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The Science and Research Factor: Policy Deficit in Australia or a Failure to Articulate Impact?

Éidín O’Shea

What does allocation of cabinet portfolios tell us about the priorities of the government (and society)? An opportunity to reflect on the need for a science minister is provided by a new Australian government, where such portfolio does not exist.

This week a new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his cabinet were sworn in with the promise of instant action. When Abbott announced his new cabinet and ministerial line-up no one was given specific responsibility for science. Higher education, science, and research will now be divided under two portfolios (Education and Industry). In every government since 1931 (bar from 1963-1966) Australia has had a minister with the word ‘science’ or ‘scientific’ in the title. This shift by Tony Abbott has been criticised even within the Liberal party as a source of ‘confusion’. Catriona Jackson, the CEO of Science and Technology Australia, stressed science and technology was central to everything government did “from industry, to health to creating the sort of jobs that are key to ensuring a prosperous future for the country”. “It seems inconceivable that we do not have a minister of Parliament that is responsible for the sciences,” she said.

The omission points to a greater inability by universities in Australia to clearly articulate their contribution to science and society and an uncertain policy and practice environment to support it.

Aligning with global shifts ambitious expectations have been set out by the Commonwealth government on the role of Australian universities with an explicit focus on increased collaborations between the public and private sectors. In addition to this national focus for knowledge exchange, a recent federal government publication in 2012, Australia in the Asian Century, also charges universities with expanding links and partnerships with Asia and with the ambitious challenge of having 10 top universities in the world’s top 100 rankings.

However in the face of these expectations, Australia currently ranks 22nd out of 28 OECD countries for public expenditure on tertiary education, spending only 1% of GDP. Further constraining any response to these expectations, in April 2013 the Australian Commonwealth government announced the biggest reductions in funding to the university system and student support since 1996, with an additional $2.3 billion to be stripped from the university system over the next four years, including almost $1billion from university revenue.

This policy deficit has resulted in a practice environment within universities which is characterised by a lack of engagement, project management and collaboration skills, and the limited motivation of researchers to engage in collaborative knowledge exchange processes. This is in sharp contrast to the European Commission ‘modernisation agenda’ for university reform defining the role of universities as to exploit the so-called ‘knowledge triangle of research, education and innovation’ (eg the Lund Declaration, 2009). Funding streams to support this agenda are emerging and the European Commission will soon launch Horizon 2020. This funding instrument (2014-2020), with an €80 billion budget, aims to deepen the relationship between science and society by favouring an ‘… informed engagement of citizens and civil society on research and innovation matters’.

Ernst & Young recently argued that Australian universities are on the cusp of profound change, warning that universities will not survive the next 10 to 15 years unless they radically overhaul their current operating models. They cite five drivers of change, including both ‘democratisation of knowledge’, and ‘access to and integration with industry’. Their observations reinforce the argument that, in today’s competitive market place, the viability and sustainability of much Australian business heavily relies on the strong and genuine relationships developed through a diverse range of university initiatives.

Overall Australian universities have not been successful in articulating their impact to the broader community or to government. It is clear that universities need to be internally adaptive in order to be externally responsive. However, without national policy direction and appropriate support, the current university business model, already under pressure from government cutbacks, is unlikely to be able to respond to this agenda in any resource intensive manner.

Dr Éidín O’Shea, Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Regional Community Development), Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development, University of Southern Queensland

This blog initially was published on “Europe of Knowledge” blog at “Ideas on Europe” blog platform.

How can social sciences and humanities be better integrated in research on ‘Societal Challenges’?

In an earlier post, Thomas Koenig wrote about the upcoming Lithuanian EU Presidency conference ‘Horizons for Social Sciences and Humanities’, which reacts to the so-called ‘integrative approach’ the European Commission proposed in the preparation of the ‘Horizon 2020’ research funding programme; more precisely the third pillar known as the ‘societal challenges’. Seven such challenges have been predefined by Commission (in collaboration with European Parliament and European Council).

He now asks: What does integration of social sciences and humanities actually mean? Can “SSH” really contribute to “societal challenges”? And what is required to make this possible?

He is curious to hear your opinion: please share in the comments section.

Funding research in Europe: what horizons for social sciences and humanities?

