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Ways forward for the IHERD research and findings

Findings of research conducted for the OECD’s Innovation, Higher Education and Research for Development programme, IHERD, will be reincarnated in other initiatives – the new Innovation Policy Platform, country reviews of research and innovation systems, and the Project on Innovation for Inclusive Development – said Dominique Guellec, head of the country study and outlook division in the directorate of science, technology and industry.

Many participants in the concluding session of the experts meeting of IHERD, held in Marseille from 1-2 July, made it very clear that they were unhappy about the project ending.

The session titled “Key Lessons for Policy and Practice” aimed to identify promising policy avenues arising from the IHERD research, policy areas to target in the coming years, and ways of strengthening links and mutual learning between policy-makers in developed and developing countries.

The worldwide balance was shifting towards emerging countries, in terms of income as well as in research and innovation, IHERD pointed out. Accelerated investment called for efficient use of resources, and institutional arrangements and policies were the main determinants of efficiency.

“From that perspective, there is much that emerging countries can learn from the experience of developed countries, while at the same time experiments conducted in emerging countries can be a source of inspiration for developed ones.”

IHERD had begun capturing experience and sharing it. The project was coming to an end, but what should come next? asked session moderator Thomas Auf der Heyde, a deputy director general in South Africa’s National Department of Science and Technology.

How the OECD will use IHERD outcomes

Dominique Guellec said a number of issues discussed at the meeting had also been debated in OECD committees and by policy-makers in member countries. “What the OECD expected, when co-investing in IHERD with SIDA [Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency], was to take a developing-countries angle on issues covered already for developed countries.”

The worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) of OECD countries had been shrinking and, depending on how it was counted, was now only about 50% of global GDP. “So there is a question of relevance for the organisation.

“There is also a question of self-interest for member countries as they know they are increasingly entangled in global networks – trade, human migration and so on – that encompass developed and developing countries. That was good reason for the OECD to engage in this project.”

A first lesson taken from the meeting, said Guellec, was that developing countries did not want to be lectured to, did not want agendas set for them by donors, and wanted to have a say. That was also the OECD’s approach – not to lecture but to engage in dialogue.

The OECD had much knowledge capital to share, while developing countries had their own knowledge and experience. “Engagement must be mutual learning.”

Countries faced many common challenges and had numerous internal conditions that justified certain similar policies being applied. At the same time, there were ways in which many countries were also very different from one another. “So we have to think in terms of contextualisation. We might have a number of policy issues and tools, but in their implementation they must be contextualised.”

The large number of quality studies generated under IHERD would be of great use to the OECD’s future work, Guellec said, and there were three main projects in which its findings would be “reincarnated”.

One was the Innovation Policy Platform, a web-based policy intelligence tool where the OECD will be placing documents and its “wisdom”. The platform will be documented and cross-linked and there will be a number of interfaces between areas and navigational tools.

“We are doing it with the World Bank. It is not science fiction,” said Guellec. The platform is currently being developed and will be officially launched at a global forum in October. It will be open access and “useful for all of humanity, including developing countries.

“The platform will make ample use of content produced in the context of IHERD.” It would complement the OECD’s thematic modules and materials in areas including higher education and research. IHERD studies would be mobilised and cross-referenced to other materials.

There was also a need to improve communication and have standardisation of vocabulary used around research and innovation – such as notions of policy instruments and modalities.
“These notions and hundreds of others need to be better understood, and understood in a common way.” This would be done in the context of the Innovation Policy Platform.

The OECD and the European Union are discussing developing a glossary of terms for research and innovation policy. “I’m convinced that this will be of the highest interest to developing countries, and they have their own experience and knowledge which we will find ways of mobilising.”

Second, the OECD conducts country reviews of research and innovation systems, including of developing countries. “The country reviews will make use of some of the materials of IHERD.”

Finally, the OECD has a project on Innovation for Inclusive Development, which the IHERD research could inform. Guellec said an important lesson from IHERD was the apparent tension between centres of excellence and inclusiveness. Centres of excellence meant giving resources only to some institutions, but it was also clear that they created new knowledge.

“So it looks like a dilemma. We hope we can transform this dilemma into an opportunity, to have knowledge reach down to communities and the informal economy. Then centres of excellence could become an instrument for inclusive development.”

Kearney’s three questions

Mary-Louise Kearney, an OECD consultant and vice-president of the Society for Research into Higher Education, raised three questions concerning policy.

There had been excellent reports full of rich data and examples, which highlighted evidence on issues concerning the effectiveness of research and innovation policies, she said. “The question that strikes you is, if we have all this data for sharing and possibly adaptation, why don’t things change and why don’t they get significantly better?”

Second, there had not been enough emphasis on ‘externalities’. The meeting heard about trends in development assistance, and references to the economic crisis and its consequences. “We heard of the politics of knowledge, which is an extremely important and very complex issue. This is the context in which this debate is taking place.

