EAIR European Association for Institutional Research, 13th international forum 1st-4th September 1991, Napier Polytechnic, Edinburgh Scotland. Proceedings 'Managing the higher education environment' p. 347-360.
See also the Ackermans - De Jong report itself: Dutch advisory report


Strategic science policy and organizational structures in the engineering sciences


Ben Wilbrink (Advisory Council on Higher Education (ARHO), The Hague, The Netherlands; Centre for Educational Research (SCO) of the University of Amsterdam)

Dr. Marco Roos (Advisory Council on Science and Technology Policies (AWT), The Hague, The Netherlands)


Abstract

.

Introduction

In the early part of last year the Dutch Minister of Education and Science asked two of his Advisory Councils to assess the developments in the quality of education and research in the fields of scientific engineering. A month ago both advisory bodies reported their results to the Minister (ARHO & AWT, 1991). Because of its breadth of scope this is an interesting case of quality assessment: how does one assess the quality of the activities of three Technical Universities in terms of possible and desired developments?


The project

The Councils involved are the Council on Higher Education and the Council on Science and Technology Policy. The Councils had a preliminary recommendation drawn up by Professor Stan (S.T.M.) Ackermans, former Rector Magnificus of the Technical University of Eindhoven, and Professor Pim (W.A.) de Jong, former chairman of the board of the Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). The Staff members Marco Roos and Ben Wilbrink assisted the advisors. The recommendation was drawn up after consultation of key persons in the three Technical Universities, the departments of Education and Science and of Economic Affairs, several multinational firms, and the biggest conglomerate of scientific research institutes in the Netherlands, the Organization for Applied Scientific Research.


Main theme: the contribution of engineering research to society

This paper focuses on the main theme of the recommendation: the organization of scientific education and research as related to the quality of the contribution to society. The main conclusion is that a distinction must be made between mainstream disciplinary science activities, and developing multidisciplinary fields of research. The contemporary organization of the universities allows its professionals a high degree of autonomy in their work, and is highly suited to the disciplinary kind of teaching and research. Examples of multidisciplinary fields are telematics (a combination of computer technology and electronics), new materials (ceramics, polymers, etc.), and traffic and transport. A historical example is the field of computer science, now a mainstream discipline.

In this paper multidisciplinary research is defined as research done by teams of scientists from different disciplinary backgrounds. The paper is not a plea for multidisciplinary curricula. On the contrary, the participants in multidisciplinary research must be experts, if not eminent scientists, in their own particular discipline.

Research in new fields like the ones just mentioned is only initiated, on a scale big enough to have societal impact, through high external pressure from industry, government, or developments in neighbouring countries. Typically, such concerted research effort is ten or twenty years overdue. The question then is, what, if any, organizational structure will produce timely initiatives of the indicated kind? Can we afford to wait for the universities to react to already existing societal pressures adequately? Or must decisions be made by a body on a level between the autonomous Technical Universities and Government (comparable to the level of Britain's University Funding Committee)? And if so, what organizational structure, somewhere between government, universities, and research institutes and industry, can bridge the implementation gap between strategic science policy and the professional concerns of individual scientists or scientific bodies and institutions. An important issue will be the development of strategic policies themselves: gathering relevant information and establishing priorities in the funding of research.

Organizational structures

The point of interest in relation to the congress theme 'organizational structures' is that the problems addressed are manifestations of a clash between organizational structures of the university and demands from parties in the environment of the (technical) universities. External demands develop too fast and involve too many different disciplines and institutions that the traditional professional organizations can adequately respond to them. The question then is; should the traditional organizational structures be changed, or is it possible to serve these new and complex demands adequately from an institution that is complementary to the existing structure of the technical scientific field (and to government bodies).


