There is no specific policy document on international collaboration in science, technology and innovations in Belarus. However, the key documents and programmes, e.g. the Programme of Social and Economic Development of the Republic of Belarus for 2011-2015 approved by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus № 136 of 11 April 2011, State Programme of Innovative Development of the Republic of Belarus for 2011-2015 approved by the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus № 669 of 26 May 2011, etc. emphasise the role it should play in supporting the implementation of priority projects of public value, promotion of domestic S&T products in the global market, training personnel and developing the national S&T potential, as well as in bringing investments into the national economy and science, including FDI, grants, loans, etc. And this is not just a declaration: international S&T cooperation has got the special line in the state budget and gets 3-4% of budget spending for R&D annually.
Following the principle “we cooperate with those who are willing to cooperate with us”, Belarus has got over 45 bi- and multilateral agreements on the governmental level on cooperation in S&T or, more widely, on economic collaboration, which S&T are integral parts thereof. They’ve covered almost half of the EU member states (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and also UK), as well as Macedonia and Serbia in the Balkans. In the Mediterranean, the agreements have been concluded with Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Libya and Syria. Also, Belarus has got a legal basis for cooperation with such countries as China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Venezuela, as well as with industrialised countries like Japan, South Korea and United States.
In the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, or CIS, Belarus has got governmental agreements with Armenia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Ukraine. Historically, collaboration with Russia is characterised by the higher indices, e.g. 55% of the NAS’s international projects are carried out with Russia (followed by Germany and China with 9% and 8% accordingly, 2010). In addition to numerous bi-lateral projects carried out with Russia using traditional schemes (inter-ministerial bi-annual S&T programmes, joint calls of foundations for basic research, inter-academic exchanges, etc), there is an instrument called “programmes of the Union State of Belarus and Russia” funded from the joint budget. Since 1998, it has become one of the key instruments for supporting Belarus-Russia S&T cooperation in such areas as supercomputers, biotechnology, space, laser technologies, machinery building, etc. One of the most successful examples is the family of programmes for developing supercomputers – “SKIF” (2000-2004), “TRIADA” (2005-2008) and “SKIF-GRID (2007-2010) - with its follow-up, “ORBISS” (2012-2015) which will result in developing the branch Belarusian-Russian infrastructure of supercomputer services.
Having no official contacts to the US currently, as well as no agreements with Canada and some other industrialised economies, Belarus tries to diversify its collaborations and expands contacts with China, South Korea, India, Mediterranean region, Latin America (Argentina, Venezuela) and Arabic countries.
The number of agreements and direct contracts at the institutional level in Belarus is hard to estimate, as there is no unique source for such kind of information, while appropriations may give wrong results due to different level of international activity of institutions. Annually, ar. 450 international S&T projects are implemented in Belarus.
Part of these projects is being implemented through bi-annual programmes within the framework of bi-lateral cooperation agreements in science and technology between Belarus and its partners. Usually, each party funds its own participants. Belarusian partners of these programmes are funded by the State Committee for Science and Technology and/or Belarusian Republican Foundation for Fundamental Research. Traditionally, joint R&D projects are supported, as well as organization of joint scientific events. By 2011, Belarus has got such cooperation programmes with neighbouring Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, as well as with Moldova, Kazakhstan, Serbia, China, India and Venezuela.
To support bi-lateral S&T cooperation with the neighbouring countries (Russia, Latvia) and strategic partners (China, South Korea, Kazakhstan, Venezuela) several bi-lateral centres have been set up. Most of them are hosted by the Scientific and Technological Park “Polytechnik” at Belarusian National Technical University. Belarus – South Korea centre is located in the National Academy of Sciences.
International S&T cooperation and implementation of bi- and multilateral S&T projects in particular is supported by the Government of Belarus: annually, 3-4% of the total expenditures for R&D go to these purposes. The financial profit is evident: on average, the foreign sources give 5-7% of the total R&D funding in the country. Due to the strong pressure on research teams to commercialize the results of their R&D activities and increase international collaboration on one hand and decrease of the national sources of financing on the other, in 2010, the share of foreign sources in the total expenditures for R&D reached 13,8%.
Belarus — EU cooperation
Belarus, while covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy, does not participate fully in it. The principal objectives of EU cooperation with Belarus defined in the Country Strategy Paper (2007-2013) are to support the needs of the population, to directly and indirectly support democratisation, and to mitigate the effects of the isolation of Belarus on its population. The National Indicative Programme for 2007-2011 translates these objectives into two priority areas: i) Social and economic development, including actions to alleviate the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe, and ii) Democratic development and good governance. Obviously, the room for developing cooperation in science, technology and innovation within these priorities is quite limited. For the period 2007-2011, a total of EUR 46.07 million has been allocated to Belarus.
Belarus cooperates with EU mainly using the two big instruments – International Science and Technology Center (ISTC) and EU 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7).
ISTC is an intergovernmental organization founded by the European Union, Japan, Russia and the United States in November 1992. Its operations began in March 1994. Currently, the total number of member countries in ISTC is 39. Within its goals to provide weapons experts in the CIS the opportunity to redirect their talents to peaceful activities, contribute to the solution of national and international science and technology problems, reinforce the transition to market economies and promote integration of CIS scientists into global scientific community, the ISTC has funded 2,702 projects, totaling 836.5 mln USD (as of January 2010). In these projects, over 73,000 scientists from CIS have recieved grants.
