Speaking at the Royal Academy of Engineering, Mr Macdonald said that as emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil increase their investment in science and innovation, opportunities for the UK to improve its own global competitiveness through collaboration also increase.

At the PolicyNet event titled, What can UK policy makers learn from emerging economies that are investing heavily in science and engineering?, Mr Macdonald said: "Knowledge is increasingly developed and transferred through international collaboration. The UK has much to offer – excellent research and higher education – but we are also keen to learn and collaborate with others." UK policy development is often informed by identifying good practice internationally, he said.

Also speaking at the event, Sam Myers, Science and Innovation Counsellor at the British Embassy in Beijing, gave insights from an insider’s perspective of an emerging economy.

Mr Myers described ways in which global partnerships are created, listing initiatives such as joint research programmes, exchange programmes for students and researchers, university links, company research and development centres and commercial joint ventures, plus global prizes such as the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.

Mr Myers’ speech highlighted the challenges of keeping up to date amid the rapid evolution of research and innovation policies and opportunities in emerging economies. "The scale and pace of change in China in both research and innovation, and the policies and systems which underpin them, is breathtaking. Widely held perceptions, such as those relating to research quality and intellectual property, are often out of date. Developing a range of long-term relationships and networks is the only way of staying ahead of the curve to spot emerging opportunities, and this is where the UK’s Science and Innovation Network and Research Council UK offices, based in British Embassies and High Commissions around the world, are able to offer advice and practical support."

Both speakers in the debate, chaired by the Academy’s Head of International Activities, Shane McHugh, agreed on the need to maintain UK’s position as a leader in science and engineering by focusing on the development of win-win international collaborations.