African scientists could become more likely to be left out of lucrative collaborations with EU researchers from 2013, according to some policy experts.
A mandate for EU research groups to include African partners in projects was dropped from the for EU competitive research grant issued on 9 July. The calls cover 11 themes, including agriculture, water and energy, and are worth 8.1bn euros ($10.2bn). In the FP7 grants for the period 2010–2012, researchers engaged in investigating a number of themes, including fisheries and biotechnology, were required to collaborate with at least one international group from Africa.
Some fear that in the absence of a specific mandate, EU researchers will be unwilling to collaborate with African peers. There are also concerns that the decision could affect calls for grants for to replace the FP7, worth around $100bn.
François Stepman, European co-manager of the , told that without requirements for African collaborations, many EU researchers will be reluctant to work with African scientists, believing it will not help their careers to do so.
"There's a decline [among EU researchers] in trying to include African researchers," Stepman said. Young scientists keen on building careers are more likely to collaborate with US researchers, because this is more likely to lead to publications in international journals, he explained.
Stepman said EU scientists also worry that African researchers can lack the administrative support available in developed countries, leading to challenges in "getting the reports in on time and in getting the finance". He said: "You have to do too much work to get them on board."
The decline in partnerships will affect the ability of scientists to research subjects of mutual interest, including food security and price hikes, climate change, biofuels and genetically modified organisms, he added.
For African scientists, the fallout could be severe. "Many African experts don't have access to research funding from their [own] countries," said Kevin Chika Urama, executive director of the in Nairobi, Kenya. "The EU research funding has been a pivotal avenue to partnership with EU researchers."
"A lot of African issues, such as the needs of the poor in rural areas, are under-researched. Some of these issues are not of interest [to European researchers]," he said, adding that a solution may be for the EU to set up a specific grant programme aimed at African researchers.
The move to drop the mandatory collaboration with Africa from 2013 calls for proposals reflects European political leaders' disquiet about the use of funds outside the EU generally, said Andrew Cherry, co-ordinator for the .
However, Daan du Toit, minister-counsellor for science and technology at the South African Mission to the EU, said the move does not mean fruitful co-operation is not possible.
"All topics of this year's FP7 calls for proposals are open for African participation," he said. "African researchers have to identify which ones are relevant for them, and which are ones where they can add value to the work of the European or international consortia – then participation will follow. In many of the topics in this year's calls, African researchers are well placed to play an important part."
Michael Jennings, a European Commission spokesman for research, innovation and science, said there was a need "to better articulate science and technology capacity-building initiatives" to be supported with "collaborative research activities that can be selected and funded through FP7 and the upcoming Horizon 2020 programme".
Cherry said it remains to be seen how African researchers can participate in Horizon 2020.