Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners

Executive Summary

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Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ initiative on Challenges for International Scientific Partnerships (CISP) was formed to assess where international collaborations are key for U.S. interests and to identify solutions to the challenges they face. This initiative has taken a broad view of international scientific collaboration as extending across scientific disciplines and scales and as encompassing all regions of the globe. As scientists raise the alarm on risks from a warming planet and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives and economies, this initiative has become only more convinced that a coordinated, collaborative science and technology (S&T) enterprise is essential to address the global challenges facing all of us. Key imperatives for international collaboration are presented in the initiative’s first report, America and the International Future of Science, while principles for successful international collaboration on large-scale initiatives are presented in the subsequent report, Bold Ambition: International Large-Scale Science.

Global Connections: Emerging Science Partners focuses on scientific partnerships between scientists in the United States and scientists in countries with emerging scientific enterprises. These countries are largely classified as Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) and Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) based in the Global South, including in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East and North Africa. Of particular focus in this report are countries that have been identified by The World Academy of Sciences as “S&T Lagging”3 and are specifically seeking to boost science capacity for development.

As emphasized in the initiative’s earlier reports, two interlinked characteristics of the U.S. scientific community have contributed significantly to the nation’s scientific and technological leadership. First, its universities have attracted some of the world’s most capable students to graduate and postdoctoral studies. Second, its researchers have formed collaborations with talented scientists and engineers around the world.

Some international students educated here have returned to their home countries to play important roles in advancing S&T enterprises there. While many international students choose to remain in the United States, contributing to the nation’s scientific and technological preeminence, they also often collaborate with researchers in their home countries, who frequently possess unique knowledge, capabilities, or situations that make outstanding research possible and enable important new discoveries. The resulting circulation of scientific talent, knowledge, and ideas has been a win-win situation for both the United States and the students’ countries of origin.

Significant changes are or will soon be underway that the United States must consider. The global research community is expanding and becoming more interdependent as it explores complex scientific questions and confronts major global challenges. At the same time, as the link between national prosperity and scientific capacity becomes increasingly apparent, international competition to attract the brightest students and young talent is increasing. These developments, coupled with policy changes in the United States and abroad, may lead to a significant decrease in the number of international students coming here to study—at a time when the country is struggling to build and sustain a robust and diverse domestic workforce in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Today’s emerging science partners (ESPs) hold the same promise as did countries like China, India, and South Korea just decades ago and they are projected to have a major and steadily increasing fraction of the world’s next generation of young talent. As scientific research becomes increasingly global, partnerships with scientists from around the world, including ESPs, will be key to unlocking future scientific discovery in all disciplines. The U.S. S&T enterprise should incorporate into its short- and long-term planning strategies for engagement with ESPs. Policies are needed that will build a stronger S&T enterprise for the world and contribute to sustaining a leadership role for the United States in tackling global challenges and uncovering new knowledge.

Collaborations between the United States and ESPs need to be based on mutual commitments to high-quality science, rooted in shared goals and scientific priorities, be mutually beneficial to all collaborators, and reflect the U.S. commitment to transparency, equity, and openness. As the CISP initiative held workshops with ESP researchers, issues of a lack of equity or fairness in scientific collaborations commonly arose, including the need to support the involvement of women and early career scientists. The United States needs to recognize and respect the merit and valuable perspectives researchers in ESPs bring to the table and the realities of available resources. Both partners must address concerns of equity and fairness upfront if sustainable, long-term collaborations are to be successfully built.

ESPs are, increasingly, a key set of collaborators with whom the United States should deepen engagement. The CISP initiative has identified four key imperatives that underlie why the United States should continue to build and strengthen collaborations with ESPs. These imperatives are:


1. Scientific Advancement and Addressing Global Challenges

Scientific advancement to expand the frontiers of science and address pressing global challenges, such as climate change and pandemics, requires international collaboration. ESPs can play important roles in achieving these advancements as their capacities grow stronger. The United States must demonstrate and maintain its leadership role through strengthening partnerships with ESP scientists to solve problems and stimulate innovation. Addressing global challenges is dependent on both broad-based research as well as research at scales accounting for unique local contexts.

2. Strengthening Global S&T Capacity and the Global STEM Workforce

Every nation contributes to and shares the strengths and weaknesses of the global research community. This is particularly true as we confront global challenges. The United States has a critical role to play in strengthening the global community through its own partnerships with ESPs, including the advanced education of ESP students, collaborative research, and building sustainable infrastructure. Education and research partnerships not only strengthen the global community, but they enhance the U.S. national S&T enterprise.

3. Global Understanding and Science Diplomacy

It is essential to partner with ESPs to enhance global understanding and strengthen science diplomacy. Scientific research is an endeavor built on shared values of merit, transparency, and openness. Research collaborations provide a mechanism for strengthening understanding of cultural differences and varied national and regional priorities. Science can often open channels that have been blocked because of political, economic, or social differences.

4. U.S. Leadership

As future global S&T evolves, it is important that the United States maintain its leadership role, contributing to the development of capacity worldwide and engaging with emerging and established partners. The United States cannot afford to allow its collaborations with ESPs to stagnate or diminish as these scientific communities grow stronger and even more critical to the global research community.

Driven by these imperatives, the report makes the following recommendations:

  1. The United States should actively foster and build collaborations with ESPs, including by welcoming ESP researchers, particularly those seeking graduate education, to U.S. universities and research institutes.
  2. Through its research and education collaborations with ESPs, the United States will and needs to contribute to building global research capacity and the global STEM workforce.
  3. Collaborations with ESPs should reflect the values of transparency and equity.

Moving forward on these recommendations would strengthen and expand partnerships with ESPs through sustained long-term commitments across disciplines and scales. Given the diverse ecosystem of S&T in the United States and in ESPs, opportunities for sustained collaboration are numerous. These include partnerships across and among government agencies, universities, research institutes, centers of excellence, scientific societies and academies, foundations and philanthropies, and the private sector.

Policy and program actions are needed if U.S.-ESP partnerships are to be adequately strengthened and if they are to be made more equitable. This report puts forth specific mechanisms for doing so to the four key U.S. audiences with substantial engagement with ESPs: 1) federal agencies; 2) universities and research institutes; 3) scientific societies and academies; and 4) foundations and the private sector (see Mechanisms).

These mechanisms have been identified by the CISP initiative through discussions with the key audiences mentioned above and in partnership with scientists based in ESP countries from all regions of the world and representing diverse disciplines, personal backgrounds, and career stages. They are the product of an effort to identify actions rooted in the priorities of both the U.S. S&T enterprise and those of ESPs seeking to build strong and equitable international scientific collaborations.