‘Hotspots’ and international scientific collaboration

The OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011: Innovation and Growth in Knowledge Economies report was released on 20 September.  While I’ve only seen the summary (which is the source for the first three images below) and an informative entry (‘A Changing Landscape: University hotspots for science and technology‘) in the OECD’s Education Today weblog, it is interesting to see a now common pattern and message emerging in these types of reports, and in a series of like-minded conferences, workshops, and associated reports (e.g. the Royal Society’s excellent Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global Scientific collaboration in the 21st century, March 2011):

(a) relative stasis or decline in the OECD member countries (though they still do dominate, and will for decades to come);

(b) relatively fast growth within the so-called BRIC countries; and

(c) increased international collaboration, both as outcome and as aspiration.

And it is the aspiration for international collaboration that is particularly fascinating to ponder, for these types of scoreboards — analytical benchmarking cum geostrategic reframing exercises really — help produce insights on the evolving ‘lie of the land,’ while also flagging the ideal target spaces (countries, regions, institutions) for prospective future collaboration. National development processes and patterns thus drive change, but they interact in fascinating ways with the international collaborative process, which drives more international collaboration, and on it goes. As Alessandra Colecchia of the OECD puts it:

What does this [the changing landscape, and emerging ‘hotspots’] mean and why is it important? As students and researchers become more mobile, new sets of elite universities outside of the US could materialize. Whether or not we call it the “Banyan” or “Bonsai” League is yet to be determined, but it is clear that OECD countries may no longer have the monopoly on scientific excellence in higher education.

Luckily for us, education is generally not a zero-sum game. When others gain important insights and breakthroughs in science and technology, the entire field benefits. So wherever you are in the world, you can wear your college sweatshirt with pride.

True, though questions remain about the principles/missions/agendas driving international collaboration. For example, there is an ongoing scramble in Europe and North America to link up with research-active Brazilian institutions of higher education; an issue nicely summarized in today’s OBHE story titled ‘Brazil leads the charge from Latin America.’

As noted in the fourth image below (which was extracted from the Royal Society’s Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global Scientific collaboration in the 21st century), the nature of coauthor-based collaboration with Brazil is changing, with some countries edging closer because scholar-to-scholar ties are deepening or thinning. The reconfiguration is most likely deepening from 2008 on as a slew of new policies, programs and projects get promoted and funded in both Brazil and actual or potential partner countries.

Some of the questions that come to my mind, after participating in some workshops where relations with Brazil are discussed include:

  • What values drive these new initiatives to reach out across space into and out of Brazil?
  • What disciplines are factored in (or not), and what types of researchers (junior? senior? elite? emerging?) get supported?
  • What languages are they dependent upon, and what languages will they indirectly promote?
  • Are these international collaboration drives built on the principle of ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link’ (i.e. an exclusive one), or are they attendant to the need for capacity building and longer time horizons for knowledge development?
  • Are these international collaboration drives built upon implicit and explicit principles of reciprocity, or otherwise?
  • What about the territorial dimensions of the development process? Will we see hotspot to ’emerging hotspot’ linkages deepen, or will hotspots be linked up with non-hotspots and if so how, and why? Can an archipelago-like landscape of linked up hotspots ‘serve’ nations/regions/the world, or is it generative of exclusionary developmental tendencies?

These are but a few of many questions to ponder as we observe, and jointly construct, emerging ‘hotspots’ in the global higher education and research landscape.

Kris Olds

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Note: the first three images were extracted from the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011: Innovation and Growth in Knowledge Economies (Sept 2011). The fourth image was extracted from the Royal Society’s Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global Scientific collaboration in the 21st century (March 2011).

Field-specific cultures of international research collaboration

Editors’ note: how can we better understand and map out the phenomenon of international research collaboration, especially in a context where bibliometrics does a patchy job with respect to registering the activities and output of some fields/disciplines? This is one of the questions Dr. Heike Jöns (Department of Geography, Loughborough University, UK) grapples with in this informative guest entry in GlobalHigherEd. The entry draws from Dr. Jöns’ considerable experience studying forms of mobility associated with the globalization of higher education and research.

