Globalization and Offshoring of Software

The Globalization of Research

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5. The Globalization of Research

IT research is concentrated in only a few countries. About a third of computer science papers come from the United States alone. A few additional traditional centers of concentration of IT research (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) account for about another third.

This is not surprising considering the large part of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) concentrated in these same countries. There is a correlation between Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) Adjusted Gross Domestic Product and computer science publication. However, the share of computer science paper production by scientists in the traditional centers of concentration of IT research is more than 60% greater than their share of world PPP GDP (65% vs 40%). In contrast, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Russia together account for 27% of world PPP GDP, but only 7% of computer science paper production.

IT research was even more concentrated in the past than it is today. The initial bloom of IT research occurred in a few select locations in the United States and a few other countries in the aftermath of the Second World War. This concentration has been perpetuated by the natural tendency of strength to build on strength. Particularly in the United States, this bloom was driven by ample government funding and a significant migration of scientific talent from the rest of the world. In fact, there is little doubt that government funding has played an important role in most countries. For example, on a per capita basis government funding is significantly larger in Sweden and Israel than in the United States. The pattern of strength in only few countries is amplified by a general migration of scientists from countries that do not support graduate education and research to countries that do.

Research-driven innovation is seen by many countries as a way to increase national wealth and standard of living. Both developed and developing countries are attempting to build up or shore up their research capabilities. This means greater competition among nations in the research area, and in particular competition for talent. Until recently, the United States had won the research talent competition, but that situation is changing. Due to strong efforts to foster research on the part of a number of national and local governments outside the traditional centers of research, IT research is slowly but steadily, and almost certainly inevitably, becoming more global. This globalization of IT research has been accompanied by a significant increase in the production of PhDs outside the traditional centers of concentration, and a reduction in the migration of researchers to these centers. In the long run, there is no obvious reason why IT research should be any more concentrated than world economic activity in general.

Globalization allows more and better people to participate in IT research. Increasing educational opportunities around the world means that more people are able to realize their research potential, thereby increasing the size of the IT researcher pool and the quality of the best researchers. A freer worldwide market in research means that potential funding for IT research can more easily be targeted to those that can most effectively and efficiently create research results. Both of these trends increase the amount of scientific advance that can be obtained from a given level of resources. There is little doubt that this is good for the field of IT and for the world as a whole; however, while we gain as a group, localities and individuals may end up suffering losses.

Globalization provides improved opportunities for people who live outside the traditional centers of concentration of IT research. It also provides improved opportunities for the best researchers, due to increased global competition for their services. It may, however, limit opportunities for other researchers in the traditional centers of concentration, for whom global competition may mean declining wages or even the loss of jobs.

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