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The university–industry–government relations in Latin America

Research Policy 29 ?2000. 279–290 www.elsevier.nlrlocatereconbase

The university–industry–government relations in Latin America
Judith Sutz
) Academic Department of the Uni?ersity Research Council, Uni?ersidad de la Republica, Monte?ideo, Uruguay ?

Abstract This paper analyses the university–industry–government relations in Latin America from two points of view: a ‘‘bottom-up’’ one that starts from concrete experiences of knowledge user–producer relations, and a ‘‘top-down’’ one that considers the outcomes of the institutionalisation efforts recently developed in the region. The results of the top-down mechanisms have been well below expectations of policy makers, in the sense that the historical low involvement of industry in knowledge and innovation activities — the reversal of which is one of the main goals of such mechanisms — has not substantially improved. The bottom-up experiences, on the other hand, usually exhibit successful results at micro level, but face great difficulties for broadening the impact of the technical solutions found. Some features of the Latin American landscape help explaining this outcome. The point at stake is that the weakness observed in university–industry relations must be challenged under current conditions, the same that are partly responsible for this weakness. A possible way to proceed is building complementarities between these two types of experiences. Some suggestions are made to tackle this issue. q 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Latin America; University; Industry; Knowledge; Innovation

1. Introduction One of the characteristic features of the 1990s appears to be that ‘‘newly industrializing, deindustrializing and reindustrializing nations ? . . . . despite their quite different developmental histories ? . . . . have formulated innovation strategies based upon the deliberate elaboration of academia–industry relations . . . ’’ ?Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 1997; p. 155..

Comision Sectorial de Investigacion Cient?fica, Minas 1483, ? ? ? piso 2; Telefax: q598-2-401-27-90; e-mail: jsutz@csic.edu.uy


This is clearly true for Latin America, and this pattern can be recognised even slightly earlier. In the last 15 years, this deliberate elaboration has shown two main expressions: the formalisation of the university efforts to promote relationships with industry and the generalisation of funds provisions, administrated by the state and devoted to foster innovation at firm level, which put a prize on joint R & D projects between firms and academia. Industry–academia experiences in Latin America come from even longer ago. They recognise two principal modalities: one in which public entities relied on university teams to perform research and to solve problems and a more recent one that began once formal contractual agreements between univer-

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sity researchers and firms were allowed, the precise time depending on the country and the universities. 1 In the first modality, even if the reliance of public enterprises on local technical capacities has never been strong, there are interesting and important relationship examples all over the region. Brazil provides a good case. At the beginning of the 1970s, Brazilian universities were called to participate in two key technical developments. One was fostered by the Federal Government and related to the design of the hardware for the first national minicomputer, involving the Sao Paulo University. The other involved Telebras, the by then state-owned telecommunication company, with Campinas University, also in Sao Paulo State, to develop optical fibres in its physics department. More recently, the huge public firm Petrobras established a whole network with many universities to develop research on deep sea oil prospecting, which proved quite successful ?Helena, 1980; Brisolla and Guedes Pinto, 1995; Garc?a ? Guadilla, 1996.. In Uruguay, in the middle of the 1960s, the Institute of Mathematics of the Faculty of Engineers was charged by the state power company to study the mathematical model of the Negro River, when the main hydroelectric barrage of the country was to be built. In the second modality, one of the features exhibited by the formal agreements involving industry and universities has been the weak participation of private firms ?Moreno, 1992; Hein et al., 1996.. 2 This

can be seen as a manifestation of the Latin American R & D spending structure: it is heavily biased towards governmental participation, and private firms involvement gives account at the most of 20% of the total ?RICYT, 1997.. When the importance of industrial innovation for competitiveness entered forcefully worldwide into political discourse and policy action, this meagre 20% of industry involvement began to be recognised by Latin American governments as a problem for future development and economic growth. Policy measures were devised to provide corrections to that problem and consisted mainly in getting funds and organising programmes that could attract firms to get involved into ‘‘knowledge relations’’. Universities, on the other hand, followed the international pattern towards a strong purposeful search for external partners, and for the same reasons than elsewhere: inability to ensure the continuity of the research function under current conditions of budgetary restrictions. 3 This paper analyses how university–industry relations turn out nowadays in Latin America, the mismatches that occur, the reasons why they occur and the improvements that could be achieved. Two axes shall be considered: first, a ‘‘bottom-up’’ approach that starts from situations in which industry actors looking for knowledge to solve a problem meet with academic knowledge producers, and a ‘‘top-down’’ approach that survey some outcomes of the institutionalisation efforts recently developed in the region.