Dr. Jöns (pictured above) received her PhD at the University of Heidelberg (Germany) and spent two years as a Feodor Lynen Postdoctoral Research Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the University of Nottingham (UK). She is interested in the geographies of science and higher education, with particular emphasis on transnational academic mobility.

Further responses to ‘Understanding international research collaboration in the social sciences and humanities’, and Heike Jöns’ response below, are welcome at any time.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

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The evaluation of research performance at European universities increasingly draws upon quantitative measurements of publication output and citation counts based on databases such as ISI Web of Knowledge, Scopus and Google Scholar (UNESCO 2010). Bibliometric indicators also inform annually published world university rankings such as the Shanghai and Times Higher Education rankings that have become powerful agents in contemporary audit culture despite their methodological limitations. Both league tables introduced field-specific rankings in 2007, differentiating between the natural, life, engineering and social sciences (both rankings), medicine (Shanghai) and the arts and humanities (Times Higher).

But to what extent do bibliometric indicators represent research output and collaborative cultures in different academic fields? This blog entry responds to this important question raised by Kris Olds (2010) in his GlobalHigherEd entry titled ‘Understanding international research collaboration in the social sciences and humanities‘ by discussing recent findings on field-specific research cultures from the perspective of transnational academic mobility and collaboration.

The inadequacy of bibliometric data for capturing research output in the arts and humanities has, for example, been demonstrated by Anssi Paasi’s (2005) study of international publishing spaces. Decisions about the journals that enter the respective databases, their bias towards English-language journals and their neglect of monographs and anthologies that dominate in fields dominated by individual authorship are just a few examples for the reasons of why citation indexes are not able to capture the complexity, place- and language-specificity of scholarship in the arts and humanities. Mapping the international publishing spaces in the sciences, the social sciences and the arts and humanities using ISI Web of Science data in fact suggests that the arts and humanities are less international and even more centred on the United States and Europe than the sciences (Paasi 2005: 781). Based on the analysis of survey data provided by 1,893 visiting researchers in Germany in the period 1954 to 2000, this GlobalHigherEd entry aims to challenge this partial view by revealing the hidden dimensions of international collaboration in the arts and humanities and elaborating on why research output and collaborative cultures vary not only between disciplines but also between different types of research work (for details, see Jöns 2007; 2009).

The visiting researchers under study were funded by the Humboldt Research Fellowship Programme run by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn, Germany). They came to Germany in order to pursue a specific research project at one or more host institutions for about a year. Striking differences in collaborative cultures by academic field and type of research work are revealed by the following three questions:

1. Could the visiting researchers have done their research project also at home or in any other country?

2. To what extent did the visiting researchers write joint publications with colleagues in Germany as a result of their research stay?

3. In which ways did the collaboration between visiting researchers and German colleagues continue after the research stay?

On question 1.

Research projects in the arts and humanities, and particularly those that involved empirical work, were most often tied to the research context in Germany. They were followed by experimental and theoretical projects in engineering and in the natural sciences, which were much more frequently possible in other countries as well (Figure 1).

Figure 1 — Possibility of doing the Humboldt research project in another country than Germany, 1981–2000 (Source: Jöns 2007: 106)

These differences in place-specificity are closely linked to different possibilities for mobilizing visiting researchers on a global scale. For example, the establishment of new research infrastructure in the physical, biological and technical sciences can easily raise scientific interest in a host country, whereas the mobilisation of new visiting researchers in the arts and humanities remains difficult as language skills and cultural knowledge are often necessary for conducting research projects in these fields. This is one reason for why the natural and technical sciences appear to be more international than the arts and humanities.

On question 2.

