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November 09, 2011

Research Globalisation Live Blog

Session 2: 'The practicalities of the global research university; harnessing the flow of people, ideas and reputation'

Speakers for this session are Jeremy Watson, Director of Global Research at Arup and Chief Scientific Advisor, Department for Communities and Local Government; Professor Lawrence Cram, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University; Professor Julia Lane, Program Director of Science of Science and Innovation Policy at he US National Science Foundation; and Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron, President of The Open University, Israel, and Israel’s former Chief Scientist.

The session will be chaired by Research Europe editor Colin Macilwain.

Please refresh for updates and read from the top.

First up is Jeremy Watson, giving the industry perception of the globalisation of higher education. 

Engineering and design company, Arup, has research relationships all over the world, including with universities. Watson outlines the RCUK, Rolls Royce and UCL view of globalisation in HE and how they see the lanscape changing. Despite the many benefits, Roll Royce's caveats, for example, include issues of IP leakage at overseas campus.

In the future we're likely to see more centres of excellence that span national boundaries, and funding schemes, such as ERA-net, which fund collaborations across borders.

Lawrence Cram is up next, talking about the sharp rise in the number of international students in Australia in the last ten years, also in the incidences of research collaboration between Austrailan and Asian academics.

Australia is a small population; the 'Group of Eight' universities perform more than 90 per cent of research. Its economy has become closer to Asia in recent years. One fifth of Austrialian students are international and education is the third largest export, behind iron ore but ahead of tourism, so taken seriously by Australian govenrment.  

The most research intensive universities can charge the highest fees, says Cram, with their positive intellectual buzz that students respond to. Successful study at a research-intesive university is also a powerful signal for employers.

Research volume too has grown, as has international collaboration. About 40 per cent of Australian papers have international co-authors. Some 40 per cent of these are with Asian scholars, which has grown by a factor of seven over the past decade.

Growth in research is comparable to growth in HE provision, but the connection between the two is not obvious or strong. Research growth is fuelled by the revenue obtained by international student fees, and students are prepared to pay a premium to study at research intensive universities. But the drive is predominany cultural, through migration and economic interaction. Again, it comes back to people and personal connections, Cram concludes. Five members the Indonesian cabinet for example, studied in Australia. These connections are of enormous importance.

A slight change to the programme, next up is Hagit Messer-Yaron on the contrasting cultures between universities and industry in their internationalisation strategies, and the role of governments.

The government role includes financial support for universities, interventions to bridge the gap between knowledge and industry, and providing infrastructure, she says. But, like the Bayh-Dole act in the US, the law in most countries provides a duty to commercialise, however on a local level. This is often in conflict with the inherent global nature of science.

Messer-Yaron now gives some reflection on Israel’s experience of technology transfer and internationalisation. Since Israel’s foundation there was the realisation that, as a small country, international collaboration was essential. Each faculty member today gets a travel budget automatically, there are funds that support bi-lateral projects, and technology transfer does not have to happen on a local scale.

The government’s involvement in tech transfer is quite limited, and universities freedom to operate is essential to Israel’s success, she says. The government does provide funding for collaborations with industry, but this gets less as the product gets closer to market.

The last speaker of this session is Julia Lane, from the NSF, who leads the Star Metrics benchmarking project.

It's no longer appropriate to say 'you can't measure science', says Lane. It is now possible to "professionalise" how you make science investments, but you need need a systematic way of describing the results. When faced with a data deluge in all areas it makes sense to pick up results already being made electronically, rather than get researchers to report manually. 

You want system in which scientists benefit from reporting, she says. Star Metrics can capture data from the financial systems and payroll of each of its 85 participating institutions. Set up takes about 45 hours, but is then automatic. It can pick up all financial transactions, such as students supported, jobs through vendors and suppliers. The system picks up descriptions of science itself, generating key words to describe the scientific portfolio, allowing link up different fields and people, as well as automatically showing patent and publication data. Researchers can have all this automatically reported on their online CV.

This "unpacks the black blox of science", concludes Lane.

We're now onto the Q&A session.

The first question is for Lane: what can we do here in the UK? Brazil has a national system of scientists CV, Lattes, so you never have to enter your details for a grant more than once.

Lane says the Lattes system has now spread to many countries and inspired Star Metrics. However the US is building on it to be automatic. If Europe were to collaborate too it becomes possible to capture the international links.

Another question for Lane: are you looking for outcomes of a particular grant, given the difficulty of this? Lane says there is still work needed to tease out the causal connections and the contribution of grants; Star Metrics is simply an information system at the moment.

The killer question; are the metrics to be used to guide funding? And from the chairman, what do the panel view as the role of metrics in research?

Quick fire reflections from the panel: Watson says companies want to know how effective investments are. Messer-Yaron says we must remember that a singluar system may keep English as the dominant language. Finally, from Australia's perspective, Cram says the country's system collects a huge amount of data but, unfortunately, does not make it available to the public.

That's a wrap for this session. Please join us after lunch.

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