At the recent European Science Open Forum in Dublin, one underlying theme was how science and technology fit into society, says the Dublin Institute of Technology's Ellen Hazelkorn at the Chronicle of Higher Education's Worldwise blog. "In the decades since 1945, university-based research has come to be viewed not simply as the driver of economic growth but a vital part of the research-innovation ecosystem," Hazelkorn says. "The concept of the 'knowledge economy' based on the application of scientific knowledge as the key source of economic and political power, and social and individual prosperity is now the main policy paradigm across Europe, and around the world."
Now, she adds, the emphasis has shifted slightly away from performance and productivity, and more towards the value and impact of research. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but there is a danger that this focus will be driven by macroeconomic indicators, Hazelkorn says. "Increasing government steerage of higher-education and research systems, and the privileging of scientific and technological knowledge are raising genuine alarm," she adds. "However, there is little disputing the fact that higher education is being asked, in my opinion correctly, to respond more directly to societal needs."