International collaboration: Not an optional extra

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27 August 2013

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enterprise is truly global.

Many of the problems that confront us in Australia also affect other countries. Issues related to climate are not uniquely Australian challenges; nor are pandemics; antibiotic resistant microbes; influenza; food or security both for citizens and nations, to name just a few. STEM will be central to the way that we mitigate, adapt to or solve such challenges.

Enduring links with the rest of the world are important. Any country with aspirations for the future has STEM activities that are international at their core. Global presence is essential, not an optional add-on.

Collaboration has never been ‘just an option’ for Australian science. We did not produce our first PhD graduate until 1948, so from the very beginning, there was a focus on recruiting from, or sending people overseas to get the qualifications to bring research expertise back into the country.

Many of the relationships established during that period have been sustained over the years – primarily, though not exclusively, with the UK and the US.  While the output from these linkages has grown in recent times in terms of research papers  and projects, there has also been substantial growth in our connections with many countries in our region.

Australia learnt a lesson back then – one that should not be forgotten.

The importance of international collaboration has not diminished. Indeed, the nature of the problems that require substantial research efforts are so substantial that collaboration is now of critical importance. No one nation has the people, or the resources, to do on its own all that could be done.

A strategy is important in determining what to do and with whom to share it. Country-to-country frameworks – encouraging strategic development and co-investment when appropriate – should sit side-by-side with research driven by individuals, with a shared hope to understand better our world.

The end result will be improved research performance, and stronger relationships with those with whom we share the challenge of tackling global issues.