“In Australia, there’s a sense that we have to be connected to the best people wherever they are in world and that the government gets a bigger return by making sure that we are connected internationally,” he said.
Not only does the CSET research show that the era of the single dominant research powerhouse, the U.S., is over, it suggests that the current landscape isn’t just about a pair of leaders. Increasingly, research relationships are multilateral, involving researchers in several countries, and vary by field, Harris said.
“If we frame everything as bilateral race between U.S. and China, we’re missing half of the system because we’ve really globalized.”
And because of that globalization, pulling back from research partnerships with one country, such as China, can reverberate around the world. Instead, Harris and his co-authors said both government and higher ed need to do a sophisticated and nuanced assessment of the risks and the rewards of collaboration. A one-size-fits-all approach to research security and international collaboration will not be effective, they warn, and is likely to be counterproductive.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate could take up legislation this week aimed at making U.S. more competitive in science and technology with China and at protecting research and intellectual property. Disagreements prevented a final vote on the bill prior to Memorial Day.
While universities support the broader aims of the measure, they are concerned it could greatly increase government scrutiny of their international research and partnerships. Of particular concern is a possible provision that would require foreign gifts, contracts, or funding above a certain threshold to colleges to be approved by an interagency government panel that reviews international business deals for national-security concerns.
Although that language was pulled from the bill because of concerns that the panel, known as CFIUS, lacks the capacity or expertise to review academic partnerships, supporters are fighting to reinstate it. Other senators have proposed a more narrowly tailored amendment that would subject Chinese funds only to CFIUS oversight.
Another provision would restrict certain U.S. Department of Education funds from going to colleges with Confucius Institutes. A similar prohibition, on Defense Department grants, led to a wave of closures of the Chinese-government-supported language and cultural centers.