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Post-west power shift

Scenario C

Scenario C | Post-West Power Shift

Economic headwinds have led Western governments to refocus research funding, while increasingly populist policies are curtailing international movement and collaboration. Meanwhile, sustained economic growth in the Global South is causing a geographic shift in the international research landscape. This scenario explores a world where the West has lost its dominance and China leads the way in healthcare research.

Harder economic times and populism in the West have curtailed international movement, and political agendas now focus narrowly on issues of national security and economic health.

In the West, contraction of higher education institutes and “brain drain” have reduced overall research capacity and output. Nations aim to fund “less, more useful” research, with a focus on demonstrating short term, tangible economic impact or benefit. Curiosity-driven research is scarce. Lower impact or negative research may be hidden if it is detrimental to impact assessment and funding allocation.

Researchers are employed by public research and healthcare facilities. Public payers focus on fast, low-cost, “real world” research on costs and benefits of healthcare interventions. Niche areas of biotech which boost industry, to which academic research has increasingly close ties, still attract national funding. Incremental advances in the UK in areas such as genetic and regenerative medicine reflect the high market value of the associated IP.

Sustained economic growth has led to the dominance of many Asian, African and South American countries, led by China which is the new global research and education powerhouse. These “emerged countries” attract the best researchers, particularly in fields with long term research objectives, which are off the agenda in many Western countries, and in traditional holistic care which is widely practised alongside Western medicine. Many experienced researchers have returned from the West to their countries of origin, using their international connections to poach the best researchers. International collaboration has, however, declined, the global open science movement has stalled and advances in precision medicine have slowed without the availability of large international data sets.

Only selected research is shared internationally. Research misinformation may be fed to competitor nations in high value fields and some cash-strapped domestic research may also be untrustworthy.

Nationally-open, local language repositories and platforms for research and data prevail. China has led the way with megasystems that allow researchers to complete most tasks at the touch of a button. Integrated, AI-powered research impact metrics assess the national economic, social, and scientific impact of all datasets, research papers, software, materials and other research outputs in real time.

Insights from leading figures

“There will be a shift to the East in 10-20 years. The Western privileged position at the top of the pile of innovators will be challenged by a fast-moving, ambitious Eastern tiger… ”.

“We used to think of these places [India, China, Africa] as recipients of funding, but actually they are the new intellectual engines”.

“…[Europe] don’t want to lose access to the UK as much as we don’t want to lost access to them. I don’t know if an arrangement can be struck, rather like Norway or Switzerland, to continue – it’s the participation, not the money that’s important.”

Weak signal: Rise of populism

The Munich Security Report 2017 states:

 “Liberal democracies have proven to be vulnerable to disinformation campaigns in post-truth international politics. Citizens of democracies believe less and less that their systems are able to deliver positive outcomes for them and increasingly favor national solutions and closed borders over globalism and openness. The willingness and ability of Western democracies to shape international affairs and to defend the rules-based liberal order are declining. The United States might move from being a provider of public goods and international security to pursuing a more unilateralist, maybe even nationalistic foreign policy…Populist parties are now part of the government in about a dozen Western democracies…there is also a backlash against so-called “globalism” … We may, then, be on the brink of a post-Western age”

Weak signal: Growth in research output and quality in Asia

The Nature Index 2016 Rising Stars supplement shows that Chinese institutions are leading the world in rapidly increasing high quality research outputs. 40 of the top 100 highest performers across the globe are from China, with 24 of those showing growth above 50% since 2012.

The global top 10 of most improved institutions is occupied by academic heavyweights such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences (first). Nine Chinese institutions in total occupy the top 10 positions, including Peking University (second), Nanjing University (third) and the University of Science and Technology of China (fourth). South Korea’s new Institute for Basic Science (11th) increased its contribution to high-quality journals by more than 4,000% in four years. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is placed 19th. Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, takes the final place in the top 20.

Scroll down to view our three other scenarios or go back to the Future of Global Research overview.