| Laying the foundation - The institution of knowledge in developing countries |
|Part II The institutionalization of science in Latin America|
Hebe M.C. Vessuri
Over time, scientists and others in Latin America established splendid societies, museums, schools, institutes, foundations, research units, and specialized journals and publications. These institutions are critical to understanding the nature of science and its relationship to social, political, and economic life. They have had a powerful impact on urbanization, the communications revolution, and the growth of the state. They have also influenced the resources available for research from agricultural and industrial interests and from international cooperation.
Examining the growth of scientific and research institutions helps to identify important patterns in institution-building in Latin America. This chapter focuses on the basic or exact sciences (those in which advanced mathematics plays a central role) and the descriptive, experimental, or Baconian sciences such as geology and certain branches of biology (Kuhn 1977).
Although the basic sciences are driven less by ideology than other fields of knowledge, it is still possible to observe how a variety of schools, traditions of thought, and theoretical perspectives originating in some countries were transferred and adapted to the specific contexts of others. This has resulted in archaic forms of scientific research being practiced in some places and more modern forms in others.
Given that institutions are so intimately connected to their social context, it is difficult to transfer institutional models from country to country. An institution's success cannot be reduced to a simple formula.
Rather, each institution is a unique product of strategic adjustment between an ideal institutional model and the particular social dynamics of its context.
Although scientific institutions are composed of actual individuals occupying physical space, their real essence is contained in achievements of thought formulated and communicated as ideologies, roles, and institutional functions (Adler 1987). An institution is merely a vector for transmitting a collective understanding that has specific consequences. An institution's leaders provide direction by defining the beliefs, expectations, and objectives that determine problems and solutions.
Although an analysis of institutional development must take into account the unique economic and political constraints and opportunities of each context, it must also consider how institutions and ideological groups themselves stimulate the processes of scientific development, and how they constitute the necessary if not sufficient conditions for its success or failure.
Institutional agents in the basic sciences (mathematics, biology, physics, and chemistry) have been known to convince policymakers that a research capacity could make a vital contribution to solving national problems related to public health, economic growth, or national security. In such cases, these agents used their scientific knowledge and expertise within a political framework and converted their work into national projects, thus helping to reduce unemployment and to achieve certain national goals in the process. Good examples include Oswaldo Cruz and the Instituto Manguinhos in Brazil, Monge Medrano and high-altitude biology in Peru, and Theodosius Dobzsansky and genetics in Brazil (Glick 1991).
Although enthusiasm for the study of science in Latin America is growing, knowledge of institutional traditions and intellectual habits is still quite limited. The existing literature looks at institutions mainly as landmarks for identifying socially significant forms on which to base more interpretative studies. This chapter provides a preliminary overview of the institutional characteristics in the basic sciences, the intellectual and organizational models used, and their main strengths and weaknesses. It is based on the premise that institutional development, although not the same as cognitive change, nonetheless reflects its changing patterns.
Over time, the basic sciences have been organized in the following institutional contexts: the university, the research institute dedicated solely to the production of scientific knowledge, the research institute devoted to supporting the requirements of the productive sector, the institution that has been adapted to scientific research, the science museum, the observatory, the scientific journal, and the scientific association.
The Institutional Development of Basic Sciences in Latin America
From colonial times, Latin America has played host to individual scientists - both European and indigenous - who developed schools of mathematics, navigation, chemistry, and astronomy in relative isolation. The institutionalization of the basic sciences came much later, beginning timidly in the 19th century and expanding only in recent years. The bulk of this chapter outlines the history of scientific institutionalization in Latin America, beginning with a discussion of the decisive role played by international cooperation in this process.
International cooperation has been critical to the development of Latin America's scientific infrastructure in this century. Although emphasis, goals, and approaches have varied over time and with the country and institutional groups concerned, three distinct stages can be identified.