1 In Venezuela, for instance, one of the first initiatives that allowed faculty to earn ‘‘extra’’ money coming from formal agreement with ‘‘outside’’ actors was authorised in 1974, in the Department of Electrical Engineering of the Universidad Simon Bolivar. In Uruguay, this kind of authorisation came 10 years later, but with a broader scope. 2 It has been argued that formal agreements are not so important ?Nelson and Rosemberg, 1994.: the implication that informal contacts are one of the most significant forms of university–industry relationships is valid worldwide. The problem is that enterprises must have skilled interlocutors to enter into informal relations; when this is not the case, some types of formal mechanisms can be very useful. It is recommended, though, to try to maintain the flavour of informality: ‘‘Formal linkages are more likely to be successful if they are allowed to evolve ‘bottom-up’ rather than being imposed ‘top-down’. Trust building, mutual respect and understanding, and friendly relations — at the bench as well as corporate levels — are all vital ingredients’’ ?Faulkner and Senker, 1995; p. 238..

2. The bottom-up approach This approach is oriented towards identifying relationships established between certain actors in need of knowledge to solve a problem and other actors capable, in the first place, of translating the problem into knowledge terms and, afterwards, of conducting research, development or both to find a solution.

3 It is worth noting, though, that within the policy measures undertaken, one of great importance was missing: the increase of the proportion of GDP devoted to R&D. Almost all Latin American countries are devoting nowadays less than 1% of their GDP to R&D activities ?UNESCO, 1998..

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Although university–industry relationships are not the only possible result of this identification, the present analysis concentrates on them. Some Uruguayan examples will illustrate the idea. Uruguay is a wool-producing country, occupying a fairly important place in the world market of washed and combed wool, or ‘‘tops’’. One of the country’s ‘‘tops’’ industrialists detected a bottleneck limiting productivity gains: the manual control of the many variables associated with the operation of the dozens of sinks into which wool passes during the washing procedure. To automate the controls was the theoretical response, but finding an international ready-made solution proved impossible. 4 The above-mentioned ‘‘tops’’ industrialist decided then to rely on a very small and young electronic enterprise owned by three recently graduated engineers. They studied the industrial process in depth and developed and optimised all the automated controllers to cope with every aspect of the washing process ?Snoeck et al., 1992.. The ‘‘tops’’ entrepreneur thus established his first ‘‘knowledge relationships’’ not with an academic partner but with what can be called a ‘‘technological tailor’’, that is, a small and highly innovative firm having as a market niche the design, building and operation of customised solutions ?Rothwell, 1986., in this case, in professional specialised electronics and software. However, it must be mentioned that one of the three young founders was teaching at the University and maintained strong contacts with ‘‘academia’’. After this first successful relationship, the technological tailor deepened his knowledge about textiles and was able to recognise the specific utility of a generic tool developed in the Electrical Engineering Institute of the university: a digital image treatment system that could be used for quality control through an early detection of the most common failures of the combing operation. A triangular relationship was then established between the tops enterprise, the research group and the technological tailor, to de-

4 The reason was that technical progress in this sector slowed down notoriously during the 1970s and the 1980s, due to the delocalisation process towards developing countries fostered by the high polluting — and also labour intensive — nature of the ‘‘tops’’ industry.

velop a specific device for that aim. Interestingly, the technological tailor acted in this case as a gatekeeper between the tops enterprise and the university team. In fact, the former did not want to have direct relationships with the latter. The reason was related to information disclosure. To be able to tailor the generic image treatment system to the specific needs of the firm, a good deal of knowledge about the productive process was needed; this meant having people from the university visiting the firm and asking questions to managers, technicians and workers. Nothing of the sort was tolerable for the rather secretive culture of Uruguayan entrepreneurs, even in this truly modern enterprise, and the triangular relationship thus took a rather indirect way: it was established between the university team and the technology tailor, the latter being in charge of providing the researchers with the information they needed and, afterwards, of the feedback from experimentation at plant level and of the final installation. The above-depicted case is an example of a university–industry relationship located at the industrial stage of the production of wool. A quite different experience is actually under way in the same productive sector, but this time located at the raw material stage. The problem around which the experience is developing rose from an undesirable characteristic of Uruguayan wool: its level of black fibres in the fleece is many times higher than in Australia. Two actors are involved. One is a private association of experts, both in agronomic engineering and in economy, made up and financed by wool producers, with a long experimenting trajectory on the sector’s productive problems. The other is a research group on evolution — basic science indeed — in the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences. The experts were aware that the wool black fibres problem was difficult to tackle with the traditional phenotypic approach, that is, trying to find sires without external signs of black fibres to use in the breeding process, but they did not know if anybody in Uruguay was capable of developing an alternative strategy. On the other side, the university research group needed to use fine genetic analysis technologies and that in turn required a wide provision of local animals of known ancestry. It so happened that the senior scientist came to know the black fibre problem of the technicians


