Opportunities for international researchers in Russia

Russian-French research cooperation: Where there is a will, there is a way

June 20, 2018
On May 25, in the sidelines of the Saint-Petersburg International Economic Forum, the Russian and French ministries signed the roadmap "Higher Education and Research" that identifies short- and medium-term priorities in bilateral cooperation.
One of the goals set out in this roadmap is to establish cooperation between the largest research funding agencies in both countries – namely, the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) and Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR).
According to the Web of Science data, France is the third most important collaborating country (after the US and Germany) by the number of co-authored papers of the Russian scientists with more than 3,000 publications each year. These works represent a stable community of 12-13 thousand researchers on each side based mainly on the historical relationships. Most joint publications are registered in physics and astronomy (37%), engineering, medicine and chemistry (10% each).
Leading Russian scientists who received grants from the RSF are also actively collaborating with their French counterparts in the implementation of their projects. RSF-funded researchers published 445 papers in 2017 in collaboration with French researchers, which is a 36% increase compared to 2016 (332). Although there are yet no joint research funding programs, French researchers can use the unique infrastructure built by the RSF awards or participate in the large-scale projects supported by the Russian Science Foundation. The French scientists can benefit from the Moscow State University’s depository of the living systems, the newest laboratories and plants collections of the Nikitsky Botanical Garden located near Yalta, the results of the research of the Siberian Arctic shelf as a source of greenhouse gases, the genetic studies of representatives of the Scythian cultures of Eurasia and other major RSF-funded projects of the world significance.
Interestingly, the academic systems of the two countries are quite similar. The French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) was founded in 1939 in the similar shape to the Soviet Academy of Sciences. At present time, most of the official bilateral scientific contacts are conducted by the CNRS and the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR), but the scale of projects that can be supported through this cooperation is extremely small. In 2018, CNRS and the RFBR funded only 18 projects.
Earlier this May, the RSF Director General Alexander Khlunov and the ANR President and CEO Thierry Damerval agreed to prepare a Memorandum of understanding on cooperation between two funding agencies, which will enable the joint funding for the best Russian-French collaborative projects in various areas of the basic sciences. The funders are talking about projects with duration up to 4 years and the average amount of the grant from each side of about 80,000 euro per year.
The parties intend to release the first call until the end of 2018 in the area of mathematics and physics. They will decide together the eligible research areas on a yearly basis.
Thus, very soon Russian and French scientists will enjoy a completely new additional funding opportunity for the joint projects. This will lead to a qualitatively advanced level of research cooperation and to greater results from the joint research efforts of teams with diverse complementary competencies.
The state policies in the field of science and technology in both Russia and France are focused primarily on developments of the so called centers of excellence that require substantial public investment. In this context, the equitable cooperation of the research funding organizations that provide competitive support for the most active and credible teams carrying out research at a high international level, can help to solve the most ambitious research tasks. This concerns both the existing cooperation of scientists and the creation of new researchers consortiums with new breakthrough ideas, including interdisciplinary ones. This may be related to the cybersecurity and artificial intelligence studies, the development of personalized medicine, sustainable agriculture, "clean energy", migration and aging problems, other global challenges faced by humanity.
I love this quote of famous French writer and philosopher Voltaire, the foreign honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences: “It's a great pleasure to see and do new things". Indeed, it is.
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