The first stage, covering the period from 1900 until World War 11, was characterized by a strategy on the part of the industrialized countries to divulge science according to national molds. The goals of this strategy were cultural influence and competition, although the need to support science was accepted as an inherently international activity (for a good description of this period, see Schroeder-Gudehus 1977). In the years leading up to World War 11, international cooperation agencies were established in Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United States.
The second stage of international cooperation, organized through the United Nations, lasted from the end of World War 11 until the 1970s. During this period, the role of science in economic affairs became central to international relations. Scientific and technological hegemony were increasingly used to achieve dominance in the international system. The basic sciences acquired a new economic significance because of their contribution to new process technologies, and scientific knowledge was converted into intellectual capital (OECD 1980). Megaconferences on science and technology for development, the Group of 77, and the Trilateral Commission were all milestones in the evolution of international relations in the scientific field. As a result, science was controlled by private-sector institutions in industrialized nations, and access was only granted to countries willing to play by the rules of the game. These rules were set up to guarantee the economic domination of the centre over the periphery.
The third stage, which spans the 1980s, is characterized by a giant constellation of multilateral alliances involving scientists, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and multilateral corporations that have gained prominence in the context of a widening knowledge gap between North and South. It became clear during this decade that systems for financing science and technology through international cooperation were unrealistic. They are now being replaced by a growing interest in various forms of multilateral cooperation. In the meantime, bilateral cooperation is expanding more rapidly than multilateral cooperation, and the giant alliances of institutions scattered around the world are frequently unconnected to the initiatives of intergovernmental organizations (Standke 1989).
Nevertheless, scientific development still seems to have lost urgency on the North-South agenda. Most developing countries are not using their limited funds for long-term scientific development, although some, such as China and Brazil, have received large loans from the World Bank for science and technology projects. The gap continues to widen, not only between North and South but also between developing countries, between regions, and even within regions. Whereas there is a mounting pressure in all industrialized countries to increase spending on research and development, this is not occurring in Latin America. Although modest success has been achieved in some of the larger Latin American countries (Standke 1989), recent progress has been threatened, or completely halted.
Despite the advances made, one is hard pressed to say that there is much social space for science in Latin America. A clear role for science has yet to be defined, accepted, and institutionalized within society A brief historical summary of the institutionalization of the basic sciences shows how precarious, fragmented, and isolated achievements have been.
The formative period, from 1890 to 1930, is associated with relatively isolated attempts to build scientific research institutions such as museums, observatories, agronomy research centres, and medical schools. Public universities, set up as independent schools in the French manner, provided an institutional focus for the basic sciences, which continued into later periods. Scientific research in Latin America was mainly carried out in public universities because there have been no real research universities. Research was conducted by small groups centred around certain outstanding scientific figures, but continuity and diversification were jeopardized by political instability and lack of social demand.
Over time, research was integrated into the university system through merit schemes and advancement based on public examinations and theses. The increasingly bureaucratized system created good conditions for individual research in some instances, but, in general, a tradition of professional research was not developed. The lack of well-equipped laboratories and libraries as well as shortage of research monies drove scientists to seek private funding to cover their personal expenses. The lack of funds restricted contact with more developed scientific centres, and university research became the province of a small elite.
Some scientific research institutes allied themselves with the technical laboratories associated with schools of engineering and medicine, particularly the latter. Some medical schools spawned teaching hospitals and high-level research groups during the early part of the century. But because basic research still took second place to the teaching of medicine and clinical practice, research was unable to expand beyond certain limits.
Argentina was the first country in Latin America to institutionalize the basic sciences. With a highly educated population in 1950 (27.8% of its economically active population fell into this category), the problem was not in finding suitable scientific researchers but in retaining them. Low salaries, continuous economic instability, and political repression were all factors that drove many scientists and engineers out of the country in recent decades. They also deterred many young people from choosing scientific occupations. Two of the most important institutions in the basic sciences at this time were the School of Exact Physical and Natural Sciences of Universidad de Buenos Aires and the Scientific Sciences of Universidad Nacional de La Plata.
