Canada's NSERC and the US National Science Foundation establish formal research partnership

Lindsay Borthwick
June 23, 2021

Canada and the United States have established a formal research partnership that will advance collaboration in fundamental discovery research. 

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) at a virtual meeting of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee on June 15.  

According to a press release, the MOU will make it easier for researchers in both countries to build inclusive partnerships at the frontiers of science, including in the fields of artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

This partnership between NSERC and the NSF expands opportunities for researchers to collaborate and explore opportunities to reimagine how our society functions across Canada and indeed around the world,” wrote Christopher Yip, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering and Associate Vice-President, International Partnerships at the University of Toronto, in an email to Research Money.

“We live in an interconnected world, and big issues such as climate change or the current pandemic transcend borders. The challenges we face are multi-faceted, constantly evolving, and cross disciplinary boundaries as well. In order to design systems that work better for everyone… we need to apply a global lens to the solutions we develop, consider alternative perspectives and build strong relationships to ensure that the research we undertake has sustainable impact,” he wrote. 

Research ties between Canada and the US have always been strong. But until now there was no formal mechanism for collaboration between the two funding agencies. Instead, partnerships were established by individual researchers on an ad hoc basis. The new agreement could change that by providing a flexible, streamlined application and funding process. 

The MOU also comes at a time when the NSF, which supports about 25 percent of federally funded research, is set to receive a major funding boost. For the 2022 fiscal year, the Biden Administration has requested a 20 percent increase to the NSF current budget of $8.5 billion, and there is bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate for a massive increase to federal research spending in the face of mounting competition from other countries, including China. 

The NSERC-NSF partnership is the result of a series of meetings held over the past few years, including joint workshops focused on inclusive and intersectional engineering and computer science research. The partnership aims to foster “a shared commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion within the research enterprise,” according to the press release.

“For research to have sustained impact, we must recognize that the scientific and social contexts are wholly intertwined — research requires us to embrace unfamiliar ideas, including welcoming expertise from other disciplines and cultures,” Yip wrote in an email. “We have a responsibility to create partnerships and advance solutions that uphold the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion at every level.”

Additional details are expected to be released in the coming months.


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