Thomas König

Next week, September 23-24, the Lithuanian EU Presidency will host a conference on “Horizons on Social Sciences and Humanities” in Vilnius. While it is not the first gathering to discuss the role of Social Sciences and Humanities in Europe, this conference is certainly unique, for it combines several features. For the first time, a consultation process has been conducted in preparation of such a conference, collecting diverse positions and opinions within European Social Sciences and Humanities communities. A steering committee of eminent scholars has put together an ambitious program that combines general reflection with operative goals. Most significantly, European Commission officials will discuss on an equal footing with representatives from the Social Sciences and Humanities. But why is bringing these two groups on the table so important at this point?

As its title already indicates, the conference is closely related to the European Commission’s “Horizon 2020” research-funding programme. At stake here is how social sciences and humanities will be funded from 2014 onwards when “Horizon 2020” will supersede the Seventh Framework Programme. “Horizon 2020” claims to have some innovative, new features – one of which is, in the words of Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, “to work beyond the ‘silos’ of different disciplines”. This is to occur through an “integrated approach”, which will replace previously existing dedicated funding streams. What this means exactly, however, remains to be determined.

For those working in the social sciences and humanities, the third pillar of “Horizon 2020” – the “Societal Challenges” Programme – is of particular importance. It contains seven pre-defined challenges, ranging from “health, demographic change and well-being”, “food security”, “secure, clean and efficient energy”, “smart, green and integrated transport”, “climate action”, to “inclusive, innovative and reflective societies” and “secure societies”. It would hardly be surprising for this audience that social sciences and the humanities have a lot to contribute to addressing these challenges. But many policy-makers still believe in a simplified model where scientific research results lead to a better society and more robust economy. This means that, in practice, dedicated programmes often fund solely natural sciences research and technological innovation. Such a lopsided understanding is problematic, simply because more scientific and technological innovation requires more social innovation, too.

Acknowledging the reciprocity of technological innovation and societal advancement, the Commissioner’s integrative approach stands in sharp contrast to this, and is therefore laudable. The conference concentrates primarily on implementation: How can integration of the Social Sciences and Humanities in each of the seven challenges be achieved? And, vice versa, what are specific requirements of the Social Sciences and Humanities in order to contribute in the best manner? Obviously, its representatives will have to be properly embedded in the process of defining the single funding programmes, as well as in the funding decisions. But furthermore, and more generally, scientists and scholars from all direction have to be willing to reach across the aisle. The “Societal Challenges” pillar constitutes an important funding channel for research in general – more than 28 Billion Euros over the next seven years. If integration is accomplished successfully under “Horizon 2020”, it might also serve as a future prototype for how to best organize research funding on specific societal topics in European countries.

Reflections on the progress and outcomes of this meeting will be featured on the homepage of the European Research Area CRN and ‘Ideas on Europe’.

Dr. Thomas König is an assistant to the Conference Steering Committee and Scientific Associate to Prof. Helga Nowotny.

State-University Relationships at Times of Crisis

Tatiana Fumasoli

An enduring tension in systemic integration in public sector governance has featured the relations between state and its agencies and organizations devoted to specific tasks. Thus periods of greater leeway to sub-systemic organizational autonomy have intertwined with periods of contraction and stronger central control, and vice versa. A recent example is the wave of so-called post New Public Management reforms that have followed NPM reforms. The rationale underpinning NPM reforms has been granting increasing autonomy to agencies and organizations in order for them to become strategic actors in a quasi-market. However, as such reforms have not produced the desired outcomes –coordination through competition – states have re-introduced more control, for instance by establishing accountability systems.

In a similar way the university sector has undergone major changes in coordination modes and systemic governance over the last decades. However dynamics of change in the university sector can be considered unique. On the one hand the university is an institution that is an organization with intrinsic values and norms historically recognized by society; on the other hand EU has focused on universities as major actors in the construction of the Europe of Knowledge. Hence the question “how do reforms play out when it comes to university structures, cultures and values embedded in national and European systems?” has been addressed both at the European Consortium for Political Research ECPR general conference in Bordeaux, France, in the panel “State-university relationships at times of crisis” within the “Europe of Knowledge” section and at the Consortium of Higher Education Researchers CHER general annual conference in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Investigating the implications of the changing university governance for system integration, Fumasoli, Gornitzka and Maassen at ECPR propose four perspectives based on Olsen’s steering models (1988) as analytical devices. Centralized integration implies a core function for the state, which organizes hierarchically the delegation of tasks to subordinate agencies and organizations. Negotiated integration is the result of power dynamics whereby different groups bargain their role and position. Competitive integration is based on market forces and implies an evolutionary perspective through variation, selection and retention. Institutional integration sees adaptation by the different components of the system through learning processes based on the principle of appropriateness. In the framework of the European Flagship Universities project, funded by the Research Council of Norway and coordinated by ARENA, the preliminary findings on eleven European flagship universities show that the impact of reforms depends on how these match with and are absorbed by existing cultures, practices and institutional identities. Against this backdrop universities emerge as major actors in systemic governance: they connect with both national and European levels testing their own remit and room to manoeuver. At the same time research groups display strategic agency and pursue their own interests not necessarily aligning to European and national policy goals.

