In my research institute, there is a fair amount of discussion around wanting to collaborate or create exchanges with other labs, especially outside of the country (we are in Asia). From myself and a few other researchers, we have connections to labs in the US from graduate school and previous research.
On my own initiative, I exchanged interns and research assistants between my lab and one in the states. It was specific on the people we had, such that a student interning in my lab would benefit from going to the lab in the states and vice versa, as we worked on a common project.
The higher-ups want to make some "official" exchange, which may be some asian culture at play. From this, the conversations are always around signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU). For the exchange I worked on, we had specific people and specific goal, so a general Lab to Lab MoU did not seem as relevant as a mutual agreement of what the purpose of the exchange was.
My question is, how important or useful is an MoU, are there pros and cons to this? I don't think it has any legal weight, so does anyone have experience with this type of collaboration and see why it is necessary in an overall scale? Is signing an MoU the only way for an institute to call an exchange 'official'?