Graphic feed: NSF’s cyber-network expands and connects half the globe

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October 14, 2009

The National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Taj network has expanded to the Global Ring Network for Advanced Application Development (GLORIAD), wrapping another ring of light around the northern hemisphere for science and education. Taj now connects India, Singapore, Vietnam and Egypt to the GLORIAD global infrastructure and dramatically improves existfing U.S. network links with China and the Nordic region.

Taj promises far-reaching, stimulative and sustainable benefits in global research and education (R&E) collaboration. It will serve every knowledge disciplines from high energy physics, atmospheric and climate change science, to renewable energy research, to nuclear nonproliferation, genomics and medicine, economics and history. The population of countries served by the NSF-sponsored GLORIAD program, funded since 1997, now exceeds half the globe.

In a unique public/private partnership with NSF, Tata Communications is providing a new billion bits per second (Gbps) service connecting science and education exchange points in Hong Kong, Singapore, Alexandria, Mumbai, Amsterdam and Copenhagen (valued at $6 million) to interconnect vital national research and education networks in India and across Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Vietnam.

The new exchange point in Alexandria, Egypt affords new possibilities for science and education ties throughout the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia and the Caucasus regions. Taj opens up new horizons for U.S. scientists, educators and students, enabling direct access to key research facilities in India, and, through new exchange points in Egypt and Singapore, improved connectivity for potentially millions of end-users conducting international collaborative research….  [Link here for the full press release]

Source: National Science Foundation, NSF’s Cyber-Network Now Expands Across the Northern Hemisphere and Connects Half the Globe, Press Release 09-200.

Multidisciplinary research – an essential driver for innovation

TrewhellaEditor’s note: today’s entry was written by Professor Jill Trewhella (pictured to the right), Deputy Vice Chancellor – Research, University of Sydney, Australia. It was originally delivered at the Australian Financial Review Higher Education Conference, 9 March 2009. Our thanks to Nicholas Haskins, Program Manager (International Networks), Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International), for bringing this interesting text to our attention, and to Professor Trewhella for allowing us to post it here. Professor Trewhella is Professor of Molecular and Microbial Bioscience and a former Director of Bioscience at America’s top nuclear research facility, the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

I’ve included some relevant images below, that were taken today, of two of UW-Madison’s new multidisciplinary research complexes — the nearly finished Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research (the top 2 images) and the under-construction Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (the bottom 2 images). Kris Olds

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The Challenges and Opportunities for Multidisciplinary Research in a World of Complex, Interdependent Systems

For 2000 years, the advancement of knowledge in western civilization has taken a path of increasing specialization.  We have approached understanding our world by deconstructing it into smaller and smaller fragments creating the disciplines and subdisciplines in order to be able to predict, or at least to explain, behaviour in nature, individuals, and society.

UWmed1In today’s knowledge landscape there are powerful drivers for multidisciplinary research.  Through simple collaboration, researchers from different disciplines can accomplish more by teaming.  Interdisciplinary research moves beyond simple collaboration and teaming to integrate data, methodologies, perspectives, and concepts from multiple disciplines in order to advance fundamental understanding or to solve real world problems.  Interdisciplinary research requires either that an individual researcher gains a depth of understanding two or more than one discipline and be fluent in their languages and methodologies, or more frequently that multidisciplinary teams assemble and create a common language and framework for discovery and innovation.

The drivers for interdisciplinary research are varied.

  • In the first instance, nature and society are complex, and our innate curiosity to understand the elements and forces within them requires examination from the perspective of multiple disciplines.
  • Importantly, we have a critical need to solve societal problems in a world that is subject to many forces:
    • The example most urgently felt at this time is the consequence of failing to fully understand all of the forces unleashed by the free movement of capital and globalization.
    • Only a short time ago, our urgent focus was on climate change, where we must consider, among other things, how oceans and rivers are influenced by land use and the products of industrialization, atmospheric constituents and solar radiation.  These subsystems are linked in time and space and have embedded in them multiple feedback mechanisms.
  • The complexity presented in each of these real world examples requires interdisciplinary research that spans the natural and social sciences if we are to attain the kind of predictive capability that could inform policy makers.
  • Finally, we know that the tools that we have available to examine our world are most often transformational when drawn from outside the discipline that developed them; such as the discovery of X-rays by physicists and their impact on medicine, or the creation of the internet by the military and its impact on communication in society at large.