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association. Since it was a problem workable through the technique he was developing, he took the initiative and met with them. Both actors recognised each other immediately, shared a common language and established without much difficulties the precise purpose of the association: to produce a biological instrument to measure the probability of a sire not to have progeny with black fibres in their fleece and to assure the correct manipulation of the instrument by the technicians. As the scientist put it: ‘‘We did not have to explain the importance of this kind of ancestry analysis to our interlocutor. He immediately said: ‘there is no need to convince me, as I already know. Explain me what the technique consists of, just out of curiosity’. It is really important to relate to a well-informed interlocutor, who knows about the existence of the tool and what it is useful for, and who will know how to apply it to his sheep.’’ ?Mujica et al., 1997.. The technique is now fairly advanced and the ‘‘knowledge relationship’’ well established between the partners. Moreover, a new and unanticipated application is under way, directed to augmenting the reproductive capacities of the cattle. The kind of experiences described above can be called the ‘‘micro-strengths’’ of the university–industry relations: they can be found only at the micro level, and they are usually quite strong, for the weak or unsuccessful ones do not come to be known. They form part of the process through which innovative solutions for strategic problems of specific productive sectors are generated. They can also give rise to ‘‘innovative circuits’’, that is, webs of innovations, each built on earlier ones, that broaden the scope of problems that can be tackled with the new generated knowledge. 5 The bottom-up experiences, even if they arise from particular situations, exhibit some common features, the most representative of which are the following: ?i. They occur because a well-defined problem has been clearly identified by some of the directly involved actors: the academic one, the productive one and eventually a ‘‘third’’ player acting

5 Moreover, the experiences described under the bottom-up approach are fairly understandable in terms of the ‘‘Mode 2’’ of knowledge production ?Gibbons et al., 1994..

as a bridge builder between them. ?ii. The actors may relate to the problem in different ways. The ‘‘classic’’ one is when the problem has been identified by the productive actor who looks for an academic player with the necessary expertise to tackle with it. But the problem can also be identified by an academic actor who thinks that he can solve it and that the solution could be of use to some productive player. In this case, the latter enters into the scene after he is convinced that it is worth trying. Actors can relate to the problem in other ways, but the central point is that the initiative for the encounter belongs entirely to them. ?iii. The actors involved must be able to dialogue in hard technical terms, that is, they must be able to dialogue about the nature of the problem and about the nature of the envisaged technical solution. This does not mean that the productive actor must have the knowledge to understand how the solution is built, but he must understand why it shall be a solution at all. Unsatisfactory innovations are frequently the outcome of unsatisfactory user–producer relationships. These, on the other hand, are usually the result of strong asymmetries between users and producers regarding the knowledge involved in the innovation: the ‘‘knowledge plus’’ producers generally enjoy make them prone to neglect the users expertise and their definition of what the problem is ?Lundvall, 1985; von Hippel, 1988.. Satisfactory innovations, that is, technical solutions that fulfil other related requirements — easiness to put them in practice, low operation costs, good upgrading perspectives, modular growth possibilities — are in need of more egalitarian relationships in terms of the knowledge involved. ‘‘Common language’’ and trust are repeatedly signalled as important ingredients of successful ‘‘knowledge relations’’ ?Faulkner and Senker, 1995; Ferraro and Borroi, 1998.. Often, common language is not a point of departure but a socially constructed result and the trustful relations between the partners play a catalytic role in this construction. The other way around, sharing a common language greatly facilitates the development of trusting relations. These micro-strengths are detected because they produce an innovation: they are by definition technically successful. Their contribution to the social accumulation of knowledge must, however, be analysed case by case. Coming back to the examples just

