Cover Image
close this bookSouthern Lights - Celebrating the Scientific Achievements of the Developing World (IDRC, 1995, 148 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentChapter 1 - A northern misconception demolished
View the documentChapter 2 - Is there really science in the south?
View the documentChapter 3 - How the south got left behind
View the documentChapter 4 - Third world achievements
View the documentChapter 5 - Marching to a different drummer
View the documentChapter 6 - Solving global problems together
View the documentChapter 7 - What needs to be done
View the documentAcronyms
View the documentBibliography
View the documentAcknowledgements

Chapter 7 - What needs to be done

Before the countries of the South can play a significant role in helping to solve major world problems, they require:

- Adequate funding for their scientific efforts;
- Educational changes to maximize these efforts;
- Public understanding of the role of science and technology in the national culture;
- The political will to bring about the necessary changes; and
- More effective links between research and the application of its results.

Underfunding is one of the major reasons for the gap in scientific activity between the North and South. In 1990, the ratio of gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) to gross domestic product (GDP) in all the major developing areas of the world - except the NICS of Asia - was less than 1 %, while in the United States and the European Community it was twice that figure. Although it is true that considerable expenditure on science and technology in some leading industrialized countries is for military purposes, the discrepancy between North and South is still enormous. In the poorest countries, about 0.2 to 0.4% of GDP goes to science, compared to 3.1% in Japan (Barre and Paon 1993).

Similarly, in terms of trained personnel, developed countries have 1.9 or more scientists and technologists per 1000 population (4.7 in Japan), while developing countries have only between 0.1 and 0.5 per 1000. Providing more funds for science and technology and training more scientists and technologists are essential first steps in any attempt to fully utilize the scientific and technological capabilities of the developing world. Yet more money for training is not enough in itself; the money must be devoted to disciplines appropriate to these countries’ needs and at appropriate levels within disciplines.

All Eyes Are on the Newly Industrialized Countries

The NICS of East Asia serve as a magnificent example of what adequate resources and deliberate policies in support of science and technology can achieve.

“Asia’s investment in science and technology has skyrocketed over the past decade, outpacing even the high economic growth in the region,” reports June Kinoshita in the 15 October 1993 edition of Science. “Since 1980, R&D spending has grown at annual rates ranging from 15.8% in Taiwan to 23% in South Korea, according to figures compiled by the us National Science Foundation. Today, the Asian Tigers spend close to $80 000 a year on each research scientist and engineer, about two-thirds of the amount in Japan and over half the amount in the United States. These countries see science and engineering as critical to their economic is being pumped into research centres, consortia, and projects that will provide foundations for future industries, such as biotechnology, microelectronics, telecommunications, multimedia, and advanced materials.”

What was previously lacking in these countries, Science’s editor-in-chief Daniel E. Koshland Jr points out, “was the governmental support and the climate of encouragement needed to provide fertile soil for those scientific talents.” What has made the difference is “a highly intelligent and purposeful almost every country in that area to support basic and applied science.”

Contrast this with the attitude of many in the South, as described by Dr F. Hussain of Pakistan: “There are only a few countries in the Third World where the governments have really gone out of their way to help the development of science.... In most, like my own, the governments have never given any priority to education or to science.”

And consider a comment made by Abdus Salam (1992) in Science and Technology: Challenge for the South: “The ICs [industrialized countries] are expending (in GNP terms) about five to nine times more every year on S & T [science and technology] than the Third World. We in the Third World are just not serious about S & T.”

Finding Money for Science

Where the funds to support science in the South will come from is a major question. The South is already greatly indebted to the North. Much of the debt should be forgiven; if the North insists on full debt repayment, the debtor nations will never be able to develop the infrastructure and human resources needed to help solve global problems.

Julius K. Nyerere, Chairman of the South Commission, has said: “In the 5 years leading to 1982, there was a net transfer through long-term lending of $14 billion from the developed countries of the North to the developing nations of the South.