Academic institutions are largely organized in ways that promote the advancement of individual disciplines, or sub-disciplines.  Policies that govern hiring, promotion, and the allocation of resources often work against interdisciplinary research.  If interdisciplinary research is to flourish in academia, then the reward systems in academia have to recognize the different pace with which interdisciplinary research may proceed and the fact that it is often a team rather than individual accomplishment.  There also is a need for flexible organizational structures that can operate across discipline-focused departments.  Directed institutes and centres with seed funding can encourage interdisciplinary research.  But more fundamental advances may emerge from creating a body of scholarly work that establishes common languages and frameworks in specific areas and examines what makes successful interdisciplinary research.  This approach is one we are pursuing at the University of Sydney with our newly established Social Sciences Institute and our Institute for Sustainable Solutions.

UWmed2Funding agencies also encounter difficulties in facilitating interdisciplinary research, and must find creative mechanisms for overcome barriers, such as:

  • Peer review systems that depend heavily on experts from single disciplines, and the reality that interdisciplinary peer review panels are not easy to assemble and operate.
  • The extra time needed for interdisciplinary teams to learn develop a common language and framework for study is an impediment in a competitive system that is research output driven.
  • How do we set performance goals for evaluating an interdisciplinary research program.
  • Interdisciplinary research is likely to be expensive; multiple chief investigators have to come together with disparate capabilities.
  • Supporting interdisciplinary research requires an increased tolerance of risk.
  • It is often the case that when an agency puts out a call for an interdisciplinary program, pressure is felt from all sides to over-promise and under-budget, leading to the inevitable problem of under-performance.

Benchmarking the mechanisms by which successful interdisciplinary programs have been supported is essential to ensuring the most return for investment in this challenging area.  Looking at home and abroad at the results of using problem focused calls, seed funding, sustained funding over a longer term, targeted fellowships, etc, is essential for future planning.

Training researchers to work at the interfaces of the disciplines

Training researchers who can transcend the barriers that exist between the disciplines requires innovation in teaching and learning.   In the University setting, our training programs largely focus on in depth training in a discipline or a set of closely related sub-disciplines.  To develop the pool of researchers who are best prepared for interdisciplinary research, we need undergraduate programs that provide depth in the major discipline(s) while also enabling students to participate in interdisciplinary courses and be exposed to research experiences that transcend the discipline of their major.

The earlier in our training that we are exposed to different languages and methodologies, the better we are able to understand the potential contributions that may come from outside our discipline.  The better we are able to formulate complex questions and then integrate data, ideas, and perspectives as we seek answers.

WID1PhD programs need to consider the benefits of broader exposure.  Lowering the barriers to students moving between institutions and even disciplines could have great benefits for our ability to train the next generation of interdisciplinary researchers and researchers who are facile at participating in interdisciplinary teaming.  We need to recognize the benefits for students who gain training in one discipline to be able to acquire training in another – and enable it to happen.

