The CNRS is a key actor in international science. CNRS teams collaborate throughout the world with the best laboratories, and high-level foreign researchers join the organisation each year. Such cooperation, based on complementarity and healthy competition, ensures the continued advancement of research excellence in an effort to meet the global challenges of the 21st century.

A player in global science

World-class advantages

Successful cooperation between the CNRS and its international partners has led to a number of groundbreaking discoveries. The advantages offered by the organisation make its researchers partners of choice for important international projects.

  • expert researchers and engineers recognised for their excellence;
  • dense scientific networks and structured cooperation, including with industrial actors;
  • recognised expertise in managing research infrastructure and coordinating international teams;
  • capacity to make long-term commitments.

Exchanging ideas for the global dissemination of science

The CNRS is strongly committed to international scientific exchange. It is the world leader in terms of publications, 60% of which involve at least one foreign laboratory. Its top three partners are the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. These joint papers strengthen the visibility and reputation of the CNRS. They are a sign of excellence and testify to the influence of French science.

For someone who is passionate about robotics like myself, it was natural to spend time working in Japan. International cooperation generates unique exchanges between scientists: we are spurred by a desire to understand one another, and stimulated by our many differences. This has inspired my research over the past ten years !
Adberrahmane Kheddar, Director of the Joint Robotics Laboratory international joint unit

Mobility of borderless talents

The CNRS is highly attractive to young French scientists, and in particular PhD students and postdoctoral fellows. The quality of the positions it offers and extensive research freedom also draw foreign talents who take the competitive entrance examinations. Researchers are highly mobile, travelling regularly to attend international conferences, conduct research in partner laboratories, or access field research sites. The organisation has set up a number of mechanisms to promote both incoming and outgoing mobility, for periods ranging from a few days to a few years.

“Brains in circulation”

They come to work in French laboratories : nearly 4,000 researchers, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows come from outside of France, as did 34% of the researchers recruited in 2016.

They leave for assignments in the best laboratories abroad : approximately 60,000 personnel are assigned to joint research units abroad each year.

2016 data

Attractive cooperation tools

The CNRS has set up structured cooperation mechanisms to strengthen its presence worldwide. These include in particular 80 international research laboratories that offer a long-term perspective to the organisation’s activity. The reputation of its researchers has enabled the CNRS to step up exchanges with foreign partners in the form of publications in scientific journals, missions abroad, and international conferences.

Partnerships suited to researchers’ needs

The CNRS relies on flexibility to adapt to the evolution of global science and the needs of researchers and engineers. Bilateral agreements, concluded with partner countries and their main research and financing institutions, offer many possibilities for collaboration. Various mechanisms enable researchers to engage in long-term scientific cooperation, or to create international research networks for projects bringing together teams from different countries. Higher-education and research institution partners can benefit from these mechanisms.

Optimal research conditions

Bâtiment néoclassique face à une pelouse arborée
Killian Court, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. © flickr commons

“Thanks to a partnership with the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), located in Cambridge in the United States, we are co-directing ambitious research programmes focusing on materials such as cement and shale. Significant industry financing, cutting-edge innovation projects, top-level American and French PhD students and postdoctoral fellows make ideal conditions for conducting research at the highest level.”

Roland Pellenq, Director of the <MSE>2 international joint unit (matériaux multi-échelles pour l’énergie et l’environnement) CNRS/MIT/Aix-Marseille Université.

Laboratories throughout the world

The CNRS is one of the world’s few research institutions to establish lasting joint research structures abroad. The 80 international research laboratories (IRL), which are genuine laboratories located within partner universities, bring together researchers, students, postdoctoral fellows, engineers, and technicians from both the CNRS and foreign partner institutions. The CNRS has also set up a network of 26 joint units with a French research institute abroad (Umifre) in the humanities and social sciences, directed in partnership with the European and Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Of the 80 international research laboratories, 4 are in partnership with industry in connection with innovation programmes. These collaborations, located in global innovation hubs, create a working environment that is highly conducive to the emergence of latest-generation technologies.

  • In Singapore, the Cintra IRL in partnership with the aerospace, defence, security and ground transport giant Thales, conducts research on nanotechnologies, electronics, and photonics of the future, along with their associated applications.
  • In Shanghai, the E2P2L IRL with Solvay, a major actor in global chemistry, focuses on green chemistry.
  • In Tsukuba, Japan, the Link IRLI with Saint-Gobain, global leader in housing solutions, concentrates on innovative materials and key structures.
  • In Pennsylvania, US, the Compass IRL with Solvay carries out research on the creation, manipulation, and comprehension of soft matter.

The French school of mathematics in Brazil

Arthur Avila lors de la biennale de maths à Rio
Artur Ávila, during the Rio de Janeiro Mathematics Biennial in 2017. © IMPA

In Rio de Janeiro, the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (CNRS-IMPA) brings together 50 researchers in the discipline. The IRL, which was created within the framework of the French-Brazilian mathematics network, stands out in at least three areas of excellence: dynamic systems, partial differential equations, and geometry. The mathematician Artur Ávila, winner of the 2014 Fields medal, embodies the long-standing French-Brazilian tradition of detecting young talent.

French scientists can join the UMI on one-year secondments from their institutions of origin. This possibility is available to both CNRS researchers and academics in French universities.

Steering international policy

The international policy of the CNRS favours a “bottom-up” approach, which is necessary in research dynamics. Cooperation originates in the field, and stems from the interest of researchers and their teams in the laboratories. The institution provides added value by assisting researchers and being receptive to their needs, in an effort to help them develop their projects through mechanisms aimed at structuring and strenghtening collaborations.

