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SPHERE - Science Productivity, Higher Education, Research & Development and the Knowledge Society

Higher education expansion worldwide has massively increased capacity for science in competing “knowledge societies”. Utilizing a unique dataset based on Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science (1900–2011), this project comparatively examines investments in higher education and scientific capacity building worldwide. The focus is on the resultant scientific productivity in countries at different stages of institutionalization of research universities and other research-oriented organizations. The project provides in-depth analysis of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Qatar, embedded in global trends and regional patterns. Building upon a variety of institutional qualitative and quantitative approaches, we chart how various national and global models have influenced the establishment and reform of research universities in different regions of the world. Comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed journal publications shows how universities, higher education and science policies, international collaborations, and scientific networks have changed since 1900, facilitating on-going scientization—and furthering the “knowledge society”.

In a new book, entitled The Century of Science: The Global Triumph of the Research University, the SPHERE project’s international contributor teams explore global scientific developments through the 20th century. The study shows that university-based research has risen worldwide to become the driving force in scientific productivity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including health (STEM+). Five years of research led to the construction of an unparalleled longitudinal dataset that uncovered global shifts in scientific productivity, science capacity building and regional development since 1900.

The book received the 2017 Award for Significant Research on International Higher Education from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE).

It provides sociological and historical understandings of the ways that higher education has become an institution that, more than ever before, shapes science and society. The case studies offer new insights into how countries develop the university-based knowledge thought fundamental to meeting social needs and economic demands. In addition to publishing scientific work in STEM and Health fields, universities train highly skilled workers, advance basic research that serves as the foundation for new technologies, support firm-based research and development, and build capacity to improve healthcare and other social support systems. Despite repeated warnings that universities would lose in relevance to other organizational forms in the production of knowledge, the chapters in this volume demonstrate incontrovertibly that universities have become more—not less—important actors in the world of knowledge. The past 100 years have seen the global triumph of the research university.

Among other publications deriving from the SPHERE project, Justin Powell and Jennifer Dusdal, in their research article in Minerva“Science Production in Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg: Comparing the Contributions of Research Universities and Institutes to Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health”—assess the development of universities and research institutes in France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In all four neighboring countries, the research university represents the key organizational form of science production, although these countries have divergent policies for R&D, higher education and research systems. Despite their relatively modest proportion of funding, universities remain the key contributor of STEM+ publications. The volume of scientific publications has massively increased, especially since the 1970s, in all four countries.

The SPHERE project’s multicultural team of authors examined the global rise of scholarly research in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and health (STEM+) fields. Case studies of selected countries in Europe, North America, East Asia, and the Middle East illustrate recurring themes: the institutionalization and differentiation of higher education systems, the proliferation of university-based scientific research, and government research policies that support the continued expansion of higher education and scientific production that fosters the knowledge society. Throughout the world, people increasingly seek to attain higher education, resulting not only in postsecondary education becoming ever more central to contemporary societies, but also vastly increasing these countries’ capacity for science. Governments and firms increasingly rely on university-based researchers to create new knowledge, certified by the peer-review process that guides publication of cutting-edge research in thousands of scientific journals, now mainly in the English language. Expanding worldwide with public and private funding, research universities appear to be the most legitimate sites devoted to knowledge production.

Few countries, such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan, began the 20th century with the prerequisites in place for the emerging paradigm of university-based research. Each of these countries had strong research communities, but their increasing research capacity developed according to different models and in a variety of organizational forms. In the United States, higher education was mostly unregulated and grew quickly throughout the century in thousands of private and public colleges and universities. In Europe and Japan, governments more tightly controlled the growth of universities, nearly all publicly funded, and have remained top science producers. Leading European countries also sought and developed alternatives to universities, in the form of research institutes or government agencies, as the global center of scientific production moved first toward the United States and then toward Asia, with Europe continuously crucial in global production. Countries in East Asia, including China, South Korea, and Taiwan, experienced contrasting historical legacies and conflicts in education. If these countries generally did not expand the size and scope of their university systems until later in the 20th century, when they did, explosive growth followed. These Asian case studies offer unique blends of private and public sector universities, diverse policy initiatives, and extraordinary rates of growth in publishing scientific findings. And in the Middle East, Qatar recently embarked on an ambitious government-driven effort to develop a world-class university sector and cultivate academic STEM þ research from scratch. Such recent entrants to the global scientific enterprise pose the question whether it is possible to leapfrog across decades, or even centuries, of building university systems, to compete globally. Yet, more than ever, leading science implies collaboration across cultural and political borders as scientific production is fully globalized.

Contributors: David P. Baker, Wei Bao, Junghee Choi, John T. Crist, Jennifer Dusdal, Frank Fernandez, Yuan Chih Fu, Hyerim Kim, Iris A. Mihai, Justin J.W. Powell, Robert D. Reisz, Kazunori Shima, Liang Sun, Mike Zapp, and Liang Zhang.

The SPHERE project was funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, a member of Qatar Foundation (NPRP Grant No. 5-1021-5-159).

Buy the book: - Save 30% with web code EMERALD30.



Justin Powell and Jennifer Dusdal discuss the key findings of the book in a podcast with EmeraldPublishing entitled: Can universities continue to lead the way in cutting-edge STEM+ research?

Click on the icon to listen.


For further information or questions, please contact Justin Powell or Jennifer Dusdal.