“My second question is: how best to take account of this context and the issues that arise, so that the complexity of the context is fully captured when these excellent analyses are made available?”

Thirdly, “like it or not”, higher education had diversified. There were diversified missions and diversified personalities. “Unfortunately, I cannot say that I’ve ever found the academic profession to be particularly humble or particularly practical,” Kearney said.

“One of the important challenges is that academics adapt themselves a little bit more quickly to a dialogue with policy-makers and other civil society actors including the private sector. So that the very excellent work that is done by the academy is more widely understood and appreciated. And that, of course, is the basis of relevant policy-making.”

Eva Tobisson, a senior advisor in the department for aid management in the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agreed. “We need to bridge policy and research. And we have to do it from both ends,” she said.

“There is a need for opportunities for researchers to spend some time in a policy environment, so that we can see how we can frame our questions and language in order to convince those who are in charge of funding.”

Some problems

Tomas Kjellqvist, a former director of the SIDA secretariat and current research manager and lecturer at the Blekinge Institute of Technology in Sweden, said that IHERD had built up a network – what would happen to this network once the project had ended? How might it be continued?

Second, the knowledge produced needed to be integrated into research administration, and that was not easily done. How could organisations like CODESRIA – the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa – national research councils and others use this new knowledge? What kind of training was needed?

Third, how could the IHERD work influence the politics of research? The OECD had a key role in raising issues in the world today. But what were the political issues?

Nico Cloete, director of the Centre for Higher Education Transformation in South Africa, said there was a disconnect between policy and research, and between training and research, and different kinds of research.

“I think the OECD is doing a very interesting global project of encouraging policy neumetics around the globe. The policy platform will put out of work a lot of consultants who cut-and-paste policies for countries, who will now be able to do this themselves. But it will do nothing about the implementation of policies. Because the same problems remain.”

In South Africa, with the advent of democracy in the 1990s, excellent education policies were drafted. “Today our education system is rated 137 out of 143. We have a complete disconnect between policy and implementation.”

One of the reasons for this disconnect was the kind of research that informed policy. “On the one hand you’ve got a set of global policies, which we are trying to imitate. Then we come with indicators, which are really useful and really problematic. Policies are not implemented because we are not looking at what lies under the indicator,” said Cloete.

“We need to start looking at what we mean by research and what kind of research we need to strengthen and link back to policy.”

The importance of language was highlighted by Fred Gault, a professorial fellow at UNU-MERIT in The Netherlands. The experts meeting had used the word ‘innovation’ in a variety of ways. Innovation currently meant delivering a product to the market.

“We are now seeing a lot on public sector innovation, on inclusive innovation and so on, and that gets us into different time scales that don’t fit the standard definition. That is not just an IHERD problem but a wider issue.”

Some common-sense ideas

John Hearn, chief executive of the Worldwide Universities Network, said that as a realist he understood that when money runs out, the project stops. “But this body of work does need further analysis and further balance, and I hope we will be finishing in that regard as we go forward.

“We really do need to capture and communicate back the work to the field, and to get the best return on investment that has gone into this project.”

He put forward four “common-sense” ideas for consideration. First, that the body of IHERD work be distilled into an implementation tool kit.

“The OECD is a hidden gem, like a global governance and policy university.” It was not funded to be operational “but a lot of us are and so my second point is, let’s look at practical networks. They may be related to, say, colleagues from Africa, with the OECD and SIDA not necessarily leading the network but associated with it, to see how this body of work can be translated.”

Third, said Hearn, dialogue with donors and policy-makers needed to continue, and the OECD could facilitate this. He used a medical analogy: academics were great at diagnosis (70% of their time), not so good at prescription (20%), and 10% application and implementation. “We should move to 30-30-30 so that implementation gets more priority.”

Finally, what were the communications and roll-out targets? “How do we translate the body of work to governments, policy-makers, donors, academic and industry?”

Regarding development assistance, there were two very big elephants in the room, said Damtew Teferra, founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa – India and China.

“While a small country in the European Union might commit US$5 million for a project, India is talking about US$5 billion in assistance for higher education development in Africa. These new players have to be taken into account.”

Furthermore, much had been said about the importance of ownership of policy and long-term commitment to supporting higher education and research. “The question is, how can we hold donor agencies responsible for their work?”

Dr Benjamin Buclet, head of the capacity-building department at the Institute of Research for Development (IRD) in Marseille, said it had been predicted at the meeting that the days of development aid might be coming to an end.

This might be an opportune moment to question the idea of ‘development’. With many developed countries facing major problems – for instance, Spain with 40% unemployment – it might be that they had once again become ‘developing’ countries.

Second, said Buclet, the IRD was “freshly on the boat of IHERD. I hope it is not sinking. The quality of the debates and the relevance of the questions makes me think that we still have fuel – but might have to change the engine.”

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