|Improving Higher Education in Developing Countries (WB, 1993, 80 p.)|
Science and Technology as Sources of Economic Growth in the Information-Based Economy
Science and technology play a critical role as sources of economic productivity and competitiveness in the new, informational economy (Monk 1989). Furthermore, the growing interdependence of service activities with manufacturing and agriculture place information processing at the core of productivity growth (Hall and Preston 1988). Thus, dramatic innovation in information technologies in the last two decades has made technological capacity even more crucial for economic development and political power. Because the adequate use of advanced information technologies is highly dependent upon the general level of education and culture of labor, there is a growing connection between people's intellectual skills and their countries' development potential (Carnoy and others 1982).
This analysis is not limited to market economies. The groundbreaking econometric studies by Soviet economist Aganbegyan (1989) show that the decline of the Soviet economy from 1971 to 1985 (which ultimately forced the policy of perestroika) was linked to the exhaustion of the extensive model of growth, through massive addition of labor and physical resources, as the Soviet economy became more complex and needed improved technology and better management to perform in the next stage of development. This next stage was characterized by the importance of information generation and information processing outside the secluded military industrial complex.
However, some authors argue that less developed economies are less concerned about advanced technology as much of their activity is still linked to traditional agriculture, semi-industrial handicraft production, and petty trade. Besides, advanced technologies tend to be labor saving, while the major problem in developing countries is to create jobs for a population still growing at an excessive rate. Yet, this argument forgets that today the world is closely interconnected, and that the process of development does not proceed stage by stage, but must instead be based on the proper linkages between national and regional economies with very different technological compositions (see Geledan 1990).
The informational economy is also a world economy, in which comparative advantages in terms of labor costs only become important once a given national economy is connected to the rest of the system on the basis of a sufficient level of communications, productive infrastructure, and labor skills (see Sewell and Tucker 1988). Because of the growing interpenetration of economic processes worldwide, economies that try to reach out beyond the subsistence level (thus generating some surplus) will immediately face a highly sophisticated international economy in which technological capacity is a critical variable. Unless we adopt the ideological position of full self-sufficiency, which would be hard to implement for political reasons in a world linked by television and tourist travel (Castells and Laserna 1989), the informational economy must be considered a worldwide phenomenon, with an asymmetrical structure, in which countries and regions are integrated at very different levels, furthering the system's segmentation and aggravating societies' contradictions (Ohmae 1990). In such a worldwide, informational economy we must rethink the meaning and instruments of development (see Portes and Kincaid 1990). It would seem that investment in what is called "human capital". becomes strategic, but the concrete policy implications of such a statement are more complex and less accepted than would appear at first sight.
This chapter elaborates on one of these implications: universities (but not any kind of university) become fundamental tools of development. However, they do so in a very different way to the old humanistic approach to development in terms of improving literacy and fulfilling the developing world's cultural needs.
The science and technology systems of the new economy (including, of course, the humanities) are equivalent to the factories of the industrial age. Not that manufacturing will disappear, but the new manufacturing of the twenty-first century (as well as agriculture and advanced services) will only be able to perform on the basis of a new, highly developed cultural, scientific, and technological system (Cohen and Zysman 1986).
If knowledge is the electricity of the new informational international economy, then institutions of higher education are the power sources on which the new development process must rely. This is the central proposition of this chapter.
High Technology and Development in the World Economy
During the last two decades the world economy has been transformed by two major interrelated factors: the growing importance of international markets to national economic development in a context of growing functional interdependency between countries throughout the world, and a major technological revolution in products and processes at whose core are new discoveries and applications in information technologies (see Gamella and Hernandez de Felipe 1990).
The growing internationalization of the economy concerns trade as well as capital, labor, management, and technology, but it is international trade that has become the driving force in the process of economic growth (see Deardorff and Stem 1986). Between 1960 and 1987, rates of growth in international trade have consistently outpaced rates of growth of world output. National performance has become more dependent on the expansion of international markets.
The performance of exports by region is highly differentiated, with East Asia experiencing fast growth (annual average growth rate of 6.7 percent in 1980-89), South Asia growing at a moderate rate (3.2 percent), while Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa saw their economies decline (-0.6 percent and -2.2 percent, respectively). Analyses by individual countries confirm the close relationship between international trade and economic growth (Dahlman 1989; Fajnzylber 1988; Frischtak 1989), reversing the traditional link between import substitution and national development.