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given, the innovative process of the washed and combed wool can be labelled as ‘‘encapsulated’’, for even if the found solutions could have been easily expanded to the whole industry, they have not trespassed the walls of the firm participating in the experience. In this particular case as in many others, the reasons explaining the social weakness of strong technical successes are related to the inability of the actors involved to produce expanding virtuous circles on their own. The black fibre problem experience is in a too early stage of development to try to assess its possible impact, but the fact that one of the participants is not an isolate producer but a technical service organisation for the cattle owners suggests a better future performance in terms of social accumulation of knowledge. It is possible to claim that the bottom-up approach to research on university–industry relations is a good way for picking-up cases where people from firms and academia effectively share a common concern on problem solving. Criticism may rise that this approach leads to nothing more than a collection of scattered anecdotes. The real power of this approach lies, though, not in its descriptive strength per se, but in the insight it gives regarding how to design effective public intervention, with positive outcome both for the innovation process and for the diffusion and social accumulation of knowledge. The hypothesis is, then, that the bottom-up approach helps to figure out ‘‘tailored’’ features for the emergence of Triple Helix relationships embedded in national ?or regional, or local. specificity. 6 So much for the research approach; what about the outcome assessment? As we mentioned before, the bottom-up university–industry experiences have low capabilities for self-consolidation, mainly because they are unable to expand their successes on

their own. They can show good results that could be of great use to other firms and productive sectors, but to occur the diffusion process needs a third partner: without policies directed to facilitate diffusion it will be difficult for the micro-strengths and the related innovative circuits to expand. Even if the diffusion process is not the main goal of Triple Helix policies, these can be of great importance as an intermediary step, interacting with more innovation biased agencies to find ways to help the microstrength to develop and mature. On the other hand, the micro-strengths of university–industry relations have the potential — if the diffusion process works properly — for stimulating a sustainable process of social accumulation of knowledge. The university researchers involved are usually deeply interested in the problem under scrutiny; they are not just accomplishing a contract to get money to go on doing research. Measures designed to disseminate this type of experiences may stand on concrete and successful examples of research, and this is an effective way to overcome indifference. Such a demonstration effect can have great impact both on faculty and industry: many things are not done in developing countries because people do not know that they can be done. It also contributes to the public understanding of the role of endogenous research in solving specific national problems, collaborating that way to the reversion of the ‘‘technological self-defeating imaginary’’ that usually accompanies underdevelopment. This demonstration effect can go even further and create demands not necessarily initiated in firms but in public services like health, housing or education, contributing in this way to get knowledge production closer to social needs.

3. The top-down approach
6 The need for customised industrial and innovation policies to cope with specific productive configurations has been forcefully put forward in many recent analyses, both in developed and underdeveloped countries ?Bunders et al., 1998; Cooke and Morgan, 1998.. In the case of the bottom-up experiences, one of the lessons that clearly emerges and appears to be particularly useful to tailor top-down mechanisms is that a minimum amount of technical understanding between the partners is necessary for any sound relationship to occur.

The institutional design of university–industry– government relations is top-down and centred on the role of institutions. New agencies designed for the management of these relations define and offer different types of schemes for university–industry cooperation, and look for ‘‘customers’’ to use them. In Latin America that cooperation has been established


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by some laws at country and regional level, and developed in different kind of agencies within ministries, in some independent bodies financed with public and international resources and in the now general trend towards the institutionalisation of the university’s relations with industry expressed in a variety of forms. Mexico and Colombia provide two recent examples of top-down mechanisms developed at the highest levels of the state. The National Agreement Committee for Technological Modernisation is a forum created in Mexico in 1992, in which the main representatives of public, academic, entrepreneurial and financial sectors joined to discuss the main issues of academia–production relations and to legitimate them ?Casas, 1997.. In Colombia, the establishment of a network of Centres for Technological Development — in many different areas and always including an academic partner as well as an entrepreneurial one — is considered the backbone of the new National Policy for Innovation and Technological Development. The national scientific and technology council, COLCIENCIAS, has maintained since 1996 a Permanent Integration Forum to assure adequate attention to the problems the Centres are facing ?UNCSTD-UNCTAD-COLCIENCIAS, 1996.. There are other recent top-down experiences that are less generic than the ones mentioned above; for instance, the Brazilian programme SOFTEX 2000, intended to foster national capabilities in commercial software production and exports. This time the initiative came from the academic computer science community and was channelled through the Science Council and the S & T Ministry: the programme was organised through Regional Centres — 18 in the whole country — in which universities could get involved in partnerships either with the centres or directly with firms ?Prochnik, 1998.. 7 Perhaps it is too early to fully evaluate this type of experiences; nevertheless, in the recent Latin American specialised literature criticism is stronger