I.     Quality of research

Analyzing the quality idea in the particular case of scientific engineering leads one necessarily to the interpretation that it is the societal impact of the engineering sciences that is its dominating quality. Of course it is the mission of every technological discipline to apply the results of science to the construction of artefacts. Because of its impact on the daily life of every citizen a certain amount of political control of science and technology is necessary, also democratic control of the politicians (Dickson, 1984), but this is not the line of enquiry in this paper. In the western world budgets for technological research are very big (Irvin, Martin & Isard, 1990), yet there are many fields where the research effort is too small, totally lacking, fragmented, or delayed. Surely it is a quality aspect of the aggregated research effort whether fields that are important to society get the coordinated attention of the scientific community.


Scientific engineering and the national economy: a tense relationship

In the Netherlands important fields that lack a coordinated research effort are logistics and transport, and new materials and material technology. The Netherlands is a country with a very high volume of transit trade; it is densely populated, it is a river delta, and the low country must be defended against the sea. Developments in traffic and transport are vital to this country. Dutch multinationals, if one may call them so, in the chemical and electronic sectors are highly dependent on the development on new materials, ceramics, polymers, cement, etc. Well, there is much research in these fields, but it is fragmented, and the research activities of many different disciplines and research groups are uncoordinated.

Another important field is telematics: only this year a research institute was founded as a joint venture between Philips, IBM, the Dutch telephone company, and the departments of Education and Science, and of Economic Affairs. Only after the initial agreement between these five parties was the participation of a university solicited, and granted to Twente Technical University.


Organizational structures the causes of fragmentation?

At this point the conclusion is that research in the fields of technical engineering, as assessed in recent years by ministerial and other 'scouting committees', is surely up to international standards, but important multidisciplinary fields lack coordinated research effort. The question then is what action or policy can be taken to remedy this lack of coordination? To answer this question one needs to know why universities, or groups of or individual researchers, fail to accomplish concerted research efforts in new, multidisciplinary, fields. For causes one may look at the typical organizational forms for scientific teaching and research, at the limited financial resources that force policy makers to make choices, and at the implicated problem how to predict what developments will pay off in the future. The corresponding labels are Mintzberg's (1989) 'professional bureaucracy', Zimon's 'Science in a Steady State', and Irvine & Martin's (1989) 'Research foresight'.


Research foresight: creating the future

Discoveries that today seem important may tomorrow be obsolete. What today seems an insignificant line of research, as far as engineering applications are concerned may tomorrow prove essential to the existence of a multinational. In the sixties and early seventies there was much optimism in scientific circles on the possibility to predict future developments, and to adapt industrial and other economic planning to these predictions. However, the future proved to be largely unpredictable. Today policymakers try to influence developments, instead of reacting to predictions of what developments will be. The future is not something given; it is an option one may try to influence by one's own informed strategic choices. Irvine and Martin (1989) coined the term 'foresight' to mark the difference with forecasting; foresight is used for the informed attempt to create the future. On assignment of the Dutch Ministry of Education and Science Irvine and Martin (1989) investigated the investments of several industrialized countries in foresighting. Developing research foresight is a national undertaking, not something in the reach of the individual university administration. Individual researchers in the universities of course can furnish essential pieces of information, but it is the coordination and combination of many disparate pieces of information that forms the information basis for research foresight. Clearly individual technical universities are not adequately equipped to develop the research foresight needed to initiate new, especially multidisciplinary, fields of research timely and successfully. Initiatives of individual researchers may succeed, of course, but most of the time they will not reach the necessary momentum due to lack of recognition and of funding.


Science in a steady state

The second point is articulated by a workshop chaired by Professor John Ziman (1987, p. 3): " ... scientific activity now takes an appreciable fraction of the national income, and any further expansion is bound to be limited by other economic and political factors. (...) Science is thus moving into a dynamic 'steady state', in the sense that adjustments to change have to take place within a roughly constant envelope of resources, though it is expected to serve the nation more efficiently and to account more directly for its costs. Resources are allocated to various fields according to more utilitarian criteria, and competing research programmes have to be evaluated more rigorously for both their potential exploitability and their scientific merit."