Joint publications with colleagues in Germany were most frequently written in physics, chemistry, medicine, engineering and the biological sciences that are all dominated by multi-authorship. Individual authorship was more frequent in mathematics and the earth sciences and most popular – but with considerable variations between different subfields – in the arts and humanities. The spectrum ranged from every second economist and social scientist, who wrote joint publications with colleagues in Germany, via roughly one third in language and cultural studies and history and every fifth in law to only every sixth in philosophy. Researchers in the arts and humanities had much more often than their colleagues from the sciences stayed in Germany for study and research prior to the Humboldt research stay (over 95% in the empirical arts and humanities compared to less than 40% in the theoretical technical sciences) as their area of specialisation often required learning the language and studying original sources or local research subjects. They therefore engaged much more closely with German language and culture than natural and technical scientists but due to the great individuality of their work, they produced not only considerably less joint publications than their apparently more international colleagues but their share of joint publications with German colleagues before and after the research stay was fairly similar (Figure 2).

Figure 2 — Joint publications of Humboldt research fellows and colleagues in Germany, 1981–2000 (Source: Jöns 2007: 107)

For these reasons, internationally co-authored publications are not suitable for evaluating the international attractiveness and orientation of different academic fields, particularly because the complexity of different types of research practices in one and the same discipline makes it difficult to establish typical collaborative cultures against which research output and collaborative linkages could be judged.

On question 3.

This is confirmed when examining continued collaboration with colleagues in Germany after the research stay. The frequency of continued collaboration did not vary significantly between disciplines but the nature of these collaborations differed substantially. Whereas regular collaboration in the natural and technical sciences almost certainly implied the publication of multi-authored articles in internationally peer-reviewed journals, continued interaction in the arts and humanities, and to a lesser extent in the social sciences, often involved activities beyond the co-authorship of journal articles. Table 1 documents some of these less well-documented dimensions of international research collaboration, including contributions to German-language scientific journals and book series as well as refereeing for German students, researchers and the funding agencies themselves.



Table 1 — Activities of visiting researchers in Germany after their research stay (in % of Humboldt research fellows 1954-2000; Source: Jöns 2009: 327)

The differences in both place-specificity and potential for co-authorship in different research practices can be explained by their particular spatial ontology. First, different degrees of materiality and immateriality imply varying spatial relations that result in typical patterns of place-specificity and ubiquity of research practices as well as of individual and collective authorship. Due to the corporeality of researchers, all research practices are to some extent physically embedded and localised. However, researchers working with physically embedded material research objects that might not be moved easily, such as archival material, field sites, certain technical equipment, groups of people and events, may be dependent on accessing a particular site or local research context at least once. Those scientists and scholars, who primarily deal with theories and thoughts, are in turn as mobile as the embodiment of these immaterialities (e.g., collaborators, computers, books) allows them to be. Theoretical work in the natural sciences, including, for example, many types of mathematical research, thus appears to be the most ‘ubiquitous’ subject: Its high share of immaterial thought processes compared to relatively few material resources involved in the process of knowledge production (sometimes only pen and paper) would often make it possible, from the perspective of the researchers, to work in a number of different places (Figure 1, above).

Second, the constitutive elements of research vary according to their degree of standardisation. Standardisation results from the work and agreement previously invested in the classification and transformation of research objects. A high degree of standardisation would mean that the research practice relies on many uniform terms, criteria, formulas and data, components and materials, methods, processes and practices that are generally accepted in the particular field of academic work. Field sites, for example, might initially show no signs of standardisation, whereas laboratory equipment such as test tubes may have been manufactured on the basis of previous – and then standardised – considerations and practices. The field site may be unique, highly standardised laboratory equipment may be found at several sites to which the networks of science have been extended, thereby offering greater flexibility in the choice of the research location. In regard to research practices with a higher degree of immateriality, theoretical practices in the natural and technical sciences show a higher degree of standardisation (e.g., in terms of language) when compared to theoretical and argumentative-interpretative work in the arts and humanities and thus are less place-specific and offer more potential for co-authorship (Figures 1 and 2).