Exploring the impact of European policies and instruments within Norwegian universities in the construction of European Research Area (ERA), Fumasoli at CHER reported how this has been historically fragmented, based on non-legal instruments and voluntary participation as well as framed by path dependency at national, university and disciplinary levels. Nevertheless some degree of integration can be detected as ERA has become part of the European agenda, displaying capacity for pursuing integrative agendas (e.g. European Higher Education Area EHEA). More recently supranational institution building has taken place with the construction of the European Research Council (ERC) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). Last but not least, structural adaptations within universities can be detected as an attempt to cope with European funding instruments (support units for handling applications to, management of European projects as well as incentives to successful applicants, see also Langfeldt, Gødo, Gornitzka and Kaloudis 2012).

Elite professors – coordinating European projects and grants – emerge: they are able to determine research priorities, they are allocated increasing material and symbolic resources by institutional leadership and they can negotiate their teaching load. Competing logics are at play: an academic logic balancing teaching and research missions, a competitive logic awarding high performers and a strategic logic where academic leaders try to comply with broader organizational goals. These dynamics at the shop floor level have relevant implications for European integration: the density and intensity of linkages to the EU is affected by academics (senior professors leading research groups) and by the extent to which these are willing to participate in European projects. Along this line interdependence and structural connectedness among the components of the system are still loose and potentially idiosyncratic, as they also depend on individuals and on shifting research interests, groups and activities. At the same time EU policies and instruments (ERC in particular) contribute to the diffusion of new values and norms within universities: the competitive rationale is penetrating the shop floor and challenging the traditional egalitarian principle of Norwegian society.

Persson at ECPR discussed the topic of institutional autonomy focusing on the relation between universities and national funding agencies in Sweden. He analyzed how reforms granting institutional autonomy to universities have affected the traditional work of such agencies: formally policy driven, but substantially performing (i.e. distributing funds) according to scientific criteria, funding agencies have to cope with renewed political interest and the emerging strategic objectives of universities.

Distinctive national cases were presented at ECPR in the broader context of Europe and its call for efficient, effective, competitive higher education systems. Moscati and Vaira presented the Italian case accounting for fragmented and contradictory stop-and-go reforms of a centralized system over the last 20 years. Udrescu explained the difficulties of achieving a balance between university autonomy and state control in post-communist countries (Romania). Finally Degn and Sørensen depicted Denmark as a case of “successful” reforms, where in the last ten years the national system has transformed universities according to NPM principles and successively established external control institutions.

The papers presented at ECPR and CHER show how universities and their sub-units have to be taken into consideration when analysing European integration processes. Past reforms have granted universities a higher degree of autonomy constructing them as strategic actors, able to play their own role in the system. Increased autonomy has had unintended outcomes: academics and their research groups are also able to pursue their own agenda, thus contributing to the complexity of systemic dynamics and integration processes.

Dr.Tatiana Fumasoli is a post-doctoral fellow at the ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo, Norway

References

Langfeldt, L., Godø, H. Gornitzka, Å. and Kaloudis, A. (2012) Integration modes in EU research: Centrifugality versus coordination of national research policies, Science and Public Policy, 39 (1), 88-98

Olsen, J. P. (1988) Statsstyre og institusjonsutforming. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

This entry was originally posted on “Europe of Knowledge” blog at the “Ideas on Europe” blog platform. It can be found here.

Launch presentation

Missed our presentations at UACES, ECPR and CHER?

No worries, have a look here and contact us if you have further queries:

launch-meeting

The ‘glass-machine complex’ of social network analysis

Filipa M. Ribeiro

Networks became a frame for thinking and living in our liquid order [1]. This frame has been a shift in gaze from formal organizational entities to the network of actors engaged with one another in various ways[2]. This is the core principle of network theory and analysis. This network turn challenges our notions of society, organizations and education as knowable entities.