The period from 1930 to 1960, or the second stage of development, can be described as one in which there was a search for new institutional models and a rise in private-sector initiatives. Argentina maintained its position as Latin American leader in the basic sciences until the middle of the century when it began a gradual decline. In contrast, this period marked the beginning of institutional consolidation in the basic sciences for many other countries in Latin America. In Brazil, the Universidade de Sao Paulo was the first institution created with the goal of supporting research and training a new generation using an innovative form of higher education.
The basic sciences in Mexico are closely associated with the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) and its School of Sciences, which was founded in 1938. In 1941, the university changed its structure and divided its courses of study into two cycles: professional studies (the master's level) and higher studies (the doctoral level). The latter was designed to train scientific researchers by immersing them in scientific culture. Those~graduating with doctoral degrees were given preference for research posts in the university's institutes. However, because the research budget was so small, the university provided the buildings but expected scientists to find the means to carry out their work.
During the third stage, from 1958 to 1980, numerous schools of science sprang up in new universities as ambitious attempts were made to reform traditional structures and to make scientific and technological research more central to socioeconomic planning. Outside the university, independent centres engaged in basic and applied research received strong support from both the public and private sectors. This period was also characterized by organized international cooperation.
Although universities in Latin America created modern systems of knowledge production in the context of rapidly expanding higher education, the schools dealing with the basic sciences did not grow very quickly. They accounted for a relatively low proportion of total university enrolment, rarely exceeding 5%. (The exception was computer science, although even here there was greater interest in the more applied aspects than in the science of computing.)
Paradoxically, scientists played an active and influential role in the transformation of university life during this period, especially during the 1960s. They argued that scientific education should be conducted within the framework of a national strategy for scientific and technological development and that science should play a more central role in the expansion of higher education. They attempted to change the traditional university structure by making scientific research the focus of university life. They also pressed for the institutionalization of the university's internal mechanisms for encouraging research. Their revolutionary proposals called for changes in the power structure, and the imposition of rigorous research requirements on teaching staff and students alike. They also insisted that greater emphasis be placed on research than professional achievement in the evaluation of universities, departments, research groups, and courses within the higher education system. However, university authority figures, who were not inclined to change their thinking quickly, frustrated efforts to renew university life through political action.
In the 1960s, the School of Sciences of the Universidad de Buenos Aires was the focus of an active effort to change the university's system by setting high scientific standards and encouraging intensive participation in politics. The leaders of this movement came into conflict with the military regime in 1966; most resigned and later left the country (Slemenson 1979; Vessuri 1983). The Universidade de Brasilia, set up in the early 1960s as a brave experiment in implementing extensive changes to university life, suffered a similar fate in a series of confrontations with the country's military regime. The experiment failed. In Venezuela, the impetus for a renewal movement came from young teaching staff and students in the School of Sciences at Universidad Central and spread throughout the university. The government responded by temporarily closing the university and setting up experimental public universities. The best known of these is Universidad Simon Bolivar, which emphasizes technical and scientific skills over political commitment.
We can distinguish two distinct phases in institutional development: one before renewal, which saw institutional experiments in the public sector and modern units emerge within more traditional institutions, and one after renewal, which saw attempts made to design new institutions to replace the traditional public universities as centres of science and technology.
The story of the School of Sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela is typical of university evolution during the first of these phases. The school was established in 1958 with the express purpose of producing scientists and research, both considered necessary for the country's economic development (Vessuri 1987). However, the school produced little research during its early years. Even now, although the School of Sciences is considered one of the most productive in the university, only a small minority of its academic staff actually conduct research. Nevertheless, the rules defining programs of study were dictated by international structures and legitimized by disciplinary organizations and international educational agencies such as the International Council for Scientific Unions (ICSU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). The school has made a notable contribution to training scientists and regularly reviewing curricula; assisting in the establishment of other academic and research institutions; as well as helping to develop the scientific disciplines in Venezuela and finding solutions to national problems.