The resulting two dimensional matrix on the spatial relations of different research practices accommodates the empirically observed differences of both the place-specificity of the visiting researchers’ projects and their resulting joint publications with colleagues in Germany (Figure 3):

Figure 3 — A two-dimensional matrix on varying spatial relations of different research practices (Source: Jöns 2007: 109)

Empirical work, showing a high degree of materiality and a low degree of standardisation, is most often dependent on one particular site, followed by argumentative-interpretative work, which is characterised by a similar low degree of standardisation but a higher degree of immateriality. Experimental (laboratory) work, showing a high degree of both materiality and standardisation, can often be conducted in several (laboratory) sites, while theoretical work in the natural sciences, involving both a high degree of immateriality and standardisation is most rarely tied to one particular site. The fewest joint publications were written in argumentative-interpretative work, where a large internal (immaterial) research context and a great variety of arguments from different authors in possibly different languages complicate collaboration on a specific topic. Involving an external (material) and highly standardised research context, the highest frequency of co- and multi-authorship was to be found in experimental (laboratory) work. In short, the more immaterial and standardised the research practice, the lower is the place-specificity of one’s work and the easier it would be to work at home or elsewhere; and the more material and standardised the research practice, the more likely is collaboration through co- and multi-authorship.

Based on this work, it can be concluded – in response to two of Kris Olds’ (2010) key questions – that international research collaboration on a global scale can be mapped – if only roughly – for research practices characterised by co- and multi-authorship in internationally peer-reviewed English language journals as the required data is provided by citation databases (e.g., Wagner and Leydesdorff 2005; Adams et al. 2007; Leydesdorff and Persson 2010; Matthiessen et al. 2010; UNESCO 2010). When interpreting such mapping exercises, however, one needs to keep in mind that the data included in ISI Web of Knowledge, Scopus and Google Scholar do itself vary considerably.

Other research practices require different research methods such as surveys and interviews and thus can only be mapped from specific perspectives such as individual institutions or groups of researchers (for the application of bibliometrics to individual journals in the arts and humanities, see Leydesdorff and Salah 2010). It might be possible to create baseline studies that help to judge the type and volume of research output and international collaboration against typical patterns in a field of research but the presented case study has shown that the significance of specific research locations, of individual and collective authorship, and of different types of transnational collaboration varies not only between academic fields but also between research practices that crisscross conventional disciplinary boundaries.

In the everyday reality of departmental research evaluation this means that in fields such as geography, a possible benchmark of three research papers per year may be easily produced in most fields of physical geography and some fields of human geography (e.g. economic and social) whereas the nature of research practices in historical and cultural geography, for example, might make it difficult to maintain such a high research output over a number of subsequent years. Applying standardised criteria of research evaluation to the great diversity of publication and collaboration cultures inevitably bears the danger of leading to a standardisation of academic knowledge production.

Heike Jöns

References

Adams J, Gurney K and Marshall S 2007 Patterns of international collaboration for the UK and leading partners Evidence Ltd., Leeds

Jöns H 2007 Transnational mobility and the spaces of knowledge production: a comparison of global patterns, motivations and collaborations in different academic fields Social Geography 2 97-114  Accessed 23 September 2010

Jöns H 2009 ‘Brain circulation’ and transnational knowledge networks: studying long-term effects of academic mobility to Germany, 1954–2000 Global Networks 9 315-38

Leydesdorff L and Persson O 2010 Mapping the geography of science: distribution patterns and networks of relations among cities and institutes Journal of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 6 1622-1634

Leydesdorff L and Salah A A A 2010 Maps on the basis of the Arts &Humanities Citation Index: the journals Leonardo and Art Journal, and “Digital Humanities” as a topic Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 61 787-801

Matthiessen C W, Schwarz A W and Find S 2010 World cities of scientific knowledge: systems, networks and potential dynamics. An analysis based on bibliometric indicators Urban Studies 47 1879-97

