The Role of Science and Multinationals
Edited by Grazia D. Santangelo
Chapter 2: The Roles of Research in Universities and Public Labs in Economic Catch-up
Richard R. Nelson INTRODUCTION This chapter is concerned with the roles of research in indigenous universities and public laboratories in the processes through which countries behind the technological and economic frontier catch up. I ague that, for several reasons, the role of indigenous public research is more important today than it was in the twentieth century. I also argue that the building of an eﬀective indigenous system of research is no easy task, while oﬀering some guidelines that may be helpful. However, before getting into these topics, I need to set the stage by considering the process of catch-up more generally, and in historical perspective. It is clear that the process of catch-up involves learning about and learning to master ways of doing things that are used by the leading countries of the era. However, the term catch-up seems to connote that the catching-up country simply copies, and this is misleading. While practice in advanced countries does usually serve as a model, what is achieved inevitably diﬀers in certain ways from the template. In part this reﬂects that exact copying is almost impossible, and attempts to replicate at best get viably close. In part it reﬂects deliberate and often creative modiﬁcations aimed to tailor practice to national conditions. This is especially so regarding organizational structures and institutions. Most of the writings on catch-up have presumed, explicitly or implicitly, that the key practices that need to be mastered are ‘technologies’, in a rather conventional sense...
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