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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


The Future Role of Research in the University:
Shifting Trajectories and Strategic Inflection Points

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
U.S. National Science Foundation
International Forum for World Leaders in Higher Education
City University of Hong Kong

July 3, 1997

Good afternoon. I should like to thank the City University of Hong Kong, especially H.K. Chang, for inviting me to take part in this inspiring forum on such a momentous occasion. I also want to offer a special thanks to John Dockerill, for all of his efforts in recent weeks to prepare us for this event and make us feel especially welcome here in Hong Kong.

Let me first say a word about the title of my talk today. When my colleagues and I began discussing this talk, we thought the title should be something like, "The Future of the Research University." After some give and take, we realized that such a title, serving as a base from which to begin, would limit our options. It would confine us to a universe defined by the research university as we know it today. The future role of research in higher education will likely be very different from what we know today, and it might do well for us to do some totally fresh thinking about the issue.

In the U.S., for example, only around 5 percent of the over 3,500 institutions of higher learning are categorized as research universities. My friend, Don Langenberg, a former Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation and now Chancellor of the University of Maryland system, once told an audience that "it is probably about as safe to assume that the dominant higher education institutions of the 21st Century will stem from this small but powerful group of present-day institutions as it would have been to assume that today's dominant life form on Earth would stem from Tyrannosaurus Rex."

For this reason, my talk today aims to look beyond just the future of research universities and address the broader topic of The Future Role of Research in the University.

The second part of the title introduces a concept that appears throughout the talk-- that of the strategic inflection point. Inflection points are times when trajectories shift from their expected course. July 1, 1997, for example, could easily be viewed as a strategic inflection point for the city and the people of Hong Kong -- even though we cannot yet gauge the magnitude of any shifts in its trajectory.

Andrew Grove, Chairman of Intel Corporation, often refers to strategic inflection points in his writings and public statements. He believes that the Internet itself is a strategic inflection point for the global economy. It has moved us toward an era where all commerce will be, as he puts it, "screen to screen commerce." He also believes that if you hope to survive beyond a strategic inflection point, you must prepare for the consequences before you reach that point.

Figure 1 - Critical Trajectories

(See the slides that accompany these remarks. You need a Power Point compatible graphic program to read the .PPT formated files. You may need to configure your browser to recognize .ppt files as Power Point.)

With these thoughts in mind, I would like to examine three trajectories that I believe present strategic inflection points for the future role of research in higher education.

  1. The first comes under the heading of "border crossings." It refers to the growth in both scale and importance of cooperative approaches to scientific and technological research. Of particular importance are activities that reach across international borders and across the different sectors of our economy.

  2. The second trajectory tracks the emergence of complex technologies as the dominant source of wealth generation and value-added in the global marketplace. This has direct implications for how we approach teaching and learning in higher education. Among other things, it demands that we step up our efforts to integrate across different fields of science and engineering, with particular emphasis on strengthening linkages between the so-called "hard" sciences and the social sciences.

  3. The third trajectory I'll examine today is the impact of advanced information technologies on the role of research in our universities -- what my colleagues and I at the National Science Foundation describe as Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence. This affects not just how we conduct research: it also opens new frontiers of science and engineering for us to explore, and it paves the way to new approaches that link teaching and learning with research and discovery.

For each of these trajectories, it is probably impossible to say whether the strategic inflection points lie ahead of us or behind us. It is nevertheless beyond doubt that these trajectories have shifted or are shifting, and we should therefore reexamine and perhaps restructure how we view the role of research in higher education in that context.

Border Crossings (National and Sectoral)

It seems appropriate to begin with a brief look at international cooperation in science and technology. Our gathering here for this Forum provides vivid testimony to the inherent internationalism of research and scholarship. We hail from four continents and some 15 different nations, yet we share a common commitment to progress through learning and discovery.

Figure 2 - International Co-authorship

This same shared commitment is borne out in the aggregate as well. As this figure shows, we have seen a marked increase in recent years in research collaborations that span international boundaries.

  • The number of internationally co-authored articles increased by 150 percent from 1981 to 1993. This global trend is shown by the lower line on the graph.

  • The share of all published articles with co-authors from two or more different nations has more than doubled over the past decade.

  • The rate of international co-authorship for U.S. researchers is slightly higher than the world average.

