A Global Strategy for MIT

How MIT's Engagement With The World Will Change

A successful international strategy must also anticipate change, both at MIT itself and in the external environment.

The impact-driven research university. While many factors drive change at MIT, the idea that scientific discovery and intellectual excellence should be harnessed to achieve practical benefits in the world pervades the MIT community and is animating some of the most important new developments on campus today.

  • In research, this idea is reflected in the increasing tendency to organize interdisciplinary collaborations around complex societal problems—energy, water, food, transportation, security, health, environmental quality, economic development, and so on. Of course, research at MIT is rooted in the disciplines and continues to be motivated by the goal of making important discoveries at the frontiers of fundamental science. But problem-oriented research has become more visible on our campus, and is now being augmented by a growing focus on even-more-complex ‘megaproblems’ such as climate change and urbanization, each of which encompasses several major societal problems. Such problems are, for the most part, inherently international, and as they command increased attention, interest in building international research collaborations will grow, as will the interest of potential partners in working with MIT. The SMART research collaborations in Singapore are a good example, with large teams of MIT faculty and Singaporean colleagues working on problems that are important to the Singapore government, such as urban mobility, environmental quality, and infectious disease prevention.
  • In education, faculty members are deploying digital technologies not only to enhance the education of MIT students but also to reach learners around the world. A major motivation for these new initiatives is the opportunity to increase the scale of MIT’s educational impact and engage with different kinds of learners, including those for whom a conventional education on the MIT campus would be prohibitively costly, as well as socially disadvantaged groups such as refugee populations, and professionally active ‘lifelong’ learners. MIT researchers are also studying the fundamental processes that underlie learning at the individual level, from pre-kindergarten to adulthood, and are working with partners in several countries to apply the results of their work.
  • In innovation, MIT’s focus on entrepreneurship-based innovation pathways is helping to accelerate the conversion of discoveries and inventions into practical technologies, products and services, and this in turn is adding new dimensions to the Institute’s interactions with the world. For example:
    • The opportunity to participate in the local innovation ecosystem is attracting large international firms to MIT’s Cambridge neighborhood, including Phillips, Novartis, Samsung, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Schlumberger, Toyota, GlaxoSmithKline, and others.
    • MIT entrepreneurship ‘bootcamps’, intense short courses taught in conjunction with online entrepreneurship education programs, are bringing new kinds of students to campus from all over the world, and are also being offered in other locations where MIT is active, including Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
    • MIT’s Hong Kong Innovation Node is designed to enrich the educational experiences of MIT (and Hong Kong) students in important areas of innovation practice including entrepreneurship, making, rapid prototyping, and scale-up. The Node, part of the broader effort to build out a global classroom for MIT students, will provide a gateway for students to access the unique manufacturing and prototyping capabilities of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta region.

As MIT continues to elaborate and extend the model of the impact-driven research university, new opportunities for international engagement will undoubtedly arise.

Changes in the World. America’s relative economic weight in the world has been declining for decades, and as other countries grow more prosperous, a growing share of global R&D is originating outside the U.S. While domestic funding for R&D has increased by 11% since 2008, R&D funding in China has been growing at an average annual rate of nearly 17%, and by more than 9% per year in South Korea.1 The U.S. is still the world leader in research, accounting for 29% of total R&D spending by the G20 countries in 2013 (the most recent year for which data are available), but China, which two decades ago barely registered in the international statistics, accounted for the next largest share of R&D investment at 22% of the total.2 Indeed, by this measure, China will soon overtake the U.S. (Researchers in China already publish almost as many articles in peer-reviewed scientific and engineering journals as their U.S. counterparts.3) As MIT faculty and students look for funding to tackle some of the world’s biggest scientific and technological challenges they are increasingly likely to find it in foreign capitals. Similarly, as economic growth in the developing world continues to outpace growth in the U.S., more of the world’s most dynamic companies—typically the most attractive industrial partners for MIT—will be based in the emerging economies.4

1 In the U.S., gross expenditures on R&D grew from $415 billion in 2008 to $463 billion in 2015 (in constant dollars). Over the same period gross R&D spending rose from $149 billion to $377 billion in China (using PPP exchange rates) (Source: OECD (2017), gross domestic spending on R&D (indicator). doi: 10.1787/d8b068b4-en (accessed on 05 March 2017)).

2 The G20 countries account for about 85% of gross world product and most of the world’s R&D expenditures.

3 National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators – 2016, pp. 5-8.

4 According to a recent projection by McKinsey, 45% of the world’s largest companies will be based in emerging economies by 2025, compared with just 5% at the beginning of the century. The list of the world’s 500 largest companies published annually by Fortune magazine now includes 156 emerging-market firms, compared with just 18 in 1995. (Economist, 17 September 2016.)