One example of rapid institutional growth is Brazil. In just a few short years, Brazil has succeeded in building the strongest research capacity in Latin America, second only to India among the developing countries (Schwartzman 1985, pp. 110-111). The expansion in the 1960s was a wide-ranging drive on the part of the Brazilian government to link scientific development more closely with economic development. What was unusual was that the resources for scientific and technological research came from government sectors responsible for economic planning and investment. As a result, research funds were large in comparison to research capacity, and efficiency and productivity were frequently measured by evaluations of research activity.
Brazil's efforts, many of which coincided with comprehensive changes in its higher education system, have not yet been fully evaluated. The North American model - centralized institutes and departmental organization - was enshrined in Brazil's Education Law in 1968. Graduate instruction became a regular component of university programs and full-time employment opportunities for university teaching staff increased. At the same time, requirements for university entry were lowered, and a parallel system of private schools was introduced to compensate for the limited number of places available within public universities. In short, the system of higher education became larger, more differentiated, and more stratified. At the same time, frustration was growing among the student body and teaching staff because the new research programs were not well adapted to the new institutional climate.
There were also interesting institutional developments in the postrenewal period such as the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP) in Brazil, Universidad Simon Bolivar in Venezuela, Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, and Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico. The goal here was to establish modern scientific and technological institutions that would be less influenced by the politics that had so often paralyzed traditional public universities.
Despite the difficulty transforming the public university, scientific ideology, which had been traditionally restricted to very small circles, was extended to sectors outside the university. This helped to secure government support for incipient scientific communities in many countries in the region, usually through national councils for science and technology. Although these new programs were often set up as university departments of science and technology, they had a high degree of autonomy and control over their own administration and research funding.
At this time, new and smaller universities designed for research, such as UNICAMP, were springing up beside the traditional universities; and academic research institutes, such as the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC), were set up outside the university system. In existence for 32 years, IVIC's rigorous approach to international calibre scientific research has made it one of the region's most successful institutions. Although conclusive study of IVIC has yet to be undertaken, Freites (1984) and Vessuri (1984) have made initial assessments.
After the frustration of the renewal movement in the 1970s, the groups emerging to take advantage of increased resources for scientific and technical research tended to be young and apolitical. These salaried researchers generally worked in isolated and protected locations within universities on externally funded projects and had no teaching duties (Schwartzman 1985).
The period from 1980 to 1991 was marked by a crisis in the basic sciences in Latin America and a corresponding crisis in the university institutional model. The institutional development initiatives of this period were characterized by the creation of isolated and protected niches for scientific research.
Rapidly expanding enrolment and rising costs led to a deterioration in the traditional universities, which had historically housed most research institutes. The staff complement grew so quickly in response to increasing enrolment that the quality of teaching was compromised. Recent studies in Brazil point to serious bottlenecks and low productivity in many areas that threaten to undermine the scientific base of research and development.
Low levels of remuneration also encouraged union militancy on the part of university staff, a large group mostly engaged in teaching. Fulltime positions once held exclusively by scientific researchers were taken up by individuals with no scientific background (Brunner 1990). In the absence of industry demand, these factors made the universities less attractive as centres for research. Many scientists and engineers started to organize their work outside the universities or around isolated graduate programs (Lomnitz 1979).
Graduate programs in Latin America have been characterized by high failure rates, diverse objectives, and unreliable quality; therefore, students continue to be sent abroad when funds and opportunities are available. Brazil and Mexico have had the most success developing graduate level education in the region. In Brazil and Chile, the basic sciences and technologies account for roughly half of all enrolment at the graduate level; in Mexico and other countries, however, enrolment tends to be concentrated in social sciences and administration programs. Doctoral programs in the region are still rare and not very productive.
Unfortunately, efforts to modernize the university seem unlikely to be successful. Very few institutions are dedicated to conducting scientific research and to training new research staff. This does not mean, however, that research at public universities should be ignored. In the case of Brazil, Schwartzman (1986) recommends that efforts would be better spent in consolidating and improving university research despite its limitations than in setting up specialized research institutes or state enterprises less conducive to intellectual initiative, imagination, and discipline.