Olds K 2010 Understanding international research collaboration in the social sciences and humanities GlobalHigherEd 20 July 2010  Accessed 23 September 2010

Paasi A 2005 Globalisation, academic capitalism, and the uneven geographies of international journal publishing spaces Environment and Planning A 37 769-89

UNESCO 2010 World Social Science Report: Knowledge Divides UNESCO, Paris

Wagner C S and Leydesdorff L 2005 Mapping the network of global science: comparing international co-authorships from 1990 to 2000 International Journal of Technology and Globalization 1 185–208


Graphic feed: CREATE – an international multi-institution research campus in Singapore/Asia

Source: National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Republic of Singapore.

Note: Further information on the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) is available via the CREATE Project Brief.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5

Note: the image above is a Worldle word cloud of the Executive Summary of Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, a report released today by the US’ National Academies Press.

See this NatureNews story (‘“Gathering Storm” back on the radar‘) for one perspective the report development process and (alarmist) message, as well as below for the official summary description:

In the face of so many daunting near-term challenges, U.S. government and industry are letting the crucial strategic issues of U.S. competitiveness slip below the surface. Five years ago, the National Academies prepared Rising Above the Gathering Storm, a book that cautioned: “Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position.” Since that time we find ourselves in a country where much has changed–and a great deal has not changed.

So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago when the Gathering Storm book was prepared? The unanimous view of the authors is that our nation’s outlook has worsened. The present volume, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited, explores the tipping point America now faces. Addressing America’s competitiveness challenge will require many years if not decades; however, the requisite federal funding of much of that effort is about to terminate.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited provides a snapshot of the work of the government and the private sector in the past five years, analyzing how the original recommendations have or have not been acted upon, what consequences this may have on future competitiveness, and priorities going forward. In addition, readers will find a series of thought- and discussion-provoking factoids–many of them alarming–about the state of science and innovation in America.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited is a wake-up call. To reverse the foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and government officials–at all levels. This book, together with the original Gathering Storm volume, provides the roadmap to meet that goal. While this book is essential for policy makers, anyone concerned with the future of innovation, competitiveness, and the standard of living in the United States will find this book an ideal tool for engaging their government representatives, peers, and community about this momentous issue.

Are we witnessing a key moment in the reworking of the global higher education & research landscape?

ACEissuebriefOver the last several weeks more questions about the changing nature of the relative position of national higher education and research systems have emerged.  These questions have often been framed around the notion that the US higher education system (assuming there is one system) might be in relative decline, that flagship UK universities (national champions?) like Oxford are unable to face challenges given the constraints facing them, and that universities from ’emerging’ regions (East and South Asia, in particular) are ‘rising’ due to the impact of continual or increasing investment in higher education and research.

Select examples of such contributions include this series in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

and these articles associated with the much debated THE-QS World University Rankings 2009:

EvidenceUKcoverThe above articles and graphics in US and UK higher education media outlets were preceded by this working paper:

a US report titled:

and one UK report titled:

There are, of course, many other calls for increased awareness, or deep and critical reflection.  For example, back in June 2009, four congressional leaders in the USA:

asked the National Academies to form a distinguished panel to assess the competitive position of the nation’s research universities. “America’s research universities are admired throughout the world, and they have contributed immeasurably to our social and economic well-being,” the Members of Congress said in a letter delivered today. “We are concerned that they are at risk.”….

The bipartisan congressional group asked that the Academies’ panel answer the following question: “What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, research universities, and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper, and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment, and security in the global community of the 21st century?”

Recall that the US National Academies produced a key 2005 report (Rising Above the Gathering Storm) “which in turn was the basis for the “America COMPETES Act.” This Act created a blueprint for doubling funding for basic research, improving the teaching of math and science, and taking other steps to make the U.S. more competitive.” On this note see our 16 June 2008 entry titled ‘Surveying US dominance in science and technology for the Secretary of Defense‘.

