Nations join emerging multi-polar global science system

Research-intensive universities now operate as a single network on a world scale with more and more nations entering this open system particularly built around science research. It is a global network “open to enter but intensively integrated inside”, says Simon Marginson, director of the Centre for Global Higher Education or CGHE.

He was speaking at the CGHE 2018 Annual Conference held at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London, on 11 April.

“Within the networking logic, each party is free to work with anyone else.”

“The surge in science” had also led to the formation of “a multi-polar science system”, Marginson argued, seeing it as a “global common good”.

Established nations and universities are not acting as gatekeepers to this multi-polar system but are nurturing new nations and new universities through collaboration and co-publication.

Between 2003 and 2016 papers with international co-authors rose from 16% to 22%. It is much higher in Europe, where most countries have collaboration rates of 50% or more in research projects. Research has found that jointly authored papers account for all the growth in research output among scientifically advanced countries.

“Cross national citation of papers is also increasing, suggesting that within the global knowledge circuits, published research in every country has a growing influence on researchers in other countries,” Marginson elaborated in a paper released last Wednesday to coincide with the conference, entitled “The New Geopolitics of Higher Education – Global cooperation, national competition and social inequality in the world-class university sector”.

“In the majority of countries, scientific publishing is primarily shaped by the global system not national organisation,” he wrote. “Global science also constitutes a vast joined-up zone of free critical inquiry with larger implications for global civil society, a potential counter to post-truth populism.

“With most innovations sourced from the global science system and not national science, all nations want to develop their own science capacity so as to access the global system,” Marginson said in his speech.

But he noted that the “networked system of global science needs mobility in order to operate. It needs the free flow and sharing of ideas, data, synthetic knowledge and people. Doctoral research and especially post-doctoral research are international.”

Nativism and anti-globalisation trends

Not just because of the implications for mobility, but nativist populism, anti-globalisation rhetoric and migration resistance “are trouble for universities and science”, he warned.

“In the United Kingdom migration-based populism has given us Brexit,” Marginson said. This means the loss of “thousands of future and current talents”.

He pointed to the UK immigration authority, “the UK Home Office’s choke-hold on international education, the intrusive surveillance, the refusal to put into place either a welcome mat or an attractive post-study work visa regime”, as an example.

“Nativist migration and race politics, based on an ugly refusal to understand or respect the other, sustains [United States President Donald] Trump’s politics of national identity,” he said, adding: “It is the pretext for [Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán’s suppression of civil society and the Central European University in Hungary.

“We need to find ways to unlock this fear of free people movement, because freedom of mobility, like all the human freedoms, is a common good that is intrinsically beneficial to all.”

So far, in higher education the free flow of ideas has not been too affected, despite problems in some countries with regard to mobility. But the “pushback against migration and its mobilisation as a tool of rule,” Marginson stated, “is a clear and present danger.”

Nonetheless, he noted in his speech, “it is not the same everywhere. Our colleagues in East Asia are untroubled by migration resistance” or “anti-science rhetoric from political leaders”.

Local and national benefits

“Networks may be flat but they are not always symmetrical,” Marginson said. “Some partnerships are worked more intensely than others. Lines of influence can be one way or mutual.”

“Research-intensive universities straddle a fault line between the national and global,” he said, which makes them closely engaged in global relations which are immensely productive for knowledge and learning – but that global work must also be turned into national and local benefits.

Marginson has elaborated that the dominant role of global science makes it more necessary to develop national scientific capacity. To access global science, nations need their own trained people, not just as users, but as producers of research.