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Technological Change and Economic Catch-up

The Role of Science and Multinationals

Edited by Grazia D. Santangelo

This book tackles the issue of technological and economic catch-up by examining the role that public research institutions and local policy play in the promotion of this process by fostering local science–technology linkages with incoming foreign-owned multinationals. Although the book comprises various techno-socio-economic contexts and different methodological perspectives, the authors share the idea that public research, educational and political institutions provide capabilities in basic research and training of highly skilled labour, while private corporations establish networking connections with scientific and professional communities (and therefore access to knowledge and contacts) in other parts of the world.
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Chapter 2: The Roles of Research in Universities and Public Labs in Economic Catch-up

Richard R. Nelson


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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