RisingStormTaken together, these contributions are but a sample of the many expressions of concern being expressed in 2009 in the Global North (especially the US & UK) about the changing geography of the global higher education and research landscape.

These types of articles and reports shed light, but can also raise anxiety levels (as they are sometimes designed to do).  The better of them attempt to ensure that the angsts being felt in the long dominant Global North are viewed with a critical eye, and that people realize that this is not a “zero-sum game” (as Philip Altbach puts it in the Chronicle’sAmerica Falling: Longtime Dominance in Education Erodes‘). For example, the shifting terrain of global research productivity is partially a product of increasing volumes of collaboration and human mobility across borders, while key global challenges are just that – global in nature and impossible to attend to unless global teams of relatively equitable capacities are put together. Moreover, greater transnational education and research activity and experience arguably facilitates a critical disposition towards the most alarmist material, while concurrently reinforcing the point that the world is changing, albeit very unevenly, and that there are also many positive changes associated with a more dispersed higher education and research landscape.

We’ll do our best to post links to new global mappings like these as they emerge in the future.  Please ensure you let us know what is being published, be it rigorous, critical, analytical, alarmist, self-congratulatory, etc., and we’ll profile it on GlobalHigherEd.  The production of discourses on this new global higher education and research landscape is a key component of the process of change itself.  Thus we need to be concerned not just with the content of such mappings, but also the logics underlying the production of such mappings, and the institutional relations that bring such mappings into view for consumption.

Kris Olds

The global geographies of stem cell research activity and policy

Today’s Financial Times includes a full page analysis (‘An industry to grow‘) that examines aspects of state-society-economy relations with respect to stem cell research.

The author, Clive Cookson (who also runs the FT.com Science Blog), deftly weaves five threads through the article: the role of the state, and inter-state competition, in shaping a very geographically uneven development process; the role of key university-based researchers (like UW-Madison’s James Thomson) in spurring on innovation; the evolution of technology in shaping the research process and associated ethical debates; the evolving role of the private sector in fueling (or not) stem cell research and associated commercialization dynamics; and the factors shaping the actual and perceived temporal dimensions of stem cell research.

See below for some fascinating maps that the FT drew upon for their associated graphic in ‘An industry to grow‘. Our sincere gratitude to William Hoffman of the University of Minnesota’s Medical School for permission to reprint his maps.

Hoffmann1

Hoffmann2

Hoffmann3

Kris Olds

IBM and collaborators open a new rail innovation centre in Beijing

As someone who loves taking the train, misses the TGV, Eurostar, and Thalys systems (having lived in France last year), and is perplexed why the world’s wealthiest country does not get serious about fast speed rail, this news story caught my eye.

I’ll paste in most of the accompanying text below, from IBM’s Smarter Planet website.  What is interesting, from a GlobalHigherEd perspective, is the nature of the array of institutions that have been brought together to create such space of innovation, and where it is based.

Today IBM opened a worldwide rail innovation center in Beijing, China.  We’re excited because it’s the first time rail companies, universities, government leaders and a wide range of rail experts are gathering to figure out what it will take to bring the best rail systems to every country in the world….

Already members include Tsinghua University, Michigan Technological University, Professor Joseph M. Sussman of MIT, Railinc, RMI, Motorola, Sabre, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and Olivier G. Maurel, CIO of ILOG (an IBM company) and former CIO of SNCF in France.

The kinds of things we’ll work on are advanced data analytics for scheduling and predictive maintenance, cell phone enabled passenger service, wireless sensors on bearings and axles, digital video systems that ensure a clear track ahead and automatically respond to danger — to create rail systems that will support economic vitality, improved quality of life through reduced road congestion, and environmental sustainability.

The idea is when the best minds get together, everyone benefits.  That means better, faster on-time performance, far more efficient scheduling, maximized equipment usage and fewer vehicles congesting cities.

Think about this:  A single freight train on a track can replace 280 trucks on a road, reducing fuel use, congestion and emissions.  And considering every year nine billion gallons of fuel is wasted in traffic congestion we need all the help we can get.