Furthermore, most of this trade depends on the performance of exports from developing countries in the markets of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies, as is shown by the close resemblance between the evolution of such exports and that of industrial production in the OECD. Indeed, a close analysis of the structure of international trade shows that export performance depends upon two major factors: the importance of manufactured goods in total exports from the developing country, with countries specialized in agricultural commodities and raw materials being penalized by the deterioration of the terms of trade; and the added value and relative competitiveness of the manufactured goods, as most of the trade between developed and developing countries takes place within the same product groups. Thus, to the traditional unequal exchange between manufactured goods and primary commodities we must now add another source of disparity in terms of different technological composition (and thus different value) among the same kinds of manufactured goods (for example, some countries designing chips, others assembling them) (Castells and Tyson 1989).
This new structure of international trade, and the corresponding new international division of labor, takes place in the context of a major technological revolution that fundamentally reshapes the emerging global economy. The main effects of the revolution in information technologies on the structure and dynamics of the world economy are described below (Castells 1986; Dosi, Pavitt, and Soete 1987):
- The technological infrastructure that permits the daily operation of the global economy as a unified system operating in real time. Without telecommunications, computerized transportation, electronically organized air travel, microelectronics-based flexible manufacturing, and automated information-based management systems there would be no global, integrated economy, but just a process of increasing interaction between national or regional economies.
- High technology sectors (that is, the industries producing the new devices, most of them related to information technologies) are the fastest growing sectors in the world economy, for example, the electronics industry grew at an annual average rate of 13 percent between 1965 and 1986. Thus, countries able to be producers in such industries enjoy a growing share of world markets, while countries that must import high technology-based products (both in capital goods and in consumer goods) see their balance of trade deteriorate accordingly.
- Technological capacity determines export performance for national economies because of industries' dependence on their technological level for their competitiveness. Econometric studies by Dosi and Soete (1983) have provided empirical evidence for forty industrial sectors of the OECD countries indicating that these sectors seem to play a much lower role than does technology in conditioning competitiveness. Castells and Tyson (1988) reach much the same conclusion for developing countries, while Ernst and O'Connor (1990) emphasize technology fundamental role in explaining the competitive export performance of the newly industrializing countries in the last twenty-five years.
Therefore, it seems plausible to state that:
- The development process takes place today in a fully interdependent world economy that in the 1990s will include the formerly planned economies in transition toward some kind of market economy.
- International trade plays a fundamental role in economic growth. This statement does not only refer to the predominantly outward orientation of the fastest growing economies, but it also emphasizes the need for each economy to be able to import the goods and services required to modernize the country in a context of rapid technological change and instant worldwide communication.
- Competitive manufacturing is critical (both for export performance and for the ability to absorb imports) for successful development in an increasingly open economy.
- National development depends to a large extent on the technological infrastructure to manage the economy, including the ability to link up with worldwide information systems.
Overall, technology, particularly information technology and the wide range of its applications, becomes the fundamental factor in the development process under current historical conditions (see Soete 1985).
Technology Transfer And Endogenous Technological Development: The Role of Universities
The current dependence of development on the technological potential of each country has serious consequences for much of the world, because science and technology are distributed around the world extremely unevenly (see Johnston and Sasson 1986), as illustrated by table 4-1. Furthermore, the well-known brain drain phenomenon (Altbach 1987) aggravates the structural gap, concentrating the best scientists and engineers in a few countries, and within these countries in a few institutions and firms. This self-reinforcing trend creates the foundation for the most fundamental inequality in wealth and power.
However, if countries can set up a process of technological advancement, traditional obstacles, such as a lack of natural and energy resources or a small domestic market, become less important. Developing economies can benefit substantially from their quick access to high technology if they are able to sustain such an effort, as demonstrated by the competitiveness in the electronics industry of the newly industrializing countries in the Asian Pacific (Castells forthcoming), as well as the ability-of educated Mexican workers in American automobile companies in northern Mexico to reach productivity levels comparable to their American fellow workers (Shaiken and Herzenberg 1987).
Thus, technology has become a development tool of paramount importance, but is one of the most unevenly distributed capacities in the world, and access to technology (or technology transfer) is now at the core of development policies. By technology transfer I mean the incorporation in the economy, firms, and institutions of a developing country of advanced processes and products that cannot be generated and/or produced at a given moment by that country's enterprises.
A developing country can benefit from technology transfer in several ways (Bianchi, Carnoy, and Castells 1988):
- Import of machinery with the instructions and training for using it;
- Acquisition of licenses to design and produce the necessary equipment;
- Acquisition of know-how by training scientific and technical personnel by sending students, scientists, and technicians abroad to universities, government institutions, or foreign companies;
- Acquisition of know-how by inviting foreign experts to national universities or scientific or industrial organizations;
- Acquisition of know-how by training national personnel in foreign companies located in the country;
- Location in the country of technologically advanced foreign companies that produce at least partly for the local market.