Firstly, this network turn is related to the old ideal of “one humanity” first predicted by Kant[3], who wrote about the universal unification of mankind. A second element of this network turn is as much invisible as it is essential: the border (or edge to use the terminology of Social Network Analysis- SNA). This border separates and connects people and cultures at the same time. This ambiguity is what makes us fall in love with the “c” word: connections. These acquire more importance as they are oversaturated with meaning, while borders become less and less defined in our fast-globalised world. In a nutshell, connections became a tool for collective action in an attempt to find local solutions to global problems. In an unbridled global world, connections became a tool of collective and frantic activity of drawing borders aiming against all fragilities. We cannot yet know if this is a vain hope or if it is not.

Knowledge networks: walking on a wobbly soil

In SNA studies, researchers identify borders or relations and look for its justifications, and then for the differences on the two sides of the borders: how they acquire significance and all the mechanisms and processes that keep the relations.

Studying relations in the field of higher education has some commonalities with studying them in any type of organization. From an institutional point of view we know that connections have a great potential to achieve an awkward mix of forms of power:

  • From an individualistic perspective, connections may be seen to be in the interests of those engaged;
  • From a solidarity perspective, connections need to be underpinned by trust based on sufficiently shared norms and values;
  • From a hierarchical perspective, connections are fostered by the system and organisation leaders.

However, on the other side of the coin, we know that if connections are too individualistic they become merely transactional, less creative and more prone to conflicts. Exaggerated emphases on personal attachments often lead to a lack of clarity and strength and end up on friendship relations. Finally, if connections are too controlled by hierarchies, they most certainly become bureaucratic and unresponsive.

What about the evidence that collaboration can make a difference at the various levels of knowledge networks at universities? A study presented by Filipa M. Ribeiro (University of Porto) and Miranda Lubbers (Autonomous University of Barcelona) at the 10th ASNA, in late August, found that coauthorship should not be equated with knowledge creation. In fact, of all the ties nominated regarding scientific collaborations (on average 6.9 per respondent), only 28% of those ties was deemed important for knowledge creation.

The authors investigated the role of the two main interpersonal mechanisms that have been related to the embeddedness in social networks in order to further explore under what conditions network ties are associated with knowledge creation: similarity and tie strength. Similarity refers to the fact that the more similar individuals are the more likely they are to establish a connection. Tie strength is a combination of the amount of time, emotional intensity, intimacy and reciprocal services among two people. The findings showed that: 1) stronger ties are perceived as more important for knowledge creation, regardless the fact that they are or are not from the same discipline or academic position; 2) similarity in position and discipline do not affect knowledge creation.

Christoph Lutz and Christian Hoffmann, from the University of Sankt Gallen, studied the potential of academic social network sites for scientific impact assessment. They evaluated new forms of impact in management research in the case of Researchgate. Their findings show that activity on the platform is the best predictor of impact within the network, while publication success plays less of a role. Another interesting finding was that researchers who write together usually don’t follow each other.

The two studies reinforce the recent idea according to which collaboration and coauthorship relations should not be the unique indicators to assess the impact of scientific work nor to understand what’s behind scientific creation. So, on one hand, more informational systems and other types of assessment are needed.  On the other, a deeper development of network theory combines what we intuitively know with a growing body of network research suggesting that relationships within a system matter in enacting change, flows, diffusion and strategies prior to, during and after any implementation of a change strategy. The importance of this is obvious if we take into consideration the fact that the European space of education is mobilized by networks of actors and constructed by comparative data.

In what regards SNA, the field is fertile in methodological, theoretical and even ethical concerns as there will always be merits and demerits of gleaning social network data to complex and multidimensional social problems. However, the approach provided by SNA helps us not to have an atomised view of organisational member and flows but rather an intricate web of formal, informal and a-changing linkages binding or separating groups, actors and processes. Just like in the glass-making industry, in social network research there is a considerable number of mechanical and structural movements and data that must be synchronised for processes to run smoothly. However, many other variables are at stake as variability, unpredictability and sudden emergence of new situations are glassmaker’s companions. And it will continue to be like that for next 10 years in this bumpy road of social network analysis.


[1] Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid Modernity. Polity Press.

[2] Daly, A. J. (2010). Social Network Theory and educational Change. Harvard Harvard University Press.

[3] Kant,I., (1983). “Beginning of Human History” in Perpetual peace and other essays.Hackett Publishing.

Competing for foreign talent in a globalised world: is Europe losing out?