Major decisions about the allocation of resources will necessarily have to be made at levels above that of the individual university. This is the more pressing in fields where the cooperation of researchers from different disciplines, institutions and companies is necessary for research to have the desired impact on important problems of society.


The university as a professional organization

The world of science is a world of disciplines and subdisciplines; the major organizational characteristic of science is that it is disciplinary. Scientists have their peers within the same discipline. Funding bodies are divided in disciplinary chapters. The peers in the same discipline assess the quality assessment of teaching and research. The researcher is assessed on his or her past performance, and granted continued funding based on his or her past performance. Whitley (1984) and Becher (1989), among others, describe this 'disciplinary culture'.

Research that does not fit in the slots of existing disciplines is very difficult to initiate. The daring researcher must build a new relational network, will for some years be unable to publish, lacks publication media, and will have problems raising enough money.

This state of affairs may be fine as the development of the particular discipline is concerned, but it impedes developments that cross the borders of one or more disciplines, that are extremely risky, and that demand long periods of investment during which no scientific output will be produced. There are many fields of research, important to society, mostly multi-disciplinary, that do not fit nicely into existing disciplinary slots.


Every university itself is organized according to several disciplines and subdisciplines. The professional workers in the university have a high degree of autonomy. In this sense the university is what Henry Mintzberg (1989) calls a 'professional bureaucracy'. As in other professional bureaucracies, the autonomy of faculty is possible because they are professionals whose 'skills and knowledge have been standardized through long years of training' (Hardy, Langley, Mintzberg, & Rose, 1984, p. 177). They are 'disciplined' people, brought under disciplinary control. They belong to particular niches in the disciplinary structure of science. This kind of organization fosters continuity in education and research, but it may stifle innovation. In the words of Hardy, Langley, Mintzberg and Rose (1984, p. 177): "This may not encourage radical innovation - in Kuhn's (1970) terms, doctoral programs train people to do 'normal science', not to foment scientific revolutions - but it does ensure that professors will act responsibly (given that responsibly means: in ways generally accepted by a community of scholars)."


Limitations of the university as a professional organization

The conclusion is that the university as a professional organization, whose members are loyal primarily to their disciplinary peers and not to their university, is not able, as an organizational entity, to undertake the foresight studies mentioned earlier, nor to take responsibility for major decisions in the allocation of research budgets. It is not feasible to change this organization in any essential way without sacrificing its power to produce new knowledge. Also the separate disciplinary fields are essential building blocks for multidisciplinary endeavours. University boards are not equipped to develop strategic policies, but they are willing to cooperate in joint programmes that are developed by some outside body. An essential condition for the succes of any such joint research programme is the commitment and the active participation of key scientists in the disciplinary fields involved.


Proposal: an Advisory Committee for the Engineering Sciences.

The problem clearly is the relation between the universities and government as the stakeholder of the interests of society. In Britain the new University Funding Council (see for example the Times Higher Education Supplement 31.3.89 p. 6-7) is placed at a level between the Department of Education and Science and the universities. In the Netherlands, there is no administrative buffer or institution of any kind between the Department and the universities, with the exception of the Organization for the Advancement of Academic Research (NWO) whose main task is promoting the quality of academic research by allocating funds. In the Netherlands, the autonomy of the universities is a hot political item. It is the intention of the Government to grant the universities full autonomy. At the same time there is a growing concern about the possibilities left to Government for strategic science policy in areas of crucial importance for society and for the economy (Hazeu, 1989). For the engineering sciences, embodied primarily in the three Technical Universities, an Advisory Committee, located between the universities and government, can fill the 'strategic science policy gap'. It would be the responsibility of this Committee to commission foresight studies (Irvine & Martin, 1989), to make strategic choices, and to implement these choices, soliciting the cooperation of many different parties and researchers. The Committee's domain would be restricted to long-term policies, and to the funding of new fields of research only. These new fields of research will show a strong multidisciplinary character, and will demand the cooperation of not only the universities and individual scientists, but also of industry, independent research institutes, and governmental departments concerned. This Committee would stimulate cooperation between many different partners, academic as well as industrial and governmental, by taking away existing administrative, financial and other barriers. This Committee would be a small organization with a small budget that works complementary to the autonomous Technical Universities.