Each form of technology transfer has its strengths and weaknesses from the point of view of the developing country. The main limit to reliance on import policies is the burden on the balance of trade. However, sending students and technical personnel abroad risks that they will never return home unless they are offered conditions of work comparable or better than those found in the host country, which is rare.
Attracting high technology multinational firms to the country is one of the most successful ways to upgrade the technological and managerial industrial structure of a given country quickly, but such a policy also has its shortcomings. Multinational firms are not eager to let their best technology get into the hands of potential future competitors. In addition, their decision to locate in a developing country is made taking their whole production structure into account, and therefore they do not focus on the market or industrial needs of a given country. Similarly, the training of foreign personnel is limited and controlled according to the firm's infernal needs. Very often multinational firms are economic enclaves without real linkages to the local productive structure. However, cases of technology transfer from multinational firms to developing countries exist, but they depend on the bargaining power of these countries (either as advantageous locations or as potential markets) and on the policies these countries are able to set up concerning foreign firms.
Table 4-1. Scientific and Technical Manpower Potential: Estimates for 1980 and 1985 (number per million people)
Europe (including the former Soviet Union)
Africa (excluding Arab states)
Asia (excluding Arab states)
Latin America and the Caribbean
Source: United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization data.
Despite these various shortcomings, developing countries must attempt a combination of these strategies of technology transfer to be able to link up, at some point and to some extent, with the globally integrated, advanced production system. However, technology transfer can only be effective if the country has a process of endogenous technological development that can receive, support, and use the know-how being transferred (see Ernst 1980). The traditional opposition between endogenous and exogenous technological development is ideological and empirically wrong. No country can today innovate entirely by itself in the midst of a major technological revolution, and even less so if the country does not belong to the OECD area of technologically advanced economies. Without substantial technology transfer on a world scale, the gap between this small part of the world and other countries will grow exponentially, leaving islands of modernity in an ocean of backwardness. However, for such technology transfer to trigger development, countries need a basic, supportive structure that, in essence, can be reduced to the following elements:
- An adequate system of communications and telecommunication linkages at the world level.
- An integrated productive structure, where suppliers and markets operate, at least for the advanced segment of the economy, at a similar technological level. In other words, a modern firm without an adequate network of suppliers and ancillary firms can only be an enclave, unable to contribute substantially to the country's development, and ultimately unable to be competitive.
- A skilled labor force of workers, technicians, engineers, and scientists able to adapt their skills continuously to the fast pace of technological change.
- A research system able to assimilate the discoveries taking place in the most advanced areas of the world, adapt them to the country's specific needs, and gradually be able to participate in international scientific networks.
- An institutional system able to link scientific research, technical applications, and training of the labor force in the context of a process of technology transfer.
Without the fulfillment of these conditions to sustain an endogenous process of technological development, the exogenous impulses received through technology transfer will not be assimilated.
Clearly institutions of higher education, both public and private, are critical for endogenous technological development. They must provide the skilled labor force that is needed for technology transfer and technology development, both in terms of specific skills (for example, engineering) and in terms of general learning ability; they must generate the scientific foundation and the research and development (R&D) activities that will be necessary to connect with the process of knowledge generation throughout the world; they will have to adapt innovations produced in other contexts and for other needs; and they will have to perform such tasks in close connection with the industrial structure, but with a level of autonomy that will enable them to take the necessary long-term view for scientific strategy and educational planning.
Experts tend to agree on the increasingly important role of universities in technology-led economic development (Rama 1984). Yet universities are systems whose internal logic and social dynamics cannot be easily adapted (even newly created universities) to the new historical role they are being called upon to play in the global information economy. Thus, to examine the interaction between economic development, technological transformation, and higher education we must analyze the structure and functions of universities as social institutions.
An Analytical Framework: Universities as Dynamic Systems of Contradictory Functions
Universities are institutions that in all societies, throughout history, perform basic functions that are implicit in the role that is assigned to them by society through political power or economic influence. These functions result from the specific history of education, science, culture, and ideology in each country. However, we can distinguish, at the theoretical level, four major functions whose specific weight in each historical epoch defines the predominate role of a given university system and the specific task of each university within the overall university system.
First, universities have historically played a major role as ideological apparatuses, rooted in the European tradition of church-based universities, either in the statist version of the French, Italian, or Spanish universities (closely linked to the religious orders, to the Roman Catholic Church, and to the national or local states), or in the more liberal tradition of theological schools of the Anglo-Saxon variety, ancestors of the liberal arts colleges. The formation and diffusion of ideology has been, and still is, a fundamental role of universities, despite the ideology of their ideology-free role.
