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Institutional growth in the moulds of "national science"

Development patterns of the former colonial world have been enormously varied, making generalization difficult. Whatever the origin of the ambitions of different colonized groups, by the mid-nineteenth century the nation-state had become the only acceptable frame of reference. After that, self-perception was a question of nationhood and of very little else. Nevertheless, the idea of the nation in the twentieth-century movements aimed at liberation from colonial domination had specificity's that force us to look at them separately from the independence movements of the Atlantic world, both from British and Spanish domination, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. But relevant differences are not only those of a temporal kind. A recent classification produced on the basis of the most readily available indicators of S&T capabilities distinguishes between three broad groups of developing countries:

1. Those with no S&T base, with an extremely fragile economy, and where much of the population lives in extreme poverty. The low level of provision for education and training is both a cause and a consequence of this situation. (Most African countries are included in this category.)

2. Those with the fundamental elements of an S&T base thanks to past (mostly foreign) investment. Little attention is paid to domestic economic problems, often resulting in serious imbalances. They have established a certain industrial basis, with moderate GDP per capita. Some have a relatively high percentage of potential S&T manpower, but absolute numbers are low. (Includes countries of various sizes and ranging from East Asia to the Middle East and North Africa.)

3. Countries with an established S&T base. This highly heterogeneous group has an industrial basis with a higher percentage of potential S&T manpower and relatively high GDP per capita. Because of past achievements, and because they are more integrated into international trade than others, most are highly vulnerable to international trends. (Includes some Asian countries, including Pakistan, India, and the newly industrialized countries, and most Latin American countries, particularly Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.) [35]

Typologies such as this - although they permit comparisons between different areas - have a number of limitations for understanding the dynamics of science in specific national contexts. A scheme is needed that successfully contains both the local and the metropolitan factors operating in developing country science, rather than a static descriptive set of indicators. A comparative treatment of the scientific enterprise must account for differences between and within typical groupings [37].

For example, if we take the so-called areas of recent settlement, a restricted category that includes Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina, by the end of the nineteenth century all were characterized by an abundance of land relative to labour and capital, and they all managed to develop capitalist economies that were highly integrated into the world market through the export of staples. It might also be said that the development of the scientific enterprise in these areas falls into some pattern that allows us to speak of a common "type" of scientific community, on account of the presence of three factors common to all of these countries: immigrants of primarily European origin, foreign capital, and a reduction in the cost of ocean transport. However, the history of Canadian science is not precisely that of Argentine science, not even that of Australian science. Features of the socio-economic bases of such nations emerge as of prime importance, operating on different levels of the scientific enterprise, from the societal support base to the scientific community itself.

The most striking contrast within this group is between Argentina and the others [58, 89]. During the twentieth century, most of these countries became modern industrial societies. In Argentina, however, economic and political performance since the 1920s has clearly differed from the achievements of the other countries, making of it a remarkable case of failed development. That is, although it possessed some requisites for becoming a modern country - not the least being its high rate of economic growth between 1880 and 1930- those conditions did not suffice. Government policies during the 1940s were short-sighted, and the political instability that followed made matters worse. Moreover, past economic growth helped raise expectations that could not be met. Among the complex subjects that still await further analysis are the characteristics of the Argentine dominant landowning class and of the scientific community that grew, sometimes supported by government patronage, sometimes persecuted by it. But also the different economic policies and factor endowment relative to other countries of recent settlement require deeper study.

One might thus begin to explain national scientific institutionalization as a product of both local conditions and metropolitan relations. Changing conditions are differentially absorbed within the socioeconomic base for science and are transmitted to the scientific enterprise through the medium of the institutional infrastructure, in which the activity developed during the colonial period may have left a strong imprint. The debate in Nigeria about the reorientation of higher education after independence in order to respond to changing demands related to manpower and economic development is illustrative of the difficult balance of forces. The 1960 report of the Commission on Post-School Certificate and Higher Education in Nigeria the well-known Ashby Report - was the point of departure for analysis and conceptualization [3, pp. 1-20]. Based on the theory of human capital [32], it argued that the economic development of every country is ultimately the result of the trained effort of its citizens. Therefore, the building of a broad reservoir of highly educated persons was the key to Nigeria's development [8]. These ideas, however, ran against the deeply rooted colonial tradition according to which the schools and colleges that emerged in Nigeria were developed as much as possible into replicas of similar institutions in England, i.e. "emphasizing in standard and curriculum, the thin stream of excellence and narrow specialism. In social function . . . [they were] restricted to an elite" [17]. The initial optimism and enthusiasm of the early days of independence obscured the signs of conflict that. emerged from the effort to change the much criticized but highly revered system of higher education. The traditional "classical" orientation of Nigerian higher education has, in effect, been maintained, to the dismay of the initiators of reform. The preexisting curriculum of higher education, with its primacy of academic subjects over science and technology, has been preserved.

