during contract negotiations. The reason? The EC's fearsome bureaucracy.

When you think about it, this isn't a great surprise. The Americans have enough on their plates coping with the demands of the NIH, the NSF and other federal funders. To them the EC is small fry, and why should they bother untangling a whole new bureaucracy, and learning a whole new legal, contractual, financial and reporting system? To quote the Kids of Grange Hill, just say no.

And it was clear that the feeling was mutual. Agatha Keller of EU Grants Access spoke about her experience of having to learn the language of the NIH when the universities of Zurich were getting more than ten times as many projects from the EC.

However, all is not lost. Although a large number of American partners drop out during the negotiations stage, 88 per cent of them continue to maintain a relationship with the project. So the funding is not a deal breaker. The US collaborators really want to work with their EU colleagues.

What should be done to make this possible? Well the promised simplifications of Horizon 2020 will definitely help - as long as they materialise, of course. But Prof Manfred Horvat, who conducted a survey on behalf of the EC on its research cooperation with the USA, finished the session with some firm suggestions;

  • Raise the visibility of the Framework Programme amongst American universities. This might be easier said than done; most American institutions are very 'mission oriented', and anything that falls beyond this is treated as an afterthought. 
  • Get individual European countries to work more closely together, and present a more coherent, unified front. He gave a startling example, from his last visit to Washington, when he went to a number of European embassies, all of whom trumpeted their bilateral agreements with the US in nanotechnology, but none of whom were aware that any of their European colleagues were doing the same. At the very least all 28 EU states could set up shop together in the same building in Washington, so that it became a 'one stop shop' for American HEIs, as well as allowing the sharing of information between member states.
  • Encourage 'bottom up' engagement in the US.
  • Develop strategies for collaboration in the ERC, ETPs and JTIs.
  • Stimulate mobility between US and the EU.

Whether this comes to pass remains to be seen. There has to be the political will to make it happen. With the simplification of H2020, as well as the desperate need to dig the world of the economic hole its in, the time might just be ripe.

No comments:

Post a Comment