However, we must consider this role in the plurality of ideological manifestations. Ideological apparatuses are not purely reproductive machines, as seen in the functionalist theory exemplified by Bourdieu (1970). They are submitted, as Touraine (1972) has shown, to society's conflicts and contradictions, and will therefore tend to express, and even amplify, the ideological struggles present in all societies. Thus, both conservative and radical ideologies find their expression in universities, although the more the ideological hegemony of dominant elites is established in society at large and the more conservative ideologies tend to predominate in the university, the expression of radicalism is confined to a minority of the student body as well as to some "official radicals" among the faculty members, which is tolerated on behalf of the system's necessary flexibility. However, the more the sociopolitical rule of society relies on coercion rather than on consensus, the more universities become centers of challenge to the political system, as it is often the case, for instance, in Latin America (Nassif, Rama, and Tedesco 1984). In such cases universities are still predominately ideological apparatuses, although they work for social change rather than for social conservatism.
Second, universities have always been mechanisms of selection of dominant elites, including the socialization of these elites, the formation of networks for their cohesion, and the establishment of distinctions between these elites and the rest of the society. The classic liberal arts college in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, including the Oxbridge version of theological schools or the state-based European universities, played a fundamental role in the formation of the new elites of the protoindustrial and industrial societies as family heritage was eroded in its legitimacy as the sole source of social power. Without substituting for the ideological role of universities (and actually frequently overlapping with it), selecting elites and forming social networks became the backbone of the leading institutions of the university system. The English system, built around the undisputed dominance of Oxford and Cambridge, is probably the quintessence of this elitist role of university. However, the role played by the Ivy League universities in the United States, by the University of Louvain based on the influence of the Catholic Church in Belgium, or by the University of Moscow in the former Soviet Union is very similar, and reproduces the process of elite selection and formation while adapting it to the historical and cultural characteristics of each society.
The elite selection function should not be necessarily associated with private universities oriented toward the aristocratic or bourgeois elites. For instance, in France, where serving the state was traditionally the most noble function that carried with it the highest power and prestige, the elite university is fully institutionalized in the system of the Grandes Ecoles, loosely connected to the university system, but largely independent from it. The Grandes Ecoles prepare students exclusively for the civil service, and graduates commit themselves to at least ten years of service to the state. At the top of the technical Grandes Ecoles, the Ecole Polytechnique is technically linked to the French army, and although the great majority of its graduates have probably never touched a gun, they keep climbing in the hierarchy of Army officers as their "active duty" generally takes place in the technocracy of the French state. As a sign of the state's dominance over private firms in France, the elite of industrialists (but also of leading managers) is often recruited among former graduates of the Grandes Ecoles after they have accomplished their "tour of duty" in government. Thus, elite-oriented universities are linked to the specific history and composition of elite formation in each country.
The science-oriented university actually came very late in history despite the practice of science in universities at all times, including the achievement of fundamental scientific discoveries in universities that were by and large ideological apparatuses. The first universities focusing on science and research as a fundamental task were the leading German universities in the second half of the nineteenth century, although there were a few early transfers of the science university model to the United States, particularly the Johns Hopkins University, built around the medical school.
Third, what seems today to be the most obvious function of the university, that is, the generation of new knowledge, is actually the exception throughout the world. In many countries it was not fully recognized as a fundamental task by the political institutions and private firms until of the current technological revolution, when the examples of the decisive influence of U.S. science-oriented universities in the new processes of economic growth (the "Silicon Valley syndrome") became apparent. However, despite this shift in the concept of the universities' role, in most of Europe research has been institutionally separated from higher education and confined to national scientific research centers of the French, Spanish, or Italian type, while the German model (still operating on the principle of separation between teaching and research) has been somewhat more flexible in the interaction between the two functions. While many European governments have not trusted the universities with scientific research, viewing them as too vulnerable to pressure from students, in other areas of the world, particularly Japan, until recently private firms have also distrusted universities as research-oriented organizations, leaving research as an in-house activity, supported by government funds, and directly linked to the needs and orientations of large private firms.
The popularity of the research-oriented university arose from the model's success in the U.S. university system. Here both private universities modeled after pioneering engineering schools such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford, or Cal Tech, and public universities endowed by the land grants policies, particularly in the Mid-West and California, played a fundamental role in generating new knowledge and using it to usher in a new era of industrialization based on new technologies (Veysey 1965). However, while this model is now imitated throughout the world, it is specific to the United States (despite its German origins), and remains the exception among universities even in the United States, where only about 200 of the 3,500 universities and colleges can be considered as knowledge producers.
