Higher education, science-technology and competitiveness
15 April, 2021
The purpose of this paper is to explain the close relations of higher education with science and technology, on the one hand, and then the general link between these and the competitiveness of economic organizations, regions and countries.
In principle, and as a very brief review, higher education can be understood – in its institutionalized form – as a greater mastery of knowledge (already assimilated and under construction), more capacities and skills, as well as a transversal axiological base in the different fields of knowledge, as conceived by Pierre Bourdieu (2000). Compared to basic and secondary (higher) education, higher education implies greater domains and greater specialization (even considering the advance of interdisciplinarity and transdiscipline).
For its part, the notion of science is fed by deliberate (systematic) efforts for the generation and dissemination of frontier knowledge. Likewise, scientific knowledge is distinguished from pseudoscience precisely by the meticulous application of the scientific method. What is sought is the truth about the explanation of a specific phenomenon or problem; That truth is both objective, or at least pursues objectivity as an ideal (which can be achieved even partially). In addition, what normally consolidates and strengthens a scientific approach are the evidence in its favor, or in the case of abstract knowledge, it may be its logical-formal and argumentative coherence.
A category very close to science is technology, which can be understood, in principle, as a series of techniques to which systematized (applied) knowledge is incorporated, to enrich and potentiate them. This is how we moved from machine tools to engines in the Industrial Revolution, and then from steam and coal-based engines to internal combustion engines, until today we reach complex mobile devices powered by electric and solar energy. In another perspective, technological leaps could also be explained by making the journey in retrospect, from the Neolithic to the era of artificial intelligence. For my part, when I approach with students the way in which I conceive the notion of technology, I like to tell them that it is based first on the understanding of the laws of nature (science), then the internalization or emulation in controlled environments of those laws (in experimental or quasi-experimental processes), and, eventually,the appropriation of those laws for human uses. This is amazing because if I think of airplanes I refer to how and why birds fly, if I think of underground transport I go to the kind of shelter connections and interaction of moles, ants, termites, among other species. Also, if I stop to reflect on the shipbuilding industry, we must visit the fish; Even in the race of aerospace exploration we can resort to the trajectories and energy charges of meteorites.
Now, what is the connection between science and technology in a symbiotic sense? Apart from the explanation of the previous paragraph, in the field of the knowledge economy, Paul David and Dominique Foray (2002), argue that we are currently facing a dynamic in which science illustrates technology to design and manufacture increasingly complex technological artifacts (think of the hadron accelerator or the international space station).And at the same time, we have a technology that equips science with powerful artifacts to expand the frontiers of knowledge in different fields. For example, it’s hard to imagine robots exploring Mars without first thinking about the rich and fascinating science-technology, technology-science feedback. To this sequence of back and forth, some authors explain it through an enveloping category called “technoscience”, and with that we stay here, since the rebellious part relates this new category with the negative parts of the process (alienation, dehumanization, unscrupulous commercialization, manipulation of natural processes, among other things). However, for purposes of analytical simplicity we do not touch the ethical-technoscience relationship, which already seems complicated and sharp.
Returning to the purpose of this paper, then, what is the relationship of higher education to “technoscience”? From an economic and social perspective, advanced levels of education (bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees) are usually decisive in the development of a country or region, and more concretely widen the chances of success of a family or an individual. For example, through higher payments for more skilled and specialized work. In addition, the larger the population with doctoral studies, the greater the possibilities of investigating various and complex social, economic, cultural, political, technological lagging problems, etc. For my part, for more than a decade I established a relationship in terms of probability; It is therefore that the more the population with higher education studies (including postgraduate studies), the greater the probability of advancing in the fields of science, technology and innovation. An example may be that while a PhD graduate would at least be thinking about founding a consulting firm or a research institute, while a basic education graduate is more likely to think about opening a business within the framework of the most basic economic activities. This is addressed more broadly in García-Galván (2014), in this research article it is also proposed that the higher the educational level of the entrepreneurial population, the greater the probability of founding companies in economic activities of greater added value, which implies at the same time a greater creation of wealth.
To recap, the more the demand for higher education is met (mainly in scientific disciplines and doctoral studies), the greater the possibilities we will have of advancing in the strategic areas of science and technology. At the same time, the higher the levels of schooling of a population, the more possibilities it will have to found more intensive companies in scientific and technological knowledge.
But a serious boost of higher education, science and technology has nothing to do with the pathetic governance of technological higher education in the country. The technology supposed and bombastic technological and polytechnic universities are neither properly universities nor properly technological; These, along with private on-demand higher education, are rather part of banal rhetoric from national and state governments, which have desperately sought to increase tuition without committing to greater investments. This does not contribute to the desired quality or excellence of higher education in this country. Likewise, state public universities by overloading the offer in certain disciplines, of low investment, also support the game and government rhetoric. In relation to this, in the economic field and in that of productive organizations it is often said: “tell me how much the investment is and I will tell you the degree of commitment you have with the project”. Consequently, thinking about a powerful higher education system implies correcting this series of distortions, otherwise the potential benefits of higher education in the fields of science, technology and the knowledge-based economy cannot be observed.