Reception of the proposal

As mentioned in the introduction, interviews and a work shop were held with key persons in the Technical Universities, in two governmental departments, in several Dutch multinationals, and in the Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO). In these interviews, the analysis just given was consistently confirmed, and there was a certain willingness to give the proposed Committee a try. But the Advisory Councils did not endorse the idea of an Advisory Committee between the universities and the Minister, and urged for strengthening of the discretionary powers of the university boards, and urged the Minister to make a better use of the discretionary powers he already has.


The combination of foresight, decision making, and implementation

What is so special about the proposed Advisory Committee? There is nothing new about the elements of the mission of this Advisory Committee, except maybe its function to signal developments before anybody else does.

Our country has many committees to advice this or that Minister on what can be done to stimulate this or that development. Most of the time the advice simply is an admonition to all actors involved to do the utmost to cooperate with one another. It is the people involved that should better exert the powers they have, or whose powers should be strengthened. The advice typically is: more of the same, better if possible. The institutions themselves are not being questioned. Clearly, the typical committee on problem area X fails to do implementation proposals. A recent example is the report to the Netherlands Government (Science Council on Governmental Policy, WRR, 1991) on the role of Government in technological development: the message is all institutions involved are doing a fine job, they should only cooperate more, the Government role is limited to set up favorable conditions.

Once it is evident that the necessary institutions are lacking, it is no problem for the particular ministry involved to implement a new strategy or new field of research. A study by the Science Dynamics research group of the University of Amsterdam, themselves an example of successful implementation (Rip, Hagendijk & Diks, 1986) describes cases in different fields.

The analysis that between the administrative levels of the universities and Government another level is necessary with certain budgetary and priority setting powers was made by a ministerial committee chaired by Professor Wolfson in 1985.

It is the integration of these elements in the proposed Advisory Committee for the Engineering Sciences that makes it a new proposal, in the Dutch context even a radical proposal. Still, in Britain and in the Scandinavian countries this administrative level already exists, with far greater powers than this Dutch Committee is proposed to have. The scope of this Committee is limited to the stimulation of developments in multidisciplinary fields mostly.

The Committee may implement graduate schools, multidisciplinary research centers, and joint ventures between several parties as in the telematica case mentioned earlier. Examples of this kind of stimulation of developments are the interdisciplinary research centers (IRC's) in Britain (Hoch, 1990), and the Science and Technology Centers program of the National Science Foundation in the USA (Palca, 1991).


II.     Quality of education

In the foregoing the quality of research in the engineering sciences was investigated in terms of existing and recommended organizational structures. What to say about the quality of education in the engineering sciences? A new Advisory Committee is fine as far as strategic research is concerned, but surely a Committee like this would not be related to the quality of education? Well, the engineering sciences are in a very special predicament: much of the advanced knowledge in these fields is generated by multinationals, and is not available as 'public knowledge'. The problem then is to offer students a curricular program that is advanced enough to bring them up to the level that these same multinationals expect and need, while an important body of advanced knowledge is effectively beyond the reach of university faculty. Especially in the engineering sciences, it is essential for faculty to have access to advanced knowledge in their field to maintain an acceptable level of quality of teaching. It is only through active involvement in research on a high level of quality that faculty can (1) produce advanced knowledge, (2) acquire advanced knowledge from research networks they participate in, (3) signal important developments in the published literature and in conferences, and (4) establish and maintain contacts with research institutes and industrial laboratories. Evidently, universities and multinationals must cooperate to ensure the quality level of education keeps up to the standards that the multinationals will set, these multinationals being the employers of most of the graduating engineers. The possibilities here are mutual exchange of personnel, cooperative projects, information exchange, etc. The Advisory Committee is another opportunity for representatives of both worlds to meet each other and find new ways to exchange advanced knowledge.