“In the 5 years 1983 to 1987, however, there was - just on account of long-term debt servicing - a net transfer of over $70 billion in the reverse direction. This does not take into account the very much larger amounts effectively transferred to the North through the deterioration in the terms of trade of developing countries - in other words, as a result of commodity prices going down while the prices of manufactured goods went up.... In 1988 alone, the 17 most highly indebted countries of the South made a net transfer to their Northern creditors of $31 billion!... It has been estimated that when the North raises its interest rates by one percentage point, the 17 highly indebted countries together pay an extra 54 billion in debt servicing every year. Their interest payments were [at $41 billion] one third larger in 1988 than in 1987, largely because of such increased international interest rates.”

In addition to restructuring the debt, the North should ensure that a far greater proportion of aid money goes into strengthening scientific capabilities in the South.

Responsibilities of the South

The countries of the South, in turn, must be prepared to implement policies that strengthen their scientific and technological resources and lead to economic growth, just as the NICS have done. Although the North is to blame for much of the South’s current situation, governments in the South must come to grips with the domestic reasons for their poverty and political instability, and these problems must be solved through internal policies. And, finally, the South must invest more in productive areas such as education and scientific research and development, rather than in nonproductive and destructive areas such as armaments.

“While the advanced countries spend about three per cent of [this] GNP on scientific research, the developing world spends 0.3. But at the same time, it spends about four to five per cent, the same amount as the First World, on defence and armaments”, said the late Cyril Ponnaperuma (1993) of the University of Maryland.

According to Abdus Salam “no S&T - research, development, and their meaningful extension and utilization - is possible without a nation spending an inescapable minimum of funds on it.” Even if the developing countries decided to spend on science 16% of their own expenditures on education (industrialized countries spend 16 to 40%), “this should provide the colossal figure of $12.2 billion from the South’s own domestic resources, according to estimates made by the Third World Academy of Sciences,” he adds.

Salam says these modest expenditures are necessary to secure a large inventory of scientists for the South, and to provide them with tools to do their work. Yet, to his surprise, he found that “such outlays are frowned upon, particularly by the economists and planners, as wasteful luxury, even after it is demonstrated that these would increase the GNP manyfold - if only by bringing about agricultural plenty and better health. No science-based development will accrue - and there will be no enhancement of GNP - unless we make these basic outlays.”

Dr Manuel Patarroyo is taking advantage of the influence that development of his malaria vaccine has provided him to try to persuade the Latin American heads of state of the need to adopt what he calls “a very simple idea: one percent, one per thousand.” By this he means they should invest 1% of GNP in science and have one trained scientist per thousand population.

The Need for Educational Change

A country’s ability to develop a sound scientific and technological base ultimately depends on its educational system. In many countries of the South, the emphasis in the educational system bears little relationship to real needs.

In the Arab States, for example, where 42% of the population is illiterate, university students study mostly the social sciences (67.8% in 1990), leaving only 32.2% spread across all other fields. Only 9.2% studied the natural sciences in 1985 and 10.1% in 1990, while in the same years medical science and engineering students actually decreased from 9.2 to 8.1 % and agricultural science students decreased from 5.5 to 4.1% (al-Daghestani 1993).

“These trends are not healthy because the present stage of development in the Arab States requires more doctors, pharmacists, nurses, engineers, agricultural scientists and other specialists to cope with the critical needs of development,” says Fakhruddin al-Daghestani, Director of the Centre for International Studies at the Royal Scientific Society in Jordan.

The Arab states depend on imports for 38% of their food. The average under-five mortality rate is approximately 100 per 1 000 live births (five times higher than in industrialized countries), and about 56 million Arabs do not have access to health services. In addition, the manufacturing industry’s productivity is very low.

The primary reason for the disparity in distribution of students among the various university programs must be the division of general secondary-level education into literary and scientific streams, al-Daghestani contends. Students who complete the literary stream can only enter the social sciences and humanities at university, while only those with the highest grades in the scientific stream are allowed to enrol in the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, and agriculture. “This automatically prevents around two-thirds of high school graduates in general education from going into these fields,” explains Dr al-Daghestani.

He estimates that public investment in higher education in the Arab States was about 1.74% of GNP in 1990 - equivalent to 14% of their military expenditures in the same year.