While the U.S. science university received a major boost from the government's military needs during World War 2 and the Cold War, the science university model became fully developed only as an expansion of the role of another model, the professional university. This is the university focused on a fourth function, perhaps nowadays the largest and most important, the training of the bureaucracy. This has been a basic university function since universities were church schools specializing in the formation of church bureaucrats, and it was certainly the focus of the Napoleonic model of the university that inspired most European universities. Similarly, the traditional Chinese university system was structured around preparing students for the imperial system of examinations for the state bureaucracy, a model that inspired the Japanese and Korean systems. Thus, much of the university system is rooted in a statist tradition.
However, when the process of industrialization required training large numbers of engineers, accountants, economists, social workers, and other professions, and when the expansion of the health and education systems demanded millions of teaching staff and medical personnel, universities were called upon to provide both general and specialized training for this massive skilled labor force. At the same time, they had to equip themselves to accomplish this function, thus becoming large consumers of their own production. The professional university that focused on training the labor force was particularly successful in those countries where it became close enough to the industrial world to be useful to the economy, but not so close that it lost its specific role vis-à-vis the short-term interests of particular segments of the industry. Thus, the land grant universities in the United States created by state governments to develop regional economies were the experience that opened the way for other professional universities. The agricultural schools of California and Wisconsin and the engineering schools of Michigan and Illinois generated a culture of close interaction between the university and the business world, leading to an expansion of the role of these universities in science, technology, and the humanities, but always closely linked to their original developmental tasks. The U.S. university experience is better represented by the professional model epitomized by MIT or Wisconsin than by elite universities such as Yale or Stanford, which are regional varieties of the university as selector of social elites. The science-oriented university came later, and developed both on the basis of the elite university and of the professional university.
Thus, in the United States the professional university gave birth to the science university as the economy's needs made research as a strategic tool to enhance productivity and competitiveness increasingly important. Universities' ability to generate research while disseminating it into the industrial world was critical for the university to keep its training function together with its scientific function (Wolfle 1972).
By contrast, those universities that became completely subordinate to the needs of the labor market in the context of a planned economy, as in the socialist countries, were unable to perform their training function, much less their research function (Peper 1984). This was because in a world where technology is changing rapidly, the critical training for engineers and technicians is teaching them to adapt constantly to new technologies.
While these four functions (generation and transmission of ideology, selection and formation of dominant elites, production and application of knowledge, and training of the skilled labor force) represent the main tasks performed by universities, with the emphasis shifting among countries, historical periods, and specific institutions, universities as organizations are also submitted to societal pressures. In many societies, especially in the West, the demand for higher education has reached the status of a social need regardless of the economy's actual functional requirements. This expression of the aspiration of all societies to upgrade their education has led to the so-called "massification of the University system" as the institutions respond to excess demand by downgrading some elements of the system and transforming them into reservoirs of idle labor, a particularly useful function if we consider that this idle labor is composed of potentially restive youth. Thus, an implicit function of modern university systems is to absorb surplus labor, particularly from the lower-middle classes who think their children are entitled to social mobility through the university system.
The critical element in the structure and dynamics of university systems is their ability to combine and make compatible seemingly contradictory functions. The fact that because universities are social systems and historically produced institutions, all their functions take place simultaneously within the same structure, although with different emphases is probably the most complex analytical element to convey to policymakers. There is such thing as a pure, or quasi-pure, university model.
Indeed, once the developmental potential of universities has been generally acknowledged, many countries try to build "technology institutes," "research universities," and "university-industry partnerships." Thus, after centuries of using universities mainly as ideological apparatuses and/or elite selection devices, policymakers and private firms have turned toward the university as a productive force in the informational economy. However, universities will always be open to the debates of society, and thus to the generation and confrontation of ideologies. The technocratic vision of a purely scientific or purely professional university is just that, a historical vision sentenced to constant betrayal by historical reality, as the experience of the rather good quality Korean universities, never tamed by the government despite its political control, clearly shows. The real issue is not so much to shift universities from the public arena to secluded laboratories or capitalist board meetings, as to create institutions solid and dynamic enough to withstand the tensions that will trigger the simultaneous performance of somewhat contradictory functions. The ability to manage such contradictions while emphasizing universities' role in generating knowledge and training labor in the context of the new requirements of the development process will to a large extent determine the capacity of countries and regions to become part of the new world economy.
