Robert Hardwick

Perspective on International Research Collaboration

Many of the biggest challenges facing society today are global in their reach and sources of solutions. As I write this the UN’s Paris Agreement to combat climate change became international law and commits nearly 100 countries to keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius.

Just a few weeks ago the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) staged events across the globe to mark World Food Day and provide a timely reminder about the international imperative to sustainably feed a growing world population with safe and nutritious food. Across the globe we are seeing demographic changes brought about by advancing lifespan and the need to improve human healthspan in conjunction with this trend. All of this against a backdrop of growing concerns over antimicrobial resistance and the effects this will have on the health of humans and other animals. If we want to tackle these socio-economic issues we must use a variety of measures, and modern bioscience research is one such tool with great potential to deliver.

Research undoubtedly benefits from collaboration across sectors and borders. Academically, the positive impact of international collaborative science is reflected in increased citation indices. A report by Elsevier in 2013 on UK science found that in 2012, 47.6% of UK-authored published articles were co-authored with at least one non-UK researcher, and found associations between international collaboration and increased citations of these papers. Beyond academia, investments in bioscience research by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) result in a wide variety of economic and social benefits. BBSRC researchers have contributed to the production of a disease resistant variety of pearl millet that has improved the food security and financial stability of up to 350,000 Indian farmers, and developed a technique to decrease water use in agricultural practices, amongst many other benefits. The message is clear: working together BBSRC

Crucial to collaboration is a flexible and mobile research workforce. When researchers are free to move and work with who they like, novel and exciting lines of enquiry will be co-created, and innovative and long-term partnerships forged. This creates an environment in which researchers can exchange ideas, data and technical expertise across subject disciplines, economic sectors and national borders, and share access to facilities, equipment and unique sites and study populations. From this base sustained research outcomes will flow and science will advance.

The benefits do not stop there. When researchers are free to move, they are free to grow. Individuals benefit from exposure to different research cultures and from the freedom to work with and learn from the best people in their field, wherever they may reside. Lifelong networks will be built in which researchers can enhance their reputation and secure further funding.

The recent vote in the UK to leave the European Union has brought international collaboration sharply into focus. When international collaboration flourishes, so does research, and in recognising this, the UK Research Councils will continue to champion an international outlook and put in place the policies and funding mechanisms to ensure this activity continues.

Robert Hardwick
Robert Hardwick
Robert Hardwick,
Senior Innovation and Skills Manager at BBSRC
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