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Plenum II. Leaving the nutshell? - International and European dimensions in strategic intelligence for research



Prof. Dr. Narayanaswamy Balakrishnan, Indian Institute of Science
Prof. Dr. Arthur Bienenstock, Stanford University
Dr. Xiaonan Cao, The World Bank
Prof. Euclides de Mesquita Neto, Unicamp, Brazil
Prof. Dr. Rongping Mu, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Prof. Dr. Seeram Ramakrishna, University of Singapore
Derek Scally, Irish Times (Facilitator)


International research strategy – the Indian perspective

Narayanaswamy Balakrishnan from India said that Indian research and development focuses on public, social and strategic good to reach to a larger percentage of society. This is because nearly 74% of R&D funding comes from the government. In Europe, the US and other developed economies, R&D is also focused on the private good and is driven by market competitiveness. India has 17 government agencies that coordinate research and development. They include the Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and the Department of Information Technology (DIT), which focus predominantly on investigator-centric fundamental S&T and account for about 70% of research support. The departments of Space, Defense and Atomic Energy focus on mission-oriented R&D while also promoting fundamental research. A total of 1% of Indian GDP is invested in science and technology development at the moment. R&D investment is expected to increase to 2% in the next five years.

Science management in India rests on highly accomplished scientists, who are fellows of all the major academies in India and some of them are also fellows of academies in the Third World, the UK and the US. There are scientific advisory councils and an innovation council, which advise the ministries.

Private participation is pursued on two fronts. The first involves international S&T collaboration. The strategic initiatives in science and technology through international S&T based on the principle of reciprocity and parity are vigorously pursued. The process of selecting collaborative projects and mechanisms relies on joint calls, joint peer review and joint monitoring. One of the recent initiatives resulted in the creation of a Joint Center for Clean Energy R&D with the United States with funding of $100 million coming from both government and industry in India and the US.

India understands that implementation can only be successful if private sector involvement in R&D is as significant as in developed countries. The focus of science and technology elsewhere in the world is on maximizing benefits. India, however, has always focused on optimizing resources and has repeatedly demonstrated that its goal for research is to reach as many people as possible. It is worthwhile to note that 63% of children’s vaccines are produced in India. This is not due to labor arbitrage but to the low cost of expertise and widespread idealism among young people. Hence our model of private sector involvement through international S&T collaboration is likely to combine the experience of the two cultures and result in affordable, equitable and economically attractive innovation.

The interfaces between academic research, government, society and the private sector in India are weak. Vertical silos exist but there is a lack of integration. To overcome this weakness, the landscape was modeled as a transition from knowledge to know-how, from know-how to show-how, from show-how to do-how, and from do-how to use-how. In this landscape, know-how to show-how was found to be somewhat weaker. A new concept based on a relationship model instead of a transaction model is being proposed. A joint venture between the private sector and the public sector will be created to fund research for the public and social good in the areas of agriculture, water, energy, environment and affordable health care.

The government of India is also sensitive to global concerns such as energy, water, terrorism and climate change. It has started a $40 billion solar energy mission to demonstrate the country’s sensitivity to global climate change. The INSPIRE program (Innovation of Science Pursuit for Inspire Research) is actively pursuing new scientific talent in India through the Department of Science & Technology. Their basic goal has been to show young people how exciting and creative science can be and to get more people interested in science at an early age.

A general trend Mr. Balakrishnan has observed, which he perceives as a clear indication of the success of the measures taken by the government and private investment, is the 12% increase in scientific publications, and improved results in rankings and citations.

International research strategy – the US perspective

Arthur Bienenstock opened his statement by looking at Stanford and the luxury it has of being able to pursue its own goals and values. Its basic philosophy is that students (both undergraduate and graduate) are its most important asset as is its ability to attract the best faculty to effectively educate those students. This creates a highly innovative environment. Stanford is surrounded by a prosperous environment, Silicon Valley, which also creates mutual benefits for students and faculty. Given its financial situation, Stanford does not receive direct government funding. The government funding it does receive comes entirely through research proposals.