  • The true leaders in shaping this trajectory have been our colleagues here in Asia. In China as well as in South Korea, Singapore, and other Newly Industrialized Economies, the levels of international co-authorship outpace global averages by more than a factor of two.

This undoubtedly reflects the natural ties between our respective communities that are formed through graduate study at U.S. universities, as well as investments in U.S. university research by global industrial enterprises, and increasing interest by governments in fostering cross-border research collaboration.

Figure 3 - International Citation Patterns

The inherently global nature of science and technology also comes to light when we examine patterns of citations in the international scientific and technological literature. This shows that in addition to cooperating in research itself, we also rely on each other's research findings to a remarkable degree.

  • Researchers in virtually all nations are more likely to cite articles from other nations than from their own domestic literature.

  • The rates for foreign citation cover a range of between 60 and 80 percent.

  • The only outlier in this trend is the United States, but that in all probability is simply a reflection of the present scale of the U.S. academic research enterprise.

What is certain is that these levels of cooperation underscore the tradition of knowledge as a universal value. Free and open exchange has been a hallmark of university research since its inception. The uninhibited flow of fundamental knowledge in science and engineering through publication and peer review remains a defining characteristic of our global enterprise. These data make clear that this tradition remains indispensable to the progress of research in all scientific and technological fields.

While this spirit of internationalism has defined university research for generations, another type of border crossing has only recently begun to occur with regularity. Cooperative activities that cross sectoral boundaries -- notably industry-university partnerships -- are a relatively new addition to the research role of universities, but they too shows signs of proceeding at an accelerating pace.

Figure 4 - Co-authorship Across Sectors

In the U.S., this trend is most pronounced when examined from the perspective of the industrial researcher, as is shown on this figure.

  • Cross-sectoral co-authorship has grown steadily in the U.S. since the early 1980s.

  • A large share, nearly 40 percent, of journal articles published by researchers based in private industry now include a co-author from a university or government laboratory.

  • In 1981, this share was hovering at just over 20 percent, so we have seen it roughly double over the past dozen years or so.

An ongoing study of research universities by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that industry-university cooperation is also on an upward trajectory in major university systems worldwide. Throughout Europe and increasingly here in Asia as well, universities are being encouraged to enter into joint ventures and cooperative research endeavors with industry, government laboratories, and other research institutions to help foster networks and feedback loops in national innovation systems.

Only very recently have we begun to see concrete evidence that highlights the importance of university-based research in determining a nation's capacity to innovate and compete economically. A just-completed study of citations from U.S. patents to the scientific literature has documented the linkage between university research and industrial innovation. This study -- developed by Dr. Francis Narin and several colleagues -- will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal, Research Policy, and it has already been featured prominently in a number of major news outlets, including the New York Times.

Figure 5 - Patent cites to "public" science

The New York Times article ran under the headline, "Study Finds Public Science is a Pillar of Industry." The study found that 73 percent of recent patents awarded in the U.S. cite research from public and non-profit organizations. The academic sector was found to be the principal source of key findings, as it proved to be the source of just over half of the articles cited. I should make clear that this study examined all patents awarded in the U.S. system, not just those awarded to U.S. companies, so these linkages in no way qualify as a strictly U.S. phenomenon.

Figure 6 - Rates of citation on patents

Just as significant for the future of university research is that the frequency of these linkages has increased substantially, as is shown in this next figure. Linkages are increasing fastest for U.S. and U.K. produced patents, but also are increasing steadily for U.S. patents with French, German, and Japanese Inventors, as well as for almost all other inventor countries. In the U.S. for example, the frequency of these linkages has more than tripled over the past decade - from a rate of only 0.4 cites per patent to more than 1.4 cites per patent today.

The Emergence of Complex Technologies

When we collectively reflect upon these very definite and striking trends, our instincts might understandably be to rest on our laurels or to take continued progress for granted. That would be a mistake, and we must resist any such temptations. Further increases in the rates of international and inter-sectoral cooperation in science and engineering are not just desirable in the current environment; they are absolutely vital. This becomes clear when we examine a second trajectory -- that of complex technologies and their growing dominance in global markets.

Figure 7 - Added Value: 30 Most Valuable Exports

In a study presented this February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Donald Kash and Robert Rycroft, two leading scholars of U.S. Science and Technology Policy, found that the most successful commercial technologies have changed in one basic way over the past quarter century: they have become more complex.

