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Researchers Are Ready for Mobility

On June 4, 2020, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation and the European Commission held a joint digital seminar on EU-Russia cooperation in researchers’ mobility and training. ISSEK experts Anna Pikalova and Elena Nasybulina who had contributed to its agenda prepared a comprehensive overview of the event, featuring an array of existing mobility opportunities for researchers.

Full event video is available at YouTube channel of International Centre for Innovations in Science, Technology and Education (ICISTE) that acted as the co-organizer of the webinar at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1MGca18IQU. The event brought together over 250 participants – representatives of Russian and European universities and research organisations, young doctoral students, and postdocs.

Opening the workshop, its co-chairs – Andrey Anikeev, Deputy Director of the Department of Science and Technology Policy, Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, and Laurent Bocherau, Minister-Counsellor, Head of S&T Section, European Union Delegation to Russia, - stressed that support of international S&T cooperation ranks high on the current agenda of both the Russian government and the European Commission.

National Projects and Mega-grants
Andrey Anikeev reminded the participants that in the recent years, the Russian government had adopted a number of initiatives that incorporate measures to support international academic mobility, above all National Project “Science”. Another key instrument is Mega-grants – a programme for international STI cooperation of Russian universities and research organisations with world-class scientists and leading foreign centers.

The goal of the Mega-grants programme launched in 2010 with the issue of Decree No. 220 by the Government of the Russian Federation is the creation of laboratories at Russian educational and scientific institutions to conduct cutting-edge research and development under the supervision of leading international researchers, including compatriots residing abroad. Since the launch of the programme, a total of 7 calls have been organized, as the result of which 272 world-class laboratories have been created. To date, over 3600 applications for international labs have been submitted by Russian educational and scientific organisations jointly with foreign partners, including over 1000 – in cooperation with leading European scientists from 24 EU Member States.

The novelties of the Mega-grants programme were presented by Alexey Semin, Deputy Director of the Department of Science and Technology Policy, Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation. On May 15, 2020, the eighth call for Mega-grants was announced. The competition is open to Russian universities and scientific institutions who can apply in collaboration with leading foreign or Russian scientists holding top positions in their fields of studies. The maximum project budget allocated for 2021-2023 will reach 1,2 million euros. Applications are accepted until August 3, 2020.

Horizon 2020 and CREMLIN Plus
Laurent Bochereau gave a brief introduction to the EU Research and Innovation Framework programme “Horizon 2020” (2014-2020), whose annual budget exceeds 10 billion euros, and of its three main pillars – Excellent Science”, “Industrial Leadership” and “Societal Challenges”. Mr. Bochereau noted that Russia currently ranks among top-5 leading countries – EU partners in “Horizon 2020” programme and illustrated the country's active participation in different actions under pillar “Excellent Science” with specific cases. For example, to date, 56 Russian scientists have become European Research Council grant holders. There is also an active involvement of Russian researchers in Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. At the same time, if compared to the previous, EU 7th Framework Programme, in which Russia ranked second among third countries (i.e., that are not EU Member States or Framework Programme Associated Countries), one may observe a decline in Russia’s activity. The speaker expressed hope that under EU’s new framework programme “Horizon Europe”, whose implementation will be launched in 2021, Russia will claim back its positions as one of the EU’s leading partners in science, technology and innovations.

One of the successfully developing areas of EU-Russia S&T dialogue is cooperation in research infrastructures, which is demonstrated, inter alia, by the ongoing CREMLIN Plus (Connecting Russian and European Measures for Large-scale Research Infrastructures) flagship project. The goal of the initiative which was launched on February 1, 2020, is to further enhance the relations and networks between European and Russian research infrastructures both at scientific and at research policy level. The project, whose budget is nearly 25 million euros, will run for 48 months. The project is coordinated by German Electron Synchrotron (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron, DESY), country’s largest research center located in Hamburg that operates particle accelerators used to investigate the structure of matter. The project consortium involves 25 European and 10 Russian organisations. It also features a List of Russian Priority Research Infrastructures (List 11 Facilities) that includes two HSE University’s large data banks in social and economic fields – Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS-HSE) and Joint Economic and Social Data Archive (JESDA).

