Volume 44, Number 172,
January-March 2013
Higher Education and Research for
Productive International Competitiveness
Iris Guevara

As a result of the debt and fiscal crises, and the predominance of neoliberal policies, starting in 1983, the State strongly reduced its participation in the economy and educational spending in Mexico, specifically spending on higher education. They also effectively abandoned the drive to develop science and technology, right at the time when fundamental changes were occurring in the global economy. Currently, as we already mentioned, knowledge is central for socio-economic reproduction.

The lack of competitiveness in the national economy exists in a context of transformations to economic policies that began in the 1980s, a time when the State stopped supporting a national development project.

As Dr. Calva reminds us:

For nearly a quarter of a century of neoliberal economic modernization (1983-2005), increased labor productivity in the economy as a whole reached an average rate of 0.8% annually, while from 1935-1982 (...) aggregate labor productivity in Mexico grew at an average rate of 3% annually (Calva, 2007: 343).

The fundamental difference between the Mexican State’s participation in the last two decades of the twentieth century in social economic reproduction, and other states like Korea, Taiwan, and more recently, Brazil, was active government participation in national development projects while still driving a free market. In these nations, the State enacted import substitution policies to develop high technology companies supported by the training of qualified personnel. The governments of these Asian countries fostered the development of higher education, science and technology to support the creation of new business. Nationalist policies that had been used decades ago in Latin America were implemented to get involved in cutting edge activities.

Economic nationalism allowed these countries to create government-owned research and development institutions, and foster higher education, generating the conditions to establish high technology companies.

In the case of Taiwan, the government stimulated the high technology industry through fiscal incentives, creating science parks and investing in governmental research and development institutions. The government’s active role in strategic high technology activities translated to, for example, the creation of the following industries: compact discs, liquid crystal display screens and integrated circuits.

In Taiwan, the government also declared that it supported economic liberalization and opened up its markets to greater multinational competition, while maintaining its role in industrial policy, emphasizing high technology sectors.

It is useful to point out that the high technology goods around which the government centered its import substitution strategy were already advanced products, so the risk for this type of investment was lower than for new technology and the government selected these goods based on committees of businessmen, officials and university experts. The same was true for government subsidies to support new investments; they were only granted following exhaustive research into how they would be used.

High technology industries are beneficial for countries because they require qualified and well-paid employees and produce greater profits than traditional activities. The most important research and development projects in these countries are carried out by independent government-sponsored institutions.

The market share of high technology manufactures within the manufacturing sector has increased. Their global participation in 1985 was nearly 12%, but by 2005 it reached 19%. Asia was the region that most increased its share, going from 29% to 41% in two decades. But within this continent, China had the greatest increase, going from 2% in the mid-1990s to 16% in 2005. The participation of the European Union in high technology manufactures declined from nearly 25% in the mid-1990s to 16% in 2005. The United States increased its participation in this type of industry, from 17% in the mid-1980s to 24% in 2005.1

Unlike the circumstances in these Asian countries, the Mexican government has reduced its participation in and financing for higher education, science and technology, as well as its involvement in strategic sectors for national development. As Amsden reminds us, talking about Latin America: “The educational system is not oriented towards research with industrial applications. Government laboratories have also been neglected due to the liberal cutting of the public budget” (2004: 89).

1 Data taken from the National Science Board, 2008 Science and Engineering Indicators.

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Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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