Kash and Rycroft analyzed the 30 most valuable exports in the global market. They divided them into the categories shown on this table. The boxes on the matrix are determined by whether the products themselves can be considered simple or complex, and whether they require simple or complex manufacturing processes.

Kash and Rycroft's key finding is quite striking. In 1970, a quarter century ago, nearly 60 percent of the world's top exports were essentially simple products that could be manufactured through simple processes. Today, that same percentage -- 60 percent -- of the world's top exports are complex products that require complex manufacturing processes.

We can all readily envision some of the product advances that have driven this shift. PC's have replaced typewriters. Our audio record players that were based on Thomas Edison's phonograph have been supplanted by CD players that rely on computer chips and lasers. And, we have seen sensors, computers, and robotic devices become integral to virtually all manufacturing processes.

We should also note the strong, positive correlation between complexity and value-added.

  • As this table shows, the simple product/process items that constituted a majority of the world's exports in 1970 brought a total value of US$87 Billion.

  • The complex product/process items that dominate today's markets bring revenues of over US$1.1 Trillion.

  • Even after we adjust these figures for inflation, that still translates into a four-fold rise in the total worth of the products moving through the world's export markets.

For this reason, Kash and Rycroft are clearly correct in concluding that "economic well-being in the future will likely go to those who are successful in innovating complex technologies."

Figure 8 - Innovating Complex Technologies

Our ability to succeed in this new arena bears directly on the future role of research in the university. To quote Kash and Rycroft once again, "The innovation of complex technologies is distinguished by synthesis, the capability to integrate diverse knowledge located in many different organizations to produce previously non-existent capabilities."

They also add that: "Diversity is integral to complexity. The innovation of complex technologies is normally accomplished by accessing or creating new knowledge, decoupling from existing knowledge, and/or reconfiguring knowledge."

Figure 9 - Innovation vis-a-vis Productivity

These statements bring forth echoes of two of the 20th Century's most prescient economic thinkers -- Peter Drucker and Joseph Schumpeter. In his 1992 volume on Managing for the Future, Drucker notes that knowledge yields wealth in two essential ways, productivity and innovation. He points out that knowledge applied to tasks we already know how to do is productivity, while knowledge applied to tasks that are new and different is innovation -- the process of creating new enterprises and delivering new products and services.

Figure 10 - Creative Transformations

Joseph Schumpeter introduced the concepts of creative destruction and creative transformations over half a century ago. Paraphrasing his words, 'Business leaders usually visualize a market economy in the context of how capitalism administers existing structures, whereas the wiser approach is to understand how it creates and destroys them.' He admonishes that unless an entity continually transforms itself, it will ultimately be destroyed by the market competition.

The dynamics that underlie the process of creative transformation are poorly understood. At the U.S. National Science Foundation, we have begun to address the principles underlying creative transformations by bringing together research in two areas -- the Management of Technological Innovations (MOTI) and research on Transformations to Quality Organizations (TQO), which are currently housed in separate parts of our discipline-based structure. The first program is administered by our Engineering Directorate, while the TQO program resides in our Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences.

Figure 11 - The Study of Creative Transformations

These organizational details are important, because we have learned that we must draw upon work in both engineering and technological fields and the social and behavioral sciences to improve our understanding of this process. Only by bringing these different disciplines and perspectives together can we address the fundamental questions that hold the key to progress.

  • How can organizations effectively create, develop, and implement new technologies, processes, and structures, in order to satisfy their customers and other stakeholders?

  • How do organizations come to understand the need for innovation and change?

  • How can new products and processes be most effectively designed to meet customer needs?

  • How does technological change affect organizational change?

  • How do transformations affect performance?

It is clear that these questions and many others like them cannot be addressed by relying exclusively on either the so-called "hard" or "soft" sciences. Addressing them requires that we develop new approaches to research that are highly integrative across all fields of science and engineering, with an increasingly important role for the social sciences.

Indeed, it is now more vital than ever that our nations establish open and stable avenues of cooperation among the physical, biological, and the social and behavioral sciences. By building up our shared body of knowledge in these fields, we will undoubtedly gain new insights that will help address challenges affecting all parts of science and engineering.

Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence

This same theme of increased integration also shapes the third trajectory I want to focus on today. I am speaking of the impact of advanced information technologies on university research. This is an area where the strategic inflection points are most apparent and are most likely behind us. We've already heard how these advances are revolutionizing higher education in general, and very shortly Ellis Rubinstein will lead our discussion on how the conduct of research and the publishing of research results have undergone a revolution as well.