However, despite the many challenges and frustrations of the last 10 years, there has been an attempt to create isolated and protected niches for basic research within and outside the university. This trend has become more pronounced with the recent changes in society's perception of private institutions engaged in higher education and research. Nonetheless, it has been difficult for institutions to remain isolated and protected. As systems of higher education became more differentiated, scientists working in isolation became more obvious targets of attack. The rapid growth of scientific institutions outside academia has produced many research institutions that could not survive in a demanding scientific climate.
Part of the increasing pressure on the scientific establishment has come from a lack of resources to support growth. In Brazil and Mexico for example, the number of scientific groups and institutions multiplied rapidly while funds were available, but the economic crisis of the mid-1970s brought this expansion to a sudden stop. Other countries suffered a similar fate. Increasing demand and diminishing resources intensified the competition for funds both inside scientific institutions and between science and other sectors. At the same time, the end of many authoritarian regimes helped to improve the political climate. With conditions once again beginning to favour political participation, contradictory pressures were exerted on universities. Given that researchers hold little power within the university structure and budget decisions tend to be influenced by short-term political considerations, the distribution of resources was generally not favourable to them.
The community of scientific researchers faces a difficult dilemma. One the one hand, scientists seek greater freedom to research and less interference from bureaucrats, university officials, and planning authorities. On the other, their survival as a group depends on increasing their visibility and presence within national decision-making bodies. Strangely, and despite claims to the contrary, most scientists have supported a national system for scientific planning, even at the cost of greater bureaucracy, reduced priority given to basic research, and their exclusion from the decision-making process. They may anticipate being asked to head up the planning agencies and believe there is something inherently good in centralized planning and coordination.
The Basic Sciences Today
The relevance of science was increasingly questioned in the face of Latin America's serious problems during the 1980s. Government cutbacks in financial support for science seriously affected graduate and undergraduate education. To counter the serious risk of a massive brain drain, many countries took steps to improve the situation.
In 1984, the Mexican government created an elite program in science and technology called the National Researchers System (SNI). Its three main objectives were to preserve the nucleus of the national stock of researchers, to upgrade their skills and productivity, and to promote participation and self-evaluation in the scientific community. A key decision was made to limit participation in SNI to highly productive researchers whose work was deemed to be top quality by a peer-review process (Malo and Garza 1987; Malo 1988). The program provides a salary supplement for each category of researcher within the system. The number of researchers in the system grew from 1 395 in 1984 to 3 495 in 1987, at which point the numbers began to level off.
In 1990, Venezuela introduced the Researcher Promotion Program, an official scheme to support scientific research along the lines of the Mexican system. When the first invitations were issued, 744 researchers were accepted into the program. A further 193 were admitted in 1991, lounging total active members up to 937 (Gonzalez 1991). Up to now, the program has offered a salary supplement that is enough to compensate for low salaries but not enough to pay for research equipment or inputs. The goal of a joint project of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnologicas (CONICIT) in Venezuela is to develop strategic areas in new technologies. It is expected to revive research, development, and higher education in Venezuela.
In Argentina, the basic sciences are part of an old scientific tradition. Although they have achieved substantial development in institutional terms, they are currently showing signs of stagnation and imbalance, and there is a marked weakness in human resources in the areas of technology and engineering. In Brazil, certain basic research institutions have stayed independent of potential technological demand. Physics, for example, has launched important projects, such as the Sincroton Light Laboratory in Campinas. By contrast, areas more closely related to technology, such as biotechnology or microelectronics, have found that their projects have not afforded them a solid identity According to Botelho (1990), scientific development in the 1990s is flexible, decentralized, and asymmetrical between regions and disciplines. Universities have difficulty in becoming the privileged partners of other institutions. Under the Science and Technology Secretariat, government research institutes will have more international contact. Technological development will become more scientific, and associated specialist enterprises will be responsible for technological development.