High quality of education, not yet satisfied

The quality of education at the Technical Universities is good. Visiting committees typically give engineering programs high ratings. The engineering disciplines attract students with very good credentials, in terms of secondary school examination results. Of course, in top level education individual differences can be outstanding, the good students being dwarfed by the geniuses. This heterogeneity of itself should not tempt one to advocate the necessity of a more stringent entrance selection. In the preliminary recommendation, it was not suggested that selection might be the solution for some educational problems. The Councils in their joint report recommend sharper selection of entrants to the Technical Universities. What merit can there be in sharper selection?


Selection: a special characteristic of organizational structure in education

Personnel selection implies that is possible to predict the contribution of the new employee to the results of the firm or the institution. Let us make this more precise: it must be possible to predict the rating the then selected employee after a year or so gets from a supervisor. Typically, only a small part of relevant future behavior can be predicted in this sense. If one uses a good intelligence test, typically a correlation of .5 is observed between intelligence test scores and ratings of a supervisor. This is not a high correlation, but it makes selection very profitable. The intelligence test predicts considerably better than the interview: the interview typically correlates.1 or .2, or lower (See Herriot's handbook, 1989). By the way, multinationals in the Netherlands prefer using the interview to select their scientific engineers. It must be absolutely clear from these figures that more stringent entrance selection for the Technical Universities cannot possibly be effective, since students in technology already are heavily self-selected on academic achievement in secondary school.

Now suppose society does not need scientific engineers in the numbers that are now becoming available on the labour market. Then one might use a selection procedure to reduce the number of entrants. In personnel selection, the selection procedure must be valid, in the sense of the Standards for psychological and educational tests, published by the American Psychological Association. In educational selection, validity is not sufficient. Typically, in education the problem is not selection, but allocation of students. A numerus clausus for one discipline, say medicine, does not imply that the most intelligent students should be allocated to that discipline, and not scientific engineering, for example. In the Netherlands, a lottery is used for selection for some disciplines that have a numerus clausus. Recently, a visiting OECD committee labeled this lottery system 'thoughtless populism' (OECD, 1990, par. 179). We have just presented in a few words a highly technical argument that in certain situations lottery is the better system in terms of pay-off to society.

In the case of a numerus clausus, for some engineering sciences one might claim that selection based on intellectual capabilities is the best way. However, here the problem is the high level of self-selection of the candidates: an intelligence test will correlate very low with future professional success. The correlation with academic results during the study will be higher, of course, but following the allocation argument it is not sure whether this can be a sufficient ground to use this technique to effect the intended reduction in the number of entrants to this study: the test is in this respect equally valid for most other fields of study, so it cannot be used as an instrument for allocation.

Selection is not a panacea for educational problems. Instituting a numerus clausus based on predictions of future societal demand is extremely risky: in the Netherlands there are predictions of the number of scientific engineers that the labour market will absorb in the year 2000 (Berendsen, de Grip, & Willems, 1990), but these predictions are not reliable. The conclusion must be that a more stringent entrance selection for the engineering sciences, in the current circumstances in the Netherlands, would not benefit anybody.

References


Allen, M. (1988). The goals of universities. Stony Stratford: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

APA (1985). Standards for educational and psychological testing. American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association (APA), National Council on Measurement in Education. Washington: APA.

Ackermans, S. T. M. en W. A. de Jong, m.m.v. Marco Roos en Ben Wilbrink (1991). De technische universiteiten. Pre-advies. In ARHO en AWT, Advies inzake de technische universiteiten. Den Haag: ARHO/AWT. ISBN 90-346-2617-2. htlm

Becher, T. (1989). Academic tribes and territories. Intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines. Stony Stratford: SHRE & Open University Press.