The US government has a multi-faceted system for funding research. Funding comes from a variety of sources and programs, such as the NSF, the National Institutes of Health, and federal agencies. The US clearly acknowledges the importance of fundamental research. On the other hand, directed from thematic research is the necessity to help agencies to achieve societal goals. Fundamental research and applied research are thus in balance.

A variety of attitudes exist. Some take extreme risks and are merely guided by peer review, whereas other, more conservative approaches are usually based entirely on the system of peer review. The wide variety of sources ensures that an idea usually finds funding.

In the US, support for big science is generally endorsed, but so is support for paradigms (cf. Zürn). Freedom of research at universities is a general rule, and universities are free to pursue their own goals and excellence as they perceive it.

International research strategy – the perspective of a global financial institution

Although Xiaonan Cao stressed that his view does not officially represent the World Bank, he shared a general picture of research in developing countries and showed what the World Bank has been supporting.

He said many developing countries have been inspired by research models from Europe and the US. However, the fact is that many developing countries also develop their own agendas and face the challenge of planning their research programs.

There is a trade-off between creating new knowledge by investing in cutting-edge technologies and investing in adapting existing technologies to improve the lives of people in developing countries. In Europe, this trade-off is mainly between fundamental research for new knowledge and research transfer to create jobs and revenue. There is a huge difference, he said. When it comes to investment, many governments also face the choice between “cherry-picking” a few ideas to invest in and setting up competitive grant schemes to find the best innovations.

A general question he asked in this context was, how can a traditional research model be adapted to meet new development needs? How can research be made more inclusive so that consumers/beneficiaries are involved in the process (which he considers necessary if research is to find practical solutions)? The World Bank supports indigenous research that can provide practical solutions by means of funding and helping establish connections among relevant institutions.

Forging partnerships at the national, regional and international level is an effective way to bridge the gap in research capacity between more advanced countries and developing countries. There are many examples. The Africa-US Higher Education Initiative strengthens the capacity of African higher education institutions through partnerships between African and US higher education institutions over a sus-tained period. And the network of 11 Japanese universities has a strong partnership program with a network of 19 engineering schools in Southeast Asia, just to name two examples.

A critical ingredient for developing countries is capacity development on an institutional and individual basis. Europe has a role to play as a source of inspiration, as a provider of knowledge and good practice and as a partner. Reaching out will become more important. Mr. Cao emphasized that we need to embrace the new global situation where developing countries are increasingly becoming important players in many areas, including research.

International research strategy – the Brazilian perspective

Euclides Mesquita Neto began by outlining the Brazil scenario. There has a large increase in the number of PhD degrees granted and an increase in graduate programs. One out of every two graduate students receives scholarships. 80% of PhDs work in an academic environment.

Brazil’s federal structures comprise three agencies and 26 state foundations. It is a complementary system, and there is a degree of competition between state and federal funding.

The state of São Paulo is home to 52% of Brazilian science. There are three state universities, which are public and free, 19 non-university research institutes and one research foundation.

São Paulo Research Foundation, FAPESP, was established in 1962 with the mission of fostering research in all fields. It receives 1% of taxes from the state of Sao Paolo. It has an annual budget of $600 million. It receives about 18,000 proposals and grants 10,000 scholarships per year. It cannot spend more than 5% of its budget on administration.

The foundation has a strong legitimacy in the scientific community but works autonomously. 85% is invested in exploratory academic research and the remaining 15% is invested in the applied sciences. Its general goal is to create a framework to facilitate research in which people move from researching as individuals to work within groups and clusters. Longer funding periods of 5 to 11 years have also been created for larger projects. Identifying topics and themes for funding is a bottom-up process in which researchers play an important role. Key programs with relevance to Brazilian society are currently being developed in areas such as bioenergy, climate change, human violence, and biodiversity.