Science at the heart of international action

Steering cooperation on multiple levels

The CNRS Research Office steers the organisation’s foreign activity through the ten CNRS institutes. The latter identify the scientific projects with the greatest potential for establishing dynamic partnerships with various European and global research players. Scientific advisers at each of the ten Institutes monitor this cooperation, with a network of dedicated representatives occasionally taking over in the field.


Worldwide collaboration enables scientific teams to raise the bar. Research that is not global simply does not exist.
Antoine Petit, CNRS President

DERCI: gateway for institutional partnerships

The European Research and International Cooperation Department (DERCI) implements the CNRS’s international and European policy. Whether for French or foreign institutional partners, it is the gateway for operations conducted both within the European Research Area and throughout the world. The DERCI’s three primary missions are to establish win-win partnerships in accordance with scientific and geographical priorities, increase the visibility and attractiveness of the CNRS, and promote dialogue with academic partners.

An active presence in the field

A network of offices abroad

The CNRS manages a network of offices located at key global scientific hubs: Brussels, Washington, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Beijing, Singapore, New Delhi, and Pretoria—so many strategic locations for promoting scientific excellence. This network provides support to expatriate researchers or those on assignment, and also oversees scientific cooperation agreements. The offices play a role in monitoring and facilitating relations with foreign partners, alongside the scientific and cultural services of embassies.  

A branch office at the European Union

The CNRS branch office in Brussels strengthens the organisation’s position as a key player in European scientific policy. The CNRS helps researchers participate in European programmes, making its voice heard with EU institutions. It is also involved in the influential governing bodies of French research (Science Europe, the Club of associated research organisations (CLORA), etc.).

The CNRS firmly established in Singapore

Visite de l'Umi Cintra à Singapour
The Cintra international joint unit in Singapore brings together the CNRS Institute for Engineering and Systems Sciences, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and the company Thales, a global player in the electronics and aeronautics industries. © CNRS Singapore

With four UMIs and a regional office on location, the CNRS presence has grown in Singapore, a country that is experiencing tremendous scientific growth. From massive investments and cutting-edge infrastructure to international research centers and scientists of excellence, the city-state is an emblematic site for the scientific and technological vitality of Asia. It hosts active research in practically all fields, including engineering, information sciences, chemistry-materials-nanotechnology and the living world, as well as finance and society. This impressive dynamism in a restricted space favours partnerships and interdisciplinarity. In this stimulating environment, the CNRS supports basic research at the highest level.

The Europe of research, a CNRS priority

The leading public research organisation, the CNRS is a major actor in the European Research Area.

A key role in the European Research Area

The CNRS is mobilising for the Horizon 2020 programme

The Treaty of Lisbon (2009) set the goal of creating a European Research Area (ERA) (art. 179 TFUE). To meet its target of building a knowledge-based society, Europe relies on innovation to promote competitiveness, growth, and employment. The CNRS is actively involved in this challenge and has participated in all of the European Commission’s framework programmes for research and development (FP). It is now mobilising for Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research and innovation scheme for 2014-2020, which has three objectives: scientific excellence, industrial innovation, and major societal challenges.

The European priority

For the CNRS, Europe is a priority that translates concretely into the institution’s participation in European calls for proposals, the construction and management of research infrastructures, and the development of European research organisations and networks of influence for research policy. This openness towards Europe is an integral part of the CNRS strategy for promoting both its scientific achievements and attractiveness.

A strong commitment to excellence programmes

European Research Council (ERC) grants

Among excellence programmes, the ERC (European Research Council), which was created in 2007, finances ambitious exploratory research at the frontier of knowledge. Individual grants are given to high-flying scientists across the globe, on the condition that they conduct the research connected to the grant within a European institution. Allocated for a duration of four to five years, ERC grants offer an exceptional opportunity to finance innovative research work that involves risk-taking. They notably allow young researchers to set up teams around their projects. In light of the programme’s selectiveness, being a host institution for ERC grant recipients is a mark of distinction. In 2017, the CNRS launched a dedicated website to assist laureates and enhance their research.

With 440 recipients (2007-2016), the CNRS is the leading beneficiary of ERC grants among European research institutions.
Patick Nédellec, DERCI Director

Learn more about the CNRS and the ERC

Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (AMSC)

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (AMSC), which focus on human resources and promote the careers of researchers in both the academic and non-academic spheres, also receive strong support from the scientific community. With non theme-based programmes, along with researcher training and mobility, they act as a lever for the development of international collaboration between public and private researchers.

Collaborative programmes for major societal challenges

In connection with the Horizon 2020 programme, the CNRS is taking part in collaborative projects focusing on seven major societal challenges — health, bioeconomics, energy, transportation, climate change and resources, inclusive society, security —which no single state can take up alone. 

European financing strengthens the European Union’s global position both in terms of competitiveness and attractiveness. It also stimulates cooperation between researchers from different member states and associated countries. Joining forces in a diversity of approaches makes it possible to reach the critical mass necessary for scientific advances.

Tascmar Programme: promising marine biomolecules

Gorgone octocoralliaire
Gorgonian octocorals, from the Eilat mesophotic coral ecosystem (Israel), are being cultivated and used by the Tascmar European research project. © Erez Shoham & Yehuda Banayahu, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Marine invertebrates (polyps, sponges, etc.) and their microorganisms produce toxins that could be used in medicine, nutrition, and cosmetology. To that effect, Europe is allocating €6.7 million to finance a vast marine biology project called Tascmar. Coordinated by the CNRS, it brings together 110 researchers from 8 countries, as well as 6 industrial partners.

Learn more about Tascmar