Here’s to breathing easier, relaxing more and getting from city center to city center in the most efficient way possible.

Kris Olds

The role of the university in city/regional development: a view from a Vice-Chancellor in Bristol

ericthomaspic1The entry has been kindly prepared for us by Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol.  Professor Thomas has been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol since 2001.  Prior to that he was  Head of the School of Medicine, and later Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Biological Sciences, University of Southampton.  Professor Thomas is currently a member of the Board of the South-West Regional Development Agency. He is Chair of the Research Policy Committee of Universities UK and a member of its Board.

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The United Kingdom is the classic high added-value, knowledge economy. We don’t dig anything out of the ground anymore and we don’t make anything in any great quantity anymore. Our economic success depends upon us providing high intellectual and creative skills, and on technological and service innovation.

Universities are at the heart of that in both providing the intellectual workforce and in technological innovation. It is said that in medieval times villages and towns were built around the manor house, in the Victorian era they were built around the factories and that, if we were building new towns and villages now, they would be built around universities. Certainly when the UK Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) put out a call for locations without higher education to apply for a new facility,  the 35 who applied would support the thesis.

I often compare the City of Bristol in 1961 with the City today. In 1961 Bristol was dominated by heavy engineering and manufacturing industry. The aerospace industry employed tens of thousands of people as did both tobacco and Fry’s chocolate. At that time, the University of Bristol had about 3000 students and 300 academic staff. It was a small consideration in the economy of Bristol and could exist, almost as an ivory tower, up the hill in Clifton and unengaged with the ambitions of the city.

bristol2If you now fast forward to 2009, all that industry except aerospace has gone. And yet, the University of Bristol is the largest independent employer in the city, responsible for 5500 jobs and a further 4500 from indirect employment. A study some years ago in the South West Region reported the economic impact of a university as 1.74 times turnover. A more recent study of London South Bank University by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which took into account the economic impact of the added value from the graduates through their lifetime, concluded that the impact was approximately six times turnover. Viewed like this, it would make the University of Bristol’s impact on the local and national economy in excess of £2 billion per year and higher education in general in the UK in the order of £100 billion per year or over 8% of GDP.

Of course, such figures will provoke dispute. However the general message of the importance of higher education to the local and national economies is now, I would argue, beyond question. How, therefore, does a university like Bristol respond to such a role which is relatively new?

The first important action is to ensure that working with the city is right at the center of your current public strategy. This is so for the current University Strategy, and will be strengthened in our Plan for 2009–2016.

Secondly the head of the institution must articulate that ambition clearly and become personally engaged with the city and region. For example, I am a member of the Partnership Board for the Bristol City Council which advises the Leader and Chief Executive. For six years I was a member of the Board of the South-West Regional Development Agency. I have been a trustee of an important local charity. Perhaps most importantly I assiduously attend all city social events and network with the other key players in the city and always articulate our desire to assist the city-region. I have also opened up the university for the use of many partners and organizations in the city.

More practically, we have a large Research and Enterprise Directorate which works closely with local businesses. Their aim is to ensure the most rapid transfer of knowledge and technology generated in the university and the easiest access possible for businesses to our skills and technical expertise. This is not only for big businesses. We have set up the Bristol Enterprise Network to assist knowledge transfer among the high tech, high growth SMEs in the Bristol sub-region. This currently has 1500 members. This not only provides networking opportunities but also news and information and training in business skills.

We need to work with key partners in the city particularly the National Health Service. The university provides nearly 200 medical staff for health care in the city and must work very closely with local health trusts, not only to ensure the best health care but also the best teaching and research opportunities for our professionals.

