Innovation, Higher Education and Research for Development
Around 50 academics, policy experts and managers got together with development assistance agencies in Marseilles on 1-2 July for an expert meeting of the OECD’s Innovation, Higher Education and Research for Development – IHERD – programme, financed by the Swedish donor agency SIDA.
Co-hosted by France’s Institute for Research and Development, the meeting’s theme was “Increasing Evidence-based Approaches in the Design and Implementation of Innovation and Research Policy in Developing Countries”.
This Special Edition of University World News reports on the conference, its themes and presentations and some of the research conducted for IHERD over the past two years. It is a mere snapshot of the discussions and the work produced under the project, which was concluded at the Marseilles meeting. IHERD’s research and findings will be disseminated in the coming months, and will feed into other initiatives.
Karen MacGregor – Global Editor
A new paradigm began emerging around higher education, research, innovation and development assistance at an experts meeting hosted by the OECD and France’s Institute of Research for Development in Marseilles last month. Higher education researchers, science policy experts and development agencies came together to build bridges between them.
The OECD’s IHERD programme and the Boston College Center for International Higher Education collaborated to take a fresh look at higher education’s knowledge infrastructure: what ‘knowledge networks’ comprise and how they can be accessed or adapted; what role higher education plays in all this; and how to support the development of strong, transnational knowledge and research spaces – especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Research universities in low- and middle-income nations have crucial roles to play in developing differentiated and effective academic systems, and in making it possible for their countries to join the global knowledge society and compete in sophisticated knowledge economies, according to Philip G Altbach, research professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the United States.
Trends in public research funding
Emerging economies such as Brazil, India and South Africa are employing international instruments aimed at South-South collaboration, according to Merle Jacob, UNESCO chair and director of the Research Policy Unit at Lund University in Sweden. This suggested new opportunities and collaboration in research funding for middle- and low-income countries.
Most middle- and low-income countries use block grants – direct institutional allocations – to fund research. But some appear to be shifting towards more competitive funding that enables governments to steer the research system more directly and increase publication rates.
Knowledge and skills for research capacity
It is commonly acknowledged that nations are reliant on the capacity of their society to find solutions to problems, improve knowledge and transfer this knowledge into innovations that provide economic and social benefit. It is also well known that there is considerable variation in national capacity in these endeavours, especially in developing economies. The OECD’s IHERD project set out in part to document the state of the world ‘knowledge economy’.
A report comparing research and innovation management in three African countries, and presented at the OECD conference in Marseilles last month, has revealed the true status – and weaknesses – of higher education in these countries.
Centres of excellence
Many countries are pursuing a policy of setting up centres of research excellence within universities, as inter-university centres or stand-alone institutes, often as part of a strategy to improve not just research but also teaching and innovation. But centres of excellence may not always be a panacea for upgrading science, research and teaching in developing countries, the OECD expert meeting in Marseille heard.
Roles of development assistance
Low-income countries must take ownership of capacity building in higher education, research and innovation by defining goals and investing their own resources. A report for the OECD’s programme on Innovation, Higher Education and Research for Development – IHERD – “shows clearly that it is risky to rely too heavily on development assistance”.
Lessons for policy and practice
The days of development assistance may be numbered. But donor agencies and higher education and research systems “sit in the same boat” and should discuss joint problems as equals, rethink conceptual frameworks and find ways to confront new situations, said Lena Johansson de Château, research advisor for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA.
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