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November 09, 2011

Research Globalisation Live Blog

by Elizabeth Gibney

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.

September 21, 2011

The twin faces of Vince Cable

by Elizabeth Gibney

Listening to Vince Cable at the Liberal Democrat conference yesterday morning sounded like listening to a man talking himself into something. Gone was the doom and gloom (or to be exact ‘grey skies’) of the previous day’s party conference speech: because this morning, he was talking about universities, and it was all ‘sunny uplands’.

Reforms would be ultimately good, Cable told an early morning fringe event, attended by a mixture of university chiefs, think tankers and venture capitalists. The aim of change was not to make universities better serve business, but that would be a result. In the vein of the Dearing report, business would invest more in universities and students would think more carefully about what they studied. Universities would receive more money overall, not less, and the “Soviet” style system of allocating student numbers would be scrapped.

On top of that, immigration reforms would continue to welcome foreign students to our shores and the science budget would be protected, if only in cash terms, he said as gleefully as Cable every says anything. On the last two issues, his exact words were “bad things could have happened in both these areas and didn’t”.

If you are a regular reader of Research Fortnight, I don’t need to tell you how many out there might question that last assertion in particular; the Campaign for Science and Engineering has said it most plainly here: http://sciencecampaign.org.uk/?p=7204.

And as questions began to roll in from fellow Lib Dems I wondered how many of Vince’s bubbles would be burst and who would be the first to do it.

But to my great surprise, that just didn’t happen. Cable fielded questions on skills, on the differential treatment of arts and sciences, on apprenticeships. But no there was no hint of worry about the great changes that would soon hit universities.

And that was something replicated across the conference, especially when it came to growth, entrepreneurship and higher education. Liberal Democrats seemed to be using their annual gathering to regroup, to tell each other to keep their heads up high and to congratulate themselves on achieving as much as they have, given the tough position both they are the whole country are in.

Overall, the feeling was they were not there to take to task their ministers in their first outing in power since World War II, not there to question the decisions they made, or didn’t make.

Even ‘access advocate’ Simon Hughes seems to think the tuition fees debacle was a case of mis-selling, mistakes in spin and  having ever made promises they couldn’t keep.  There was anger at failing to get the message across, and making a pledge on fees in the first place, but at every event I attended, as well as in the corridors and cafes, talk about the right to free education and to reversing policies once times were better, were gone.

Although debates on the NHS, legalising drugs and euthanasia suggest that the traditional (derisively described as sandal-wearing) element of the party are still out there, it seems that at least for now they’re dressed up in suits and sport stony faces which says “we’re not sorry for the choices we’ve made”.  Lib Dems feel they have bigger fish to fry.

June 01, 2011

Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 2 of 3

by Elizabeth Gibney

by Tania Rabesandratana

Welcome to Research Europe's Framework and the Innovation Union live blog from The International Auditorium in Brussels. Our second session today is Carving up the Pie.

Our speakers are Geoffrey Boulton, professor of geology and vice principal at the University of Edinburgh; Ben Butters, secretary general of Eurochambres; and Jerzy Langer, foreign secretary of Academia Europaea and former science vice minister in Poland.

Continue reading "Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 2 of 3" »

Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 1 of 3

by Elizabeth Gibney

Welcome to Research Europe's Framework and the Innovation Union live blog from The International Auditorium in Brussels. Our first session today is Policy Context - The Innovation Union.

Our speakers are the director general of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, Robert-Jan Smits, Jan van den Biesen, vice president of public R&D Programmes at Philips Research and Theodore Papazoglou, Head of Unit A1, Support to the European Research Council. Their chairman is deputy secretary general of the European Universities Association, John Smith.

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May 11, 2011

Cuts in Culture conference live blog - 2 of 3

by Elizabeth Gibney

Welcome to Research Fortnight's Cuts in Culture live blog from Bafta. Our second session today is Funding Innovation.

Our speakers are the chairman of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and UCL professor, Alan Wilson, chief executive of Arts and Business, Colin Tweedy, and director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, UK branch, Andrew Barnett. Their chairman is chief executive and secretary of the British Academy, Robin Jackson.

News, instant analysis and comment on  what was said. Read from the bottom up.

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April 14, 2011

London universities set to join St Pancras super lab

by Elizabeth Gibney

The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation has sealed its bid to become London’s scientific powerhouse by adding Imperial College London and King’s College London to its list of partners.

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February 17, 2011

Overt discrimination in science "pretty well gone"

by Elizabeth Gibney

The president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will focus on diversity in the sciences in an address to the association's annual conference later today.

Speaking ahead of the event in Washington DC on 17 February, Alice Huang said that although overt discrimination for women in science was “pretty well gone”, attitudes remain which set the bar higher for women than men. Huang, a virologist at the California Institute of Technology, called the subconscious discrimination “human”, but something which activity was needed to counteract.

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February 15, 2011

Not for profit: the decent society is about more than impact

by Elizabeth Gibney

Philosophy, history and classics are more than the icing on academia’s cake, says Martha Nussbaum, professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago. Elizabeth Gibney finds out why she believes we ignore them at our peril.

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February 02, 2011

Innovation funding to target already successful institutions

by Elizabeth Gibney

The Higher Education Funding Council for England plans to reduce the number of institutions that receive support from the Higher Education Innovation Fund.

Under plans announced on 1 February universities will have to qualify to receive £250,000 or more from HEIF to receive anything at all. A maximum cap on funding to any institute will also be fixed at £2.85m.

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January 17, 2011

Women of science, do you know your place?

by Elizabeth Gibney

Why there are so few women in science? Or to be more precise, why are there so few women in the physical sciences, and so few at the top of any field?

Continue reading "Women of science, do you know your place? " »

Elizabeth Gibney


Elizabeth Gibney is a former news reporter for Research Fortnight and Research Europe.