Universities in the Developing World: From Dependency to Development
To assess the role and tasks of universities in developing countries in the development process we must first consider their specificity against the background of the analytical framework presented in this chapter. With the exception of China and Thailand, the specificity of the university system in the developing world is that it is historically rooted in its colonial past. This maximizes the universities' role as ideological apparatuses as well as their reaction against cultural colonialism, but still emphasizes their ideological dimension in the initial post-independence period.
In the case of the British colonies, the report of the Asquith Commission, published in 1945, set up the conditions for the organization of universities in the British colonies around the model of the British civic university. In the case of the French colonies in Africa, a 1944 meeting held in Brazzaville by the French provisional government saw the universities as an extension of the French university system, and organized them to prepare the best students to follow their training in the metropolis (Sherman 1990). An even more clear expression of direct cultural imposition is the case of Zaire, where the Louvanium University Center in the Congo was an extension of the Catholic University of Louvain. Even modern universities such as the University of Hong Kong appear to visiting faculty members as pure British exports that retain all the imperial flavor of Kipling's writings.
As for Latin America, the much earlier independence of Latin American countries makes the origins of universities less directly "relevant to their current role. However, the statist-religious character of the colonial foundations of the university system still permeates the structure and ideology of contemporary colleges, emphasizing ideology and social status over economic and labor training functions (Solar) 1988).
The recruitment of social elites, first for the colonial administration, later for the new political elites created with independence, became the fundamental function of universities in the developing countries. Because many political regimes were unstable for a long time, for two centuries in Latin America and during the second half of this century in Asia and Africa universities became a mix of conflicting political elites all competing to lead and shape the nationalist ideology of cultural self-determination and political autonomy. Thus, in many countries the universities' political function (what in Latin America is known as the "militant university"), which combined their ideological function and the formation of new social elites, has been predominant, to the detriment of the educational and economic tasks that they could have performed. As several university leaders have proclaimed, the political preconditions had first to be set up for universities to be able to proceed with their specific roles. In many cases this has led to problems for faculty members. The contradictions between academic freedom and political militancy and between the drive for modernization and the preservation of cultural identity have been a fundamental cause of the loss of the best academic talent in most developing countries.
Nevertheless, when countries had to face development tasks in a modern, increasingly integrated world economy during the last thirty years, the need to train skilled labor gave a new impetus to universities as educational institutions. Furthermore, the extension of the traditionally important middle class in Latin America and the formation of a new professional class in Asia and Africa that gave priority to educating their children at the highest possible level led to an enormous expansion of university enrollment. The new nationalist governments have actually used the creation of universities and the increase in the number of students as a measure of their development efforts. However, much of this increase has taken place in traditional areas of education (law, humanities, social sciences), as the main task of the university system continued to be to recruit and train the administrative and managerial classes on which the political system relied. In addition, in the most socially-oriented regimes, careers in the social services, particularly education and health, became increasingly important. Indeed, educational workers (mainly school teachers) have become one of the most important occupational groups in the lower-middle classes of developing countries.
A number of countries have also tried to increase the level of training in the scientific and technical professions, particularly in engineering and agriculture-related degrees. However, such efforts have faced three major obstacles:
- The lack of sufficient faculty trained to use the most recent technology;
- The lack of funding to train students in experimental sciences and professional schools, leading to a teaching program dominated by verbal communication and too many students, thereby lowering the quality of the technical training;,
- The vicious circle whereby developing countries have few jobs for highly skilled engineers and scientists because few firms can operate in these countries at a high technological level because of the lack of skilled manpower.
The net result is that much of the increase in university recruitment goes to careers without a direct impact on the development process because they are less expensive and the failures in the training are less visible. There is, of course, the possibility of breaking up the vicious circle by a deliberate policy of investment in technical higher education. Economies that have implemented such a policy have received substantial payoffs, for example, China, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan (China), and to a lesser extent Malaysia and Singapore The policy involves recruiting foreign faculty and/or attracting highly trained nationals back to their home country. In the last decade a number of developing countries have created technology institutes to emphasize the need to train skilled engineers, scientists, and technicians. However, only some of these institutes live up to the expectations generated by their flashy names and their brand new buildings: those investing enough resources in good faculty and modern equipment. Thus, only relatively rich countries can provide the necessary resources to upgrade their labor force, creating a new gap within the developing world.
While the training function of developing country universities is slowly making progress, the science function is increasingly lagging in relationship to the acceleration of scientific research in the industrial countries, particularly in R&D in new technologies. This is due both to structural reasons and institutional causes.