What we sometimes overlook, however, is that advances in computing and communications technologies have opened entirely new frontiers of science and engineering for us to explore. We have also been slow to recognize that we now posses a rich array of resources for restoring the natural linkages between learning and discovery.

Figure 12 - KDI Definition

At the U.S. National Science Foundation, we have established an overarching theme entitled Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence, or KDI for short. This term is meant to capture the fact that knowledge is fast becoming available to anyone, located anywhere, at anytime, and that power, information, and responsibility are moving away from entity-centered organizations to a more virtually-distributed mode among individuals. Over the span of just a few years, computers have moved from air conditioned rooms to closets to desktops and now to our laps and our pockets. The number of Internet hosts worldwide has leapt from only 200 in 1983 to an estimated 10 million today (a 50,000-fold increase) and remains on track to continue doubling annually.

These advances have created opportunities for research and education that were previously beyond our comprehension.

Figure 13 - KDI Opportunities

For example, consider three systems that figure prominently in our daily existence: the brain, economic markets, and large computer networks. As dissimilar as these systems are, they share several powerful traits.

  • Information is widely distributed through the system.

  • No identifiable entity coordinates the information or controls decisions.

  • Yet, the information is somehow focused into sensible outcomes. (Usually that is....)

Currently, researchers in such disciplines as mathematics, computer science, psychology, economics, and neuroscience study these types of systems separately. If we can increase the level of integration among these disciplines, we may uncover similarities in how these seemingly dissimilar systems function, and, by doing so, learn ways to improve the performance of each.

This same potential for cooperation exists in countless other areas, notably those involving simulations of natural and social phenomena that generate vast volumes of numeric data. Whether we are examining global weather patterns or the behavior of financial markets, our only hope of extracting useful gems from these mountains of data is to develop techniques for visualizing and representing information that go well beyond our current capabilities.

In this same way, these advances in knowledge and distributed intelligence, and those to come, have provided us with new mechanisms for interacting with students at all levels. As described by the previous speakers at this forum, should academe ignore this opportunity for creative transformations, it does so at its peril.

In an article from the November 1994 issue of The Atlantic, Peter Drucker wrote that: "We will redefine what it means to be an educated person. educated person was someone who had a prescribed stock of formal knowledge....Increasingly, an educated person will be someone who has learned how to learn, and who continues learning...throughout his or her lifetime."

Slide 14 - Proverb on Learning

It almost need not be said that within the context of today's enabling technologies, this notion of learning how to learn should remind us of a timeless bit of educational wisdom. We need only recall the ancient proverb that originated here in China and that is now claimed by many cultures:

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

In today's rhetoric, "integrating research and education," "learning through discovery," or "experimental learning," all describe this ancient admonition.

Whether you prefer the ancient or more modern versions of this philosophy, there is one point upon which we can all agree. The technologies at our disposal today have provided us with the opportunity to make this timeless wisdom about education an integral part of the future role of research in our universities.

Figure 15 - Summary

Let me summarize by building upon this note. While I don't know if I have any timeless wisdom to add to our discussion, I can say a few things about what the three trajectories I have highlighted hold for the future of research in higher education.

  1. International and inter-sectoral cooperation is likely to continue growing at an accelerating pace -- to the benefit of all of us.

  2. Research in the university will by necessity become better integrated across science and engineering, with particular emphasis on linkages between the social sciences and other fields of science and engineering. The emergence of complex technologies in the global marketplace and their impact on wealth creation makes this an absolute imperative.

  3. The arrival of the era of knowledge and distributed intelligence will enable us to pursue previously unimaginable avenues of research, and it also will restore and reinvigorate the natural linkages between research and learning.

In closing, let me add that these trajectories and inflection points are much more likely to change us than we are to change them. That may cause some concern in our ranks, but in the final analysis it bodes very well for our progress as a global society.

  • We will see a university research enterprise that unites us across national and cultural boundaries.

  • Our enterprise will realize its full potential as a source of industrial innovation and economic opportunity.

  • And, it will give our friends, neighbors, children, and grandchildren the chance to realize their own individual potential by gaining new and powerful tools for lifelong learning.

If this proves to be the future role of research in our universities, then we will undoubtedly enjoy a very bright future indeed.



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