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions
In the next part of the workshop, special emphasis was put on Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, one of “Horizon 2020”’s key components, and on its new call for Individual Fellowships.

Claire Morel, Head of Unit, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission, presented an overview of the EU’s key programmes supporting researcher mobility – ERASMUS+ and Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). The speaker also provided a detailed insight into MSCA and its actions – Co-Funding of Regional, National and International Programmes (COFUND), Individual Fellowships (IF), Innovative Training Networks (ITN) and Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE). Claire Morel emphasized that Russia is one MSCA’s most active participants, by citing statistical data for 2014-2020 (Table 1).

Table 1 – Russia’s Participation in Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions in 2014-2020 (“Horizon 2020”)

Action

Number of participating Russian organisations

Number of projects

Number of Russian researchers involved

Number of foreign researchers going to Russian organisations

COFUND

4

2

64

0

IF

2

2

99

2

ITN

11

9

154

0

RISE

34

25

107

87

Total:

51

38

424

89


Russia’s key participating organisations in terms of the number of participations in MSCA are presented in Table 2.

Table 2 – Russia’s top participating organisations in terms of the number of participations in MSCA in 2014-2020 (“Horizon 2020”)

Name

Number of participations

Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics (ITMO University)

6

Novosibirsk State University

4

M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University

3

St. Petersburg State University

3

Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University

3

National Research University Higher School of Economics

2


Tierry Devars
, representative of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Unit, Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission, followed up on the overview of MSCA, by presenting information on the MSCA new Call for Individual Fellowships  (Individual Fellowships MSCA-IF-2020) which was announced on April 8, 2020. The goal of the Individual Fellowships is to enhance the creative and innovative potential of experienced researchers, wishing to diversify their individual competence in terms of skill acquisition through advanced training, international and intersectoral mobility. Individual Fellowships provide opportunities to researchers of any nationality to acquire and transfer new knowledge and to work on research and innovation in Europe (EU Member States and Horizon 2020 Associated Countries) and beyond. The scheme particularly supports the return and (re)integration of European researchers from outside Europe and those who have previously worked there, as well as researchers displaced by conflict outside the EU and Horizon 2020 Associated Countries. It also promotes the career restart of individual researchers who show great potential. Support is foreseen for individual, trans-national fellowships awarded to the best or most promising researchers of any nationality, for employment in EU Member States or Horizon 2020 Associated Countries. It is based on an application made jointly by the researcher and the beneficiary in the academic or non-academic sectors. To apply, participants must submit a proposal, prepared in accordance with the Guide for Applicants. Proposals are made online through Electronic Submission Service and are accepted until September 9, 2020. The speaker stressed that the MSCA IF Calls are highly competitive: annually, over 10000 proposals are submitted, of which only 1500 projects receive funding. The expertise is provided by over 4500 experts from around the globe, who evaluate proposals remotely in the framework of 8 scientific panels. Evaluation criteria include excellence (50%), impact (30%) and implementation (20%).

Anna Pikalova
, Director of the Centre for International Projects, Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge of HSE University, spoke about the support provided by Russian MSCA National Contact Point. The network of National Contact Points (NCPs) was created in Russia under the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation “Horizon 2020” with the aim of promoting research and technology cooperation between Russia and the European Union. In 2014, by an official letter to the European Commission, the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education nominated HSE University as a host organization to three NCPs under “Horizon 2020”:
HSE University’s NCPs provide information and consulting support to Russian researchers and research teams interested in participating in “Horizon 2020” programme and its researcher mobility actions. NCPs also prepare analytical materials and manuals on topics pertaining to international S&T cooperation and maintain a dedicated web site. Another area of NCPs’ activities includes organization of information days, workshops and presentations, often involving international experts in the field.
Russian MSCA NCP actively cooperates with the Network of Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions NCPs funded by the European Commission under Net4MobilityPlus project. The overall objective of the initiative is to facilitate transnational cooperation among NCPs for MSCA, upgrade their skills and tools in order to raise their standard of support, while identifying and sharing good practices across MSCA in close collaboration with other EU networks. The project maintains a dedicated web site which features manuals, guidebooks and practical recommendations for writing winning proposals under MSCA calls.