There are examples of successful programs aimed at encouraging interdisciplinary training.  I once hosted in my Biophysics laboratory (which was in a Chemistry Department!) a young graduate student from the Mathematical Biology Department who was participating in the Integrated Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) program sponsored by the US National Science Foundation.  The idea was, in this case, for the student to learn the difficulties involved in acquiring accurate biophysical data.  The student had no aspirations to become an experimentalist, but he left my laboratory understanding how the data were generated and what its limitations and strengths were; and importantly what he would be asking of his collaborators to produce more data!  He could use this knowledge to formulate the questions he needed to ask of other kinds of experimental data that would be the ultimate test of his theoretical frameworks.  This example may seem a very modest one, as the distance between mathematical biology and experimental biophysics seems not so great, but as such it is a good demonstration of how difficult it can be to become truly interdisciplinary.  The languages, cultures and goals of what might be thought of as subdisciplines here, often make what is learned in one of no value to the other; the theorist’s spherical cow being the anecdotal example epitomizing the gulf of understanding between theory and experiment in the study of biological systems.

WID3The potential for interdisciplinary research ultimately hinges on the extent to which individuals want to engage in it, and equally importantly if they have the opportunity to do so.  Academia, national laboratories, and industry can create the opportunities and incentives to attract our best and brightest to this frontier.  The individual interdisciplinary researcher is likely to be a relatively rare bird, and it will be the teams of researchers that are more the norm for advancing interdisciplinary research.  Research teams are in themselves modestly complex social entities and in their 2004 study entitled Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, a panel of the US National Academy of Sciences found that they were limited by the lack of a body of peer reviewed research in the social sciences that “elucidated the complex social and intellectual processes that make for successful interdisciplinary research.”  While we have made some strides in thinking about the role of flexible structures and funding incentives to facilitate multidisciplinary teams coming together for a problem focussed effort or an area study, there is a need for social scientists to grapple with the more fundamental aspects of what facilitates successful interdisciplinary research; that is what enables high performance teams breaking down the barriers of language and culture and create knowledge that drives innovation.

References

National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute Medicine. (2004) Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, Washington DC, National Academies Press.

David Easton (1991) The Division, Integration, and Transfer of Knowledge, Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol 44, No 4, pp 8-27, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jill Trewhella

HUBzero cyberinfrastructure for scientific collaboration

Over the next several months we will be exploring various aspects of international research collaboration. For example, a new entry on the EU’s new international science and technology cooperation framework will be posted shortly.*  We will also identify some new(ish) technologies that enable collaboration between geographically dispersed researchers and research teams.

hubzerologoPurdue University’s HUBzero, developed with National Science Foundation (NSF) support (via the multi-university Network for Computational Nanotechnology), is an example of one such technology. My university just posted news of a seminar on HUBzero.  I’ll report back in December after the event has been held.  For now, though, note that:

HUBzero™ allows you to create dynamic web sites that connect a community in scientific research and educational activities. HUBzero™ sites combine powerful Web 2.0 concepts with a middleware that provides instant access to interactive simulation tools. These tools are not just Java applets, but real research codes that can access TeraGrid, the Open Science Grid, and other national Grid computing resources for extra cycles.

This 4m15s video provides a summary of what HUBzero has to offer:

A high resolution version is available here.

See here for further information on HUBzero. It is important to note that hubs are “web-based collaboration environments” with the following features:

  • Interactive simulation tools, hosted on the hub cluster and delivered to your browser
  • Simulation tool development area, including source code control and bug tracking
  • Animated presentations delivered in a light-weight, Flash-based format
  • Mechanism for uploading and sharing resources
  • 5-star ratings and user feedback for resources
  • User support area, with question-and-answer forum
  • Statistics about users and usage patterns

Sample “hubs” include, according to HUBzero:

This document* outlines costs and details to establish a hub using this technology.

* McLennan, Michael (2008), “The Hub Concept for Scientific Collaboration,” http://hubzero.org/resources/12

Kris Olds

* Note: see ‘Europe’s new Strategic Framework for International Science and Technology Cooperation’

The NSF’s ‘cool’ project: a charrette assesses interdisciplinary graduate education, with surprising results

kimcoulter.jpgEditor’s note: today’s entry has been written by Kimberly Coulter, the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s new Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) administrative coordinator. Kim will be developing entries for GlobalHigherEd from time to time, which we are very happy about given her knowledge base. Today’s entry links most closely to be previous entries by Gisèle Yasmeen (‘Articulating the value proposition of the Humanities’), Barbara Czarniawska (‘The challenges of creating hybrid disciplines and careers: a view from Sweden’), and Susan Robertson (‘A creative combination: adding MBAs and art schools together to increase innovation’).

