The importance of face-to-face meetings for international collaboration: a statement by Simon Wagner and THE, speaking out against US-China policies on collaborations
That increase, and the high quality of the country’s domestic publications, means that international collaboration might be becoming less necessary. The need for collaboration in some fields might diminish as China makes more progress. “They have enough options within the country to produce good partners.”
Earlier this year, Simon resigned from his job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in protest against what he saw as the university’s restrictive policies on Chinese collaborations. He told Times Higher Education (THE) that he had faced undue bureaucracy when organizing research trips to China, had been stopped from taking students to visit the country, and that the university had tried to shut down an informal policy discussion that he had arranged between colleagues and Chinese embassy staff. The university would not comment on personnel matters, but told THE that it had had a “steadfast commitment to maintaining the integrity of research” and “take[s] very seriously legitimate concerns about the need to safeguard US academic research from improper foreign influence”.
Both Wagner and Freeman also noticed a pre-pandemic drop — particularly in US–China collaboration — in their own research, which uses much larger databases than the Nature Index.
The Ministry of Education,Culture, Sports, Science and Technology published a report in August stating that the amount of research articles co-authored by scientists in the two countries had fallen in 2021, the first annual drop since 1993. Data from the Nature Index shows that the propensity to collaborate internationally has waned for China-based scientists.
Despite the growth of virtual collaboration, face-to-face meetings are still very important for bringing researchers together in the first place. “My research shows that 90% of international collaborations begin face-to-face, when people meet at conferences, research centres, or during visiting professorships,” she says. Any partnerships start almost completely.
China’s scientific relations with the West during the 2008-2009 pandemic: a rekindling of the dialogue between the US and China
The Chinese Scholarship Council, a non-profit organization run by the Chinese Ministry of Education, which pays for many Chinese academics to spend time as visiting scholars abroad, also paused funding during the pandemic, says Shu. There will be time for the number of Chinese scholars to recover.
Denis Simon, a former executive vice-chancellor of Duke Kunshan University in China, said that the trend began prior to the swine flu epidemic.
China’s ties with low- and middle-income countries are stronger because it is aligning its science links with them as a part of its Belt and Road Initiative. There are many reasons for China to boost science in LMICs and it could be done with more research funding.
There are two parallel scientific systems, one centred on North America and Europe and the other on China. Climate change, poverty and eradication are three of the biggest challenges facing humanity, embodied in the United Nations sustainable development goals. Creating competing systems for advancement and implementing solutions is how approaching them can slow down progress. It’s a scenario that the research community must be more aware of and work to avoid.
China has been working with Europe. Officials, including Hou Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, toured the continent last month in a bid to improve ties.
There are some signs that such a divergence will not occur, and that scientific dialogue between China and the West is beginning to be rekindled. This month, the US president and his Chinese counterpart met for the first time in a long time, and it seems that a constructive approach to relations is returning. It took place in California, a state that in October signed a world-first agreement between a sub-national government and China with the aim of deepening collaboration on climate research and policy.