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Brazil researchers receptive to greater research collaboration with Canada

Delegation of about 30 Canadian university presidents travels to Brazil this spring hoping to strengthen ties, but barriers remain.

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | APR 02 2012

There appears to be much enthusiasm among the Brazilian research community to collaborate with Canada, a new study has found. It is therefore good timing, said the study’s principal author, Halla Thorsteinsdóttir, that a large delegation of Canadian university presidents is travelling to Brazil this spring to discuss collaboration with the emerging economic powerhouse.

About 30 Canadian university presidents will be in Brazil from April 25 to May 2 to raise the profile of Canada’s universities there and to improve academic and research links. The delegation, organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, is being led by Canada’s Governor General – and former university president – David Johnston.

The study by Dr. Thorsteinsdóttir, an associate professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, looked specifically at Canada-Brazil collaboration in health biotechnology – partly because it’s been identified as a high-priority area in both countries. This research is part of a larger study by Dr. Thorsteinsdóttir on Canada’s collaboration with emerging economies.

Looking at Canada-Brazil co-publications, the study found that Brazil represents a “moderately important” partner for Canada – Brazil ranked 17th in terms of co-authored papers for the period studied (1994-2009). However, for Brazil, Canada represents a much more important partner – fifth in importance in terms of co-authored publications with other countries.

The prominence of Canada as a partner was echoed in the interviews with experts in Brazil, said Dr. Thorsteinsdóttir. “There seems to be this enthusiasm towards collaborating with Canada. That is what struck me. It was also very clear that Brazilians felt like they could actually contribute a lot to the collaborations, that they had a good chance of having an ‘equal’ collaboration.”

Marco Prado agreed that there is “a lot of goodwill in Brazil towards Canada.” Dr. Prado, originally from Brazil, is a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute and professor at Western University. He recently returned to his home country for a meeting between Canadian and Brazilian scientists organized by PrioNet Canada, a Network of Centres of Excellence.

Brazil, he said, is “booming” and slated to soon become the world’s fifth largest economy. It has invested heavily in science over the past several years. A sign of that is Brazil’s Science without Borders program, announced last summer, which will see 75,000 students at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels sent abroad on international fellowships. An additional 25,000 spots are being created by the private sector.

AUCC announced in late March that Canada can expect to receive about 12,000 of these Brazilian scholars between now and 2016 through a program launched by the Canadian Bureau for International Education (in which AUCC is collaborating) as well as through other agreements between Canadian institutions and the Brazilian government.

Gail Bowkett, assistant director of international relations at AUCC, said there was a “clear consensus” within the association’s international relations committee that Brazil would be the next priority for AUCC following its mission to India in November 2010. “I think we have to be intentional in where we’re focussing,” she said. “If you look at the growth of research output, publications, Brazil is it, no question.”

The AUCC delegation will attend the opening session of the Conference of the Americas on International Education, held in Rio de Janeiro, and will then take part in a presidents’ roundtable with their Brazilian counterparts. The delegation will also attend a Canada-Brazil innovation forum and will travel to the city of Campinas in São Paulo to visit the university research powerhouse, UNICAMP (Universidade Estadual de Campinas).

The Brazil mission “is about positioning our institutions, our research endeavours, and how they match up with Brazil,” said Ms. Bowkett. “We want to come out of this mission with some concrete new partnerships and agreements, and we want to create opportunities for those partnerships to develop.”

That’s good news, because “a delegation is not enough. It has to be followed up with something that really fosters the connections so people can work together,” said U of T’s Dr. Thorsteinsdóttir. Funding is the main challenge, she said, particularly a lack of joint grants to support collaboration.

Western’s Dr. Prado agreed, saying he’d like to see the funding agencies of the two countries working more closely together. He noted that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has a number of collaborative grants with other countries, such as the U.S., the U.K. and China. But as for joint Canada-Brazil funding opportunities, there’s “not so much.” Brazil has shown a willingness to commit resources, he said, but on the Canadian side, “it is almost a case of too little too late.”

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  1. Anonymous / April 4, 2012 at 16:59

    What is needed, is that first Canadian collaborate with each other among themeselves. . .It is the toppest priority.

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