than praise. In the case of Mexico, for instance, ‘‘when economic data is revisited and industrial behaviour is analysed without including the maquiladoras 8 , a technological weakness of great proportions clearly appears’’ ?International Conference Technology, 1998.. This occurs in spite of the construction of complex mechanisms to foster the joint work of universities, enterprises and government. Technological modernisation as well as cooperation between research and production seem to be quite unachieved goals ?Casas, 1997.. A general assessment of Brasil situation in this regard is simply not possible, due to the huge number of different experiences. Some initiatives have reported good results, as in the case of the Program Disque Tecnologia ?Call Technology. of Sao Paulo University. It is interesting to note that one of the keys of its success is that it reaches enterprises in which staff barely know how to describe the problems they are facing and, even less, how to ask a technological question. The Program offers an easy interface between these people and researchers at the university who have agreed to be contacted and who work on clearly related problems. The Program has raised some criticisms in terms of the lack of technological relevance of the majority of the problems finally identified; on the other hand, though, achievements have been made in terms of putting university know-how into direct use for ‘‘non-glamorous’’ enterprises. Other Brazilian experiences show different types of unsatisfactory outcomes. For instance, the Department of Materials Engineering of the Universidad Federal de Sao Carlos, which exhibits long-time and diversified relationships with local enterprises and local and national government, has observed that the type of activities its well-trained graduates develop when hired by local firms is usually below their technical capabilities. Quite often, firms loose good

7 To these type of schemes at national or sector level must be added the many mechanisms devised by universities themselves to foster university–industry relations.

8 Maquiladoras are industrial firms that assemble final consumer goods using imported elements, with almost no value added. These firms can be an important source of low level employment and also of hard currency since all goods are exported.

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opportunities because they are unable to make better use of the capabilities they have at hand ?Raschid, 1995.. In Colombia, a recent evaluation of the public policies implemented to articulate production and research stressed the fact, so common in other Latin American countries that mechanisms were designed expecting too much protagonism from the private actors ?UNCSTD-UNCTAD-COLCIENCIAS, 1996.. It has also been noted that ‘‘innovative entrepreneurs ?in Latin America. became such independently of incentives and instruments’’ ?International Conference Technology, 1998.. The Uruguayan situation confirms this general remark: in Uruguay as in many other countries, the institutional design has been usually made ‘‘by aggregation’’, that is, by mixing all kind of new agencies with old ones, without paying enough attention to defining and articulating their functions. As a result, some services are offered by many institutions at the same time — typically general business information services — and others are not provided at all, for instance, financial tools for start-ups, information about local scientific and technological capabilities or technological extensionism programmes. Precisely, these very specific instruments are those that potentially innovative entrepreneurs need and usually do not find ?Sutz, 1999.. The main mechanism devised to challenge the scarcity of the Latin American industrial scientific and technological demand has been the provision of financial support to firms able to develop innovative projects. Funds are allocated through competitive calls and they usually provide better repayment condition if the projects involve collaboration with universities; in some schemes, there are funds specifically devoted to joint projects. The most important source for this type of funds has been the Science and Technology loans of the Interamerican Development Bank. Several Latin American countries have been receiving these loans during the last two decades. National resources have scarcely been devoted to promote industrial innovation, with the exception of Brazil. Though external funding has thus become available to support science and technology in the region, demand for these funds proved to be lower than it was previously assessed. It has been repeatedly reported that available funds were under-

utilised, as if firms were in need of something else than money to recognise the need to interact with faculty. 9 However, it is important to circumscribe criticism since all the above-mentioned experiences — and many more of a similar type — also exhibit some success cases, that is, cases in which successful innovative projects jointly undertaken by firms and university teams were the outcome of the top-down mechanism put in place. 10 The shortcomings of these mechanisms seem to relate especially to the following: ?i. firms involvement below expectations, both in quantitative and in qualitative terms; ?ii. lack of ‘‘knowledge relevance’’ of the problems when industrial demand finally begins to spread; ?iii. low impact on the general behaviour of firms regarding relationships with universities. Much of the above mentioned can be considered as ‘‘university–industry mismatches’’, and many of them may be explained by wrongly designed mechanisms or by the erroneous or insufficient utilisation of well-designed ones. But there are also more structural features in the Latin American landscape that need to be taken into account to fully understand these outcomes. Section 4 turns to that point.