Almost all small and medium-sized countries are experiencing an alarming reduction in the number of graduates in the basic sciences. This is all the more worrying given that many new universities do not even offer courses in the basic sciences. Costa Rica is a case in point, with respect to mathematics (Garcia Bondia 1987). The relatively high numbers of graduates registered in the 1970s can be attributed to the expansion of the educational system at a time when great confidence was placed in investing in human capital. This climate of optimism gave way to the disappointment and short-term thinking of the 1980s. Currently, a pragmatic approach seems to prevail with a corresponding emphasis on programs that can be easily applied and profitable.
Although it is clear that more research is being conducted in Latin America today than 50 years ago, science has still not been fully institutionalized; it continues to be held back by an unfavourable climate. Most students express a clear preference for professional careers other than science and technology. In 1970, only 5% of university graduates came from schools of pure and natural sciences, 14% came from engineering schools, 17% came from medical sciences, and 4% came from agricultural sciences. By 1978, these proportions had not changed appreciably (Sagasti and Cook 1983). In fact, the number of students graduating with a degree in the basic sciences had fallen, and this diminished level of interest persists today. The difficulties in encouraging scientific vocations are reflected in Table 1. This situation is worsened by poor conditions for bringing professional scientists into national research and development systems. Therefore, science graduates with an aptitude for research tend to emigrate in search of better career opportunities.
In conclusion, a radical change in the perception of the value of scientific research has taken place recently within scientific communities. Although this change is just beginning in many places, it appears strong enough to herald major changes in the organizational patterns of institutions in the years to come.
An Agenda for Future Studies
Much effort has been expended on building a scientific infrastructure in Latin America over the few last decades. At the same time, attempts to transform universities and to create protected niches for high-quality research have met with mixed success. The purpose of this brief outline is to pose questions rather than answer them. The methodological approach adopted here - that is, looking at the role of basic science research along with other essential institutional activities and comparing the unique combination of activities found in specific institutions - was used to paint a richer and more accurate picture of institutional development in the basic sciences in Latin America.
Scientific institutions in Latin America are quite heterogeneous. Some are devoted to undergraduate education, others to graduate level education, and yet others exclusively to research. Institutional contexts and connections also differ widely: some organizations are government centres, some are university units, and some are private foundations. Still others take the form of corporate divisions or interest groups. Another difference to be considered is the source of external research funding. Institutions can be supported by national governments, philanthropic foundations, private corporations, and international agencies.
This diversity occurs because institutions have different situations, histories, and future aspirations. In particular, the interaction within subsystems will be shaped by the institution's mission along the basic sciences continuum (whether it deals with pure or applied sciences) and within the scientific and technological process. The subset of institutions analyzed here - some of the most important institutions of the basic sciences - may have comparatively similar views of graduate education and research, but differ considerably in other respects. This leads to a wide variety of institutional structures.
The institutionalization of a scientific discipline requires both cognitive identity and professional identity. In Latin America, the universities provide the context for professional identity. The existence of opportunities and rewards linked to a career gave real meaning to the ability to perform intellectual work within a discipline. Prizes, research subsidies, specially equipped units, prestigious appointments, and honorary titles have all been accepted as expressions of professional identity within a field of knowledge. As this system developed, scientific enterprise penetrated to deeper levels, changing the image of the discipline and its social and cultural function. Therefore, although it is analytically useful to distinguish between the development of cognitive and professional identities, the two are inexplicably linked in the day-to-day work of any area of knowledge that has been fully institutionalized.
The achievement of identity is not inevitable; it is the product of personal struggles and historical accident. The building of a discipline, especially in the early stages, is frequently the outcome of heroic personal effort by one individual or by a small group. Therefore, a discipline's local cognitive identity is profoundly influenced by the personal vision of its pioneers. Through a subtle process, the tools, approaches, and problems that characterize a field in the process of local institutionalization, are shaped by the moral purposes, metaphysical assumptions, and world views held by the pioneers. Therefore, a discipline's central problems and conceptual and analytical techniques are molded by the individual or small group who built it. The growth and ultimate significance of a discipline depends on the clarity of vision that defined the original intellectual agenda.