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‘Interdisciplinarity’ in higher education is not only ‘in’—it’s institutionalized. In the last ten years, collaboration across traditional disciplinary boundaries has been valorized in university strategic plans and research foundation calls for proposals. The buzzword promises to spark scientific breakthroughs and ignite innovations. But how?

Based on the assumption that interdisciplinary collaboration can be trained, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has made a formidable investment in its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program since 1997. Now at 125 sites, IGERT programs offer students interdisciplinary training along with $30,000/year stipends, tuition, and fees for five years of a doctoral program in the sciences. The IGERT program aims:

to catalyze a cultural change in graduate education, for students, faculty, and institutions, by establishing innovative new models for graduate education and training in a fertile environment for collaborative research that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries.

rhoten4small1.jpgBut what, exactly, does such a fertile environment look like? At a University of Wisconsin-Madison conference on The Future of Interdisciplinarity, a provocative keynote address from Diana Rhoten challenged assumptions. Rhoten is Director of the Knowledge Institutions program at the Social Sciences Research Council, and is currently on loan to the NSF as program director in the areas of Virtual Organizations and Learning & Workforce Development for the Office of Cyberinfrastructure. In a previous study of interdisciplinary research centers and programs across higher education (the article can be downloaded here), Rhoten had found that many “interdisciplinary” initiatives failed to reconceptualize disciplinary traditional modes into an integrative model. She observed that real collaboration—defined as working together from start to finish—was rare.

At the Madison conference, Rhoten reported results of a new NSF-sponsored micro-study testing for effects of IGERT training on student performance. The study used an innovative—even ‘cool’—methodology: 48 IGERT and non-IGERT students at early and late stages of their graduate programs were invited to participate in an environmental research design ‘charrette’ weekend at the Snowbird ski resort in the mountains (see below) of Utah. Only after students’ arrival did researchers inform them that the true object of study would be their collaborative processes. Students were grouped into interdisciplinary groups of six: two groups each of junior IGERT students, senior IGERT students, junior non-IGERT students, and senior non-IGERT students. Each group was tasked with working together to produce and present a seven page research proposal on ecosystem services. Students were allowed to do Internet research but could not make outside contacts.

snowbird.jpgAs the students worked, observers made narrative field notes on how they evaluated each other’s ideas and used each others’ talents and skills (both participants and observers were aware of the group’s IGERT identity). At the end of the weekend, ten blind experts from different sectors assessed the groups’ proposals and presentations on intellectual merit and broader impact per NSF standards, as well as disciplinary and interdisciplinary quality. So although this study yielded rich observational data, these data relied on an undeniably small sample of students working with peers at the training stage of their careers.

Still, the results are surprising. Overall, the experts were astonished by the high quality research design proposals. Yet junior IGERT students outperformed the others in every way, followed by the non-IGERT students. Rhoten suggested that as students’ GRE scores had been considered, this disparity could not have been an artifact of previous ability. She summarized the observations thus: the best junior IGERT team had an optimistic leader with gentle critics, and had framed the task as research. By contrast, the senior IGERT students (whose proposal and presentation received the lowest scores) framed the task as collaboration. The senior IGERT students assumed they would perform well, and appeared to enjoy being studied. They discussed how to cope with conflict, yet couldn’t get traction, and their results were vague and incomplete.

