By Tonya Oaks Smith
Devoting one’s life to research once meant spending numerous hours locked in a remote laboratory or dusty library, searching for the next big discovery.Today, however, researchers are just as likely to find innovations through travel or by developing relationships with fellow explorers over the World Wide Web. Cost-effective travel, technology, and national initiatives have made it relatively easy for scientists in all areas to join together across state and national boundaries.
According to a 2008 report by higher education policy consultant Sachi Hatakenaka published in International Higher Education, one-fifth of all the scientific papers in the world are co-authored internationally.
“Scientific research has become an integral part of economic and innovation policy and international collaboration has become a key element in globalization strategy,” Hatakenaka said. “Excellence in science is a prerequisite for future economic success, and international collaboration is seen as a key mechanism for international scientific competitiveness.”
Not only are countries encouraging their best and brightest to work with innovators in foreign lands, they are actively investing in research and development, providing grant money for travel and equipment to facilitate interactions between researchers.
America’s National Academies (Science, Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council) divide their international outreach efforts into two areas — building science and technology capacity around the world and fostering international scientific relationships and collaboration. The nonprofit organization connected researchers with more than $175 million in grants and contracts from federal agencies and more than $65 million in private funding in 2007.
The National Academies are among many groups working to connect researchers throughout the world. Each year in the United Kingdom, Research Councils UK (RCUK) spends approximately $5.4 billion on research covering the full spectrum of academic disciplines, including medical and biological sciences, astronomy, physics, chemistry and engineering, social sciences, economics, environmental sciences, and the arts and humanities. RCUK has established research offices in a number of countries, including most recently in the United States and China.
“Greater collaboration between the world’s leading research nations is vital to produce innovative advances in science and research,” said Ian Pearson, UK science and innovation minister, on the U.S. office opening. “The benefits of UK-U.S. collaboration will not only be felt by the scientific community but by the public who will benefit from collaborative science that seeks to solve the critical issues of the 21st century, such as climate change and aging.”
Other nonprofit entities — groups without a specific academic focus — are seeing the importance of global research. Arkansas-based Winrock International, which focuses on empowering the disadvantaged, increasing economic opportunity, and sustaining natural resources throughout the world, conducts global research on drought and its impact on food supply. Winrock also does specialized research in Brazil and Belize on long-term storage of carbon and on biofuels use in Brazil, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, and the United States.
UALR professors are ahead of the curve in global research. In each of the University’s seven colleges, researchers work with other experts in their fields to ensure Arkansas students stay competitive with their international colleagues.