One of the mechanisms under discussion to try to cope with this problem is the ‘‘softening’’ of the repayment conditions, allowing more room to plain subsidies. The current situation has been described as one of ‘‘ritual incentives’’, the aim of which is ‘‘to demonstrate a ‘formal political interest’ without any intention on the part of governments to make any real spending. In these cases, it is common that the incentives are not implemented at all or that firms barely use them, simultaneously with the creation of a bureaucratic body to take care of their administration.’’ ?Waisbluth, 1998.. 10 Softex 2000 seems to be a more consistent success case, that is, a case in which the program was able to mobilise a fairly high proportion of the ‘‘target population’’ in addition to obtaining good results in individual cases. The explanation includes the fact that the firms involved in the Programme are knowledge intensive — the lack of comprehension of the economic role of knowledge is not present — and that the goal of the Programme is a high state priority — to reach a 1% share of the world software market by the year 2000.



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4. How does Latin American context affect university–industry–government relations? Some historical and also recent trends in Latin American landscape help to explain why the outcomes of the strategies followed to foster university–industry relations have not been stronger. Five of them shall be briefly considered, suggesting in each case why they undermine these strategies. ?i. The drastic slimming of the State is one of the main emphases of the so-called Washington consensus, a name given to the current policy and economic reforms in Latin America promoted by the international financial institutions. Particularly important for analysing the Triple Helix of university–industry– government relations is the massive privatisation process taking place throughout the region. A special feature of this process is that public enterprises are sold to foreign private or public firms, because there are no national private firms capable of buying the public ones. An illustration of this is the recent Brazilian Telebras San Pablo Holding purchase performed by the state owned Telefonica de Espana. ? Telebras is a case in which the doors between university, industry and government were kept fairly open for more than 20 years; 11 the optical fibre project relating the Physics Department of Campinas University, Telebras and several private enterprises is paradigmatic of Triple Helix when it is understood as a structure of governance for knowledge accumulation ?Brisolla and Guedes Pinto, 1995.. This project owed much of its philosophy to the perception of local knowledge as a strategic tool; this is not the type of concern a foreign multinational firm is expected to have. In countries with a relatively weak industrial system, one of the main mechanisms to convey sophisticated demand towards its scientific and technical capacities is through the public sector demand. Public procurements have been a powerful tool in bringing together universities and industry in the devel-

oped countries ?Gregersen, 1988.; the weakening of this mechanism issued from the ‘‘foreignisation’’ of public enterprises contributes to the difficulties Latin America is facing when trying to link locally produced knowledge to productive improvement. 12 ?ii. The Latin American current productive trend has been summarised by the Economic Commission for Latin America — ECLA — in the following way: ‘‘The productive apparatus re-structure process has shown a generalised tendency in favour of goods with an intensive use of own natural resources and against other goods which could have required proportionally a more intensive utilisation of engineering and technology.’’ ?ECLA, 1996; p. 71.. This situation has been characterised as a ‘‘neo-peripheral’’ regional insertion in the world economy, stressing the fact that its participation in the world economy is not ‘‘knowledge based and innovation driven’’ ?de la Mothe and Paquet, 1996; p. 23., but based mainly on the exchange of goods and services with low technological content for others with high technological content, repeating in this sense patterns of the past. Under import substitution policies that were active between 1950 and 1980, productive technological upgrading was partly achieved through a pattern of minor innovations located mainly at the firm level and without a strong need for interaction with universities. Under present policies, demand for endogenous knowledge is even weaker, due mainly to the contraction of the industrial sector that went hand in hand with the sharp opening of the Latin American economies. ?Katz and Bercovich, 1993; Lall, 1995;

It is worth noting that the relations between public enterprises and universities were not the outcome of top-down promotion mechanisms but the result of direct demands for locally produced knowledge.


12 There are many examples of this type. In Argentina, one of the consequences of the privatisation of the telecommunication sector has been the dismantling of a web of small high tech firms that acted as specialised suppliers and maintained strong links with academic research in the area. In contrast, the Chilean ?now. public copper enterprise, CODELCO, exhibits a trajectory of growing local technological involvement, not disturbed by any scenario of privatisation. In words of its General Manager, ‘‘twenty years ago, our bids would have been written in English; nowadays we are able to demand our foreign suppliers to associate with local ones’’ ?International Conference Technology, 1998.. This is the result of a long-term technological policy that relied on local entrepreneurial and academic capabilities.

