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