Lucie Cerna and Meng-Hsuan Chou

Labour market shortages in high-skilled sectors, demographic changes and the constant pressure to innovate have prompted governments around the world to engage in a global competition for talent. Against this context, the regional dimension has become increasingly important as governments seek to activate all policy instruments in the race for the ‘best and brightest’. This is certainly the case in Europe.

According to the most recent calculations, the European Commission estimated that Europe will need between 384,000 and 700,000 workers in the information and communication technology sector by 2015 and one million healthcare professionals by 2020. Unsurprisingly, we see the European Commission opening its July 2013 Communication on ‘European higher education in the world’ with the resounding title ‘Europe and the global race for talent’. This reference sets up the scenario that, unless attractive measures are in place, Europe might be losing out. In light of the on-going Crisis currently shaking the foundations of the European Union (EU), how is Europe faring in terms of being an attractive destination for foreign talent?

Implementing the EU Scientific Visa and Blue Card

The EU is said to be lagging behind countries such as Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the United States in terms of its share of high-skilled migrant workers in the total employed population. To remedy this gap, it adopted the Scientific Visa and the Blue Card in 2005 and 2009 respectively. The Scientific Visa, now being recast and revision is anticipated in 2016, was explicitly formulated to attract top scientists and researchers (the highly-educated) to Europe. In comparison, the Blue Card was designed to expedite the entry of foreign professionals (the highly-qualified).

The results so far showed that some 7,000 Scientific Visas were issued in 2011, which fell short of the ‘one million researchers’ target the European Commission estimated to be necessary for the EU to become the ‘most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world’ by 2020. Official figures for the Blue Card are not yet available, but we know that Germany, for example, issued 8,880 Blue Cards within the first eleven months of its implementation, but at least one-third of permits has been allocated to those already living there. This is telling of the overall effect of the Blue Card because Germany, since the retreat of the UK as a frontrunner, is considered by the OECD in 2013 as one of the most open EU countries for its high-skilled migration regime. What we can conclude is that, numerically, the Scientific Visa and the Blue Card have yet to act as the powerful magnets of global talent for Europe as a whole. And why is that?

In our study of how the Scientific Visa and the Blue Card were framed, we found that the final adopted legislation projected a strong ‘migration frame’, which emphasises the importance of robust border control and the deterrence of any unwanted migration. This was in contrast to how the Scientific Visa and Blue Card were originally presented by the European Commission: through the ‘scientific excellence frame’ and the ‘competiveness frame’ respectively. We believe that the ‘migration frame’ has contributed to the relative unattractiveness of these two EU talent migration measures by, for instance, being less generous in terms of the rights offered to admitted high-skilled migrants. Even so, when we look more closely at national policies, we see the member states applying their own strategies to attract the ‘best and brightest’ independent of EU-level efforts. But, are they in any way more successful?

Tilting the talent balance: from Europe to Asia

In another recent study we compared the German and Singaporean talent migration regimes to determine their relative attractiveness for high-skilled migrants. We applied the Highly-Skilled Immigration Index (HSII) developed by Cerna and we found the Singaporean policies to be more competitive, or attractive, than the German ones on several dimensions, notably the conditions attached to labour market tests. This is interesting given that our findings took into consideration the most recent and projected policy changes in Singapore. The Singaporean government, long known to enjoy a free hand in liberalising its talent migration policy, has introduced more stringent measures in foreign talent recruitment following strong pressures from its citizens to do so (‘Singapore for Singaporeans’).

What our detailed comparison revealed is that, most importantly, a liberal policy on paper may not necessarily ensure that a destination is attractive for potential high-skilled migrants. Many other factors play a crucial role, including low tax rates and breaks for foreign workers, processing time for applications, language, a welcoming environment of the host country, a standardised and clear process for the recognition of foreign qualifications, and family reunification rights (for immediate and extended family members). Arguably, national legal traditions offer opportunities or place constraints on the governments’ ability to manoeuvre across multiple policy areas and we found the latter to be Germany’s case.

The current Crisis, as others have argued, has opened up a critical juncture in European cooperation. In such an instance, existing constraints also point to windows of opportunities that may not be available at other ‘ordinary’ times. Entrepreneurial governments may seize these rare moments to get ahead in the global race for talent. After all, governments competing for the ‘best and brightest’ – through multi-level strategies – still need to provide a corresponding comprehensive package to would-be migrants to fully entice them.

This commentary was commissioned by University World News (original commentary).