Some Problems in South Asia

In many other regions of the developing world, there is also a shortage of technical personnel. South Asia is a case in point. In 1988-89, Pakistan had only 6 000 qualified research and development workers, and, in the mid-1980s, Sri Lanka had fewer than 3 000 scientists and engineers. Nepal currently has 334 scientists and engineers and 75 technicians, while Bhutan had only 17 engineers in 1987.

Another problem common to many countries of the South is the inappropriate orientation of their university science studies. Kishore Singh, a member of the International Council for Science Policy Studies describes the problem in South Asia as follows (Lavakare and Singh 1993):

Research in the universities is frequently too academic, lacking adequate financial support, and sometimes quality and relevance. The higher education system does not closely interact with the industrial and commercial sectors, which are in fact badly in need of S&T input.

A fundamental requirement of higher technical education is to be more responsive to the world of work, rather than to produce graduates in the classical mould. This calls for well-considered measures toward curriculum development so as to cater better for socioeconomic needs in vital areas such as food and agriculture, irrigation and water resources, energy, health care, the service sector, technology and environment, etc., and to bring science teaching in higher educational institutions in conventional disciplines into alignment with the rapid advances taking place in S&T.

In the Third World generally, the proportion of students taking science and engineering courses compared to those taking arts courses is in the order of 10:90; in industrialized countries, the ratio is 50:50. Abdus Salam believes that “this preponderance of the technologically illiterate is the major cause of unemployment and of the technological backwardness of the Third World.”

Pakistan’s Dr Hussain puts the educational problem in a somewhat different framework: “The idea of research and the idea of a university as a place of learning is still not completely established in many of the Third World countries. In my own country I think we have this inheritance from the British - during the colonial period they did set up universities there, but they thought of them more as training people to serve the colonial regime rather than as places of learning. So the concept of the university as a place of learning is just slowly developing and it might take some time.”

Making Science Part of Culture

In much of the developing world, there is an inadequate understanding of the value of science. Says Thomas Odhiambo of his continent in Unesco’s World Science Report 1993:

We must begin from the beginning. Our children must begin to take it for granted that science is an everyday part of their play, song and existence. Our womenfolk must begin to embrace science as part and parcel of folklore and worklore. And our various publics, whether at the level of the community or the nation-state, must learn to fully integrate science into their enterprises and geopolitical roles.

After an in-depth study of Chile’s scientific research and training, the Academia Chilena de Ciencias (1993) declared that: “The primary factor limiting scientific and technological development in Chile and in most other Latin-American countries is the lack of perception by their national society of the importance of endogenous science for the cultural and socioeconomic development of the country...society in general ignores the existence of a small but valuable scientific community.”

Scientists versus Movie Stars: No Contest

A Filipino journalist, now director of training at the Centre for Foreign Journalists, Adlai J. Amor, told a 1986 symposium sponsored by the International Science Writers’ Association that (Amor 1987):

In Asia science stories (in the media) are perceived to lack the glamour of reportage on movie stars, politicians and the theatre. Although there are exceptions - like space flight experiments - most scientific and technological research is considered dull and unexciting, especially where applied to everyday problems of development. How to make better wood-burning stoves, how to prevent rats from eating the grain, how to make the rubber tree yield more latex, how to prevent malaria from spreading are all examples of ongoing research that receives little press attention. For reporters striving to establish reputations in journalism, reportage on these kinds of research will not land them in the front page. Such stories are relegated to the inside pages.

One of the problems facing Southern countries that wish to integrate science and technology into their indigenous culture is how to popularize these subjects. A scientific mind-set is foreign to some cultures, and some languages may even lack the ability to convey scientific ideas. And in the nine countries that comprise more than half the world’s population - Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan - 638 million people are illiterate (Unesco 1993).

In some countries, such as Bangladesh, science clubs for the young are effective. In the southern Indian state of Kerala, the Kerala People’s Science Movement organizes annual science marches in which folk artists perform dramatic sketches on subjects such as health, education, and the environment (Sharafuddin 1986). In China, successful peasant farmers become popularizers, traveling about to educate others in the crop-production methods that brought them wealth. Agricultural scientists and technicians also visit villages, advising and helping farmers (Chenru 1986).

