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Global Science

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Traditional scientific “leaders” remain key partners in the global scientific enterprise, with North America, Europe, and Japan continuing to invest heavily in research and contributing disproportionately to research publications, citations and patent registrations. However, growing output across other regions has placed the scientific community firmly on a path to a multipolar world. In 1990, 95% of R&D took place in developed economies – by 2007, this share had declined to 76%. China has overtaken Japan and Europe in terms of research publication output, while 2012 saw a consortium of African nations chosen as co-host to the largest radio astronomy project in human history. Moreover, while private R&D spending in Japan, the US, and Europe declined in 2009, combined private R&D spending increased by 41% in India and China and the transatlantic share of global patents has fallen from 70% in 1999 to 62% today. These are the most notable examples of growing scientific capacity across every region of the globe.

Priorities for Europe

Europe already has strong research ties with many regions around the world. Transatlantic R&D cooperation, for example, already takes place across a range of institutions on both sides. EU collaboration with the National Institutes of Health includes several cases of large scale international collaboration, usually involving several other countries and in some cases other non-governmental agencies. The total investment in these international consortia in health research is in the region of €600m.

It will be crucially important that such research ties are strengthened in the coming years. However, the European Commission proposal for the international dimension of Horizon 2020 has also recognised Europe’s clear interest in deepening its engagement with research partners across every region of the globe:

Over the past decade…the landscape has changed…As the emerging economies continue to strengthen their research and innovation systems, a multipolar system is developing in which countries such as Brazil, China, India and South Korea exert increasing influence….As more research and innovation is performed in third countries, the Union will need to access this knowledge.

A crucial policy challenge over the medium term will be to ensure that the right research partnerships can be facilitated as the need for global engagement becomes ever more urgent. Enabling this will require pooling of financial resources, opening of mutual access to research infrastructures and further strengthening science capacity in every region. This will entail greater coordination of governance in terms of priority setting, knowledge transfer and intellectual property.