Building international STI linkages

Rationale and objectives

Countries engage in international (including bilateral and multilateral) co-operation in science, technology and innovation (STI) with a view to tapping into global pools of knowledge, human resources and major research facilities, to sharing costs, to obtaining more rapid results, and to managing the large-scale efforts needed to address effectively challenges of a regional or global nature.
The economic growth and social development of all countries depend on advances in scientific and technological (S&T) knowledge, which require sustained research efforts and the widest possible circulation and exchange of ideas and information. Furthermore, the global challenges facing the world today require a collective response from all affected parties, and science, technology and innovation will play an essential role.
The need for international technological co-operation among enterprises is another reason for policies to promote international linkages in STI. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should be a special focus, as they lack the financial, human and other resources needed to operate internationally.
Globalisation also offers reasons for governments to introduce policies to help maintain the competitiveness of their economy and preserve jobs, while taking advantage of the internationalisation of STI processes.

Major aspects

General policies for STI co-operation
The main approaches to developing mutually beneficial S&T exchanges and co-operation across borders include exchanges of students, scientists and engineers, dissemination of research results through international conferences and journals, open access to research data and networks, joint project calls and funds, and joint research projects, institutes and facilities. S&T co-operation agreements between countries serve as a framework for carrying out these activities bilaterally or multilaterally.
International public research co-operation to address global challenges
In the context of increasing globalisation of research and development (R&D), the internationalisation of public research continues to receive policy attention, and measures supporting the internationalisation of public research institutions (PRIs) and universities are on the rise in recent years. There is also increasing recognition of the need for international co-operation in STI to address global challenges.
Internationalisation of business research and locational policies
Policies to facilitate international technological co-operation by firms have traditionally focused on improving framework conditions, including protection of intellectual property, application of international standards, and enforcement of contracts, so as to facilitate the technological activities of firms and their co-operation with universities and PRIs in foreign countries. With globalisation, countries increasingly compete by providing conditions that attract foreign R&D and innovation activities, through so-called locational policies to attract foreign firms and institutions to conduct research and innovation and to retain these activities in national companies.

International linkages of the highly skilled

Human linkages play a key role in all aspects of international co-operation in STI. Policy measures to facilitate the mobility of the highly skilled have therefore been emphasised either in the framework for international STI co-operation, or as part of human resource policies for innovation and policies on education for innovation.

