The participants in the Sino-Swedish program
Chapter 7 Promoting the Internationalization of STI
7.3 Promoting STI cooperation
7.3.1 Challenges in STI: The need to respond
22.214.171.124 Challenges across government agencies and between countries Challenges also occur across government agencies concerning coordination and
the identification of strategies and purposes for international cooperation. I draw on an interview with an employee of a Swedish government agency, who argued that more coordination across ministries in Swedencould lead to more efficient use of bilateral agreements. The same government official spoke of the need for a more formalized criteria or framework for bilateral collaboration. Such framework or template for establishing bilateral cooperation would serve as a
guidance that enables categorizing and organizing the different types of collaborations according to their goals (e.g. cooperation for trade promotion, collaboration for institutional capacity building, research collaboration). The template for international cooperation serves as a framework for identifying the purposes and the reasons for establishing bilateral cooperation with other countries. Having identified the purpose and reasons for STI cooperation, it becomes easier to follow-up and evaluate how the collaboration has functioned.
(Government official, Swedish funding agency, December 4, 2015).
In addition, difficulties involving the coordination of government agencies’
work and goals were discussed as one of the challenges in the public sector.
Other obstacles mentioned are of logistical nature (e.g. time constraints, planning and management of research collaboration programs).
[…] I hope that the results and the reflections around this governmental task would be more deeply evaluated to see what incentives and what advantages and disadvantages there are in developing this type of collaboration among funding agencies even more , sort to say on a more ordinary basis […]I think the intentions are very good but then of course we represent various agencies and which one with its own task and … individual culture sort to say and time schedules and it is not very easy to formulate these long term collaborations. And you have to have a long period of preparation to manage this in a more ordinary way. But I think if you could find the right procedures to go on with this, there are a lot of advantages to the collaboration process (Government official, Swedish funding agency, November 25, 2015). (Interview no. 3)
It is a lot of work to run these international cooperation programs, a lot of work, lots of meetings, travel and negotiations. The reason that we do include more than 4 or 5 countries is that we don’t have time and resources to do more. Once we have rolling, we get things started and it is difficult also to review things; it is time and effort because of lots of meetings and negotiations (Government official, Swedish funding agency, May 6th, 2014). (Interview no. 4).
Finally, challenges can occur when negotiating the terms and conditions of research cooperation agreements between two countries. According to the participants in the Eco-Innovation Cooperation programs with China and
Brazil, one of the main barriers to successful research cooperation relates to co-funding arrangements. Often respondents expressed concerns regarding the lack of funding from their foreign counterparts. Several projects involving Chinese and Brazilian partners experienced difficulties because the projects were not co-funded (e.g. project delays and risk for termination of partnership). In some cases, only projects on the Swedish side received financial support. In a few occasions, attempts to secure Chinese and Brazilian funding failed because of administrative bureaucracy, differences in research funding systems and financial constraints.
The example below is based on notes I took during meetings I attended in Stockholm as an observant (August 27th 2014). Present in the meeting were FINEP and VINNOVA officials. FINEP is the Brazilian Agency for Innovation and Research and VINNOVA is the Swedish Innovation Agency. The two agencies met to discuss work synergy and ways to align their interests. FINEP promotes economic and social development in Brazil through the support of science, technology and innovation in companies, universities and technology institutes.
The following dialogue between officials of the two government agencies indicates that science and technology cooperation between two countries face challenges. It also suggests that differences regarding funding approaches and modes of operation are rooted in the country’s institutional set up and political structures. These organizational challenges might hinder internationalization of science, technology and innovation. In the Brazilian case, decision-making authority is centralized in the federal government. Government agencies do not have as much power and autonomy as Swedish funding agencies to allocate funding and to formulate and launch new R&D initiatives. Below is an excerpt from the dialogue between FINEP and VINNOVA officials.
Senior level employee 1, Brazilian Agency FINEP:
The exchange of people experience is easy but this type of cooperation is not so easy. The other purpose was to promote and fund joint projects on innovation. If you have projects on innovation we are talking about business, it is inevitable and in the end we want to reach the market. It is difficult among companies in the same country. But it is not easy when you involve companies from other countries as we have other types of difficulties. There are lots of things to be taken into
account; we have trust, language, distance, all of which make this process more difficult. When we signed the [bilateral] agreement, VINNOVA launched the first call and we received [information] about the projects at FINEP. We analyzed the projects but we are different countries and have different processes for supporting the projects. We had a seminar, we had a match making meeting and in the end, we concluded that we could not support any project. We had lots of meetings, personal meetings and virtual meetings [with VINNOVA]
and discussed procedures. That is why VINNOVA has launched the call without FINEP because we have agreed not to do this. Because then it was not possible for us. However, these days I want to discuss how this innovation system works and how VINNOVA works, to try to have a joint project and support each one having our own characteristics. We are going ahead. We have discussed projects, some of them are very nice but I am not sure at this moment if we have a project that we can support (statement 1: senior level employee at FINEP, August 27, 2014).
Senior level employee 2, Brazilian Agency, FINEP:
What would an ideal project be? Maybe technology development, truly developing something and inception of a joint business, something that could lead to a Brazil Sweden joint venture or a company. Not just taking something Sweden has and bring it to Brazil but something both countries would do together, innovate together. And these two [countries] would engage to have a smart solution and create a new company (statement 2: different employee at FINEP, August 27, 2014).
Remarks from a VINNOVA employee in reply to the above statements by FINEP officials:
I think we have a positive start, a positive climate, and the same goals, co-creation, and a win-win. Researchers and the exchange of ideas, and export to markets are not really VINNOVA’s role. We have the same
objective. About this joint venture, that could materialize. It could be a new company, or two companies developing separately. Sometimes that could be more achievable than creating something together. We have big consortia addressing challenges in society and they complement each other finding different solutions for the same problem (reply by a VINNOVA employee, August 27, 2014).
The next example illustrates some of the complexities associated with research cooperation programs in general and international collaboration in particular.
In 2015, I conducted an interview with an employee who works at STINT, the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education. STINT is a private foundation that supports a broad range of scholar and student mobility initiatives and funds bilateral programs with other countries. When asked to identify some of the complexities concerning international collaboration, the respondent described the barriers to fostering internationalization. One issue, according to the STINT official, relates to cultural and organizational differences between two countries. During the interview, the respondent commented on the Brazilian system as an example. He explained that it can be difficult for outsiders to navigate through the many administrative layers of the Brazilian system. One obstacle, according to the same respondent relates to the overall state of the economy of a country. In the context of Brazil, the state of the Brazilian economy has had adverse effects on the execution of bilateral programs with Sweden. For instance, there has been no decision regarding the possibility to secure funding from CAPES, a Brazilian government agency, under the ministry of higher education, whose task is to allocate grants to graduate students and research centers. This means that at the moment, CAPES lacks the financial resources to co-fund programs and to launch calls for proposals (Interview, STINT staff, November 20, 2015). I argue that these external factors adversely affect internationalization goals by delaying international activities and bilateral agreements.
In summary, as discussed in chapter 3, the challenges and complexities in science, technology and innovation (STI) cannot be overlooked. The three case studies show that although some of these complexities are of international dimension, they affect decisions at the national level. The challenges of internationalization begin at the national level; policies that promote internationalization through funding incentives are designed within domestic
borders. In the next section, I discuss the core issues pertaining to STI policy such as rationales for government’s investment in internationalization programs.