Berendsen, H., de Grip, A., & Willems, E.J.T.A. (1990). De arbeidsmarkt voor onderzoekers 1990-2010. Maastricht: Research Centrum voor Onderwijs en Arbeidsmarkt. (Concept-rapport).

Clark, B.R. (Editor) (1987). The academic profession. National, disciplinary and institutional settings. London: University of California Press.

Dickson, D. (1984). The new politics of science. New York: Pantheon Books.

Dosi, G., Freeman, C., Nelson, R., Silverberg, G., & Soete, L. (Editors) (1988). Technical change and economic theory. London: Pinter Publishers.

Franklin, M.N. (1988). The community of science in Europe. Preconditions for research effectiveness in the European Community. Aldershot: Gower.

Hardy, C., Langley, A., Mintzberg, H., & Rose, J. (1984). Strategy formation in the university setting. In Bess, J.L. (Editor). College and university organization: insights from the behavioral sciences, 169-210.

Hazeu, C.A. (1989). Systeem en gedrag in het wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Den Haag: VUGA.

Herriot, P. (editor) (1989). Assessment and selection in organizations. Methods and practice for recruitment and appraisal. London: John Wiley & Sons.

Hoch, P.K. (1990). New UK Interdisciplinary Research Centers: reorganization for new generic technology. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 2, #1, 39-48.

Irvine, J., & Martin, B.R. (1989). Research foresight: creating the future. Zoetermeer: Netherlands Ministry of Education and Science.

Irvine, J., Martin, B.R., & Isard, Ph. (1990). Investing in the future: an international comparison of government funding of academic and related research. Report of a study sponsored by the UK Advisory Board for the Research Councils and the US National Science Foundaton. Aldershot: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Mintzberg, H. (1989). Mintzberg on management. Inside our strange world of organizations. London: Collier Macmillan Publishers.

OECD (1990). Reviews of National policies for education - The Netherlands. Paris.

Palca, J. (1991). NSF Centers rise above the storm. The Science and Technology Centers program is now firmly established and is about to undergo a major expansion. Science 251, # 4989, 19-22.

Rip, A., Hagendijk, R., & Dits, H. (1986). Implementatie van prioriteiten in het wetenschappelijk onderzoek. Achtergrondstudie 15 van de RAWB. DOP, P.O. Box 20014, 2500 EA The Hague.

Whitley, R. (1984). The intellectual and social organization of the sciences. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wolfson, D.J. (chair) (1985). Rekenschap van creativiteit. Eindrapport van de Commissie Financieringsstructuur Onderzoek en Ontwikkeling. Zoetermeer: Ministerie van Onderwijs en Wetenschappen.

WRR (1991). Technologie en overheid. Enkele sectoren nader beschouwd. Den Haag: Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid; SDU-uitgeverij.

Ziman, J. (1987). Science in a 'Steady State'. The research system in transition. Published by: The Science Policy Support Group c/o AFRC, 160 Great Portland Street London W1N 6DT. Report of a series of workshops, chairman John Ziman.


Note

Only the authors are responsible for the contents of the paper. The views of the Councils are reported in ARHO/AWT (1991), including that includes the preliminary recommendation by Professors Ackermans & de Jong.





IMPLEMENTING STRATEGIC SCIENCE POLICIES IN THE (TECHNICAL) UNIVERSITY SETTING

ABSTRACT


Recent quality assessments of research and teaching in several technical disciplines have directed attention to the sometimes-slow reaction of the scientific community to important developments in society and in industry. Especially lacking are timely initiatives in multidisciplinary fields of research, in cooperation with institutes and firms in the direct environment of the three technical universities in the Netherlands. Policymakers are becoming aware of the need for strategic policies that identify important (contemporary/future) developments (foresighting), to set priorities among the many themes competing for the same research money, and to implement these strategic choices, seeking the commitment of the parties concerned: universities, scientists, and research institutions external to the universities. The paper is a report on the state of affairs and on possible institutional arrangements complementary to, amongst others, the organizational structureof the universities as 'professional bureaucracies'.