Recent policy trends

General policies for STI co-operation
Governments promote international co-operation in STI through bilateral, and to a lesser extent regional, agreements. Recent years have seen an increasing number of S&T co-operation agreements between OECD countries and non-OECD economies, such as Argentina, Brazil, the People's Republic of China, Colombia, India, the Russian Federation and South Africa. Such agreements occur not only at national but also at sub-national and institutional levels. Government agreements still feature a strong focus on science and research, although innovation is also targeted in some cases.
In recent years, Australia, Colombia, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom have adopted STI internationalisation strategies with a comprehensive framework for international co-operation in STI. Belgium, France, and Hungary manage international co-operation in STI without such strategies.
While science co-operation has long been an aspect of diplomacy, Japan and Turkey have recently launched specific science diplomacy initiatives. Japan's Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) promotes international joint research projects based on developing countries' needs which address global challenges and aim to benefit society.
International public research co-operation to address global challenges
In recent years countries have opened up national research programmes and amended legal and framework conditions to allow foreign institutions and researchers to participate in research programmes and access research infrastructure funded by national sources. Australia, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Slovenia have opened key national funding programmes to foreign applicants. Funding agencies in Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland have introduced the Lead-Agency Process under which researchers from two or more countries can submit a common proposal to a single funding agency. EU programmes such as the 7th Framework Programme for R&D has served as an important funding mechanism for international collaboration both among the EU countries and with non-EU partner countries.
The internationalisation of higher education has increased in recent years. Canada, Finland, Germany and Ireland have adopted international education strategies to promote national colleges and universities abroad. Meanwhile, universities and research institutes are establishing their presence in foreign countries. Examples include the Sino-Danish Centre for Education and Research, Germany's Max Planck Centres in seven countries and Fraunhofer (project) Centres in six countries, and France's Institut Pasteur in Korea.
A recent study on the governance of international co-operation in STI to address global challenges (OECD, 2012) examined existing multilateral co-operation mechanisms in STI, including the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the Group on Earth Observations, the International Atomic Agency, the International Energy Agency, the European Joint Programming Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It found that international co-operation to address global challenges is difficult, as it requires effective governance mechanisms. The report sheds light on elements of good governance practices, such as flexible institutional frameworks for priority setting, flexible funding and spending mechanisms, tailored approaches to knowledge sharing and intellectual property, and an outreach strategy to involve actors with weak STI capacities. It called for further efforts to address emerging challenges through international STI collaboration.
Internationalisation of business research and locational policies
While the majority of countries still promote foreign R&D activities through general foreign investment promotion measures, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom have created specific programmes to promote R&D investment. Brazil and Turkey have set up inter-agency bodies for that purpose, and the Netherlands and Sweden have installed innovation attachés in overseas missions with a special focus on emerging economies.
While many countries foster SMEs' international STI linkages through support for international trade and investment, some have created special programmes and measures. Belgium, Colombia, Hungary and Israel have specialised public agencies to provide innovative SMEs with advisory and consultation support and technical assistance. Canada provides financial support and guarantees for bank credits to help innovative SMEs expand internationally. Ireland's CSET Programme and Israel's Global Enterprise R&D Co-operation Framework both aim to facilitate linkages between the R&D activities of foreign multinationals and domestic SMEs and start-ups. South Africa has set up a national contact point for promoting networking of R&D-performing SMEs with like-minded SMEs abroad, in particular in connection with the EU 7th Framework Programme. With a special focus on research-intensive SMEs, the EU's Eurostars programme serves as an important supplement to national initiatives, especially for small EU countries.
Countries have adopted various measures to improve their attractiveness as international R&D and innovation hubs: tax incentives (Australia, Austria, Belgium, China, Denmark, Ireland, Russian Federation, Spain); subsidies to cover various costs of setting up R&D centres and hiring researchers (Hungary, Japan, Turkey); removing requirements for ownership of resulting intellectual property in the country (Australia); improving the business environment for foreign investment in R&D and innovation (Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland); and providing one-stop shops for foreign investors (Belgium, Brazil, Hungary, Japan, etc.).
International linkages of the highly skilled
OECD and non-OECD countries alike recognise the importance of international mobility of the highly skilled and have a range of measures to support brain circulation i.e. both inward and outward mobility, ranging from scholarships and financial support (Australia, Canada, China, Estonia, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Turkey); to simplification of visa procedures (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Slovenia); to amendments of immigration legislation (Ireland) and legislation regarding recognition of foreign professional qualifications (Germany); to national treatment of foreign researchers in social welfare entitlements (Sweden). Concrete examples of these measures include China's One Thousand Talents Programme to attract high-level S&T talent from overseas and Ireland's streamlined immigration arrangements for PhD students, postdoctoral researchers and their families relocating to Ireland.

References and further reading

OECD (1988), Recommendation of the Council concerning a General Framework of Principles for International Co-operation in Science and Technology (C(88)60/FINAL).
OECD (1995), Recommendation of the Council concerning Principles for Facilitating International Technology Co-operation Involving Enterprises (C(95)182/FINAL).
OECD (2008), “China and the Globalisation of Research and Development” , in OECD Reviews of Innovation Policy: China 2008, OECD, Paris.
OECD (2009), “Internationalisation of R&D” , in OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2009, OECD, Paris.
OECD (2011a), “Public Research Institutional Linkages and Internationalisation” , Chapter 5 in Public Research Institutions, Mapping Sector Trends, OECD, Paris.
OECD (2011b), “Location Factors for International Investment in Innovation” , in Attractiveness for Innovation: Location Factors for International Investment, OECD, Paris.
OECD (2011c), “International Investment in Innovation” , in Attractiveness for Innovation: Location Factors for International Investment, OECD, Paris.
OECD (2012), Meeting Global Challenges Through Better Governance: International Co-operation in Science, Technology and Innovation, OECD, Paris.
Royal Society (2011), Knowledge, Networks and Nations, Global Scientific Collaboration in the 21st Century, Elsevier, London.


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International linkages

  • Internationalisation of SMEs
  • Multinationals and foreign direct investments
  • Internationalisation of universities and public research institutes
  • International mobility of researchers and highly skilled