With reference to the keynote by Michael Zürn, Mr. Mesquita Neto stated that the role of foundations in the research funding process is that of a shaman and a priest, but not in equal measure.

International research strategy – the Chinese perspective

At the beginning of his statement, Rongping Mu reminded us that China has the largest population in the world and is the second largest in terms of publications and R&D expenditure. At the moment, 25% of public investments and around 75% of industry investments go into R&D. In the last 10 years, industry funding of R&D has increased substantially. There also has been a shift towards more private research funding since the government issued a plan for innovation in the mid-1990s stating that China would become an innovation-based country by 2020. They even shelved policy documents in order to ease implementation of the innovation-focused policies.

The central aspects of the Chinese research strategy are:

Strategic and comprehensive thinking in a system of five-year plans: Currently, China is in its twelfth five-year plan for economic and social development. They include plans for specific areas that are vision-oriented and based on comprehensive thinking and which take into account many factors, such as science & technology, national capacity building for innovation, and strategically emerging industries. There is a direct relationship between industry and the science plans as well.

Changing priorities for science & technology: The Chinese government’s focus shifted from economic development to a greater emphasis on social change. This change was necessary due to the Chinese global situation.

Adjusting and revising planning mechanisms: This includes regularly monitoring progress every year and evaluating whether further changes need to be made.

International research strategy – the Singaporean perspective

Seeram Ramakrishna stated that, at the global level, Singapore is comparable to major stakeholders with regard to research and higher education. Public investment in higher education is 26%, and there is high innovation potential in everything people do.

In general, there is a strong desire to bring in the best minds. Singapore is a multicultural hub that heavily relies on global partnerships and international talent.

How to cope with complexity in a global strategic environment for research?

After giving a general outline of the research systems and strategies in the panelists’ countries, the discussion first focused on the complex global situation in research strategy, where one eye needs to be on complexity and the other needs to be on research matters.

Arthur Bienenstock answered for Stanford, saying that it retains its international links through people and international outposts. Some of the graduate students remain at the university. The rest leave but maintain close ties to Stanford. From an internal point of view, there is a strong focus on strengthening faculty engaged in the most important research areas.

Bienenstock addressed the question of whether the hybrid model of US research funding (from public and private sources) has been given enough recognition by referring to Germany, where research funding also comes from various sources. In the US, a large portion of basic research happens at universities, which generally have a universal focus. It is believed that teaching enhances research and vice versa.

The role of diplomacy in research strategy in India

In India, one could notice an international attention shift in the fields of research and higher education from Europe to the US. Can countries like India move forward by building relations with diplomacy?

Balakrishnan first looked at the relationship between India and the US, where the US played the dominant role for a long time. Now the picture is much more varied because there can be protests against anti-US policies as well. However, it should be noted that the US has invested $4 billion to educate Indians.

Generally, these relations are not one-way tracks because profits, products and people go both ways. India has also benefited immensely from its relationship with the EU, but currently more people go to the US. The opportunities seem to be better there.

Looking at the question of research funding in India, Balakrishnan stressed that it is controlled by scientists. Using science & technology to create transfers to society was working well in India. He compared India’s current situation to a hammer looking for a nail and a nail looking for a hammer. A scientist with a good idea who is looking for funding will receive funding. Rankings are a luxurious problem in India, he added.

The Chinese model, the perceived shift towards applied research and the role of innovation

When asked about the consequences of this shift away from basic research in China, Mu said that it meant the share of funding for basic research would decline and that funding for applied research would increase in the future. He said this was an intentional decision, and that industry expenditure for applied research would also increase.

China will also see an increase in university mergers resulting in one mechanism that combines high level research and high level education. The Chinese intend to make use of the educational mission and the research mission of higher education institutions. However, the merger of universities with non-university research institutions is considered inefficient due to the different missions and different features of the prospective partners. The role of academies will become more important in China too because they can award degrees. The Chinese Academy of Sciences currently has 60,000 graduate students. They are considered to be even more effective than universities. Mu added that big science in China is happening at the academies and the universities.