The university also provides most of the local teacher training and thus a very important set of professionals for the future of Bristol. Over a period of ten years or so, the University will have invested over £500 million in infrastructure which has knock-on effects in the local planning, architectural, building and legal services, to name but a few.

bristol11However it is not only in business that the university works with the city. Many of our staff are school governors or trustees of charities. We are working very closely on the development of a new school which opened in 2008,  Merchants’  Academy Withywood, in South Bristol. We have enormous numbers of cultural events and lectures which are open to the public. It is often overlooked that our academics travel all over the world. The people most commonly putting up Powerpoint presentations with the word ‘Bristol‘ in the title are the staff of the University.

Furthermore, our staff are massively networked internationally not only with other academics but also business and government. I get at least four “Google Alerts” a day about the University of Bristol from press all over the world. Stories about the University carry the name Bristol to all parts of the globe and all that PR and advertising comes free.

To some observers, the pressure on universities to increasingly be more global in ambition comes at a price.  However, I do not see any essential or intrinsic conflict,  between being an international, outward facing organization, and working to ensure that the local society gains as much as possible from its university. The two ambitions can be made to be completely compatible, though as I have argued above, both need to be championed and advanced together.

However, I would say that the role of the university in its local city and sub-region is one of the most enjoyable parts of leading a great university in 2009.

Eric Thomas

New report on Canada’s R&D landscape

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada just released a detailed report titled Momentum: The 2008 report on university research and knowledge mobilization.

I will paste in the full press release below, and one of us is likely to return to select aspects of the report over the next few weeks. It is abundantly clear that Canada is framing university-related R&D at a global scale, albeit with an eye on select countries and regions. Pages 91-102 are particularly focused on international collaboration with respect to patterns, mechanisms, challenges, and opportunities. Concern with international competition is suffused throughout the report.

The additional point that stands out is the relative significance of universities as drivers of R&D as compared to the private sector, the federal and provincial levels of government, and the non-profit sector. See these two graphics from the report:

A cursory review of the report, and any knowledge of Canada, will also lead to the question of the geographical concentration of said R&D within this large and diverse country. No prizes for correct answers to the question of what is happening where, though the why and what to do about it of structural change in Canada’s geographies of R&D clearly needs some more attention.

Here is the press release:

Media release

AUCC report shows universities are major contributors to Canada’s economy and quality of life

Ottawa, October 21, 2008 — The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has launched a report on the state of Canadian research and development (R&D), with a particular emphasis on university research, at an event that included partners from government, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector.

The report, entitled Momentum: The 2008 report on university research and knowledge mobilization, shows universities are major players in R&D in Canada, performing more than one-third of the country’s research and contributing at least $60 billion to the economy in 2007. However, analysts agree that the world competition for talent, knowledge and innovation is fierce and Canada cannot be complacent with its accomplishments.

“The rest of the world is not standing still and the global race for research talent is becoming more and more intense,” says AUCC chair Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University. “We expect this report to stimulate public debate on the required level and mix of support for university research in Canada.”

“This is a time when we cannot afford to cut back on public investment, but should instead see the potential for stimulating economic growth at the local and the national level by investing in people and knowledge. Having a highly skilled labour force is undeniably a major asset for any country,” notes AUCC president and CEO Claire Morris. “In these uncertain economic times, Canada must continue to improve its innovative capacity to ensure long-term prosperity,” she adds.

Momentum 2008 focuses on the importance of partnerships in university research and looks at the variety of forms collaboration takes – from university partnerships with private companies to research projects with governments, communities, the not-for-profit sector and international partners. It provides a comprehensive account of Canadian R&D, particularly the activities of the university sector and the resulting progress achieved. It also presents detailed research and analysis of national and international trends that will drive changes in university research and the Canadian R&D landscape in the future.

Momentum 2008 documents the wide range of benefits to Canadians such as new products, services, processes, policies and new ways of understanding society.

This is the second edition of Momentum produced by AUCC. The first was produced in 2005 as a way of providing information to decision makers and policy-makers about the benefits from investments made in university research.

The Momentum report is available online. Download the report.

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For more information please contact:

Leslie Cole, Communications Officer,
AUCC, 613 563 3961 x 330

Kris Olds