Canada eyes new funds and collaborations to boost international science
The Canadian government is pushing to expand international collaboration in science – including the possibility of joining the European Union’s big R&D programmes, an article puclished by Science|Business writes.
Canadian officials say they plan to launch a new fund of up to 25 million Canadian dollars (€16.75 million) a year for direct co-funding of science with other governments. The country’s social science council recently announced plans for more collaborations with the UK and officials are also keen on a suggestion from Brussels that it join the big Horizon Europe R&D programme from 2021.
Though there is no formal offer as yet on membership of Horizon Europe, or any Canadian decision on it, “I can tell you that I would certainly like us to move forward,” said Mona Nemer, chief science advisor to prime minister Justin Trudeau, in an interview with Science|Business.
- There are many people who are very keen, both on the scientist side and the science policy side, she said.
The Trudeau government has made research and innovation a policy plank since coming to office in November 2015 – boosting funding for research by 9.4 billion Canadian dollars, launching five “innovation superclusters” for R&D in artificial intelligence and other fields, and making active use of science diplomacy to advance its foreign policy goals.
Following the launch last year of ethical guidelines for artificial intelligence, by the Quebec Research Funds and the University of Montréal, the Canadian government pushed with Japan, the EU and the OECD to get an international agreement – leading this month to the G20 nations endorsing the first international principles for AI.
In Canada, “there’s a strong feeling that we punch above our weight” in science, said Ted Hewitt, chair of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, which oversees federal science funding. “
A political issue
While intense, the government’s enthusiasm for international collaboration is not unique: cross-border science is up generally around the world, as public and private R&D budgets grow and problems like climate change and health care become more global. But it is also a politically volatile issue. Trudeau’s predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper, hacked science budgets when he came to office in 2006. And the current Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, has made headlines criticising Trudeau’s climate plans in the run-up to elections in October.
Many Canadian science leaders see greater research collaboration with the EU as a natural follow-on to the Canada-EU trade agreement.
The next step could be full membership in Horizon Europe. Canada is among eight countries with which the European Commission has said it would like to discuss associate membership in the proposed seven-year, 94.1 billion euro R&D programme – and, along with Japan, Canada appears most keen to take up the offer.
Normally, association entails a formal agreement for a country to put some money into the common EU funding pot, so its researchers can compete on equal footing for EU grants. Sixteen non-EU countries in the European region, from wealthy Switzerland to poor Tunisia, are members but Canada would be among the first out-of-area members.
- Definitely there’s a lot of interest and support on the Canadian side for long-term collaboration with the European Commission for Horizon Europe,” Nemer said. When asked what kind of membership terms she would like to see, she said, “The more flexible we can be, the better.”
Making it simpler?
Canadian research programmes are already among the most open in the world to international partners. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, of which Hewitt is also president, last fiscal year committed over 34 million Canadian dollars to international research, supporting over 1,400 international researchers from 84 different countries. In collaboration with research councils in Mexico and Europe, for instance, it is co-funding a big project studying how cities can best manage their services during the nighttime hours, a difficult problem for mega-cities around the world.
Another international initiative this year is the launch of the New Frontiers in Research Fund . The programme, which Hewitt said is to reach 130 million Canadian dollars in the 2022-23 fiscal year, is to fund inter-disciplinary research that is “out of the box” with a strong international dimension.
Provided they have Canadian partners, researchers from other countries can join the projects and receive Canadian funding. As a hypothetical example, if a group of Canadian scientists studying plastic pollution in the Indian Ocean was to include local researchers in their team, the locals would be eligible for funding from Canada.
Hewitt said the next step will be the launch of a New Frontiers programme specifically for international collaboration, to pay the way of Canadian researchers joining other countries’ research programmes, including those of the EU. The details of how this will operate are still being worked out, but up to a fifth of the projected 130 million New Frontiers budget may go to the initiative.
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