Innovation seems to play a very important role in China. It has been said that strategic planning is okay but serving the labor market can drive away innovation. Mu contradicted this view from the Chinese perspective by saying that capacity building covers everything from science to infrastructure to social innovation. China’s national science and technology programs are crucial for innovation, he added. It is important to focus on shorter, market-oriented developments but we should not forget to build a long-term view either. Companies develop quickly, and expenditure and government and industry investment in R&D increases rapidly. China’s regional government plans have an important role alongside its central government plans.

Differentiation of research topics in Brazil

Prof. Mesquita Neto was asked whether there is concern in Brazil about a “fight” over doing research in the same areas (such as environment or climate) that the rest of the world is active in. Is there only a limited amount of research that can be done in a specific area? He responded by saying that academic research is also done with the important mission of training people. Researchers in Brazil are encouraged to find areas and research topics that could help Brazil solve its current challenges by doing work like researching bioenergy or exploring pre-salt oil deposits. There is a clear need to increase the amount of research to be done in the industrial environment. More needs to be done to strengthen collaboration between universities and companies. The country has established a good environment for basic and academic research. One of the biggest challenges right now is to move from purely academic basic research to more application-oriented, reality-driven research topics that lead to new products and processes.

Trade-offs and brain circulation in emerging countries

Xiaonan Cao put this aspect into a real context by taking small, poor island countries as an example. In many of these countries, research for the fight against tropical diseases is a major topic. Although this is highly relevant to the quality of life in those countries, it is not a goal for big pharmaceutical companies in the West. He said that as a global community we should consider poor, small island countries when talking about research.

The discussion subsequently moved to the concept of brain circulation, which refers to a new class of fast-moving, highly skilled people who circulate around the globe. Mr. Cao reaffirmed the concept of brain circulation, saying that in the beginning of globalization 15 years ago skilled personnel only moved in one direction. Now the situation has changed and these highly educated and skilled people are also attracted to their home countries because conditions have improved there. Looking at developed countries, which are now in a difficult situation in terms of public funding and the general job market, the conclusion one could draw is to increase investment in emerging countries’ higher education and research. Statistics in India and China indicate that many people who have been trained in the US, Canada or Europe are now returning home where they can find better opportunities for continuing their research. The Chinese government sends 13,000 fully paid scholars and students abroad every year. About 97% of them go back to do research and teach at Chinese universities after completing their studies abroad. China has also opened its higher education institutions to the world by increasing numbers of foreign faculty. Mr. Cao concluded that greater flexibility and openness and an improved do-mestic environment make countries more competitive at attracting research talent. Europe and the US should pay more attention to this area despite the economic crisis. He hopes that we won’t lose sight of the future.

Ramakrishna contributed the Singaporean point of view, which has a tiny population with a comparatively high amount of research funding. However, talent and ideas are continually required. What would help Singapore tremen-dously is to sustain its talent and maintain international collaborations based on that talent. This would ensure that Singapore does not lose out on important links to other parts of the world. Singapore introduces new approaches to research. Researchers are attracted to Singapore and they bring their personal networks as an added bonus. Singapore welcomes diversity of thinking by maintaining its own approach.

The globalized system

Ramakrishna then looked at the situation in nation states across the world, which support scientific research on the same topics globally. Will scientists be able to come to a new understanding of global issues?

This train of thought was resumed but the perspective moved away from nation states to research funding in a globalized system. Do we need global research funding to foster brain circulation? Prof. Ramakrishna was in favor of this idea and outlined the establishment of a global science foundation where joint basic research could be performed. He called for a simple principle concerning the global funding of fundamental research.

When asked whether it would be the job of the World Bank to create such a fund, Dr. Cao outlined the roles of the World Bank. They include acting as a knowledge broker between developing countries and developed countries, acting as a coordinator and conveyor on issues such as climate change, and acting as a science and technology developer (the World Bank established an action plan for African countries consisting of a global science corps where volunteer researchers work in developing nations to help develop capacity).

