Canada selected to lead council of global research funders

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Dr. Mario Pinto

Canada’s profile on the global stage was bolstered in late May with news that Dr. Mario Pinto will take over as chair of the Global Research Council (GRC), a federation comprising the heads of 70 science and engineering funding councils from 50 countries. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) president replaces Dr. Yuichiro Anzai, president of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, who now becomes vice-chair.

Pinto’s leadership comes at an opportune time for Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criss-crossing the globe since his election extolling the benefits of investing in and partnering with Canada, including in the field of science.

During an interview at the GRC’s annual gathering, held this year in Ottawa, Pinto said Canada’s leadership of the GRC will make it easier to strengthen international linkages and form new partnerships.

“Having me chair the governing board signals that there’s trust from the other partner countries, and at a time when the Canadian brand for science and evidence-informed decision-making is really strong internationally,” he said.

Formed in 2012, GRC’s members represent 80% of all public research spending globally. Its mission is to promote the sharing of data and best practices for high-quality collaboration among funding agencies worldwide.

The group endorsed two major priorities for the next year: capacity building and connectivity among granting agencies worldwide, as well as the interplay between fundamental research and innovation.

As for the latter, Pinto urged delegates not to obsess on the differences between basic and applied research, describing them as “artificial boundaries”. Instead, he touted Canada’s efforts to develop “an ecosystem of research, development and delivery” (RD&D).

“Instead of setting up this natural tension between fundamental and applied research, you present it as an ecosystem to governments so they can see how you have a natural flow between the three activities and continuous optimization. Think of it as a feedback loop.”

Capacity building, particularly among developing countries, is another priority for the GRC. This year attracted the largest delegations yet from sub-Saharan Africa and South American countries, yet several poorer countries still lack the capacity to fully participate in research collaborations.

That’s both a challenge and a responsibility for countries like Canada, said Pinto. The recently released report of the Advisory Panel on Federal Support for Fundamental Science recommended building more research collaborations between Canada and other countries.

“But how do you do that with developing countries that may not have the capacity or funding to collaborate with richer nations,” said Pinto. “One way is by sharing best practices so these countries can examine critically what works and what doesn’t work and develop their own policies that are congruent.”

Global Research Council members in Ottawa in May (Photo: NSERC)

Jean Saint-Vil, associate VP of the Networks of Centres of Excellence and a delegate at the GRC meeting, said the GRC can help these countries by better coordinating international consensus on issues like open access and peer review.

“And this applies to Canada as well,” he said. “In the last few years China overtook the U.K. as our second biggest international research partner and they will likely pass the U.S. soon. That means you need to readjust how you consider who your partners might be. And for those collaborations to be fruitful, you need to have agreement on certain basic principles.”

Next year’s annual GRC meeting will be held in Moscow, Russia.

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