If these leading personalities, or pioneers, also succeed in creating jobs for their disciples, they have even greater influence on the professional and cognitive identity of the new discipline. A professional identity is not guaranteed by the formation of a scientific society or public propaganda, however needed they may be. It is also necessary to recruit followers and students and to create satisfactory career structures. These requirements depend on structural changes in society as a whole and cannot be invented or improvised by social engineering.
There has been more continuity in the process of institution building in Latin America than advocates of modernization are willing to admit. Given how hard it was to find teaching staff at the beginning, many scientific institutions resorted to hiring European immigrants, mostly from Spain and Italy. Although they were not capable of doing research, some still made an invaluable contribution to the transition toward modern scientific education. At the same time, fellowship programs were developed to train younger graduate students. The ideal of internationally accredited doctoral programs spread rapidly in the postwar period, especially in the new schools of science. The leadership of Latin American scientists in managing new and complex institutions remains to be seen.
The conditions of teaching staff contracts posed another problem. Two of the most important achievements of scientific research in the university included full-time employment for research staff and the introduction of the promotion thesis as a means of advancement in a university career. However, as these achievements of the researchers became generalized for all teaching staff, they became a collective trend for a new and rapidly growing group, that of the university professor, and did not necessarily respond to the real needs of research.
In practice, there is a definite lack of congruence between the purpose of research - the generation and dissemination of knowledge - and the structure of teaching. Although many may disagree, the two activities have developed without reference to each other, and each obstructs the other both legally and structurally. Following Humboldt's idea of reciprocal enrichment between teaching and research, the modernization program has served as an extraordinary stimulus to scientific advancement in academia for 150 years. However, not all university lecturers today are researchers, nor does all teaching activity involve research. Not all basic research is conducted with a view to publishing the results. Furthermore, undergraduate programs that are not updated quickly enough pose an obstacle to the incorporation of new knowledge generated by the international environment.
However, university research units such as institutes and centres tend not to be involved in undergraduate teaching, which is normally the responsibility of departments, lecturers, and teaching units. Given the critical situation of basic science research, however, it would seem advantageous for research centres to focus their efforts on developing graduate courses and further enhancing their capacity to train doctoral candidates and other teachers or researchers.
We can see from the discussion that the institutionalization of science is not an easy task. It relies on a favourable cultural and intellectual climate. It also requires a material infrastructure as well as a system comprised of journals, evaluation committees, and scholarly societies that helps to maintain the standards of scientific specialties. Basic scientists can become alienated from societies that question the social relevance of their discipline. When scientists have their discipline as their point of reference, they can see that research efforts in their countries are scattered among a few underfunded and underequipped centres or laboratories that produce only second-rate research, whether in the universities or in government institutions. As a result, researchers may shut themselves away in the bunker of their institution, which is alien to the local context, and depend for their survival on distant intellectual centres.
Latin American scientists work on the same subjects as the best university researchers in industrialized countries, but under far more challenging social and economic conditions. The region's dominant ideology holds that basic sciences are superior to the applied sciences and are thus more prestigious and attractive. It is not surprising that the small centres devoted to the basic sciences are surrounded by an aura of mystery and elitism. But institutions are often only a superficial reflection of the models they copy. In reality, researchers in Latin America frequently lack social, economic, or intellectual protection; they also lack libraries and research equipment as well as strict standards and norms. The overall lack of favourable conditions has led to a massive exodus of scientific talent over several decades and low productivity among many remaining scientists.
Scientific institutions also provide the breeding ground for the region's scientific development. Therefore, if we are to define an agenda, we must go beyond particular institutional characteristics to explore the relationship between scientific institutions and overall research and development policy. The sweeping changes now occurring in productive structures and in the international economy will have a direct and indirect impact on the region's scientific institutions.