The Chinese experience has been highly successful and offers a possible model for others. Shen Chenru, a Chinese science editor, said that by the end of 1984, 93% of the counties in the country had set up 2 277 science associations, and districts and townships had established another 41 000. At county and district administration levels in 1986, there were about 60 000 popular science groups with a total membership of 3.5 million.


What makes a young person turn to science as a career? Often it is the example set by someone who has become famous doing just that. Take the case of Colombian biochemist Dr Manuel Patarroyo.

“It was 8 years old when my father gave me a comic [book] to read,” he says. “It was just a booklet, really. And that booklet had Louis Pasteur’s story and I was fascinated. Then, like any other child who wants to be a priest or wants to be a policeman or a bomber or a pilot, I wanted to be a scientist and didn’t want to do anything different from what Pasteur did. Since then I have devoted my life to that. And I am not going to change. I will be doing science as long as I live.”

Raising the Status of Scientists

Jacques Gaillard, who is well known for his studies of the “sociology of science,” says in The Uncertain Quest (1994) that “in most developing countries, research scientists do not have high social standing or prestige. Doctors and lawyers and other professionals of that level, with at most the same amount of education as the research scientists, are not only better paid but also enjoy a much higher social status.”

He quotes Marcel Roche of Venezuela as saying about his country: “I know many examples of young people whose rich parents forbade them to major in sciences or to devote themselves to research often because of the low salaries or uncertain career opportunities. The bourgeois attitude to careers in science is much the same as the attitude to professions in the arts; success is reserved to very outstanding people alone, all the others being condemned to a Bohemian life of uncertainty. The profession has probably changed since the Sputnik was invented, but research is still not seen as a fully respectable profession.”

Gaillard says the low wages explain why many researchers in the South supplement their incomes by working overtime on side jobs that include anything from consulting or teaching to driving a taxi. “Anyone who has spent time with Third World scientists quickly realizes that a second [or even third] job and income are vital.”

Needed: a Change in Public Perceptions

If science and technology are to be adequately valued by the societies of the South, public perceptions must change. Part of that change must be achieved by promoting what the Canadian government has called a “science culture.”

Gaillard contends that training enough scientists, establishing enough scientific institutions, and providing adequate funding are not enough to guarantee the scientific results needed for development.

“Going beyond the availability of resources, research activities need a certain permanency through greater recognition by society,” he says. “The scientists need to find their place in a scientific community that has its own legitimate place in society.... In addition to proper status, better salaries and more adequate working conditions, the emergence of tightknit and lively scientific communities should be promoted by active academies, professional associations and scientific journals. Encouragement should also be given to activities such as national science days, science awards, science weeks for young people, annual conferences of national science associations, and also exhibits, science museums and clubs that attract young people to science and scientific careers.”

Finding the Political Will to Act

Without the political elite’s long-range commitment to develop science and technology as an essential part of the national culture, all attempts to lift the South out of its current quandary will fail. History has shown how the influence of great leaders has been responsible for bringing about great changes. Think of Jawaharlal Nehru in India and Chou-en-Lai in China. The participation of business and industry is also necessary, as the examples of both the NICs and Japan illustrate.

The story is different, however, in other parts of the developing world, notably Africa. Dr Odhiambo says: “African leadership in the key endeavours of its scientific research and technology fractured and anchorless.... A determined, long-range commitment rapidly to build up and maintain Africa’s capacity for science-led development is the single most important task of the continent’s leadership in the current decade and beyond.”

But we must not dwell on the negative aspects of the picture. We have seen in earlier chapters how great is the progress that has already been made in the Third World in science and technology. The potential is obviously there for far greater things. We have seen also how successful cooperation and partnerships between North and South can be. Logic compels us to conclude that expanding such cooperation is essential if we are to solve the problems that face all human beings in the future.

What Experience Has Taught Us

A former UN advisory committee tried to determine the ingredients essential to building the scientific and technological capacity required by countries in different stages of development. They concluded that, first and foremost, is the ability to decide what type of science and technology is needed to meet the country’s development needs. Countries must also be capable of absorbing, transferring, and using technologies, but only the more advanced societies need to create new knowledge through basic research. For each capability, countries require appropriate institutions. And there must be a balance between these activities.