She does not conclude that IGERTs are a misinvestment, but rather that these results beg questions: Did overconfidence and familiarity poison the senior IGERT students? Had IGERT training replaced students’ assertiveness and results-orientation with a focus on inclusivity and the cooperative process? These questions, she suggested, may guide us to an improved IGERT program structure. The study’s most striking result was the powerful impression the charrette activity made on both students and researchers. Rhoten beamed about the charrette as a both a methodology and as a learning tool; students, she said, raved about the learning experience. Rhoten ventured that perhaps IGERTs should not take the form of five-year programs, but rather be intensive, collaborative periodic experiences with space and time in between them—like the charrette.

This insight about the charrette is powerful because it reminds us of interdisciplinarity’s goal. The charrette mimics the deadline-driven, temporary, problem-oriented projects for which scientists are being trained. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ is, in its essence, the modus operandi of the flexible, post-Fordist ‘project’ unit of economic action. In their 1976 research on theater production, Goodman and Goodman (reference below) explain a “project” as involving a:

set of diversely skilled people working together on a complex task over a limited period of time…. [especially] in cases where the task is complex and cannot be decomposed in detail autonomously ex ante ‘members must keep interrelating with one another in trying to arrive at viable solutions’.

To trade ideas productively, each participant must bring knowledge from a “home base” and stimulating ideas to the project network. The challenge for institutions is to find a balance between the stability of an institutional context and the rigidity of institutionalized “lock-in.” As economic geographer Gernot Grabher argues in Regional Studies (reference below), “transient collaborative arrangements and more enduring organizational and institutional arrangements” are interdependent—“‘Cool’ projects, indeed, rely on ‘boring’ institutions”.

Clearly, the NSF has the capacity to impact not only the scientific training, but also the attitudes and professional orientations of new generations of scientists. Effective interdisciplinary collaboration needs individuals with rigorous disciplinary grounding, creativity, and communication skills; these require a mix of stability, resources, and conventional training. Yet the current IGERT model, which values the institutionalization of five-year programs emphasizing collaboration, may not be the most effective way to cultivate flexibility and resourcefulness. As the Snowbird charrette demonstrates, perhaps more ‘cool’ projects—transient, face-to-face project-events in inspiring locations—can set the scene for successful learning and quality scientific production.

Reference

R. A. Goodman and L. P. Goodman, “Some management issues in temporary systems: a study of professional development and manpower—the theatre case,” Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1976): 494-501, esp. 494 and 495, as cited in G. Grabher, “Cool projects, boring institutions: temporary collaboration in social context,” Regional Studies 36.3 (2002): 205–14, esp. 207-8.

Kimberly Coulter

Autonomous foundations and the reduction of barriers to innovation in higher education

Over the last decade some noteworthy initiatives have emerged within the US to remake science and engineering degree structures and offerings, often with a focus on speeding up the time to graduation, enhancing and broadening the skill make-up of graduates, and building deeper information channels between academia and industry. Yesterday’s Washington Post had an insightful article on just these themes – the emerging professional science master’s degree (PSM). As the Washington Post notes:

The PSM program is designed to provide more advanced training in science or mathematics — with a dose of business skills — and entice more students who receive bachelor of science degrees to stay in the field without having to pursue a doctorate. Most college graduates with four-year science degrees leave the field and don’t return.

The PSM degree, sometimes described as a science version of the MBA degree, is being hailed as one of the most promising innovations in graduate education in years.

The Washington Post article profiles PSM-related initiatives created to date at Washington DC-based universities including George Washington University, Towson University, American University, the University of Maryland, Georgetown University, Virginia Tech, and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. The article notes that “about 1,300 students are enrolled in PSM programs at more than 50 schools nationwide”, with the Washington area base region for “the most programs”.

sloanlogo.jpgFrom a non-US or international comparative perspective, one dimension of the development process that is worth noting is the critically important role of independent non-profit foundations to spurring on initiatives and innovation in higher education. As hinted at above, the PSM is largely an outgrowth of the effort of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to enhance and broaden the skill make-up of science and engineering graduates (especially at the below PhD level), and build deeper information channels between academia and industry. As Michael S. Teitelbaum, Vice President, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, stated in a 6 November 2007 testimony before the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, the US needs to do a better job of improving the:

“signals” about such careers that are publicly available to prospective students. In particular, doctoral programs in many U.S. universities provide far less information to prospective and entering students about the career experiences of their recent graduates than do the law schools and business schools on the very same campuses. This should certainly change; students need to be provided with far better if they are to have realistic expectations as they embark upon a course of graduate study and postdoc research that often can stretch out over most of their 20s.

