Internationalization raises quality of research, university heads argue
October 02, 2019
By Maria Fernanda Ziegler | Agência FAPESP – The heads of the three public universities in the state of São Paulo have made emphatic statements in favor of collaborative research with universities in other countries and projects conducted in partnership with industry and private-sector companies. For the rectors of the University of São Paulo (USP), the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and São Paulo State University (UNESP), internationalization strengthens cross-border academic ties, promotes diversity and enhances research quality.
These statements were made in presentations to the São Paulo School of Advanced Science on Science Diplomacy and Innovation Diplomacy (InnSciD SP), which took place on August 21-30, 2019, at USP. The event was organized by the university’s International Relations Institute (IRI-USP), with support from FAPESP under its São Paulo School of Advanced Science program (SPSAS).
Science diplomacy aims to develop diplomacy through science, bringing allies and adversaries together through technology and innovation to address challenges that cannot be resolved by any one nation alone. This event did so by focusing on exchanges and partnerships among scientists, universities and research institutions, according to the organizers.
“They may appear to be fads or buzzwords, but internationalization and innovation are genuinely important tools for research institutions and universities. Internationalization assures improvements in quality, as evidenced by the higher impact of many cross-border research collaborations, double degree programs and joint graduate programs,” said Vahan Agopyan, the Rector of USP.
The same is true of innovation. “Of course, it’s always good to translate research into practical applications,” Agopyan said. “At the same time, it’s very valuable if research institutions and universities have a direct relationship with society. In the twenty-first century, we must show that what we do in academia can benefit society as a whole.”
According to Agopyan, 40% of USP’s partners are among the top 20 in each of their respective home countries. “Moreover,” he added, “44% of the articles we publish are produced in partnership with researchers from other countries.”
Agopyan said USP plans to strengthen ties with companies and universities in Latin America and Asia-Pacific from now on.
Strategy versus random internationalization
For Sandro Valentini, the Rector of UNESP, although internationalization is an important element in the ranking of universities, its implications are much broader, and it is increasingly central to ongoing discussions, especially with regard to science diplomacy.
“The internationalization of higher education and research in Brazil isn’t a recent process,” Valentini said. “With the support of federal and state research funding agencies – FAPESP in the case of São Paulo State – scientists have established international collaborations during their studies abroad or by developing collaborative research projects.”
However, Valentini added, this process should be strategic rather than random or geared toward individual research projects only. He cited the 2011 federal program Science Without Borders (Ciência sem Fronteiras), which had a budget of approximately BRL 13 billion and focused mainly on graduate student exchange.
“The Science Without Borders program endeavored to scale up internationalization by focusing on individual student training and ignored the need for links with the internationalization strategies of these students’ home institutions,” Valentini said.
The program showed only modest results, according to Valentini; nonetheless, he went on, it did have the virtue of encouraging diplomats to develop strategic internationalization plans.
“During this period, a number of academic missions came to Brazil, enabling UNESP to leverage interest on the part of universities in other countries by starting to prospect for and propose research partnerships of institutional significance,” Valentini said. “UNESP also organized missions to foreign institutions that resulted in the strengthening or creation of a number of partnerships.”
Valentini also offered a comparison between Science Without Borders and CAPES-PrInt, the Brazilian government’s latest research internationalization program that was launched in 2017. “This program is designed first and foremost to promote internationalization throughout the ST&I system, focusing above all on innovation and interaction with industry in scientific production in Brazil. However, the main difference is that to enroll in the program, the institutions must produce a strategic plan. The budget is much smaller, unfortunately – only BRL 1.5 billion,” he said.
For Marcelo Knobel, the Rector of UNICAMP, foreign researchers must be induced to come to Brazil if internationalization is to happen. “The main motivation for strengthening collaboration and inviting foreigners to our universities is that the results are always positive,” he said. “Integrating students and researchers from other countries with universities here brings our own students and researchers into contact with different cultures and ways of thinking. This is basic for any university. We need different visions, ideas and origins.”
Knobel told the students attending the SPSAS about two of UNICAMP’s experiences in this regard: the inclusion of Haitian refugees as students at UNICAMP when the university signed up for the UN refugee integration chair program in 2017 and the establishment of an International Center for Sustainable Development and Smart Cities at UNICAMP, which would be built across an area of almost 1.5 million square meters.
“All this activity to achieve sustainability goals involves collaboration with foreign universities as well as with business and research institutions,” Knobel said.
Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s Scientific Director, addressed the school before the rectors’ presentations, stressing that collaboration involves much more than researcher mobility.
“Mobility is a consequence of having collaborative research projects, which are designed and written jointly,” he said. “At FAPESP we consider very important the idea that collaborative research projects be conceived and executed in partnership. As a result, people come and go on both sides. São Paulo State is competitive and has a sound research structure, so it attracts researchers from abroad and enables collaboration. It’s a two-way street, leading to far better results than if each party conducted research separately.”
FAPESP has supported the intensification of collaborative research through agreements with other funding agencies and with research institutions and universities and through unilateral actions such as attracting visiting professors and young researchers.
International collaboration in research projects supported by FAPESP has increased in recent years, Brito Cruz noted. FAPESP allocated BRL 180 million to projects involving cross-border collaboration, up from BRL 20 million in 2018.
“This effort is reflected by a rise in the proportion of articles with coauthors in other countries. In 2010, it was less than 25%. By 2018 it had reached 40%,” Brito Cruz said.
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