A Call for the establishment of a North American Research Agency


The three amigos

The research enterprise is by definition international; if one wants to be a leader in this community, one must be tied in. The European Community has been extremely proactive in promoting collaborative research efforts by supporting European and international networks for research and training. These have had synergetic effects not only in the historically R&D challenged regions,  such as Spain, Greece, Portugal and Southern Italy, but also in research powerhouses like Britain, France, and Germany.

Various ad-hoc efforts have been somewhat successful in developing international  institutional linkages involving Canada. Two examples that come to mind are:

  • The Unité Mixte Internationale (UMI) of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), which is located at the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). How does it work? Well,  the CNRS selects, pays and sends to PIMS every year up to 5 or 6 chargés de recherches or maîtres de conferences in the mathematical, computational and statistical sciences. These researchers normally spend one year at one of the various PIMS sites (UBC, SFU, UVic, U. Alberta, U. Calgary, U. Washington), working with their Canadian colleagues on joint research projects. In return, PIMS provides a local research environment and infrastructure for the visiting researchers, and awards Postdoctoral Fellowships to several young French applicants. See Opportunities for further information. Besides the UMI at PIMS serving the Pacific Northwest, there are four others in the mathematical sciences around the world. They are located in Moscow, Rio, Santiago and Vienna.
  • The newly announced Max Planck-UBC Centre for Quantum Materials, which commits both institutions to conducting joint research projects and summer schools in Canada and Germany, and to increasing scholarly exchanges. This is only the third Max Planck Center to be established outside Germany. The others are the Indo Max Planck Center for Computer Science in India and the CSIC-MPG Research Unit in Spain, which focuses on early European culture and religion. The first and only Max Planck Institute in North America is currently under construction in Florida Atlantic University.

But these collaborative initiatives pale in comparison with the investments within the EU. There is therefore a basic need for funding that will allow Canadians to participate in existing international networks, but also to develop their own.

What is surprising and regrettable is the fact that collaborative research and development has been an important missing piece to the spirit and to the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Banff International Research Station (BIRS) has been an exception and a pioneer in North American collaborative research, a fact not lost on Dr. José Antonio de la Peña, Deputy Director for Science, CONACyT, when he announced, “BIRS represents the only serious joint educational and scientific research program in the NAFTA space.”

We argue that the NAFTA concept should extend to research and innovation, and for that it needs to

  • Emulate if not copy the success of the European model (European Research Council)
  • Integrate more closely our R&D effort with the one of the USA
  • Allow the partners to leverage their resources
  • Initiate research networks across the North American continent
  • Facilitate students and young researchers mobility

We therefore call for the establishment of a North American research agency that will lead such efforts.

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