Universities and disciplines are, despite their reputations in conservative political circles, notoriously risk averse and slow to innovate with respect to course and degree offerings. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which was established in 1893, created the PSM program in 1997 during a period of considerable debate about America’s perceived knowledge deficit (which eventually fueled the creation of the polemical study Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century: An Agenda for American Science and Technology). The ultimate impetus for the PSM, however, seems to be Sloan’s considerably more nuanced concern about the quality of science and engineering education versus the number of science and engineering doctoral graduates. See Teitelbaum’s informative testimony for further information on this issue.

Further information on the background to the PSM is available here, while a PSM locations map (with links to specific programs) is available here. A screen capture of the map below clearly highlights the geography of the PSM.

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Ten years on since its establishment the PSM has taken off. Indeed primary responsibility for institutionalizing the PSM is now in the hands of the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). It is worth noting, however, that the Washington Post article states that “[l]ast year, Congress provided funding for schools to establish or improve PSM programs through the America Competes Act”. This is in fact incorrect for the America Competes Act only authorized the creation of a Professional Science Master’s program at the National Science Foundation (NSF), and it did not provide any funding. Supporters of the PSM degree are hoping for action via the Fiscal Year (FY) ’09 appropriations, but the US omnibus bill approach (which provides for a number of miscellaneous enactments) makes establishing specific program appropriations particularly difficult.

In any case the uplift in PSM support and associated offerings, while not seamless, reflects the capacity of institutions like Sloan to push and facilitate the construction of new knowledge/spaces such that they eventually become institutionalized. As with the entry on stem cell research advances that we published on 21 November 2007 we see, yet again, how foundations can use their resources, linkages to universities, and autonomy, to strategically pursue goals that might get blocked within universities. As the Washington Post article notes:

That it took a foundation, and not a school, to get the ball rolling is not entirely surprising, educators said, despite a broad agreement that the country needs more trained scientists.

PSM supporters expected — and met — resistance from some educators, who thought the science course requirements were too limited or who did not want PSM students in their classrooms because they didn’t think the students had done the prerequisite courses.

In addition, universities are tradition-bound institutions. It can be difficult for schools, especially state-run systems, to get approval to start something new. Schools don’t like to force experts in one field to change their focus or unwillingly collaborate outside their discipline.

“In general, institutions of higher ed pay lip service to interdisciplinary studies,” said Ali Eskandarian, an associate dean at GWU who oversees its PSM program.

In the end universities, especially public universities, need to be pushed, embedded as they are in complex legal foundations and held back by large and complex bureaucracies. We’ll return to a related issue soon: the organizational barriers preventing the development of international double and joint degrees in public universities, though sadly no foundation in North America has stepped in (yet) to spur on developments on this front. And if you want an interesting contrast on this issue compare the North American situation to the European one; a context that has experienced substantial change via the European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus program. In short, the reduction to barriers to innovation in higher education, and the construction of new knowledge/spaces, is increasingly associated with an emerging constellation of socio-economic imaginaries, many of which are derived from non-university quarters. We thus need to focus more attention on the nature of these imaginaries, and the modes of engagement that lead them to become noteworthy forces of governance.

