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What is International Science and Technology Policy and Why Study it?

Science and technology fuel advancements which move the world. These innovations are critical, but also require skilled and knowledgeable people to chart the course in a way which overcomes obstacles while capitalizing on opportunities. Read on for a closer look at why science and technology policy is necessary, along with how studies in the area lay the groundwork for a variety of diverse and fulfilling careers.

Apr 2, 2020
  • Education
What is International Science and Technology Policy and Why Study it?

What is international science and technology policy?

“Science and technology policy covers the public sector measures designed for the creation, funding, support, and mobilization of scientific and technological resources,” Rigas Arvanitis writes in Science and Technology Policy, while the Library of Congress’ Science, Technology & Business Division defines the field as: “One of the public policies that promotes appropriate funding to advance scientific and technological research and education, studies the impact of science and technology upon its citizenry, and prescribes regulation, if necessary.”

People who work in science and technology policy analyze how a government’s plans, programs and policies affect domestic and international affairs. This work has become increasingly important and prevalent over the years. “Since many political issues have a scientific component, most developed countries have specific agencies, ministries, or offices that deal with science and technology policy,” adds the Library of Congress.

The value of the field

The imperative for economic growth is strong for countries looking to safeguard the health, prosperity and security of its people. In today’s advanced societies, science and technology innovation drive this growth. But how do governments know what to invest in and what to abandon? And how do they make sure they’ve got the best systems in place to facilitate ongoing growth?

These are complex questions. UK non-profit Nesta suggests, “Policymakers working on innovation and business growth have a double challenge: how to promote disruptive innovation while ensuring growth is inclusive. To achieve this, an ambitious innovation policy that can come up with new ideas and solutions is needed. But we also need to make sure policy programmes are effective, and that policymakers are willing to test them - to learn what works and what doesn’t.”

One look at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Policy and Global Affairs website reveals the scope of science and technology policy issues facing the world today. From ensuring integrity in the digital world to understanding the legal implications of new neurotechnologies, the reasons to prioritize sound policy for science and technology are manifold.

According to a United Nations Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) brief, science and technology policy with a global outlook is of vital importance to moving forward in this landscape. “Contrary to the belief and evolution of national science policy (ies) in advanced nations; the Science Policy in the 21st century needs to be evolved, keeping in view the global problems related to climate change as well as the Blue Economy or Blue Growth. The “Blue Growth” as visualized in European Union (EU) and “Blue Economy” as understood in the rest of the world and adopted as a focused area in IORA since October, 2014 is closely linked with the attainment of SDGs [UN sustainable development goals],” the report asserts.

Careers in the field

The profound need for science and technology policy mandates a corresponding need for talent in this area. explains a wide range of organizations offer jobs related to science policy, often governments and intergovernmental bodies, but also any organization with an interest in influencing a science-policy debate, including nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), patients' groups, trade associations, professional and learned societies, and the industrial sector, all at local, national, and international levels.

In addition to a preponderance of jobs in many sectors, there’s also a breadth and depth of topics to focus on. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) science-policy consultant Marie-Ange Baucher says, “All the ethical parts of science, all the biosecurity [and] biosafety issues, the need for developing infrastructures in an emerging field of science, all of that, it's policy.”

A career-making degree

Despite the demand for skilled science and technology policy experts, there’s not always a clearcut path to jobs in the field. This is where the International Science and Technology Policy (ISTP) program at George Washington University’s (GW) Elliott School of International Affairs comes in! This cutting-edge degree positions graduates for global careers in science and technology policy careers in diplomacy and public service, business, security, conflict resolution, development, and public health. GW’s ISTP degree stands out from the rest in being one of the only programs of its kind housed within a school of international affairs.

The program has a strong emphasis on the hot button issue of space policy, and in addition to housing the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy, also plays host to the Space Policy Institute, through which students can focus their studies on space policy under the auspices of GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs. These students also gain access to unique opportunities, such as “One Giant Leap: Space Diplomacy Past, Present, Future.” Co-sponsored by the Space Policy Institute, the US Department of State, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the program celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing while setting forth a “global approach” plan for the future.

Designed for new bachelor’s degree graduates as well as for those already in the workforce, ISTP’s master’s degree programs attract a remarkably diverse range of participants. For example, current graduate students in the Space Policy Institute boast backgrounds in everything from astrophysics, earth and planetary science, mechanical engineering, Mandarin Chinese, and marketing. This diversity amplifies the program’s potential to spur outside-the-box thinking that comes from exposure to a plethora of different perspectives.

Given the many challenges facing the planet today, the pivotal role of international science and technology policy can only be expected to grow. If you want to lead the way forward, studies in international science and technology studies -- and particularly, GW’s ISTP program -- can position you for a successful career in this exhilarating area.

Earth planet and satellite view from space - 3d render

Article written in association with George Washington University.

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The George Washington University - Elliott School Of International Affairs
Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.