Prof. Balakrishnan saw the important role of international research funding for the control of quality and research development. For example, India spends $1 billion annually to fund research in other countries (such as the rebuilding of Afghanistan). A policy of similar spending with partner countries can develop immense benefits for both countries. From his experiences in India, he stressed that multidisciplinary problems cannot be solved if there are borders between countries.

Arthur Bienenstock added his point of view concerning the creation of opportunities, saying that top down never works. People should be given maximum opportunities to interact and collaborate, then exciting things can happen. Funds need to be made available for that.

A question from the audience turned the attention of the panelists to an alleged conflict between different levels (i.e. the European and national level). Should the EU continue with a European strategy or should it draft national-level policies?

The responses from the panelists referred to the situations in various countries. Mr. Mu said that in China there is a similar structure of national level and regional level programs. In his view, though, the differences between EU countries are greater. Still, there are some common areas across the regions, such as future technologies. He stressed that the EU should be more vision-oriented, but should also continue focusing on problem solving.

Prof. Mesquita Neto agreed that the EU faces multiple challenges currently, but pointed out that amazing things have happened in Europe, such as the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area strategy. Research strategy is more difficult due to the involvement of industry, but for the development of a European research strategy the EU should find a way to articulate industrial, national and European interests.

Arthur Bienenstock, however, stressed the necessity of the overall perspective by saying that before thinking about organization the EU should define its real goals and then figure out the means.

Dr. Cao highlighted the importance of strengthening partnerships between countries because they are beneficial for all sides. He does not believe in an overall general strategy because the diversity of countries will make it difficult to develop a common policy for basic research and applied research. Rather, strategists should consider basic questions such as the following: What can be done to strengthen the competitiveness of this group of countries? What are their strengths? What are the global benchmarks? Then the decision can be made to spend more on a particular area or invest in the transfer of findings for the benefit of other countries.

Another question from the audience also referred to global strategy development by considering the question of scale. Investing in research to cure malaria was provocatively compared to investing in research for hair care products. How can strategy be designed to help with global issues?

Dr. Cao agreed that there needs to be a common recognition of the problems we face before researchers can determine how to address them. Then partnerships and funding for the support of new initiatives can be established. He returned to his previous point about brain circulation and asked the question of how to ensure that talented and skilled people stay in developing areas. This requires a lot of work in home countries to create an attractive environment in areas like tax policy and immigration policy. A climate of competitiveness can further improve the home environment. Dr. Cao added that Europe has role to play in all these areas, and he appealed for broader thinking beyond the boundaries of the EU to consider the position of countries inside and outside the EU.

A final question from the audience addressed the possibility of a global science foundation. Those responsible should make sure that the bodies they create have a sufficient degree of open-mindedness. Looking at developing countries, there is lots of knowledge available but it is not very dominant. The challenge is deciding what can be considered scientific research. If there is a willingness to open up models of science, there is a lot that can be gained.

Dr. Cao continued along those lines and went even further by asking how to bring indigenous knowledge into scientific research, how to transform lab knowledge into real solutions to help millions of people, how to create mechanisms for the respect of intellectual property (IP) in developing countries (since IP can be transferred to the private and public sector at the same time) and finally, how to destroy the metaphorical fences around the work of researchers to make sure lots of people can benefit from it. Prof. Ramakrishna added that one could even think about giving the ownership of IP to individuals.

The panelists agreed that there is no room for complacency. We are dealing with a new environment where Europe seems to be lagging behind in its strategic research development and where some reports suggest that Asia will surpass the US in 2012 in some areas of research funding. Europe has to make itself heard if it wants to play a role in research, since there are many different and exciting international developments to compete against. The meeting concluded with a quote from the speech Science as a Vocation, which Max Weber gave in 1918: Set to work and meet the demands of the day in human relations as well as in the vocations.


summarized by CCD