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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation

"Change Happens: Globalization and Technology Policy"
Symposium: Impact of Globalization on Technology Policy, 50th Anniversary of Polymer Chemistry Doctoral Program

Akron, OH
August 11, 2006

Good morning, everyone. I am honored to join you for this 50th Anniversary gathering. We are here to celebrate the founding of the polymer chemistry doctoral program--a farsighted event that has produced splendid results over the years.

The Department of Chemistry, the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, and, of course, the University of Akron, deserve our congratulations on a history of success in discovery and education, and service to the nation.

As Director of the National Science Foundation, I'm particularly pleased to join this celebration. NSF has been a partner in this venture, as have many others--including other agencies and the private sector. NSF has funded some of the many creative ideas that were fostered here by polymer researchers and has supported the world-class education that has engendered many more. That partnership continues today. The University of Akron is the single largest recipient of NSF funding for polymer research and education.

I had planned to read a long list--an honors list, if you will--of landmark accomplishments in polymer science and engineering that have emerged over the years from the University of Akron. You have a special place on the U.S. map--and, indeed, on the world map--for your contributions. In fact, I have it here as proof of my intent!

However, I have decided that the list is way too long. It spans several pages--which is a great credit to all of you.

This list documents an impressive achievement by any standards. Those of you who contributed can bask in the glory! And the University of Akron can take pride in providing the environment necessary for frontier discovery and education to flourish.

Much of this research has spawned world-class applications in health, environment, security and energy; some of it has produced entirely new concepts needed to fuel the engines of innovation, with promising applications just around the corner. Finally, and perhaps most important, the polymer program has generated a network of superbly trained scientists and engineers to carry forward this enterprise now and in coming years.

This brings me to the topic at hand: globalization and technology policy--or for short, "Change Happens." I want to talk about the role of frontier research and education in confronting the new challenges of our increasingly integrated world.

U.S. scientists and engineers have always been known for their eagerness to turn knowledge into capabilities, and quickly move on to the next challenges.

In your professions, that is especially true. The state-of-the-art in polymer science and engineering has advanced at amazing speed. And the hunger to get things to market that drives business and industry puts American innovations to work rapidly, for the benefit of society and the economy.

However, in this new era, we confront an even more demanding pace, not just in making incremental changes to technology, but in implementing new concepts and approaches.

As you know, a primary reason for this lightning pace is a more competitive, more connected world. New ideas and information emerge from every region of the globe and are transmitted with the speed of light. Research networks today are crisscrossing the globe, eclipsing geographic, disciplinary, and time barriers.

In short, we are now confronted with the "globalization" of science and engineering. On the other hand, science and engineering have always been international. The character of the scientific enterprise dictates openness and sharing.

Today's computer and communications technologies simply make it orders of magnitude easier and faster, and I might add, more competitive. Most of the world's scientists and engineers are only a mouse click away.

This globalization of science and engineering has not only led to stiff competition for ideas, but also for science and engineering talent, and for leadership in turning knowledge into applications. For the last half century, the U.S. has held the commanding position in all three areas.

The University of Akron's polymer program is an example of the leadership and excellence that we depend upon in every field, across the nation, to keep America at the forefront of science, engineering and technology.

The most recent chapter in the on-going saga of globalization has focused on the off-shoring of research and development activities. This has received a great deal of attention recently--particularly among policy makers. The movement of manufacturing to low-cost countries has been with us for decades.

America has managed to cope, the story goes, by maintaining leadership in frontier research and technology development, together with the high quality, high-paying jobs that accompany it. Add to this a policy environment that encourages entrepreneurial ventures and a world-class infrastructure that supports R&D, and you have America's recipe for success.

What is causing the current stir and deepening concern is the prospect that companies are now off-shoring sophisticated research and development efforts. These involve growing levels of complexity, and support of leading edge innovation and design capabilities--precisely the forté of the U.S.

A Wall Street Journal headline in mid-July carried this provocative headline: "China and India Lure Corporate Research Centers."1 The article reports a Booz Allen survey of 186 top companies, in 19 countries and 17 industry sectors. The survey found that more than three-quarters of research and development sites planned through 2007 are slated for India and China.

Moreover, the study forecasts that "about 31 percent of R&D employees world-wide will work in one of those countries by the end of next year, up from 19 percent in 2004." The study concludes that market prospects are the principal draw.

Another recent global survey of corporate executives, conducted by McKinsey Global Institute, is striking in this context.2

Against the backdrop of rapidly accelerating change, 85 percent of respondents describe the business environment in which their companies operate as "more competitive (45 percent) or "much more competitive" (40 percent) than it was five years ago. The report notes that competitive intensity is increasing for small as well as big companies, and across all industrial sectors.