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Cassiolato and Lastres, 1997. Summing up, ‘‘the collapse of the political consensus underlying the protectionist policies has affected technology policy making in two quite discernible ways. One is that the overriding belief in the merits of the free market in allocating resources has led to very limited considerations of technical change in the industrial sector. The other, closely related effect is that the local supply of technology has been given a much less central role. Both effects have clear consequences for the constitution of a new social consensus around technology policies.’’ ?Bastos and Cooper, 1995.. It is thus clear that the current productive trend does not make it any easier to reverse the structural weakness of the Latin American innovative climate; the mismatches between university and industry continue to be difficult to tackle in such a context. ?iii. Latin American public universities, specially the Hispanoamerican ones, 13 share a long story of social unrest ?Arocena, 1998.. Important social mobilisations accompanied the long struggle of students and faculty to obtain the autonomy of public universities and the direct participation of students in their government. Later on, in the 1960s and the 1970s, engagement with economic and social contest placed the public universities and the political and economic establishment ‘‘structurally’’ against each other. ?Luna, 1997. Things changed afterwards: dictatorships were followed by democratic governments in the 1980s, and the intense period of social struggle gave way to less confrontational social and political relations in the 1980s and the 1990s. Public university–government relations turned to more peaceful moods and formal and informal public university–industry relations began to expand. Under the surface, though, the tradition of the Uni?ersidad de la Reforma still exists, permeating with mistrust and unwillingness the relations between public universities and both government and entrepreneurs. It is not easy to give an accurate account of these feelings, for they are rarely stated explicitly in any public manifestation. A

consistent trend that points in that direction is, for instance, the steady increase of private universities in Latin America, partly as a reaction against public ones: 14 of the total number of universities in 1995, 61% were private, and more than 85% of them were created between 1960 and 1995. Various small countries reported university–enterprise relations but with private universities ?Garc?a Guadilla, 1996., mainly ? centred in new teaching schemes with strong emphasis on management. The point at issue is not the private nature of these universities but the fact that, in the region, research capacity is overwhelmingly concentrated in the public universities, a trend that is not diminishing nowadays. So, the enterprises relative reluctance to enter into closer relations with the latter jeopardise the mechanisms put in place to bring near production and knowledge. ?iv. Socio-economic inequality is very high in Latin America and recent figures provided by ECLA show that global inequality was worse in 1994 than in the eight previous years. Moreover, the shares of population in poverty conditions and in complete indigence are now about the highest in history ?ECLA, 1997.. One way in which this issue enters the scene is through the well-known fact that inequality hampers the improvement of the techno-productive capacities unless there is a thorough transformation of the productive sector into a more knowledge and technology intensive one. In a scenery where this does not occur, inequality facilitates soft options like spurious competitiveness based on low salaries and natural resources depletion, low concern about workers commitment, low attention paid to workers training and education, short-term profit maximising strategies. When the overall majority of firms can survive and even grow this way, that is, avoiding the challenges of a more structural competi-

13 The pattern of development of Brazilian universities has been fairly different than the Hispanoamerican ones ?Schwartzman, 1979; Arocena, 1998..

14 The Mexican case, clearly presented by Matilde Luna, provides a good example. During what she calls ‘‘the entrepreneur’s satanization of the public realm’’, there was a strong push towards an active policy of private university creation. The fact is that the Mexican national budget for public universities suffered a strong downfall between 1982 and 1986. In 1989, after a slight recovery, the budget level was yet below the 1978 one. On the other hand, more than 100 private institutions of higher education were created over the 1980s, against only 39 public ones ?Luna, 1997..


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tiveness based on knowledge and learning, it is hard for the universities to be recognised as potential partners in the processes of economic growth and of development. ?v. The National System of Innovation System ?NSI. concept relates to the institutional fabric built on a national landscape to foster innovation. It includes also the evolutionary patterns, coming from historical and cultural trends that influence the design of policy mechanisms ?Lundvall, 1992; Nelson, 1993; Edquist, 1997.. Latin American’s NSI are weak, to say the least, due mainly to the historical neglect of technical innovation. The most striking outcomes of this long-term trend are the ‘‘holes’’ in the institutional fabric — absence of a rich, diversified and specific institutional setting directed to support innovation at all levels — and the disconnection of the existing organisations that often exhibit an ‘‘autistic-like’’ behaviour. University-enterprise relations need, ex-ante, a growing social awareness of the positive role of knowledge for the economic performance of firms; they need also, ex-post, a network of supporting organisations able to concretise and to diffuse the successful results obtained thanks to these relations. This is what a NSI is supposed to provide and when it is not the case, as in Latin America, the mechanisms to foster university–industry relations are bound to face both lack of demand and of scope. These features give account of the difficulties that the formalised mechanisms recently put in place in Latin America to foster university–industry relations have undergone. The problem is that Triple Helix policies must cope with the main characteristics of the landscape in which they are intended to operate, for it is not sensible to wait until a sound NSI consolidates or a more trusting relationship between actors is built to design and put them in practice. Moreover, besides all the difficulties, top-down mechanisms are important because they are potentially open to the whole productive sector, thus allowing a priori unknown possibilities for joint projects between university teams and firms to emerge and to be supported. Part of the challenge of building successful Triple Helix in Latin America has to do, then, with the improvement of the top-down policies in order to counterbalance some of the undermining effects of the current situation. A way of learning