The complete list of Belarusian projects and/or projects with Belarus participation supported by ISTC is avalaible at http://www.istc.ru/istc/db/projects.nsf/site-all-by-number-new?OpenView&start=1&count=20&category=B&lang=Eng.
In 2004, the first and up until now unique joint laboratory in Belarus was created with the support of ISTC: efforts of the Fraunhofer Society, Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing (IZFP), Saarbruecken/Dresden, Germany, National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and its Institute of Physics have been united for joint R&D in optical diagnostics. The joint Fraunhofer-Stepanov laboratory is based in the B.I. Stepanov’s Institute of Physics, Minsk.
Due to the decision of the Russian Federation to withdraw from the ISTC, the year 2011 seems to be dramatic for its future. The Governing Board will be taking important decisions to rebalance ISTC efforts among the parties as the Center begins ramping down its operations in the Russia. This may significantly decrease opportunities of international S&T cooperation for Belarus in the nearest future.
The doors to EU Framework Programmes are opened for Belarus since 2002. By November 2011, Belarus participated in 204 applications to the FP7 that resulted in 31 projects. Total EC contribution is approximately 1.84 mln EUR (for the contracts concluded before November 2011). The most successful programs are Information and Communication Technologies, Research Infrastructure, International Cooperation, Health, Social Science and Humanities, as well as some schemes of the People Programme (International Research Staff Exchange Scheme).
EU-Belarus Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is not in force that is a substantial barrier not only for developing official contacts but also for supporting initiatives at the national level aimed at expanding cooperation with EU, e.g. national system of FP7 contact points, support for proposers, etc. (FP7 projects with Belarus beneficiaries, by August 2013).
Belarus National Information Point for EU Framework Programmes was created in 2004 within the INTAS project. It works under the aegis of the State Committee for Science and Technology and is hosted by the Belarusian Institute of System Analysis and Information Support of S&T Sphere. With FP7 start, the national NCP system has been elaborated more or less similar structurally to EU member states. In 2011, it includes 10 thematic and 5 horizontal contacts based in different R&D centres and universities in Minsk.
European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) enables Belarus to be a part of 3 cross-border cooperation programmes – Poland-Belarus-Ukraine, Lithuania-Latvia-Belarus and Baltic Sea Region. In general, ENPI‘s focus in Belarus gives a limited room for S&T cooperation with a bit more of opportunities in innovations. Support to innovations in the field of natural and technical science (but also to selected non-technical services), linkage of innovations to SMEs, and transnational transfer of technology and knowledge is one of the priorities of the Baltic Sea Programme within which currently 5 S&T-related projects are being implemented with the total budget for Belarusians of 620.000 EUR.
ERASMUS MUNDUS becomes more and more popular in Belarus, however it is still considered to be a new tool. In 2004-2011, 39 Master students and 4 Erasmus Mundus scholars have been supported. 4 scholarships were awarded for European Integration Studies at European Universities and 8 scholarships – for studies in the College of Europe. Belarus also participated in the Erasmus Mundus Action II/External Cooperation Window between 2007 and 2009 (5.3 mln EUR, 48 months). The partnership in the programme of the 2 Belarusian universities – Belarusian State University (Minsk) and Brest State University — gives their applicants more chances to be supported comparing to those students who study in non-partner universities. For the latter the success rate in the last call was extremely low (1:90).
More information about EU-Belarus S&T cooperation is available in the incrEAST portal.
Belarus has made important efforts in creating institutional relations with foreign partners but a continuing attention in this area is required. International mobility of Belarusian researchers and, in particular, young scientists is low. This hampers creation of “a critical mass” of internationally active researchers, as well as knowledge and best practices exchange and developing personal networks that may result in joint projects. The picture differs from area to area with a much better situation in ICT comparing to, say, life sciences, engineering and humanities. At the same time, permanent migration of scientists abroad may have negative implications for domestic scientific capabilities. Policies should recognise this potential downside and adopt measures that on balance increase the benefit of international mobility.
- funding the R&D of a Belarusian partner within a bi-lateral project which is included in a bi-lateral programme of cooperation in science and technology between Belarus and some foreign countries;
- co-funding participation of R&D organisations in international S&T exhibitions in the country and abroad.
Belarus should diversify its instruments for promoting the international collaboration beyond the support for joint research. Such instruments could cover international publications and patenting, proposal drafting, project-based mobility, networking, as well as information and consulting services aimed at promotion of international cooperation, and also dedicated structures. Recently, Belarus made a first step towards identification of its scientific “diaspora” and developing special instruments for enlarging its international cooperation in science, technology and innovation with involvement of researchers – expatriates.
Reduced international support for S&T cooperation with Belarus by some countries and organizations calls R&D players for more intensive and sustainable activities in promoting themselves globally. The National Science Portal contributes to that by promoting the most prominent Belarusian researchers in the Section “WHO IS WHO in Belarusian science”.