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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 3: The Development of Universities and Public Research Institutions: A Historical Overview of its Role in Technological and Economic Catch-up

Roberto Mazzoleni


Roberto Mazzoleni 1. INTRODUCTION Gerschenkron (1962) popularized a characterization of the economic development of countries behind the technological frontier as a process of ‘catching up’ with the leading economies. According to this view, the transformation of physical and social technologies in a developing economy is facilitated by the absorption of technological, scientific and institutional knowledge originating from more advanced economies. A central focus of research on economic development should be therefore an investigation of the institutions and processes that have played a significant role in enabling the flow of knowledge from advanced to developing regions. There are strong reasons to believe that universities (or more generally, higher education institutions) and public research institutes ought to figure prominently in such investigation. Indeed, the belief – commonly held among nineteenth-century policy makers – that universities and research institutions could play an important role in promoting economic development was an important stimulus to their international diffusion during the nineteenth century. Far from being the result of a process of mere imitation, the diffusion of these institutions was characterized by the emergence of distinctive national characteristics and a considerable amount of trial-and-error adaptation to local conditions. The resulting institutional variety likely influenced the contributions made by the emerging systems of higher education and research to the diffusion of technological knowledge (through inward transfer or otherwise), and hence to the economic catch-up of the home country. More directly, the scope and quality of these contributions reflected the changing relationship between...

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