Swedish Research Minister Urges U.S. and Europe to Prepare for Era of Global Competition

Sweden’s top minister for higher education and research called on the United States and Europe to increase scientific cooperation and strengthen financial support for innovation.

Speaking at AAAS headquarters, Tobias Krantz, minister for higher education and research in Sweden, said that the United States and the European Union, along with Japan, are the current world leaders in science and technology.

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Tobias Krantz

 

With the United States publishing about a quarter of an estimated 760,000 research articles in peer-reviewed journals in 2008, along with domestic research and development spending by the United States, European Union, and Japan growing by 5% to 6% annually from 1997 to 2007, the three still remain the most world most fertile for innovation, he said.

But with emerging economies in Asia and Latin America investing heavily in research and development, along with recent predictions that two-thirds of the world’s population will reside Asia and 90% of an emerging global middle class will live in developing nations by 2025, other economies are poised to enter the global competition for innovation.

“A new global economic and scientific landscape is emerging . . . with previously poverty-stricken parts of the world challenging the West in areas where we have been comfortably ahead for years,” said Krantz.

Krantz, who chaired the European Union’s ministerial meetings on science and higher education when Sweden held the E.U. presidency from July to December 2009, spoke at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., at a briefing on the evening of 4 February. The event was organized by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.

“Europe, especially Sweden, has a long history of successful innovation, turning basic research and development into innovative products,” said Norman P. Neureiter, senior adviser for the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy. He cited a list of Swedish companies including the telecommunications giant Ericsson, automobile manufacturers Volvo and Saab, and Sandvik, the engineering and mining firm.

During the Swedish E.U. presidency, Krantz said, his government gave priority to developing what he called the “knowledge triangle”—the interaction between education, research, and innovation.

“Each of these parts of the triangle is important by itself,” he said, “but we are also certain that a lot of added value can come out of integrating the three approaches rather than looking at them separately.”

While some may view Europe and the United States as being “on two ends of the same pole, stressing our differences rather than our likeness,” Krantz said that cooperation and competition for innovation are critical for both in the coming century.

“Global competition is growing more fierce… and both should take on this challenge by seeing it, not as a threat, but as an opportunity,” he said. “This should lead us to reform our domestic policies to shape up our performance in order to be an attractive global partner both in the economic and scientific fields.”

He added that competition, when ill-managed, can produce a zero-sum game where someone’s gain is automatically someone else’s loss. But in science, competition to develop the most innovative findings and products are critical to advance the field.

Krantz said that “Sweden has a lot to learn from the American example and the ability to create environments for outstanding research, promote talent, and support excellence.” He also joked that Sweden and the United States have a “very special collaboration,” with “Sweden handing out the Nobel prizes and the Americans receiving them.”

But despite being the most successful research nation in the world today, the United States should be wary of overlooking the importance of international collaboration. He said that while the United States has 1.3 million researchers, there are more than 5 million in the world, suggesting that “we all, even Americans, have to face the fact that most of the world’s research is being conducted abroad, outside our own national borders.”

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