how to do that is to look into the micro-strengths of university–industry relations.

5. Conclusion: policy considerations Ideally, the top-down and the bottom-up experiences should be truly complementary. The fact of having developed a ‘‘knowledge relationship’’ makes both firms and faculty more aware of the set of instruments at their disposal to undertake further relations; on the other hand, top-down mechanisms support the establishment of relations which might start a growing spiral of mutual involvement. In reality, things do not seem to happen completely in that way: the first assumption is fairly accurate, but the second one is not quite so. The problem is that top-down schemes cannot cope with opportunism. Opportunist behaviour is exhibited by entrepreneurs who contact faculty only to be able to apply to some programme funds, but once the incentive is over do not continue any kind of relationship with the university. The same can be said of faculty teams that try to establish relationships with firms with the only aim of getting the available funds, even if they are not really prepared to tackle the problems that need to be solved. To help complementary to occur, three things seem necessary. The first relates to information: much more information is needed concerning university capabilities for problem solving and also concerning ‘‘knowledge needs’’ on the part of firms or group of firms. 15 Providing universities and enterprises with tools to become mutually familiar through a better knowledge of what they need and what they are able to do in common is important indeed, but it is only part of the solution. The other part is to effectively put them into contact. A suggestion in this regard is to design top-down schemes with a sort of ‘‘niche’’ strategy, that is, to focus on some type

The critical importance of information dissemination to foster ‘‘knowledge interactions’’ has been put forward since long ago ?Mowery and Rosemberg, 1979.; the strategy of such information dissemination should be characterised ‘‘ . . . as a ‘dating agency’ approach rather than a ‘marriage brokerage’’’ ?Faulkner and Senker, 1995; p. 238..


J. Sutz r Research Policy 29 (2000) 279–290


of enterprise or productive branch so as to raise ‘‘competence pools’’ 16 between faculty and firms through a shared commitment on problem solving. The raising of a competence pool is, so to speak, what occurs during the bottom-up experiences of university–industry relations. Top-down policies should gather all possible information on these experiences, both to learn from them, trying to internalise some of their features, and to use them as a ‘‘demonstration argument’’ in their campaigns. This is a good way of achieving the third thing that is needed: more legitimisation and visibility, not of this or that top-down scheme of university–industry relation, but of the very idea that both actors can expect substantial gains from their encounters. These policy suggestions seem to be the outcome of simple good sense — which is the case —, and easy to implement — which is not. They are not straightforward, for they imply that policy managers must learn from situations that are outside their own realms of action. They also imply that feedback mechanisms should be put in place to assure that learning will effectively lead previous practices to change. However, the goal of these policy suggestions seems worth the effort: the mutual reinforcement of the bottom-up experiences and the top-down mechanisms of university–industry–government relationships as a way to strengthen the latter in Latin America.

Arocena, R., 1998. The Triple Helix and the Hispanoamerican University, paper to the Conference A Triple Helix of University, Industry, Government Relations: The New Location of Research, January, NY. Bastos, M.I., Cooper, Ch., 1995, Politics of Technology Policy in Latin America. Inheritance and Prospects, paper to the ECLA-IDRCrUNU-INTECH Conference Productivity, Technical Change and National Innovation Systems in Latin America in the 1990s, August, Marbella. Brisolla, S., Guedes Pinto, L., 1995. El Instituto de F?sica de la ?

The idea of a competence pool initially referred to the internal organisation of a firm, but its description is particularly well suited as a policy guideline, for it consists of ‘‘ . . . transforming the knowledge and skills of individual members into a collective capability’’ ?Metcalfe and Diliso, 1996; p. 68..


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