Kris Olds

Graphic feed: enrollment of foreign graduate students increases (esp. in 2006) in US science and engineering fields

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Source: National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, First-Time, Full-Time Graduate Student Enrollment in Science and Engineering Increases in 2006, Especially Among Foreign Students, Arlington, VA (NSF 08-302) [December 2007]

Analyzing and participating in the race for global dominance of science & technology/research & development

The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States is one of the institutions that is intensely involved in mapping out the changing global geographies of investment in science and technology (S&T), and in research and development (R&D). Interest in these themes is to be expected: the NSF was, after all, created (in 1950) “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…“.

Times have changed since 1950, of course, and both S&T and R&D now need to be increasingly analyzed at a global scale, with new ‘challengers’ to US hegemony, but also new research practices that stretch the knowledge production process out across global space. See our recent entries, for example, on the dependence of the US intellectual property regime on an open immigration system, our entry titled ‘Battling for market share 1: the ‘Major Players’ and international student mobility’, our entry about the dependence of key (read geoeconomically important) fields of study in the UK higher education system on foreign students, and numerous graphic feeds we have been creating (e.g., the Rand Corporation’s “research footprints” of US “competitors” in science and technology).

Making sense of both structural change, policy change in the West (in the jostling for ‘market share’), and the ways in which Asia is framed (in a socioeconomic imaginary sense) by both the US and Europe, is an important task for anyone interested in the global higher ed scene. One of the starting points to do so is the NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS). Their most recent report is Asia’s Rising Science and Technology Strength: Comparative Indicators for Asia, the European Union, and the United States (August 2007), from which these graphics are taken.

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As the press release to the report puts it:

Heavy investments in science and technology during the 1990s by some Asian nations are paying notable economic dividends in high-tech areas important to the United States, according to a recently released report by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Since the mid-1990, Asia’s national investment in research and development (R&D) as a share of the total value of goods and services produced grew faster than in the United States or the European Union, according to NSF’s Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS), titled Asia’s Rising Science and Technology Strength.

Asia’s R&D activity may have surpassed the European Union in 2002, and by 2003, was nearly 10 percent greater. According to these data, in 2003, Asia’s R&D investment may have been as much as 80 percent that of the United States, largely reflecting Chinese growth. While precise comparisons are technically problematical, there is little doubt about China’s rapid advancement into the group of leading R&D nations.

“There are a number of reasons the findings are important to the United States,” said Lawrence Rausch, SRS senior analyst and project director. “Improved science and technological capacity in Asian countries create new market opportunities for U.S. business. In addition, it can lead to new opportunities for U.S. researchers and businesses to collaborate overseas.”

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The report, which is well worth reading, is both an analytical document, but also a document designed to help push US policy-makers and politicians to become both more concerned about rising knowledge production capacity in Asia (especially China), and at the same time in a direction that might enhance S&T/R&D linkages with Asia (including China, and countries with strong ties to China). One example of the linkage drive is the NSF’s relatively new East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students (EAPSI) initiative.

It is any wonder then that the UK is also pushing in the same direction, though in a less analytical sense for a range of reasons. For example the UK has been supporting the establishment of institutional linkages via the establishment of university campuses in Asia, visiting scholar programmes (e.g., the British Academy/ESRC Chinese Visiting Fellowships), and now with respect to greater institutional representation in Asia. On October 30 Research Councils UK, for example, announced the establishment of their first office outside of Europe. The RCUK Office in China has three “strategic tasks”:

  • to improve knowledge about each country’s research systems and strengths, via a dedicated website;
  • to identify the scope for closer cooperation between the UK Research Councils and the Chinese research support agencies; and
  • to develop a programme of activities aimed at lowering the barriers to international research collaboration.

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This development should be situated in the formal international strategy that Research Councils UK published in July 2007.

GlobalHigherEd will be tracking these developments over time. For the time being, though, readers of our blog are advised to bookmark these NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS) sites (some of which have RSS feed functions) for they demonstrate the better analytical capacity of US agencies versus those in the UK as we seek to shed more light on the competition taking place on the global higher ed landscape, especially with respect to Asia:

Kris Olds