Grand Challenges in International Research Cooperation

clasped hands painted with image of globe


RAND Europe conducted a study for the European Commission called "The international dimension of research and innovation cooperation: addressing the 'Grand Challenges' in the global context".

The Grand Challenges (also called societal challenges) identified by the European Union, and addressed within its Horizon 2020 research programme, are: health and wellbeing, food security, transport, energy, climate action, society and security. These research topics have been allocated the equivalent of €31 out of €80 billion over the coming six years.

Major global players, such as the US, India and China, have paid increasing attention to Grand Challenges, which are evidently complex issues of a global scale, typically requiring the involvement of several research units. For example, China’s 12th five-year plan underlined plans for low-carbon and green development as part of its sustainable development strategy; and President Obama encouraged foundations, universities, businesses and humanitarian representatives to engage in the pursuit of the next Grand Challenges for the 21st Century in a speech delivered on April 2013.


The study sought to answer the following questions:

  • What should be the role of the EU in research collaboration on Grand Challenges?
  • On which issues should it compete or collaborate?
  • Which shape should collaboration take?

Expert Workshop

To support the research RAND Europe ran an expert workshop on 3rd April 2014 at the European Commission (EC) in Brussels. The purpose of the workshop was to further define how the US, India, China and the EU can better work together to solve the challenges identified by Horizon 2020.

The opening address was delivered by Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council. Each Grand Challenge was discussed in a separate session of the Workshop.

The workshop gathered more than 20 participants from around Europe. RAND Europe has summarised the workshop and formulated policy recommendations based on its outcome.


  • Certain challenges identified by other nations are not covered by Horizon 2020. These challenges identified by other nations may constitute a basis for further consideration by Horizon 2020. For example, India has identified building education and skills as a strategy challenge and the US has a large programme on space.
  • Horizon 2020 aims to maintain strong relationships with the US. But this should not obscure the building of relationship with emerging economies. Collaboration with emerging economies does not only imply a transfer of knowledge part of a capacity building exercise with these economies, but may also result in learning to help solve some of Europe’s most fundamental challenges.


  • International research collaboration requires researchers with a multidisciplinary and broad skillset. The European Commission needs to support researchers in acquiring such skills at the early stages of doctoral training.
  • The European Commission is also encouraged to agree on strategic research agendas with each partner country and to establish further links with other intergovernmental initiatives aiming to solve societal challenges.
  • Going further, a sound evaluation of the impact of research collaboration would be required in order to assess its broad impact.


Research Team

Cecile Hoareau McGrath
Veronika Horvath
Ben Baruch
Paulina Pankowska
Stijn Hoorens
Hui Lu
Salil Gunashekar
Shelly Culbertson
Joanna Chataway