The National Academies’ International Visitors Office: strategic communications while institutionalizing mobility

nalogo.jpgThe National Academies is a US-based institution that is made up of representatives from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. This institution was created by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and has evolved into a key stakeholder in debates about the globalization of higher education, especially with respect to science and technological matters. The activities of the Policy and Global Affairs Division should be of particular interest to GlobalHigherEd readers. Approximately 1,100 staff work at the National Academies’ offices in Washington DC.

ivo-bisologo.jpgThe National Academies’ Board on International Scientific Organizations has just released a podcast that explains what role their International Visitors Office plays in facilitating the movement of scientists and foreign students to the United States in the “fundamentally” transformed post-9/11 era.

The office, which was set up in 2003, seeks to facilitate human mobility but in a manner that is less problematic when the “national security interests” of the US can sometimes “alienate” the “skilled migrants” who play a critically important role in meeting the science and technology needs of the US. Thus the initiative also has diplomatic (aka strategic communications) objectives associated with it. The podcast is approximately five minutes long.

Kris Olds

Have the grandiose plans for a European Institute of Technology been stripped bare?

eit.jpgLate last week the European Commission (EC) moved one step closer to the establishment of a European Institute of Technology (EIT). It also announced the creation of four innovative public-private partnerships, or Joint Technology Initiatives (JTI), in the field of technology as part of their strategy to “bridge the competitive gap” between the EU and their economic rivals, the US and Japan.

The idea of the EIT was first mooted in a proposal by the European Commission (EC) to the European Council in February 2006. It was intended to be a flagship research university for excellence in higher education to rival the USA’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As the press release of that period put it:

‘’Excellence needs flagships: that’s why Europe must have a strong European Institute of Technology, bringing together the best brains and companies and disseminating the results throughout Europe’’ said José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. ‘’The EIT will be a light and flexible organisation”, stressed President Barroso. ‘’It will teach graduates and doctoral candidates, carry out research and be active in innovation, both in some strategic thematic areas and in the field of science and innovation management’’.

“If Europe is to remain competitive, then we must ensure that we improve the relationship between education, research and innovation,” said Ján Figel’, European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture, and Multilingualism. “It is a common perception that in Europe, this relationship does not work as well as it could. Europe consistently falls short in turning R&D results into commercial opportunities, innovations and jobs.

This grand plan would thus combine world-class education, research and deep engagement in effective innovation processes. Numerous reactions to the idea of the EIT have emerged since then, some supportive and some critical, with expected concern from European universities that the EIT would drain resources from existing research budgets.

Eighteen months on, and it would seem that the proposal for a two-level structure combining both a bottom-up (universities and researchers in Member States) and top-down (Governing Board) located in a grand building (location to be decided) has been abandoned as too difficult to negotiate. Instead, the Commission has ended up with a stripped down version which some commentators argue is nothing more than a university joint venture modeled on the Networks of Excellence (NE) that are part of the Framework 6 and 7 architecture. More widely this could be viewed as a typical outcome of the EC’s adventures; grand plans that member states and the private sector are unwilling to finance – with the 4.5 billion euro Galileo positioning system meant to rival the US system as another troubled example. This said the EIT is being funded for a solid six years as of 1 January 2008, and to the tune of EUR 308.7 million in total.

The fate of the EIT should be seen within a framework of competing interests between the European Union and Member States; of concentrating the best resources of Member States in one location that is governed at the European scale, versus allowing Member States to strategically harness and govern their own resources for economic competitiveness with some gesturing to Europe. According to Maria van der Hoeven, the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs:

We shouldn’t create a situation where we take all the knowledge out of the universities and bring it together in one spot, to the effect that you drain the national universities.

While the EC argues that currently research and development is far too fragmented across Europe, that there are not sufficient numbers of high class researchers (they point to the weaker performance of Europe in relation to science citations, Nobel Prize winners and the numbers of European universities in the top 100 universities rankings), private enterprise does not invest sufficiently in research and education, and talented European graduates leave to take up posts in the US.

The four JTIs link the public and the private sectors – approving research initiatives worth 9.3 billion euros: nano-electronic technologies (3 billion), computing systems (2.7 billion), innovative medicines (2 billion), and airplanes and air transport (1.6 billion). These public private partnerships are intended to help the EU raise R&D spending to 3% of GDP (from 1.8% currently) – one of the Lisbon objectives. The EU is also hoping to overcome the stagnation in R&D spending which has resulted in the EU trailing the US for most of the decade. According to the President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, “Europe is too slow to turn cutting edge technologies into marketable goods”. EU Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik dismissed suggestions that the four JTIs would run into similar problems that faced the Galileo satellite system where the companies and member states balked at the levels of investment being demanded by the EU. For the JTIs the private sector is expected to commit upwards of 60%, with national governments combining with the EU to contribute the other 40% in all but the medicines and aircraft programs (where the 40% contribution would come entirely from the EU).

These two initiatives – the EIT and the four JTIs – reflect the challenges facing Europe in its ambition to become a globally competitive knowledge-based economy. Institutions like the European Commission are viewed as vehicles to enhance research capacity at the European level yet they are also critiqued for both the content of their initiatives and their legitimacy in claiming some governance over higher education. In response the European Commission is pushing forward, albeit in a halting way. It is also concurrently seeking to learn from other spaces of knowledge production as we noted in our recent entry on the EC’s interest in the role of technology transfer offices in underlying the recent stem cell research breakthrough. The Commission is also eager to learn more about the nature of collaboration, distributed knowledge, and geographically fragmented research networks. Thus this news item about the EIT needs to be placed in the context of a search for new knowledge/spaces in both a regionalizing and a globalizing era.

Susan Robertson and Kris Olds


EU capitals start bidding for European technology institute – 12.12.2007 – 09:23
With the European Union next year set to launch its Institute of Innovation and Technology, some EU capitals have already started their bids to house the institute.

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.


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.”


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.


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

Graphic feed: “research footprints” of US “competitors” in science and technology


Source: Adams J. (2007) ‘Scientific wealth and the scientific investments of nations’, in T. Galama and J. Hosek (eds.) Perspectives on U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology, Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, p. 40. [via the Scout Report]

Note 1: PUBERD = public R&D as a share of GDP.

Note 2: See a review of the report, and especially Adams’ chapter, in IntelliBriefs.