IMPLEMENTING STRATEGIC SCIENCE POLICIES IN THE (TECHNICAL) UNIVERSITY SETTING



Synopsis of the paper


The objective of the paper is to outline how different organizational structures both inside and outside the university seriously obstruct the (strategic) development of new fields of science and technology, especially fields involving more than one 'traditional' discipline. The emphasis will be on the technical sciences because of their impact on industry and society at large, as well as their dependence on good relations with organizations îoutsideï the university. This problem, more fully sketched out below, is addressed by two Dutch Advisory Councils, on Higher Education and on Science and Technology Policy. The objective of the Councils is to develop a proposal for possible new organizational structures that in the near future will be able to stimulate teaching and research efforts in fields that are especially important for the dutch economy. Examples of the kind of 'new fields' here intended are: information technology, telematics, micro-electronics, traffic and transport, and logistics.

Recent assessments of research and teaching in the technical sciences in the Netherlands indicate some common problems concerning the ability of universities and faculty to develop strategic policies for the development of new fields of scientific research with a strong multidisciplinary character. Assessment committees typically consisting of members of the particular discipline to be assessed are therefore not particularly well equipped to assess the way the particular discipline reacts to societal demands and to governmental strategic policies concerning science. Departments, governmental committees and advisory councils pour out many reports articulating the need for research in fields of great importance to society but failing to indicate the instruments or organizational structures that are needed to implement these multidisciplinary research programmes.

The question to be addressed in the paper is: what organizational structure, somewhere in between government, universities, and research institutes and industry, is needed to bridge the implementation gap between strategic science policy and the professional concerns of individual scientists or scientific bodies and institutions. An important issue will be the development of strategic policies themselves: thegathering of relevant information and decision making concerning priorities and posteriorities in the funding of research (Irvine and Martin, 1989).

Why is it necessary to follow a top-down approach in the formulation and implementation of strategic research programmes? Why is the science push itself not sufficient?

A major problem seems to be the disciplinary structure of the scientific field. It is not only the fact that particular disciplines have their own culture, organizational form, scientific methods and instruments etc. that divides them (Whitley, 1984). Funding schemes also are discipline-based, one discipline competing with others for the same institutional budget. Scientific output, citation scores, are of vital importance for the individual scientist. Funding bodies, being organized according to disciplines, give preferential treatment to proposals 'in the kernel' of the discipline.

This state of affairs may be fine as the development of the particular discipline is concerned, but it is a major stumbling block where developments cross the borders of one or more disciplines, where new developments are extremely risky, and where new developments demand long periods of investment during which no scientific output will be produced.

The quality of teaching depends in an important sense on the research activities of the faculty. Where important new fields of research are not adequately represented in the university catalogue there is no opportunity for students to acquire knowledge and skills in these new fields. Especially in the technical sciences it is absolutely essential for faculty to have access to advanced knowledge in their field to maintain an acceptable level of quality of teaching. It is only through active involvement in research on a high level of quality that faculty are able to (1) produce advanced knowledge, (2) acquire advanced knowledge from research networks they participate in, (3) signal important developments in the published literature and in conferences, and (4) establish and maintain contacts with research institutes and industrial laboratories.

In new fields with a strong multidisciplinary character and of strategic importance to the economic development of the country, it may be necessary to take special measures to ensure an adequate effort to institute research as well as teaching in these fields. The interests of many parties must balanced. One possibility here is the research school for postgraduates, currently being discussed in the Netherlands.


relation to the sub-theme 'organizational structures'

The point of interest in relation to this sub-theme is that the problems addressed are manifestations of a clash between organizational structures of the university and demands from the relevant environments of the (technical) universities.

