Circulation of knowledge: what impacts for the research landscape and its actors?
The case of the Atlas mobility program in the MENA region
Article by Alexandra Duperray, following the Virtual Summit on Impact
For several years, "Capacity building" has been part of the European strategy, particularly through its European programs, such as Erasmus+ in the field of higher education. The objective is to strengthen international cooperation with the EU's neighboring countries and third countries by promoting the modernization, accessibility and internationalization of university systems. With its partners (embassies, foundations, international research centers, and French research centers abroad), the FMSH created in 2015 a program dedicated to the postdoctoral mobility of researchers. Based on non-thematic calls for applications and short-term research stays, this flexible framework aims at strengthening the capacities of the local research institutions hosting the laureates. Each year, about 50 French and foreign postdoctoral fellows conduct a 2 or 3-month research fieldwork on the basis of an individual project in humanities and social sciences, in France and abroad (the Atlas program of incoming and outgoing mobility covers a total of 91 countries). In the MENA region, the FMSH relies on a strong partnership strategy with the Arab council for the social sciences (ACSS), the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED), the Institut français du Proche-Orient, and the Centre français de recherche de la péninsule arabique.
Six years after the creation of this program, how can the impact be evaluated: what innovations have been implemented and what changes can be observed in the research centers (in France and abroad) as well as in the careers of researchers?
By targeting postdoctoral students, the FMSH chose to support young scholars at a crucial moment: after the supervision of the PhD and the beginning of their career. The researcher's mobility in a foreign research center is at this stage a real springboard. Indeed, for the researcher, the impact analysis of the Atlas program, carried out among 83 laureates and 21 French research centers, shows that international mobility has allowed researchers, and in particular Arab scholars invited in a French research center, to widen their scientific knowledge (especially in interdisciplinary fields), and to acquire new working and research methods. By improving their expertise, they better integrate into the academic and professional networks. The French and international research institutions that host a foreign scholar, see their research teams develop new areas of research, and develop new collaborations and projects, which enhance their internationalization. These partnership projects will give the opportunity to institutions to build new relations with foreign higher education institutions, or to strengthen them when they already exist. The communities of researchers that result from this cooperation contribute to the development of countries where research may be poorly funded. As Safwan Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development, Columbia University, points out, capacity building is a process that takes time: "a process by infusion, by osmosis" (Virtual Summit on Impact November 18, 2020). According to him, "knowledge starts emanating from the region and gets transformed into policy". By enhancing their capacities, local institutions will be the vectors of change in the research landscape and will drive the economic and social transformation of their regions.
Following the Virtual Summit on Impact and as a continuation of its funding programs, the FMSH will go further by integrating the Atlas mobility program into a broader network enabling other local institutions in social sciences and humanities in the MENA region to work on a common agenda and drive change in their regions.
Alexandra Duperray is Coordinator at the International department of the Fondation Maison des sciences de l’homme. She coordinated the organization of the fifth session The impact of capacity building initiatives on the next generation of young scholars, universities, and economic development of MENA region.
About the Virtual Summit on Impact
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