The persistence of colonial relations and/or institutional networks, or the excessive bureaucratization of the scientific enterprise as the result of its close bondage with government in search of economic development, may hamper the ability of developing country science to adapt to changes at the local level. Scientific institution building in India from independence up to the late 1960s was based on a close and easy alliance between elite scientists and the top political leadership, represented by Nehru. In contrast to Gandhi's anti-modern technology stance, Nehru's modern, secular image and most of all his ideology of "scientism," made him a "messiah" for Indian science [41, p. 12]. The importance of the personal linkage between Homi Bhabha in Atomic Energy, S.S. Bhatnagar and H. Zaheer in CSIR, P.C. Mahalanobis in the Planning Commission, and J.C. Ghosh with Nehru was crucial. The locus of scientific research shifted from the private research institutions characteristic of the previous period to government science agencies [5].

The shift in the locus of science also meant a shift in the power base of scientists and their career structure and status in a socially and culturally stratified society. Science agencies became subordinated to overarching political structures. Major decisions on science came to be determined by or within the political structures. A very narrow elite made up of the heads of government agencies and departments has played multiple roles, keeping control over a large and fragile scientific community [88, pp. 575-594]. Although in theory representatives of the scientific community, they turned out to be servants of government and part of its hierarchical system. The power base and career path that draws more and more power and status has been located in the mission-oriented science agencies sector rather than in the academic, university sector, which is marginal to decision-making processes.

With the emergence of local scientific communities in developing countries, the assertion of a national identity in science grew at different times, assuming specific features in each case. In Australia, for instance, during the 1920s the imperial ideal predominated, the vision of a self-sufficient British Empire of which Australia would be a leading part as an exporter of commodities and an importer of surplus labour and capital. Australian scientific resources were to be mobilized and linked with British science in pursuit of the economic integration of the empire [81, p. 104]. By contrast, the arguments of the anti-dependencia scientists in Latin America emphasized the global nature of development and underdevelopment, placing them in the context of the "centre/periphery" model. Among the most commonly cited economic features of "dependency" were several connected with technology. These included the presence of heavy foreign investment and foreign capital-intensive technologies, which forced countries to specialize in exporting raw materials or labour-intensive manufactured goods; consumption patterns among the elites that were determined by the "centre," unfavourable exchange terms, and an increasing concentration of wealth and growing unemployment, particularly in the cities [94, p. 527]. The challenge was to find alternative courses of action for Latin American science in order to respond effectively to the problems of poverty, malnutrition, disease, and the increasingly unequal terms of international development [93, 33, 72, 75].

With all the differences of national contexts, the fact remains that a tension was always present in the developing world between the assertion of national identity and autonomy and the socio-psychological feelings of peripherality, marginality, or invisibility. That local science and metropolitan science share the same institutional model, while being widely separated (mentally and spatially), has led to ambivalence and tensions. Real or perceived intellectual isolation, a felt lack of recognition, debates about standards and quality of results, the claims to design alternative indicators for the scientific production in developing countries on account of the contextual variables that condition and determine their potential productivity - not the least important being the fact that developing country science is usually understood as "science for development" - these are all elements that have characterized the debates in the process of scientific institutionalization in the national "mould" in recent decades.

The groups of developing country scientists, engineers, and government officials who, at one time or another, managed to put their projects for autonomy into practice also achieved something else in the process. For a while they managed to change the conditions of the competitive game by their unexpected achievements [19]. The development of local capabilities in science, technology, industry, management, and labour skills introduced significant changes in the local social structures, created new sets of actors with technical and managerial skills, and gave them a better understanding of the art of negotiation. But the changes they produced have been usually insufficient to alter the background of social and economic conditions characteristic of underdevelopment.

The role of government science policy

The history of developing country science is full of examples of attempts at institutionalization followed by collapse, unbounded optimism followed by pessimistic indifference, and a lack of public trust in long-term intellectual endeavour. In general, government support for science on a significant scale by formation of concrete institutions and programmes was provided by the different countries in the context of changing conditions in the international markets.

Important cases of technological development in Latin America and South-East Asia illustrate the crucial role that tactical alliances have between the scientific elites and the state. The state has time and again revealed itself the most important factor in developing countries' successful or failed use of S&T for industrial development. Recent research contributions show the systemic and comprehensive state intervention in the economies of the newly industrialized countries, as well as the state's strategic guidance of the performance of national and multinational companies located in their territory [15]. The "developmental state" has been a fundamental factor in creating the conditions for economic growth in South-East Asia, as well as ensuring the transition of their industrializing economies to each of the different stages in their evolving articulation to the world economy [28].