External demands develop too fast and involve too many different disciplines and institutions for the traditional professional organizations to adequately respond to them. The question then is: should the traditional organizational structures be changed, or is it possible to adequately serve these new and complex demands from an institution that is complementary to the existing structure of the technical scientific field (and to government bodies).


main conclusions

As the project is not yet finished (the date set is june 1991), only some preliminary remarks will be made here.

The organization of scientific teaching and research in the university setting is characterized as a professional bureaucracy (Mintzberg, see also Hardy et al. 1984). It is not feasible to change this organization in any essential way without sacrificing its power to produce new knowledge. Also the separate disciplinary fields are essential building blocks for multidisciplinary endeavours.

University boards are not equipped to develop strategic policies, but they are willing to cooperate in joint programmes that are developed by some outside body. An essential condition for the succes of any such joint reserach programme is the commitment and the active participation of key researchers in the disciplinary fields involved.

What is needed is a complementary organization that is able to articulate the industrial and societal need for the development of new fields of technology, and to implement research programmes in these fields. A small council would be adequate, equipped with a small staff to contract out prospect studies, and with an adequate budget to institute the needed research activities.


procedure

As this is not a research paper, there will not be an explanaton of the methodology used. Instead, a few remarks will be made about the procedure followed in this advisory project.

Two key persons in the technical university field and its relevant environment, prof. dr. S.T.M. Ackermans, a former rector magnificus of the Technical University of Eindhoven, and ir. W.A. de Jong, former chairman of the board of TNO, will make a priliminary report to both Advisory Councils; the authors serve as research and secretarial staff.

A series of interviews was conducted with key figures in the three technical universities, the two departments involved (of education and science, and of economic affairs), industrial firms, and research institutes. These interviews wre used to check available information, gather new information, and investigate the willingnes to participate in new institutional forms dedicated to the formulation and inplementation of strategic policies in the technical sciences.


English literature indicating the scope of the problems addressed:


Whitley, R. (1984). The intellectual and social organization of the sciences. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dickson, D. (1984). The new politics of science. New York: Pantheon Books.

Irvine, J., & Martin, B.R. (1989). Research foresight: creating the future. Zoetermeer: Netherlands Ministry of Education and Science.

Franklin, M.N. (1988). The community of science in Europe. Preconditions for research effectiveness in the European Community. Aldershot: Gower.

Dosi, G., Freeman, C., Nelson, R., Silverberg, G., & Soete, L. (Editors) (1988). Technical change and economic theory. London: Pinter Publishers.

Clark, B.R. (Editor) (1987). The academic profession. National, disciplinary and institutional settings. London: University of California Press.

Allen, M. (1988). The goals of universities. Stony Stratford: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.

Hardy, C., Langley, A., Mintzberg, H., & Rose, J. (1984). Strategy formation in the university setting. In Bess, J.L. (Editor). College and university organization: insights from the behavioral sciences, 169-210.



Other, more recent


For more recent literature, see the recent additions at the end of the online version of the Dutch Ackermans/De Jong advisory report here


Paul Wouters (www started July 5 2008). Research Dreams. A platform for dreams about the near and distant future of scientific and scholarly research

http://www.researchdreams.nl/



Robbert Dijkgraaf (3 januari 2015). Sluipmoord op NWO. NRC, NRCWeekend Wetenschap W3. column




Moti Nissani (1997). Ten Cheers for Interdisciplinarity: The Case for Interdisciplinary Knowledge and Research. The Social Science Journal, 34, Number 2, pages 201-216. pdf




De Jonge Akademie (2015). Grensverleggend. Kansen en belemmeringen voor interdisciplinair onderzoek. Amsterdam: KNAW. pdf




AWT (2015). De waarde van weten. De economische betekenis van universitair onderzoek. pdf




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