The challenges are many. In the first place there is a need to rethink the relationship between pure and applied research, a task ignored by most traditional scientific institutions. Scientific institutions in Latin America must develop close links with the productive sector to attain legitimacy. However, the institutional environment tends to perpetuate conduct that does not meet new needs. For example, publishing in scientific journals is still considered critical to the advancement of scientific careers, while industrialized countries are reducing the number of journals significantly because of new restrictions on the dissemination of ideas.
In areas where research is more developed, publishing is no longer seen as necessary for the legitimation of research results. However, in Latin America, which lacks definitive standards of quality, publication in professional journals is still considered critical to scientific careers. As new opportunities arise for strategic segments where quality exists, Latin American scientists will be able to interact with partners in government and in industry, in technical and economic coalitions, in which the new scientific knowledge will be of crucial importance.
One issue requiring further study is the underestimation of the costs attributed to research and consultancy services provided by scientists and scientific institutions. Another is the management of interface mechanisms between a research centre and its industrial clients. Even if we uncritically accept the current system of research, technology, economics, and management, industry's lack of independence and the weakness of many scientific institutions makes close collaboration between the two sectors an unlikely solution for current production difficulties in Latin America.
It is imperative to identify forms of collaboration that respond to Latin American realities in both the productive and academic sectors. The current inability to mobilize funds and promote their rational and efficient use threatens the survival of the existing research and development system. To face the new challenges, scientific institutions must have a high degree of autonomy in setting goals and in determining how to attain them. In particular, they must develop research strategies based on a continuing analysis of scientific, technological, and industrial trends. Institutions can no longer function if they do not monitor developments in other sectors. They must explore and, if possible, anticipate the intellectual market in search of research and development niches that they can actively turn to their advantage. This in turn requires the maintenance of academic excellence. National centres of excellence play catalytic roles. In Hobday's (1985) study of the Brazilian telecommunications industry, for example, the research and development department of TELEBRAS seems to have played exactly that role.
As we have seen, basic research in the region is confined to a limited group of universities and public research institutions. In some countries only one or two universities have any kind of research infrastructure. Even in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico that have scientific communities, only a few institutions are influential in scientific and technical production. However, the fact that the research and development effort is concentrated in this way makes it easier to mount an aggressive program.
In any case, studies are needed to identify the type of units that, under similar academic conditions, show greater potential for developing their own strategies and those of the society in which they work. It is neither possible nor desirable that all research and development functions be conducted by scientific research institutions, but critical combinations of functions must occur in at least some of them. This will ensure diversification and integration, characteristics needed to maintain adaptability and dynamism.
A review of earlier analyses and their recommendations highlights several positive elements that should be strengthened. For example, progress has been made in the formation of some disciplinary networks. The Latin American Network for Biological Sciences (RELAB), which began in 1975 as a graduate project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is a good example. Its organizational structure has evolved. Today, it is highly representative of the biological sciences in the region. Other programs, such as the Latin American Centre for Physics, support the strengthening of regional programs for graduate instruction and research in venous basic disciplines.
Permanent cooperation between groups from different countries engaged in similar research is taking root with the support of bilateral and multilateral agreements between national science and technology councils and the Spanish program for the 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Americas. However, these actions need to be sustained and expanded to have significant impact.
The fragile scientific communities formed in many Latin American countries in recent years may prove unable to redefine their roles and may fall victim both to diminishing resources and growing pressure for immediate achievements. But a renewed appreciation of the value of research may provide breathing room, at least in some areas and for some countries.
No country in Latin America will be able to face the technological challenges of the future alone. The objectives of scientific development in the region must be reconsidered in light of the last 40 years of progress, new international challenges, changing societal demands, persistent heterogeneity in production, and severe funding shortages. Institutions will need to take on specific functions to bring about the changes required. It is therefore necessary to discuss the university's mission in relation to the basic sciences and the research and development system and find ways to transform it into an efficient instrument for the production of useful talent and knowledge.