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Faculty & Research -Brain Circulation – When Academic Research Supports Global Business

Brain Circulation – When Academic Research Supports Global Business

For as long as the academic world seeks to instruct the business world via the fruits of its research activity, it is essential that the DNA of the former evolves in a similar direction to the latter. For many years publication within top-ranking academic journals leant heavily towards the US, mirroring the business school landscape of the time. This, though, has no longer been the case for a considerable period. For academic publications to remain credible sources of reference, learning and application by the corporate world, it is crucial that not only the content appearing within but also the profile of those contributing reflect the ever-more diverse make-up of the corporate world that they seek to inform.

The global nature of business conducted in 2017 means that companies require easy access to as many great minds thinking on a similarly global scale. It is therefore no coincidence that the leading association of business scholars, the Academy of International Business (AIB), is present in no fewer than 88 different countries and totals 3188 members (according to statistics published in February 2016). For genuine learning to be derived from the world’s academic community for the benefit of the global business community, it is essential that the former community have the required geographic spread, range of profiles and differing degrees of experience to provide as exhaustive and wide-ranging a view on current and future business trends as possible.

Global academic outreach for global business

Focussing upon the AIB community, times have clearly changed over the past 3+ decades. Membership of the association has increased tenfold, and the geographical origins of content contributors is becoming less and less US-centric. What remains to be seen is the level of publishing experience of those contributing, regardless of background. Bringing new insight requires not only greater diversity in terms of geographical spread but also “fresh blood”, meaning avoiding the trap of repeat publications being dominated by the same old faces. The opportunities afforded by cheaper global communications compared with 20+ years ago has made human mobility so much smoother that there is little or no excuse for such academic networks and communities of not becoming more multi-country by nature and more balanced in terms of first-time and repeat authorship.

A community on the move… and under the microscope

The last two decades have witnessed an increase in international scholarly travel and communication enabled by technologies with faster connectivity, both virtual and physical, between regions that span the globe. This has facilitated, among other things, a rise in the quality and quantity of business schools worldwide, an increase in international co-authorship not only in the social sciences, but also in the sciences, arts and humanities. Many formerly unknown authors have thus emerged on the authorship landscape. The desired knock-on effect of this evolution at business school and academic publication level is the creation and sharing of a richer pool of knowledge for the benefit of businesses.

To assess just how sharp this evolution has become (and therefore how potentially useful this shift in representation via academic publication could be for the corporate world), a recent study focussing on the AIB-produced Journal of International Business Studies was conducted in order to gauge in concrete terms the extent to which scholarly mobility translates into more diverse content for business practitioners to explore and, by extrapolation, a more diverse knowledge base in relation to the nationality, location studies and from where and for whom authors of published articles produced content.

The changing face of academic authorship

The study in question reveals a series of recent trends that should alert business practitioners in search of content that is no longer US-dominated and by the same authors. Concentrating on the period 1995-2014 and contrasting it with 1972-1994, a 60% increase in first-time contributors jumps out as an immediate shift in the make-up of business-oriented intellectual activity. Repeat publishers began to drop from 2010, guaranteeing a greater diversity of authors and, by extension, perspectives. This lattermost trend is sharpened ever further by the rise from 2011 onwards of the number of articles produced by multi-author, multi-country teams, an important trend that should not be overlooked by similarly multi-country businesses seeking a more inclusive overview on certain issues via academic journals. Whilst the US still dominates in terms of numbers the rise of China, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Singapore as the country of origin of published authors points to a continuing shift towards a more appropriately global perspective and therefore content.

Brain Circulation – more than just intellectual tourism

The changing face of academic authorship towards a more cosmopolitan community makes obvious business sense – the corporate world is ever more inter-connected but at the same time geographically spread and the world of management science has followed suit, resulting in more varied perspectives and output that can be traced back to early on in the modern academic’s career. This phenomenon of “brain circulation” sees up-and-coming researchers now breaking down into five categories, depending upon their country of origin, PhD-granting institution, and university affiliation. Depending on the degree of divergence or disassociation of these three criteria, what can clearly be detected in the current state of affairs are natives, PhD-seeking migrants, job-seeking migrants, returnees, and nomads. This increased level of sophistication and diversity within the young academic community, coupled with the rising spread of non-US and first-time publications by more experienced academics, suggests that the circulation of intellectual production will spread its wings on an even more global level in the years to come, to the obvious satisfaction of the corporate world.


This article draws inspiration from the paper The changing landscape of JIBS authorship, written by John Cantwell, Anke Piepenbrick, Pallavi Shukla & Alexandra Vo and published in The Journal of International Business Studies 47 (2016).

Anke Piepenbrick is an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Rennes School of Business, France. Her research interests include Innovation and inter-organisational networks, the evolution of technological systems on micro and macro levels, and knowledge structure.

John Cantwell is Distinguished Professor, Pallavi Shukla is Assistant Professor of Professional Practice & Alexandra Vo is PhD at Rutgers University, Newark, USA.

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