Facilitating Networking
Katalin Alföldi, Policy Officer, COST Association, presented an overview of Russia’s participation in COST (European Co-operation in the Field of Scientific and Technical Research). COST is a EU-funded initiative for the creation of research networks, called COST Actions. These networks offer an open space for collaboration among scientists across Europe (and beyond) and thereby give impetus to research advancements and innovation. COST does not fund research itself, as its funds are exclusively dedicated to cover collaboration activities, such as workshops, conferences, working group meetings, training schools, short-term scientific missions, and the like. This way it promotes global networking of national-funded research. COST Actions are open to all types of institutions (academia, public institutions, SME/industry, NGO, European/international organisations), all S&T fields (including trans-, and interdisciplinary, new and emerging fields), and all countries.  COST currently consists of 38 members, 1 Cooperating Member (Israel) and 1 Partner Member (South African Republic). Along with several other countries, Russia cooperates with COST as a “Near Neighboring Country”. According to its strategy, COST supports and encourages the participation of international partners coming from non-COST members in all of its Actions. It does so, inter alia, by providing financial support to its Near Neighbouring Countries.  Russia currently participates in 48 COST Actions, in which it is represented by 60 organisations.

The overview of Russian and European researcher mobility programmes was followed by several testimonials of scientists from Russia and the EU. One of them, Boris Voronin, introduced the participants to the Russian Chapter of Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA), which he chairs. MCAA is a global network of researchers established with the goal to enhance the flow of knowledge across different countries, sectors of the economy and scientific disciplines. By connecting researchers throughout Europe and around the world, MCAA enables international transdisciplinary collaborations and encourages mutual understanding among MCAA members and external stakeholders. The Association also serves as a forum of debate for researchers and citizens. MCAA currently consists of over 15500 members (total number of MSCA alumni exceeds 110000). 189 MCAA members are Russian researchers, of which only 14 currently reside in Russia; the rest have emigrated abroad, often to the EU. Starting from 2013, MCAA annually holds conferences and general assemblies which serve as a platform for discussing topical issues related to its work and networking. A comprehensive overview of MCAA and its diverse activities is presented in article «Analyzing Work from Graduates of the Marie Curie Alumni Association as a Tool for EU Collaboration with National Scientific Expatriate Communities» by Boris Voronin and Andrey Anikeev, published in  journal  «Science Governance and Scientometrics» (Volume 14, issue 4/2019, pp. 504–522, DOI: 10.33873/2686-6706.2019.14-4.504-522).

COVID-19 Restrictions on Mobility Programmes
The closing interactive «Questions and Answers» session moderated by Elena Nasybulina, Lead Expert of the Center for International Projects of ISSEK, allowed the audience to receive clarifications and further information on the topics covered by the agenda. In particular, in response to the request from the audience, the speakers commented on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the limitations on international travel that it had caused for the implementation of researcher mobility programmes. Thus, Andrey Anikeev was hopeful that, in the favorable case, the temporary restrictions would be lifted by the coming fall, allowing scientists to resume face-to-face meetings. He also noted that the pandemic has demonstrated the ability of international teams to effectively collaborate remotely, thanks to the use of modern facilities and shared data banks. Claire Morel, in her turn, stressed that the European Commission had to revise its rules for MSCA Individual Fellowships and to adapt them to the situation, inter alia by making provisions that allowed to extend the already signed contracts.

Workshop participants also asked about the anticipated changes in the EU’s approach to international STI collaboration that will be reflected in the EU’s new framework programme “Horizon Europe” to be launched in 2021. Answering this question, Laurent Bochereau emphasized that “Horizon Europe” will remain fully open to all countries and regions of the world and expressed hope that Russia will become one its most active participants.  

Presentations:

1. Alexey Semin (PDF, 3.13 Мб) 

2. Claire Morel (PDF, 1.23 Мб) 

3.ThierryDevars (PDF, 1.64 Мб) 

4.Katalin ALFÖLDI (PDF, 3.44 Мб) 

5.Boris Voronin (PDF, 2.00 Мб) 

6.Maria_Kotlyar (PDF, 570 Кб) 

7.Dmitry IVANOV (PDF, 21.62 Мб) 

8.Anna Pikalova (PDF, 1.41 Мб)