The structural reasons have to do with the cumulative character of uneven scientific development. Centers of excellence that take the lead attract the best researchers, who obtain the best equipment and material conditions, and are able to attract the best students, who end up forming a closely connected network. Thus, most of the best developing country scientists migrate to the United States or Europe or stay there on completing their doctorates because this is the only way for them to continue to do research in the cutting edge of their specialty. Salary and working conditions appear secondary to the basic condition: to belong to an advanced scientific milieu.
The institutional conditions are linked to the specificity of developing country universities that make their performance as centers of generation of knowledge difficult. The need to preserve a cultural identity and the tensions created by the extreme politicization of universities in overcrowded conditions make managing the coexistence of ideological and political functions with the university's scientific activity extremely difficult. The necessary distance and independence of academic research become impossible when students and some faculty are engaged in changing the world or in affirming themselves as their main goal. In addition, the existence of large segments of the university population that are simply treated as surplus labor makes it difficult to maintain respect for scientific activity on the part of students and faculty that are relatively marginal to society or of administrators whose main concern is to keep the system operating regardless of its actual output in terms of the generation and transmission of knowledge.
The inability to manage contradictory function within the same system has led a number of countries to concentrate their efforts on a few technical universities while neglecting much of the existing university system. This can be a short-term solution for training some technical personnel in certain specialties, but will not meet the needs of the scientific university. One of the key elements in developing universities as centers of discovery and innovation is the cross-fertilization between different disciplines (including the humanities), together with their detachment from the economy's immediate needs. If the scientific community cannot choose which goals of scientific research to pursue, there will be no discovery. Of course there must be links between science, technology, and industrial applications, but it is only possible to apply that science that exists. Thus, locating the productive functions of the university system in a few technical schools can only be a temporary measure to rebuild a complete higher education system based on additional resources, better management, and adequate connections with the world's scientific centers.
Developing country universities are making dramatic progress in quantitative terms, but are still by and large unable to perform their developmental function. Even university systems excelling in science, such as the Indian and Chinese university systems, are falling behind those systems that have been able to manage the interaction between science, technology, the economy, and society. The ideological and political origins of most developing country universities cannot be ignored, but should not be permitted to suffocate the universities' evolution toward their central role in modernization and development. If developing countries are also to enter the information age, development policies must include the transformation of higher education systems.
Higher Education as Development Policy
If the substantial enhancement of university systems is critical for the development process in the new world economy, and if most countries are unable to mobilize the necessary resources, it follows that the new frontier of international aid passes through the territory of higher education. However, the effectiveness of such aid will depend on the ability to design policies that take the specificity of universities as institutions into account and can, at the same time, link their science and training functions with the needs and goals of the economy and society.
In most countries university systems overwhelmed by numbers and handicapped by a lack of resources and excessive ideologization cannot be completely restructured in the short term. This implies selective aid, either concentrating resources in the best of the existing academic centers or/and creating new universities supported by national governments, private firms, and international institutions. Yet, in both cases universities must be conceived of as complete academic centers of learning and research, with all levels of training (undergraduate and graduate) and with as many areas of study as possible (science, technology, humanities, social sciences, and professional schools). The cross-fertilization between different areas of specialization, with flexible programs that emphasize students' capacity to think, locate information, and be able to undergo retraining in the future, seems to be the most effective pedagogic formula according to most education experts. At the same time, the coexistence of different levels of training permits interaction between advanced students dedicating themselves to research and teaching and professionally-oriented students.
The new developing country universities must also emphasize research, both basic and applied, as this will become the means for upgrading the country's productive system. Research must be connected both to the world's scientific networks and to the country's specific needs and productive structure. This probably requires the existence of specialized organizations that must be part of the university system, for example, information centers, international exchange programs, bureaus of technology transfer, bureaus of industrial or agricultural extension, and university-enterprise networks.
Institutional reforms of universities or the creation of new universities should be undertaken under cooperative agreements between international institutions (such as the United Nations or the World Bank) and national governments, with the support and participation of private firms interested in upgrading national or regional technological capabilities. They should simultaneously foster institutional innovation and provide the resources for upgrading the system. Foremost among the needed resources is the human capital represented by top quality faculty and researchers. While in the long term the new developing country universities should be able to compete for resources on the open world market and generate their own high quality academic personnel, in the coming years universities will have to improve their quality using a combination of several policies:
- Training or retraining young faculty and doctoral students in centers of excellence in industrial countries after providing them with the scientific and professional incentives to return to their home countries after the training.
