Research is an international endeavour. It involves international collaborations ranging from the researcher-to-researcher level to the country-to-country level. The international research scene is changing as the domestic research bases of countries such as China and India rapidly expand. It is crucial that the UK adapts its research support mechanisms accordingly.
The Government has set itself the aim of being the partner of choice for potential collaborators and the Research Councils have a key role in helping the Government to meet this aim. The Research Councils have taken several steps to improve their international work including developing international strategies, creating a Research Councils UK (RCUK) international team, and establishing more offices abroad. Their activities still, however, lack co-ordination and are not sufficiently high-profile. We recommend that RCUK drives cross-Council co-ordination and the Councils develop ways of improving the visibility of their schemes. In order to reduce difficulties relating to funding, we recommend that the Research Councils establish a small central fund for travel grants and visiting fellowships to be administered by RCUK using simple application methods. We also recommend that the Research Councils consult stakeholders on how their policies relating to mobility could be improved.
The activities of the Research Councils are complemented by schemes funded by Government departments, Learned Societies, charities and others. Within Government, international engagement is co-ordinated by the Global Science and Innovation Forum (GSIF). We welcome the work of GSIF but emphasise that it needs to increase its visibility, publicise itself and prove its worth. Co-ordination and communication is essential in order to avoid overlap between similar schemes. We recommend that the RCUK international team take steps to improve co-ordination with other bodies and that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) work with relevant organisations to ensure that there is minimal overlap between different schemes.
The main mechanism for supporting collaborative, trans-national research in the European Union is the EU's Framework Programme. We are concerned that European programmes, such as Framework Programme 7, are less attractive to UK researchers because the programmes have a reputation for bureaucracy and are unlikely to cover the full economic costs of research. We recommend that DIUS works with the Research Councils to advertise the improvements in Framework Programme 7 and to devise a solution to cover the shortfall between Framework Programme 7 funding and the full economic costs of research.
In order to assess the UK's position and measure its success in relation to international collaboration and international research relationships, we recommend that the Government and Research Councils work to develop mechanisms for the systematic collection of data. We hope that the Research Councils will develop a more high-profile, coherent and co-ordinated approach to international work and that appropriate measurements are developed to demonstrate its impact.