International collaboration makes research more productive
February 14, 2019
By Heitor Shimizu, in London | Agência FAPESP – “Science is universal and there is no doubt that the best scientists adopt a global approach to their work. This is reflected in the high quality of the research conducted in the United Kingdom as a result of international collaboration,” said Sir Mark Walport, chief executive of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), during the opening session of FAPESP Week London, Monday (2/11) in the British capital.
Walport addressed a packed audience at the Royal Society, the famous British academy over which Isaac Newton presided from 1703-1727. The event, taking place as part of the UK-Brazil Year of Science and Innovation, brings together scientists from several British and Brazilian institutions in presentations, discussions and the establishment of partnerships in the most diverse areas of knowledge.
According to Walport, the significance of international research collaboration for the UK is demonstrated by the partnership it maintains with FAPESP, which is one of the three foreign entities highlighted on the UKRI website.
FAPESP and the British councils frequently issue calls for proposals to support projects submitted by researchers in the state of São Paulo in collaboration with their UK colleagues. The calls for proposals, in all fields of knowledge, also involve institutions such as the British Council and funding mechanisms like the Newton Fund.
“I am delighted by the size and extent of our collaboration with FAPESP. I believe the model of state foundations [for research support] is extraordinary and extremely successful, as we can see from operations at FAPESP,” said Walport.
“Our job at UKRI is to enable our researchers to work with the best people, wherever they may be. That is why we have a number of cooperation agreements with FAPESP that facilitate joint work by UK researchers with researchers from the state of São Paulo. Since 2009, when we signed our first agreement with FAPESP, UKRI has supported 32 research projects, whose value exceeds £16 million,” said Walport (read more at: http://www.fapesp.br/publicacoes/2018/fapesp_uk.pdf).
The UKRI (formerly RCUK, Research Councils UK) is the organization responsible for providing public funding to research and innovation in the United Kingdom. With an annual budget of more than £7 billion, UKRI brings together the seven UK research councils: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
Also part of UKRI is the innovation support agency Innovate UK and the new Research England, the council responsible for supervising research and innovation activities at institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom.
“We have awarded 3,900 research grants each year and have nearly 2,400 collaborative projects led by companies and nearly 200 partnerships we call Knowledge Transfer. The UKRI also provides funding to 151 British universities in addition to 38 institutes, laboratories and other entities engaged in research and innovation,” Walport said.
“The goal of UKRI is to make the United Kingdom the best possible place for researchers and innovators,” he added.
Walport, a professor of Medicine at Imperial College London, has also served as the government chief scientific advisor (GCSA) and head of the Government Office for Science, director of the Wellcome Trust and head of the Division of Medicine of Imperial College London. He has been a Knight of the British Empire since 2009 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2011.
FAPESP President Marco Antonio Zago talked about the importance of science, technology and innovation generated in the state of São Paulo. “Despite occupying only 3% of the country’s area, the state of São Paulo generates half of all science conducted in Brazil. What distinguishes São Paulo more than its size, however, is the quality of its science,” he said.
“An example of that is the substantial involvement of companies and the private sector, taking into account the size of the investment or the percentage of researchers. Another example is its continuity. Despite the economic difficulties faced by Brazil, the constitution of the state of São Paulo guarantees continuous funding for research through FAPESP,” said Zago.
“At FAPESP, we have also expanded international collaboration as a tool for promoting quality research in areas of global interest. FAPESP promotes this in several ways, such as its support to international projects that involve researchers or research centers in the state of São Paulo. Another way it does this is by bringing researchers from other countries to Brazil to take part in the scientific life or conduct research projects in the state of São Paulo,” he said.
FAPESP Scientific Director Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz also highlighted the UK’s importance as an international partner in studies funded by FAPESP. In the past 10 years, FAPESP has supported 400 research projects in collaboration with British funding agencies, companies and universities.
According to Brito Cruz, since 2009, when it signed its first agreement with the UKRI (at the time, Research Councils UK), FAPESP has increased and strengthened its partnerships with British institutions.
“FAPESP also has cooperation agreements with 26 British universities through which it offers seed funding so that researchers in São Paulo can work with colleagues in the UK for a year to develop ambitious projects that will later be submitted to FAPESP and British agencies. We also have agreements with companies such as GSK, AstraZeneca/MedImmune and Shell. And it is important to underscore the role of the Newton Fund, which has breathed new air into scientific collaboration over the past five years,” said Brito Cruz.
The result, says Brito Cruz, is that researchers from the state of São Paulo now have a wide range of support mechanisms to fund collaborative projects with researchers from the United Kingdom.
“It’s not just a strategy, but rather, a strategy that is backed by funds. We set up a strategy and we provide the funds for it. And that’s when things really start to happen. For example, if we look at the percentage of scientific articles co-authored by researchers in São Paulo with those from other countries, we see that it was something that had remained constant, at 25%, up until 2007 and 2008. From that point, it began to increase and is now closer to 40%,” said Brito Cruz.
“The scientific production that results from FAPESP support to partnerships with British organizations and institutions has grown comparatively more than that with other countries, to the point that today, the United Kingdom is our second largest partner in scientific production with authors from the state of São Paulo, surpassed only by the United States,” he said.
In the context of the agreements signed by FAPESP, more than 350 research projects were selected to receive funding. One of the results of this FAPESP support is seen in the 173% increase in the number of scientific articles signed by researchers from the state of São Paulo and British colleagues from 2010-2016 (according to data from Thomson Reuters).
Brito Cruz then talked about the various types of support FAPESP offers to support international research collaboration. In addition to awarding scholarships and grants for researchers and students from São Paulo to travel abroad, FAPESP encourages researchers and students from other countries to travel to the state of São Paulo.
Among mechanisms available for this are the São Paulo Schools of Advanced Science (ESPCA), which are short-term courses given by distinguished Brazilian and foreign scientists, and the São Paulo Excellence Chair (SPEC) program, in which senior researchers from other countries work with Brazilian colleagues for periods of three to five years, with stays in Brazil for 12 weeks a year.
Andrew Allen, director of International Affairs at the Royal Society and Fred Arruda, ambassador of Brazil to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, also took part in the opening session of FAPESP Week London.
“Our countries believe in what is known as the three-helix model of innovation in which government, academic institutions and the private sector work together to promote innovation, and FAPESP Week London demonstrates the enormous potential for exploring synergies and complementarities between Brazil and the United Kingdom in science, technology and innovation,” said Arruda.
FAPESP Week London: fapesp.br/week2019/london.
Read more about FAPESP Week London at: www.fapesp.br/week2019/london/.
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