Nearly 25 percent of the executives single out the improved capabilities of their competitors--as measured by knowledge and talented employees--as the most important factor contributing to increasing competitive intensity in their industry today.
The availability and cost of capital, trade issues, low-cost competitors, and other more traditional factors in the competition landscape continue to concern executives. What is noteworthy, however, is the degree to which the primary focus now falls on the characteristics of the new knowledge-economy.

For the first time, The World Investment Report 20053 published annually by UNCTAD, the UN Commission on Trade and Development, focuses on the internationalization of research and development by transnational corporations.
The report emphasizes that "The geography of international investment flows is changing. Developing countries are emerging as outward investors, and their importance as recipients of foreign direct investment in more knowledge-intensive activities is increasing."

There can be little doubt about the trends. Should we be worried? Perhaps. Should we panic? Definitely not! Let me give you two reasons. For one thing, concerns about off-shoring have failed to consider the flip side of the coin--what I like to call "on-shoring." "On-shoring" encompasses the flows of talent and indirect foreign investment that come into the U.S.

Investment in the U.S. by firms from abroad--drawn by the quality of university research and tech talent, as well as the lucrative U.S. market--have played a pivotal role in the nation's economic growth. Foreign companies that locate near U.S. universities and research parks do so for very good reasons: to gain access to higher level research and better trained talent. They can often tap into frontier research and emerging technologies available nowhere else in the world.

Foreign companies also invest in advanced R&D within the U.S. in order to serve the tech-friendly U.S. market. So far, U.S. research that moves "off-shore" is less advanced than research that remains "on-shore" here in the U.S. And we want to keep it that way!

Scientists, engineers and students from abroad have also made an important contribution to discovery and technological innovation in our nation. The U.S. has long benefited from an open-door policy that welcomes science and engineering talent from abroad. To lead within the broad global context, we must continue to foster and encourage this movement of talent and investment to our shores.

Even so, we have reached a flashpoint where developments worldwide are driving a new direction for America.

The President's American Competitiveness Initiative is a response to the challenge of maintaining U.S. innovation and competitiveness. It lays out concrete steps to encourage innovation and to strengthen our nation's ability to compete successfully in a global economy.

NSF will play a major role in this ambitious, 10-year, interagency effort. We are one of three key agencies responsible for fundamental research in the physical sciences and engineering slated for a doubling of budget over ten years. A higher level of federal investment in high-risk research will spur the generation of discoveries that produce valuable and marketable technologies, one of the principal goals of the ACI. And it will help us develop the world-class facilities and infrastructure that are essential for the kind of transformational research that can take us well beyond the current frontiers of knowledge.

An equally important component of the ACI is education. NSF will help to prepare the nation's technological workforce for the 21st Century, while working with educators to provide America's children with a strong foundation in K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Adequate preparation of our students is a prerequisite for sustainable innovation.

We need to reach all Americans with the math and science education necessary to survive--and thrive--in a high-tech, global environment. As the President has said, we must "ensure that America's children succeed in life... and that America succeeds in the world."

We are confronting difficult challenges. These policies can help head us in the right direction. They aim to fortify our current strengths and to bolster our prospects for sustained leadership in the future--most importantly by preparing our youngsters for new challenges.

Of course, government, industry and educational institutions all share the responsibility for making these changes. Nothing less than the future of America is at stake.

And yet, as the old saying goes, "the devil is in the details." How exactly can we keep the U.S. at the forefront of research, education and innovation, and what exactly does that mean in our increasingly global environment? How, for instance, can we meet the new challenges of globalization more effectively in a time of dynamic transformation and global integration?

These questions do not have simple answers. In a radically changed world, we need to be as innovative in our thinking about new paths as we are in producing iPods.

One conceptual framework for answering these questions is "collaborative advantage."4 Over a decade ago, Harvard Business School sociologist and management consultant, Rosabeth Moss Kantor, identified collaborative advantage as a key strategy in a highly competitive environment.

"In the global economy," she writes, "a well-developed ability to create and sustain fruitful collaborations gives companies a significant competitive leg up." Her study of international corporations yields three fundamental aspects of successful business alliances:

  • Although most alliances provide benefits for the partners, successful ones also provide an "option on the future, opening new doors and unforeseen opportunities."
  • Legitimate collaboration involves creating new value together, in contrast to a tit-for-tat exchange of value that already exists.
  • Successful alliances do not flourish within "command and control" systems; they require a rich environment of interpersonal links that enhance learning.

It may seem paradoxical that collaborating more with competitors is a winning strategy. At the very least, every nation collaborates in order to compete. In our era of high-velocity change, just keeping up with new science, engineering and technical developments requires a staggering level of global communication.

