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North American cooperation to fund innovation

September 27, 2010

Here’s a story I like. The Banff International Research Station for Mathematical Innovation and Discovery (BIRS) has announced $10-million in funding to facilitate “collaborative and cross-disciplinary research with a focus on the mathematical sciences and their vast array of applications…”. BIRS is an innovative think-tank that brings mathematicians from all over together to discuss theoretical and applied mathematics in sciences and industry. This money will cover operating costs for the station, which hosts more than 2,000 researchers a year for a variety of workshops.

But here’s the interesting part. The $10-million is coming from various governments. Not federal/provincial/municipal, as usual. No, this is coming from the three NAFTA governments – Canada, the US, and Mexico – as well as the Alberta government. NSERC (3.25M), Alberta Advanced Education and Technology ($3.4M), the US National Science Foundation ($3.68M), and the Mexican government ($250K), are all co-funding the project – the first time these countries have cooperated to fund research.

“BIRS represents the only serious joint educational and scientific research program in the NAFTA space”, a representative of Mexico’s national council on science is quoted in a news release.

More than fifteen years after NAFTA, this is the first time the three signatories have cooperated on a research project? Wow.

NAFTA was part of the great wave of economic globalization of the 1990s, which led to integration of regional and global markets. This occurred in parallel to cultural globalization and political globalization. The world has become more integrated, more cooperative, more open. Though globalization has its critics, these processes have also demonstrated numerous successes.

But this is the first time NAFTA countries have collaborated to fund research.

Given how much more connected we all are, how much smaller the world, perhaps its time to increase international cooperation in research. By cooperating, each country ensures participation for its researchers, builds multinational bridges for research efforts, and participates in a project greater than any of the three would fund alone. Perversely, multinational cooperation may help arrest the dreaded “brain drain”. Instead of countries competing for researchers with individual research budgets, countries collaborate and share in the rewards.

Sure, as with NAFTA, there will always be sticking points – areas of national interest, etc. But BIRS has shown that it can be achieved. And there’s no reason research should lag the multinational cooperation we see in other areas. There’s potentially much to be gained.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 27, 2010 15:32

    Thanks Rob, there is, as you point out, much to like in this story. I’ve wondered why there aren’t more coop research efforts in NA modeled on what they do in the European Union. Glad you’re back to blogging more regularly. Cheers, Maryse

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