Brussels, 22 Mar 2005
Technology-related research may not be the first thing that springs to mind when one thinks of Siberia, but for the partners of a new Sixth Framework Programme project, that is exactly the association they are looking to promote.
The SITE project (Siberia, information technologies and Europe) was established under the information society technologies (IST) programme of FP6 in the summer of 2004. Its overarching aim is to increase the number of IST projects that feature partners from a region of the Russian Federation known as the Sibirsky Federal District (SFD), which covers approximately half of Siberia's ten million square kilometre area.
During the Second World War, many industries and research centres were established in SFD, and under Communism the region specialised in military and space-related research. Today, however, a significant proportion of the SFD's 66,000 researchers have turned their technical expertise to information technologies, offering a significant potential for international research collaboration.
Since its launch, the SITE consortium - under the coordination of Singleimage, UK, and including the Association for Engineering Education of Russia and the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) - has already established a network of 56 contact points in SFD. The project aims to provide these individuals with training on the IST programme, so that they in turn can inform and offer support to researchers in the region.
The presence of this network of contact points, along with eight regional promotion centres also set up as part of the project, aims to address one of the main obstacles to Siberian participation in the framework programme: the perceived complexity of EU procedures from the point of view of researchers in SFD.
CORDIS News spoke to one of the project partners - the FFG's Petra Reiter - and asked her what other barriers to EU-Siberian research cooperation the SITE project aims to overcome. 'The lack of awareness in both regions is a real problem,' she said. 'Then there is the question of geographic distance, and also the level of English language training needs improving in Siberia [to facilitate research cooperation].'
One strand of the project's activities in particular goes some way to addressing all of these barriers. By organising EU-Siberian brokerage events at IST-related conferences in the EU (where the SITE project ensures the presence of up to eight SFD researchers at a time with proposals for scientific collaboration), not only is awareness raised on both sides, but personal relationships are also forged that can bridge the great distances that separate researchers from the two regions.
The project has other, more specific targets as well. For example, a database has already been created that allows European researchers to search the profiles of technology-related researchers in Siberia, and the consortium aims to add significantly to the 320 profiles added to date. The SITE partners also aim to develop a number of formal proposals for upcoming calls under the IST programme. 'We are aiming for around ten proposals, and realistically we might hope for two or three successful projects as a result, but of course it is very hard to say,' explained Ms Reiter.
Asked whether the success of the project would be judged on the number of successful proposals that emerge from their activities, Ms Reiter responded: 'In reality, the capacity building is the most important element, but the proposals are also important for generating success stories and demonstrating the genuine opportunities that exist for collaboration.'
Ultimately, Ms Reiter believes that scientists in both regions would benefit greatly from increased levels of collaboration. For European researchers, Siberia represents an as-yet untapped pool of technological expertise that can add significant value to collaborative ventures. For scientists in the SFD, participation in EU programmes will acquaint them with the process of formal proposal submission and offer significant professional rewards. 'And ultimately,' concluded Ms Reiter, 'the experience will build trust between researchers in the EU and Russia, which can only be a positive thing.'
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