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Russia and Japan to build stronger science bonds

04 September 2017

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In July, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. Their next meeting is expected soon on the sidelines of the third Eastern Economic Forum in the Russian city of Vladivostok. One of the bilateral issues bonding two countries may be the cooperation in science and technology as both countries face high-stakes in science and have a strong track record of heavy investments in research excellence.

Earlier this year an ambitious Presidential research funding program was announced in Russia. Around $10 billion in additional budget are expected to be made available through 2017-2023 to the Russian Science Foundation (RSF), which will distribute these supplementary funds to support cutting-edge research projects implemented by outstanding early-career researchers and to create new world-class laboratories with industrial co-funding.

Agriculture is the field where tangible research cooperation between Japan and Russia has developed quickly thanks to the Russian Science Foundation partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan (MAFF) last December. Two funding agencies announced joint call for proposals in agricultural sciences and selected the winners to be funded jointly. As a result, five research consortiums started their research activities already in July 2017. The total funding for their research projects will amount $5 million in the next five years. These consortiums of Japanese and Russian research teams are expected to lead to a substantial improvement in the solution of problems associated with avian influenza, preservation of agricultural products, development of sustainable agriculture and forestry industry in the Russian Far East.

Like European Research Council or US-based National Science Foundation, the RSF funding schemes are open to top researchers from all over the world who wish to carry out a project in a host institution in Russia. Japanese scientists participate in the RSF calls, and in the past three years there were 17 grant applications from the top Japanese researchers. To date, two principal investigators from Japan have been awarded RSF grant and are based in leading Russian research universities in Kazan and Vladivostok.

The particularly promising areas of research cooperation with high potential are artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, resource-smart energy.

International funding agencies experience suggests that collaborative research projects based on the principles of scientific excellence, parity funding and credible peer-review have normally higher impact of R&D investments from the public funds compared to the research funded by the single nation.

Although the nations’ leading research funders, the Russian Science Foundation, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED), have not launched yet bilateral co-funding programs, they succeeded in establishing trustful relations. Later this August high officials delegation from AMED will visit RSF headquarters as well as the leading medical research institutions in Moscow. In May 2018 Japanese research funders are scheduled to visit Russian capital hosting the Global Research Council meeting.

With research indicated as important factor for the bilateral cooperation in the course of Putin-Abe summit last December, Russian and Japanese research communities started to seek means to innovate the way out of the complex Russia-Japan relations - and make new discoveries for the world’s good in the process.

Written and translated by Sergey Konovalov, International relations, Russian Science Foundation

 

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