Globalizing Research: How Strategic are U.S. and German Universities' Internationalization "Strategies"?
• American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AFAvH)
• German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI)
The globalization of science, technology, and innovation presents universities with new challenges and opportunities. To explore the impact of global science on higher education in the United States and Germany, the American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the German Center for Research and Innovation co-hosted a public lecture examining the question: “How Strategic are U.S. and German Universities' Internationalization ‘Strategies’?” This panel discussion was held on Wednesday, October 15, 2014, at the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York.
The discussion featured Prof.C. D. Daniel Mote, President of the National Academy of Engineering and Regents Professor (on leave) and former President of the University of Maryland at College Park. In his presentation, Dr. Mote described fundamental changes in the global innovation environment over the past century and the implications of these changes for U.S. universities. To remain competitive in the future, Dr. Mote noted that U.S. universities need to adapt to the accelerating pace of global innovation and the diffusion of knowledge and research talent around the world.
Prof. Dr. Ernst Rank, Chair in Computation in Engineering from the Technische Universität München (TUM), acted as chief respondent and offered perspectives from his experience at TUM and within the German higher education system. In particular, he described the innovations that TUM has undertaken in response to Germany’s “Excellence Initiative,” an effort to raise the profile and attractiveness of German research institutions worldwide.
This discussion was the third in the pilot series, “Where is Knowledge in the Globalization of Higher Education and Research?” initiated by the American Friends of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The panel and series have been designed to engage U.S. alumni of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and other thought leaders in higher education and research in a structured examination of key challenges presented by the globalization of knowledge production. In particular, the series seeks to foster transatlantic dialogue with U.S. institutions, which are actively considering the implications of the globalization for researcher mobility, U.S. participation in international research exchanges and collaborations, and institutional and national strategies for internationalization.
Dr. Mote Jr. framed the discussion by first providing the historical context for the challenges facing U.S. universities in the 21st century. In order to understand the U.S. response to the international innovation environment, he noted that one first needs to understand the evolution of the domestic innovation environment. From 1945-90, the national innovation system was shaped by the national security threats of the Cold War and was designed to maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology in all fields. Galvanized by the invention of the atomic bomb and fear that the U.S. was falling behind its adversaries, the nation set about implementing the model advanced by FDR’s science advisor Dr. Vannevar Bush, which set the course for the country for over 40 years. During that time, the federal government would fund basic research, with U.S. universities playing an essential role in the conduct of that research. The U.S. needed and was able to import scientific talent to control the flow of ideas to enemies abroad.
Since 1990, however, the U.S. has witnessed a rapid collapse of this once stabile innovation environment. National security concerns are no longer the driving force behind innovation, as other domestic policy issues have come to the forefront. With the advent of the World Wide Web, informationcan no longer be controlled. The U.S. cannot dominate in all fields and therefore must accelerate its ability to create and apply innovation, including through global partnerships. Universities, which favor stability over change, have not adapted well to the fundamental changes in the international innovation environment.
Prof. Dr. Rank then examined efforts designed to modernize the German university system. According to Dr. Rank, there had been several strong German universities prior to the reforms, but the universities were not internationally competitive and were often hampered by “stove-piped” structures. Reforms have aimed to enhance the international visibility of German universities and to achieve an expansion of national and international collaboration opportunities. To effect these changes, the German federal government transitioned to a shared model of funding with the states and in 2006, introduced its “Excellence Initiative.” The initiative’s three funding lines – for graduate institutes, interdisciplinary research clusters, and institutional concepts – have encouraged universities, like TUM, to formulate a strategic vision and plan, incorporating regional and international networks in addition to blending the Excellence Initiative’s top-down model with the accountability and responsibility of the administration and students from the bottom-up. Two other factors have enabled research and innovation to develop in several directions in Germany. Namely, there are no tuition fees and faculties are guaranteed a constitutional right to the freedom of education and research.
Dr. Cathleen Fisher then opened a lively discussion with the audience by asking what – in the place of a compelling national security threat or a strong governmental directive– might motivate U.S. institutions to adapt to the rapidly changing global context of innovation. The speakers and audience members provided several suggestions, including strong university leadership; the creation of rich programs that philanthropy is likely to support, although this funding is often only steered in certain short-term directions; competition with other institutions and countries; the engagement and initiation of research groups and departments themselves; and incentives that make it worthwhile for faculty members to become involved in the globalization of their campuses. Dr. Mote concluded that hearing stories, such as those from TUM and other German research institutions, is also particularly important. The U.S.’s failure to engage globally, in contrast, was identified by participants as hugely detrimental – for everything from basic research to talent retention – and could ultimately affect U.S. efforts to grow as a nation and to tackle the pressing challenges of today. Lastly, this discussion examined the relationship between the academy, industry, and philanthropy as well as the relevance of humanities and social sciences to this debate.