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20 years of international partnerships

20 years of international partnerships - 30 January 2014. Ingram Publishing
Highlights from: 20 years of bioscience

BBSRC has supported world-leading bioscience for over two decades. In a series of articles during its 20th anniversary, we will be exploring a variety of ways that BBSRC helps to deliver impact from research. In this article we look at international partnerships.

The importance of international partnerships

International engagement offers significant benefits to BBSRC and the UK's bioscience community. It enables UK researchers to work with overseas partners in many ways including working towards solving global grand challenges and within multinational programmes such as ERA-Nets. BBSRC develops joint calls with international partners in strategically important areas and provides schemes that enable existing grant holders to develop new partnerships and to access specialist facilities.

Working with international partners enables BBSRC to leverage funding, reduce risk, expand industrial links and increase the impact of funded research. Additional drivers for international collaboration include: implementing UK Foreign Policy, science for diplomacy and increased trade and investment.

How has BBSRC contributed over the last 20 years?

BBSRC has made positive contributions to the increase in internationalisation of research activity across the globe, embedding international partnerships across the development of strategic priorities and their delivery through research and other mechanisms. BBSRC has benefitted from strengthening relations with USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but is now also working with emerging bioeconomies in Brazil, China, India and Taiwan through new funding partnerships. Together with the Medical Research Council (MRC), BBSRC contributes the UK finances to the Human Frontiers Science Program (HFSP) and the European Molecular Biology Organization.

In Europe, BSBRC has assisted the UK in maintaining a lead role in the development of EU Framework Programmes and now Horizon 2020 through management of the UK Research Office (UKRO) in Brussels, and ensured opportunities exist for the UK bioscience community through funding and infrastructure development in key topics, access to joint funding with partner organisations, and committing BBSRC to the realisation of the European Research Area through Joint Programming.

Increased agricultural productivity and food security make significant differences to the lives of poor people in Africa and Asia. BBSRC has worked with the Department of International Development (DFID) and other important partners to promote biotechnology and biological sciences research that addresses the agricultural challenges in developing countries.

What has changed and how has BBSRC influenced this?

Since 1994, BBSRC has continued to develop mutually beneficial partnerships with its overseas counterparts to promote and support collaborations between UK and overseas researchers. Additionally, the development of corporate partnerships has contributed significantly to positioning BBSRC and the UK as a partner of choice for research in the life sciences.

Recent years have seen an increasingly strategic approach to supporting international partnerships. The establishment of overseas teams based in China, the USA and India in 2007/08 facilitated a step-change in BBSRC's relationship with its overseas counterparts, enabling proactive engagement which has resulted in increasing levels of collaboration and the development of high quality joint funded research programmes.

BBSRC's strategic priorities reflect the need to provide solutions to major challenges facing humankind such as food and energy security and lifelong health and wellbeing. Recognising that these global challenges cannot be solved in isolation, BBSRC is adopting a proactive approach, establishing global research programmes in areas that build on the existing strength of the UK biosciences community e.g. sustainable agriculture.

International working is now fully integrated in to day-to-day business throughout BBSRC with opportunities for the UK research community to collaborate with their overseas counterparts developed across BBSRC's remit.


  • 1984: UK Research Office (UKRO) established in Brussels by Research Councils UK. UKRO is managed by BBSRC
  • 1994: BBSRC signs its first Memorandum of Understanding with South Korea
  • 1994: 4th European Framework Programme launched (€13.22Bn)
  • 1998: BBSRC initiates joint working with DBT, India
  • 1998: 5th European Framework Programme launched (€14.96Bn)
  • 2000: BBSRC launches first International Partnering Award Scheme with Japan
  • 2000: BBSRC initiates joint working with NNSFC, China
  • 2002: BBSRC joins MRC in funding the UK subscription to the Human Frontier Science Program, the only funding scheme operating at a global level that enables researchers from across a wide range of countries to submit proposals
  • 2002: 6th European Framework Programme launched (€17.88Bn)
  • 2004: Launch of ERA-Plant Genomics, the first ERA-Net BBSRC was involved in
  • 2004: BBSRC joins MRC in funding the UK subscription to the European Molecular Biology Organisation
  • 2007: RCUK Office established in China
  • 2007: RCUK Office established in US
  • 2007: 7th European Framework Programme launched (€50.52Bn)
  • 2008: RCUK Office established in India
  • 2008: First joint call with DFID launched 'Sustainable Agriculture for International Development (SARID)'
  • 2009: BBSRC signs Lead Agency Agreement with FAPESP Brazil enabling UK and Brazilian researchers to submit joint applications to BBSRC' s funding mechanisms
  • 2010: Launch of Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change Joint Programming Initiative (FACCE-JPI). A UK-France led initiative with brings together 21 European Countries
  • 2011: Launch of Wheat Initiative
  • 2011: Launch of ERA-CAPS
  • 2012/13: BBSRC launches 3 joint funded research calls with DBT India in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy, animal health and disease and crop improvement
  • 2013: ELIXIR, the European Life Science Infrastructure for Biological Information hub opened
  • 2014: Launch of Horizon 2020 (€78.6Bn)

What does the future look like?

BBSRC is refreshing its international strategy, which will lead to new opportunities for international working in priority areas identified in the Strategic Plan. New lead agency procedures will be established with key partner agencies to enable joint, collaborative, research proposals to be submitted under a single peer review process.

BBSRC is seeking to build on the UK's world-leading bioscience research in strategically important areas. In 'Agriculture and Food Security' BBSRC is coordinating international programmes to deliver transformative research, increased research capability and real benefits in terms of increased agricultural yields and/or lower inputs.


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