Diversification of research replacing US hegemony, says Marginson

Centre-periphery model of higher education ‘already obsolete’, with strong research output from a growing number of nations, scholar tells Boston conference

June 9, 2023
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Research excellence in future will not be confined to a China-US duopoly but will become increasingly diverse and geographically spread, according to a top higher education scholar.

Delivering a keynote speech at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education, Simon Marginson said “the centre-periphery model is already obsolete”, with today’s global research superpowers losing ground as other nations rise.

“Economic and political power are pluralising. The world will not return to the American hegemony of 1945 or 1995,” said Professor Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford.

He noted that large and middle-sized non-Western countries – China and India, but also Iran, South Korea, Brazil, Indonesia and others – were “gathering strength”, with a growing research output and increasing numbers of university graduates.

This increased diversity, he said, was illustrated by the number of nations responsible for the bulk of academic papers globally. In 1987, the US, UK and Germany together made up 50 per cent of all papers published in the Web of Science database. By 2017, this group had grown to include China, India and Japan, Professor Marginson said.

But publications per country told only part of the story, he said. A closer look made it evident that many smaller nations were quickly gaining ground. Despite their relatively modest GDP, countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia claimed some of the highest per-country growth rates in publications, according to recent figures – and that was just in English-language publications, he explained. 

“The real diversity in knowledge is much greater than in Scopus,” Professor Marginson added.

Western scholars should be wary of seeing scholarship through a “neo-colonial” lens when they addressed issues such as internationalisation, he warned.

“The sharpest criticism of [internationalisation] comes from the global East and global South, where Western internationalisation often negates rather than enhances local agency,” he added.

In education as well as research, Professor Marginson said, the figures showed that the world, well beyond the UK or US, was making gains. In more than 60 countries, half of young people were enrolled in tertiary education, he said.

“You’ve seen the growth in newer science systems,” he said. “Europe is also becoming stronger in leading science because of EU funding. There is more diversification of research capacity to come.”

Perhaps, Professor Marginson suggested, the West should “accept the inevitability of” a more “open future” beyond the US or even the competing research powers of the US and China.

“Has an American hegemony been replaced by a US-China duopoly that is going through divorce,” he asked. “I don’t think so…In future there will be various fusions of Euro-American models with different indigenous elements.”


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