On the influence of the research university in the 20th century


Credit: University of Luxembourg/Michel Brumat

Five years of research in the SPHERE project on Science Productivity, uncovered global shifts in scientific productivity, science capacity building and regional development since 1900.

Global shifts and the centre of gravity

The 20th century has seen major shifts in regional scientific output. At the dawn of the century, a few regions like Western Europe and North America contributed most to the development of scientific research. The core of scientific production moved from European countries in the early 20th century to the United States, where higher education and research expanded quickly through private and public funds. In East Asia, massive investment and support in the last decades, for instance in Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan, triggered explosive growth of scientific capacity and production. Europe and North America remain essential players in the science arena, with established institutions being projected as role models.

The triumph of the research university

Throughout the world, demand for higher education has steadily grown during the 20th century. This led countries to invest in higher education, science (particularly in STEM+ fields) and cooperative efforts, leading in turn to robust infrastructure, growth in number of scholars and scientific output. Among other types of organizational forms doing research – extra-university research institutes, government agencies, private companies, and hospitals – research universities have remained the driving force behind the global growth of scientific production. These organisations are the main producers of basic research, which in turn represents the main bulk of scientific publication and production. Despite economic crises and conflicts, science production in STEM+ fields has progressively augmented since the beginning of the century.

Networks creating competition and cooperation

As a result of systematic internationalization, and in the case of Europe, Europeanization, the authors of The Century of Science observe growing global competition, in particular among dominant science-producing regions (North America, Europe and East Asia). Yet at the same time, they find more international collaboration between individual scientists and organisations is happening, much encouraged by communication technologies and accessible international travel.

On 9 November, "The century of science: The global triumph of the research university", received the 2017 Award for Significant Research on International Higher Education from the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) in the USA.

At the heart of the Greater Region

In an article in the journal Minerva entitled "Science Production in Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg: Comparing the Contributions of Research Universities and Institutes to Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Health", two researchers of the University of Luxembourg, Justin J.W. Powell and Jennifer Dusdal, assess the development of universities and research institutes in Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and Germany. In all four neighbouring countries, the research university represents the key organisational 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.


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