At different times since the 1930s, but more systematically since the 1950s, most countries established national councils of science and technology or specialized units in planning agencies; the numbers of research centres grew, accentuating the fragmentation of the scientific and technological effort; new public institutions were created to promote and carry out scientific and technological activities, as were government units to regulate the importation of technology and to provide service to industry, mining, and agriculture. The rapid industrialization of the largest Latin American countries produced a demand for science and engineering graduates to handle operational and service problems of the new assembly industries; research funding mechanisms, which so far had operated according to the "little science" model, began to be transformed. New demands forced the emergence of intermediaries in the form of research managers, project administrators and negotiators in the funding agencies, with increasing formalization of research activities. The mechanisms and criteria adopted were not always compatible with the experience and tradition accumulated until then through isolated and small group efforts. Indeed, in the 1970s the bureaucratization of the state apparatus was visible in a country like Brazil. Active lobbying by groups of technocrats and intellectuals succeeded in convincing policy makers and then in creating the bureaucratic apparatus and the financial devices to enable the idea of autonomous scientific and technological development to prosper. Brazil's economy has been a mixture of market mechanisms, state intervention, and planning. The state has played an important economic role through guidelines and planning, incentives and controls - establishing the objectives and the means to achieve progress [29]. Nevertheless, the recent difficulties of the Brazilian economy and therefore of its S&T base show the fragility and vulnerability of the whole enterprise.

Recognition of the role of government science planning in developing countries should not give the impression that results were always positive. In fact, national experiences have been subject to strong criticisms on various accounts. As a result of vigorous promotion by Unesco of "science planning" in the 1960s and 1970s, many African countries also created national science units, but most of their objectives have not been achieved [21]. Several such units have been abolished in recent years. Others have been absorbed into ministries of education. Most surviving science policy units engage in such activities as passing on requests for the clearance of foreign research workers who wish to work in the country. A few national units have acquired important but more modest functions: the Kenyan National Council on Science and Technology administers a fund that supports university research.

A rearrangement of the international system eased the transition to a new world order in which international cooperation with the third world contributed to shaping the modern process of scientific institutionalization in the developing countries. Until the 1960s, a high degree of congruence between the policies of industrialized country donors, as they came to be called, and the needs articulated by developing country recipients characterized international educational and scientific assistance. The most influential (Western) studies of the day demonstrated the productivity-raising effects of investments in education [e.g. 84], and showed that the magnitude of effects increased with educational level. Major Western universities were "twinned" with developing country "sister institutions" in a pattern closely resembling the affiliation of colonial institutions with metropolitan ones, as in the case of the London University network for British colonial dependencies and the UniversitÚ de Bordeaux for the French ones. A large number of industrialized country universities and other institutions became involved in institution building overseas. But results often differed significantly from the international technocratic rhetoric. For example, the purpose for which universities were established in Africa was the indigenization of educational, technical, scientific, and administrative services, to contribute to economic development. Progress was measured in terms of the supply of trained manpower chiefly to the public sector. However, what did expand, generally speaking - because it lay within the power of politicians to create them - were not industrial jobs as expected of "high-level manpower planning in practical subjects," but appointments in the public services. Surely, technological imperatives arise from localized socio-economic forces and are not especially subject to pressure emanating from scientists. An increased number of graduates was what politicians wished to see so that they could fill the civil service. What the graduates studied was of less interest to them than the fact that they had academic degrees. An effective demand was thus created (although not the one served by public rhetoric) and African universities responded accordingly.

Regional institutional collaboration has been recommended as one of the most effective ways to build up rapidly a better S&T base, but the actual concentration of advanced scientific training in regional centres has often been resisted. Regional centres of scientific training and research have been moderately successful when institutions are supported by international organizations and by foreign governments in bilateral arrangements with particular governments. Instances of such successes have been the Latin American Centres of Mathematics in Buenos Aires, of Physics (CLAF) in Rio de Janeiro, and of Biology (CLAB) in Santiago, or the international agricultural research institutes established in Africa, like that of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria, the International Livestock Centre for Africa in Ethiopia, and the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Disease in Kenya. However, their connections to national scientific institutions, especially with African universities, have always been fragile and have been weakened in recent years by the declining research efforts of many countries. When a developing country government and its universities are asked to share the costs of regional institutions, or to contribute to the development of institutions outside their country, these efforts have usually failed.

The economic crisis that affected most of the developing world in the 1980s increased the difficulties of the best research institutions. A growing flow of diagnostic studies confirm the deterioration of working conditions and the increasing alienation of researchers as a result of greater financial restrictions and physical and intellectual isolation. In a world in which academic networking is rapidly expanding, developing countries remain as poorly connected areas. Marginality in science and technology is increasing, both in quantitative and in qualitative terms in many developing countries. Given the difficulties in which academic science is immersed in Latin America and the serious threat of an intensified "brain drain," several countries have tried to implement programmes to minimize this process. Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, and Brazil have implemented programmes to supplement the salaries of the elite S&T cadres, aimed at preserving the core of the national stock of researchers and fostering their improvement and productivity and the participation and self-evaluation of the research community.