- Recruiting nationals of developing countries established at the universities of advanced societies by offering them equal or better working conditions. Aid programs should target specific individuals and provide the necessary support for endowed chairs and research centers in priority areas.
- Using visiting foreign faculty temporarily in strategic fields of research conducive to the formation of a research group in the developing country university, and to the continuation of the linkage between the newly established group and the visiting faculty once they return to their home country.
- Using talent available in private firms and the public sector of developing countries as adjunct professors to provide their experience and knowledge to a university world that they previously tended to ignore because of the university system's low social and economic status.
- Establishing joint research centers and training programs between technologically advanced private firms (either national or multinational) and national universities, supported by international organizations. These mutually beneficial agreements, of which numerous examples already exist, should be integrated in a broader program of institution building instead of being kept, as is generally the case, under the close control of the participant corporation.
Once the two basic elements of a good university are established, that is, a proper institutional setting and high quality faculty, material resources in terms of equipment and physical plant can be provided without being wasted. Only after such an infrastructure exists can the recruitment of students begin and the necessary funds for fellowships and tuition facilitated.
Obviously such a program of multilateral investment in higher education is expensive and will only yield substantial results in the medium term, no sooner than ten years, but this is true for most development programs investing in infrastructure. The key is to understand that the most important infrastructure in the economy of our age is the human brain and the collective capacity of a given society to link up its brains with the world's brains.
Given the expense involved and the permanent limits set by scarce resources, the program will have to concentrate on centers of higher education that act as models for other systems. Some countries are large enough to receive direct aid to their national institutions (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria). In other instances, the best course will probably be to build regional universities (for example, the University of Central America, the South East Asian Institute of Technology, the West African International University) that will concentrate financial, technological, and human resources in a few centers of excellence. However, the experience of several international university centers shows the need to anchor international universities in the region's national universities instead of bypassing them else they create a pool of graduates that generally spread themselves among the international networks or become marginal in their own countries upon their return. A possible solution to the problems I have mentioned could be that high quality faculty members of national universities are required to spend a limited time (five years for instance) in joint centers or regional universities formed by the universities of the countries in the region. Thus, the joint center could become an element of integration and cross-fertilization between the various national universities, selecting the best students, who are taught by faculty of the national universities on a rotating basis.
In any case, specific organizational forms can be found if the basic principle is assumed: that it is necessary to concentrate international and national resources in a few centers, either in large countries or in regional groupings of countries, that will operate in direct connection with the development needs of their societies and economies. International aid (both public and private) should be channeled through these institutions.
While agreeing on the importance of improving higher education for the development of the developing countries is relatively easy, the question arises of who would be interested in supporting such a major undertaking and why countries or firms would be ready to assume the substantial economic cost and political effort required.
Based on the end of the Cold War, the demise of the communist threat, the development that is well underway in most of Asia, and the fruits of the current technological revolution, the coming century appears promising. We seem indeed to be on the edge, not of the end but of the beginning, of history if by history we understand the opportunity for the human species to fully develop its biological and cultural capacities. Yet at the same time our social organization has substantial pitfalls if we consider the extent of economic inequality and political oppression at the world level and the lack of harmony between economic growth and ecological conservation. As most of these evils take root in the poverty and underdevelopment prevailing in large areas of the developing world, the construction of a more stable, more promising international order in the aftermath of the Cold War would appear to require the multilateral tackling of the development process on a planetary basis. Advanced countries and their private firms cannot thrive in a shrunken world, concentrating their technology and resources on a diminishing segment of humankind, for several fundamental reasons:
- Morally, our children will judge our model of society by its capacity to look beyond the immediate self-interest of each of its individual members.
- Functionally, the growing deterioration of natural resources and collective public health, directly linked to poverty and mass desperation, will affect the whole of humanity. The Peruvian cholera epidemic is only the beginning of what could be the return to medieval plagues if living conditions are not improved in the poorest countries' sprawling shanties.
- Politically, widespread misery and functional marginality for countries and regions in the midst of a world marked by economic affluence and technology miracles transmitted by the electronic media will feed ideological fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism.
- Economically, the potential gap between the fast rate of technological innovation and the slower growth of markets can only be solved in the long term by including new markets in the world economy, namely, new people with new needs to be satisfied. Today's aid should be viewed as an investment for tomorrow. It is in the economic self-interests of the OECD countries and their corporations.
If we take seriously the analyses pointing toward the formation of a new economy, in which the ability to generate and process information is key to productivity, it will not be possible to integrate developing countries in a dynamic world economy without creating the necessary infrastructure in higher education. Because research and education policies take time to bear fruit, such policies must be placed at the forefront of international aid.
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