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
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
- The complex product/process items that dominate
today's markets bring revenues of over US$1.1
- 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
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
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
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
- 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
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
- 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
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. Traditionally...an
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.
- International and inter-sectoral cooperation is
likely to continue growing at an accelerating
pace -- to the benefit of all of us.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.