MIT Seeks To Grow Its Research Abroad

In Singapore, a Foreign Government Funds Millions of Dollars of MIT Research

In its 2009 accreditation self-study, MIT identified global engagement as one of the top priorities in the coming years. Unlike some others, this initiative has remained untouched by the need for fiscal moderation.

Vice President for Research and Associate Provost Claude R. Canizares explained that the economic downturn has “not really affected” MIT’s international research partnerships because the system is largely “self-supporting.” Foundations and foreign entities typically provide the start-up costs.

The Singapore-MIT Model

The Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA), which has endured since 1998, serves as a prime example of this system. According to Canizares, “the National Research Foundation of Singapore funded this alliance” since they were “keen” to harness the capabilities of MIT, particularly “in the areas of environmental monitoring and testing.”

Over the past 10 years, the program has expanded to fields such as chemical and pharmaceutical engineering and computation and systems biology.

Canizares said, “MIT tries to make sure they pay for themselves, but there is always overhead and legal costs.”

Frequently, the management of international activities places burdens on MIT’s administration, because administrative costs are higher for international activities.

Benefits to MIT

In 2007–2008, SMA generated about $4 million in revenue for MIT. In fact, “international collaborations with foreign governments” was listed as one means of revenue enhancement the Institute Planning Task Force. Potential revenue was estimated in the range of tens of millions of dollars.

Canizares said that it is highly unlikely that MIT will adopt that particular strategy. He believes, “We should be carefully gaining international engagements, not doing it solely for profit. It would be a case of having one’s cake and eating it, too.” The ideal collaboration would be one where the research interests of the partner match those of MIT and which requires no financial outlay.

Potential Partners

For developing countries, pursuing an alliance with MIT could be cost-prohibitive (especially with price tags around $20 million as with SMA.) Canizares confirmed that MIT’s emphasis on minimal costs does not completely preclude partnerships with those who cannot pay. MIT would have “different motives” for establishing partnerships with those groups, so the financial outlay would not prove a deterrent. In these cases, MIT would also attempt to secure a donor or foundation funding.

According to the accreditation self-study, overtures from other nations have thus far triggered most of MIT’s international partnerships. But with a heightened awareness of the need for collaboration, MIT plans to become more proactive in seeking out partners.