What is the result of Northern countries spending billions of dollars trying to help build the scientific and technological capacities of the countries of the South? Having spent 40 years engaged in international collaboration activities, Geoffrey Oldham, Science and Technology Advisor to IDRC, concluded in a 1994 presentation to a conference jointly convened by Unesco and the Office of Overseas Scientific and Technical Research (Paris, France): “All of our efforts have had a disappointing impact on the ultimate objective. With only a few exceptions, the local scientific and technological capacity in most developing countries is not bringing the benefits of science and technology to bear, in an effective manner, on the development problems of those countries.”

One possible reason, Oldham said, lay in a misunderstanding of the nature of development. The models used by donor agencies were those of their own countries, and they thought if they applied these models to developing countries, similar results would be achieved. Therefore, they sold these models to the developing world.

“There was no overall assessment of each country’s needs - just a selling job by many individual donor agencies,” says Oldham. “Thus, the United Kingdom helped its former colonies to build universities modeled after its own; Unesco sold science councils; UNIDO (the United Nations Industrial Development Organization) sold industrial research institutions; the Soviet countries exploited national academies to their acolytes.”

“As a result, most developing countries have a collection of institutions unrelated to one another and not forming a holistic entity. In addition, many have over invested in one type of S&T activity at the expense of others. The result is an unbalanced system with many unconnected parts. It is a system capable of absorbing large sums of money with little noticeable impact on the lives of poor people in these countries. No wonder there is cynicism about the impact of science on development in the South, and an aid weariness in the North.”

What can be done to rectify the mistakes of the past?

It now seems obvious that instead of trying simply to transfer Northern systems to the South, without regard to local needs, each country should have been helped to develop a strategy for its own institutions. This is the course of action that must be followed now. Each developing country must assess both its scientific and technological infrastructure and its system of innovation. What doesn’t work must be discarded, and new institutions may have to be built.

Once this has been achieved, and a clear strategy for using science and technology for development has been designed by each country, donors can respond. In those responses, however, donors must coordinate their efforts much more effectively than in the past.

Need for Social Science Input

In its 25 years of attempting to build research capacity in developing countries, IDRC has learned the need to involve the social sciences. Most problems facing developing countries are economic, social, and political as much as scientific or technological. Even where there is a scientific or technological component to the problem, social and human factors are also involved, and must be considered.

For example, a Chilean research group was supported by IDRC to devise a means of providing water in a drought-ridden mountain area in the north of their country. They developed a “fog-catcher” - a nylon net that condensed the abundant fog in the area and carried the water through pipes to a small village on the desert below.

At first, the villagers were delighted with the regular flow of fresh water, but when they later realized that someone had to clean the storage tanks and repair the pipes, they quarreled about who should do it. No one involved in the design of the project had anticipated this problem, nor had they anticipated how the villagers would use the water. Rather than use it to grow vegetables and sell them to a nearby town, thereby increasing their income, the villagers irrigated their flower beds instead. Had social scientists been involved in the project design, they might have avoided these unexpected results - IDRC’s social scientists have learned from the experience and now work more closely with the village people.

Another lesson learned by IDRC is that research alone is not enough to guarantee development. Strong links must be forged between the researchers and the production system, and clients or beneficiaries of the research should be involved in its design at an early stage.

To apply these lessons, developing countries may have to change the orientation of their own institutions. Rarely is an interdisciplinary approach found in the Third World.

Looking to the Future

Many of today’s international institutions for scientific collaboration were fashioned in the 1930s and 1940s, and designed for a very different world than now exists.

“Although they have tried to adapt themselves over the years, many scientists believe that the time is ripe for a review of the institutional needs of international scientific collaboration, and an assessment of the adequacy of existing institutions to meet those needs,” concludes Oldham. “Any such review must involve developing-country scientists.”

New ways must be found, for example, to mobilize scientific and financial resources so that scientific communities in the North and South can together mount a concerted attack on global problems. New mechanisms must be found for raising the large funds needed to supplement declining aid allocations. These mechanisms might include global lotteries and taxes on international financial transactions, information flows, and air transportation.

With the implementation of such plans, not only would the North’s aid efforts in support of science and technology become much more effective, but, as well, a true partnership between North and South might evolve, and the full potential of science from the South would be realized in solving our mutual problems.