But information is the least to be gained. As Kanter discovered, fruitful collaboration produces benefits that flow to all the parties that cannot be obtained by any of them separately. It strengthens bonds of understanding across disciplines, sectors and cultures. And importantly, it lays the foundation for as yet unknown opportunities for further collaboration.

NSF-grantees, Leonard Lynn of Case Western Reserve University and Hal Saltzman of the Urban Institute, have been conducting a major study of the "new" globalization of engineering. This "third-generation globalization" requires responses to competitive market pressures that differ from those that served the U.S. well in the 1980's.

They suggest that the United States should move "toward an approach in which leadership comes from developing and brokering mutual gains among equal partners. Such 'collaborative advantage'...comes not from self-sufficiency in technology, but from being a valued collaborator at various levels in the international system of technology development."5

At NSF, we are taking this very seriously. Today, collaboration among multidisciplinary teams, often geographically distributed, is a feature of the research enterprise worldwide. International collaboration is accelerating, now that barriers to communication have largely disappeared. We intend to strengthen our international outreach by expanding opportunities for international collaboration in research and education whenever and wherever possible. That also means bringing a global, collaborative perspective to every level of education, from kindergarten to post-doc, as well as teaching the skills necessary to thrive in a diverse, globally comprehensive environment.

NSF has always been a pioneer in developing and supporting innovative collaborations and partnerships. The Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers and the Engineering Research Centers are two early and successful efforts. The Materials World Network is a more recent development that directly addresses our new realities. It is a global community of researchers and educators working across borders and disciplines, in both developed and developing countries, to accelerate materials discovery and design.

To grasp how all-encompassing technology is, we must view every technological innovation in the larger context that includes both how people use the technology and the affect of its exploitation upon people and institutions. Taken together, these two perspectives map how technology can transform the world.

Unanticipated, often startling new applications are one persistent feature of the revolution in computer, information and communications science and technology.

Some examples are well known: the global auction house, E-Bay, the "long tail" business model pioneered by Amazon, and Massively Multi-Player Online Games--where sophisticated, real world markets are emerging based on virtual goods from virtual worlds.

Less exotic examples include community and socially-based phenomena such as the open source software movement, the recent explosion of blogs, and the use of cell phones as tools of political organizing--as well as for committing acts of terrorism. In fact, less benign examples are legion: witness the proliferation of hacking, phishing, and other inventive web-based criminal activities.

Before I hear from the outraged parents or educators among you, let me point out that I am not advocating the use of commercial games in classrooms--though I'm not ruling out the possibility either! The important point is that the uses to which people will deploy new technologies are never completely predictable.

The flip side of the coin is that we humans are not totally powerless. We have the ability to shape the future. We recognize needs that none of our technologies address adequately at the current time.

We have not solved the age-old problems of poverty and disease, we cannot yet predict the precise timing or severity of many natural disasters; we have not yet solved the world's energy problems or met increasing environmental challenges. And we are a very long way from understanding how to prevent war.

Understanding the mutual interaction between human and social dynamics and technology is vital if we intend to shape change in the years ahead. On a large scale, what we mean when we speak of shaping change is simply "policy"--the methods and principles we design and implement to help establish the environment that will help us achieve our larger goals. This includes educational policy and science and technology policy. Now, we include policies aimed at fostering a sustainable capacity for innovation.

We want our universities and businesses to continue leading the world in innovation. Our strengths include the traditional U.S. leadership in fundamental discovery and R&D, and world-class facilities and infrastructure.

At the same time, we seek ways to enhance our nation's role as a partner and collaborator in the international arena. Through strategic international collaboration, we can open new doors and add unforeseen value. However, these collaborations should have the purpose of making more candy, not raiding each others candy shops!

There are also areas in which we need to improve by exploring innovative directions: developing a cyberinfrastructure, and training the workforce to operate in a fast-changing, global environment.

In conclusion, we should always remember the larger context. That context is a world in which we hope to identify common problems and forge common solutions. The promise of globalization in the broadest sense is a world empowered by education, made safer, healthier and more secure through technology, and enlightened by knowledge in the service of society.

1 "China and India Lure Corporate Research Centers, Megha Rajagopalan, Wall Street Journal Online, http://online.wsj.com/article_print/SB115275197103905223.html, last accessed July 14, 2006.
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2 "An executive take on the top business trends: A McKinsey Global Survey," The McKinsey Quarterly, April 2006.
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3 World Investment Report 2005: Transnational Corporations and the Internationalization of R&D, United Nations Commission on Trade and Development, 2005; http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/wir2005_en.pdf, last accessed July 30, 2006.
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4 See, for example, "Collaborative Advantage: The Art of Alliances" by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1994. pp. 96-108.
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5 Leonard Lynn and Hall Salzman, "Collaborative Advantage," Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2006.
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