The interface between higher education and research capabilities

As with other elements linked with the idea of modernization, like technology, economics, and the values of progress, the force of science lay for some developing countries more in its abstract symbolic power than in its actual practice. It has been argued that often attention was placed on collateral features of this science rather than on the means of producing it, that is to say, it was a science devoid of its crucial research component. The founding of schools for the training of engineers, medical and pharmaceutical doctors, and other specialists without the provision of specific institutional space for research has been common.

Even after independence, no provision was made in most new African nations for training in research as part of the work of the universities [87]. A research capability came to be demanded when governments decided that they could not endogenize their teaching and research staff without providing local graduate training. Master's programmes began to be hurriedly introduced in the most advanced developing countries in the late 1960s and 1970s. Brazil and Mexico are the Latin American countries that have developed the most this educational level, with over 1,500 M.A. programmes each, although doctoral programmes continue to be few and unproductive. In fact, graduate professional training was overwhelmingly a prolongation of undergraduate courses, with accreditation being linked to the access to and/or promotion in bureaucratized labour markets or with conspicuous cultural consumption, having little to do with scientific education for the preparation of researchers.

The introduction of research in the professional universities of developing countries was often the result of technical assistance received from the more advanced countries or of professional and scientific training obtained by individuals abroad. A forceful description of social conditions, which could be easily extended to many a national tradition in the developing world, has been given by Ara˙jo e Oliveira with regard to Brazil: "in such a turbulent and hostile environment, where constancy, quality, excellence, seriousness, obstinacy and the disinterested search are of little or no value at all, those scientific groups that are implanted, prosper, and bear fruit, can best be considered as islands of competence" [6]. Such islands of competence are found particularly in countries like India, Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, or Mexico, which at one time or another seemed on the verge of making the last leap forward to become truly independent centres of scientific creativity but have not quite made it. Although the historical record reveals examples of research groups or isolated scientists who managed to do competent science in the most difficult conditions, our subject of institutionalization of science refers to social conditions of receptivity and stimulus for the modern scientific enterprise. The emergence of scientific communities (of relatively autonomous scientific fields in developing countries), as we have seen, has had unequal results, and it is an area that still poses more questions than it answers.

For all the diversity of institutions and national and cultural contexts, developing country universities share a number of problems:

1. High cost.

2. Explosion of numbers. Latin American higher education experienced an unprecedented expansion from 1950 to 1980 increasing 20-fold, from about 250,000 students in 1950 to 5,380,000 in 1980. In most African countries, too, enrolment has increased enormously since independence, but the total number there is still comparatively small, less than 20,000 Part of the reason is that universities are unable to absorb more students because, being residential institutions, they have reached the upper limits of their intake capacity.

3. Scarcity of trained human resources. In some African countries such shortages had serious consequences for the operation of government scientific services. Sometimes one hears the criticism that a developing country has "over-invested" in or has "overqualified" its human resources. But in societies that combine mass cultures in an accelerated process of formation with a weak, heterogeneous, and dependent base of externally conditioned prosperity and crisis cycles, the relationship between education and work posts becomes loose and tenuous.

4. Poor quality of instruction at all levels.

5. Privatization of higher education. The developing world shows almost the maximum possible range in the private sector's proportion of total enrolments by nation. In many countries, most private growth has occurred in recent decades. In terms of its impact on the whole system, the performance of privatization in Asian and Latin American higher education to date leaves considerable room for debate [42].

Concluding remarks

The institutionalization of Western science in the developing world proceeded as both an instrument of the interests of the most advanced countries and a result of active attempts by underdeveloped nations to master the knowledge that was the promise of modernity. At different times the major colonial powers and the new independent nations established S&T institutions, but it has been difficult for science to take root, particularly since it was expected to produce economic growth.

Emphasis on organizations and institutions has forced us to focus attention on scientific and technical elites. Scientific institutions were seen as the formulated and communicated outcomes of thought, as manifested in institutional ideologies, roles, and functions, "carriers" for particular collective understandings [2]. Specific scientific institutions represent ideals in operation, serving as channels for the realization and transmission of personal and intellectual will. At different times and places, institutional leaders have provided the beliefs, expectations, and goals that show the way, a particular way of identifying problems and their solutions. Of course the summation of individual scientific institutions does not necessarily result in the institutionalization of science in a particular country. They are necessary, albeit not sufficient, conditions for success or failure.


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