Más Saber América Latina: Promoting links between think tanks and universities

18 June 2015
SERIES Think tanks and universities 8 items

[Editor’s note: This is the second post in the series on Think Tanks and Universities, edited by Shannon Sutton. The reports from the accompanying study can be found on the Think Tank Initiative website. This post was written by Grupo FARO’s Orazio Bellettini, Executive Director and Adriana Arellano, Research Director.]

Despite representing 10% of the world’s population, research shows that Latin America produces less than 3% of the world’s scientific knowledge. Latin America is under-represented in the global knowledge ecosystem, and the region needs more inter and intra-regional collaboration. While universities and think tanks are key to increasing society´s knowledge production capacities, the links between them are currently weak. Networks of collaboration must be established and mobilized through approaches such as expanded training, financial support, and exchanges. 

In the world of economics, things are made with raw materials and labour – but also with knowledge. And, as time goes by, knowledge is valued more and more. At present, 98% of the cost of a cup of coffee is attributed to the know-how, while only 2% covers the actual cost of coffee beans. This is why sectors intense in knowledge and creativity have been growing in the last decades. In the 1900s only 10% of people worked in the creative industries (e.g. R&D, arts, education), while in the 2000s this percentage increased to 40%, and continues to grow.

Nonetheless, our capacities to produce knowledge, at least that measured by the number of papers published in peer-reviewed journals, are unequally distributed around the world. Traditionally, the Anglo-Saxon block (USA, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) have contributed with over half (52%) of the knowledge produced in the world; after them, Western European countries produced 27% of the knowledge generated worldwide. In sum, 10% of the countries produce close to 75% of the scientific knowledge generated in the world, according to data from National Science Foundation in 2010, World Development Indicators and OECD  in 2011.

Why does this happen?

  1. Investment: They invest around 3% of their GDP in R&D;
  2. Institutions: They have established institutions to promote private-public partnerships;
  3. Skills: They train and attract some of the best researchers in the world.
  4. Collaboration: In addition, several studies show that countries are more innovative and produce more knowledge when they collaborate more with others.

Knowledge production in Latin America

Despite representing 10% of the world’s population, research shows that Latin America produces less than 3% of the world’s scientific knowledge, has 2% of the top 500 hundred universities, and generates 0.2% of the patents worldwide (see figure below).

Latin America and the Caribbean: weight in the world 2011 (%)

post 2 grafico 1

Source: UIS; NSF, Science and Engineering Indicators 2013; Population Reference Bureau; Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2013; Scimago Country Rankings; Quandl for Academics.

Latin America produces little knowledge in part because of a low investment in R&D, but also because there is little collaboration both within the region, and between Latin America and other regions in the world. As we see in the figure below, even in the Southern Cone – the sub-region that produces the most scientific knowledge and consists of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil – the vast majority of the scientific papers are produced without collaboration.

Relative weight of collaboration of LAC with 27-EU countries in all areas of knowledge

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Source: Gaillard, J. & Arvanitis, R.  (2014)

So, for Latin America to increase its participation in the global knowledge ecosystem, the region needs more inter and intra-regional collaboration.

Más Saber América Latina

 Our project, implemented by Grupo FARO and the Centro de Políticas Comparadas de Educación, at the Universidad Diego Portales in Chile, focused on exploring the links between think tanks and universities in Latin America  in order to produce recommendations to incentivize collaboration between these institutions.

Latin America has 11,120 tertiary education providers: 3,518 of which are recognized as universities, and 638 of which are recognized as think tanks. The study used case studies from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, and quantitative methods (including webometric and bibliometric analyses) to understand how these institutions interact.  Results of the studyshow that:

  • Interactions between universities and think tanks are few when quantified in terms of links between organizational websites (Uruguay and Argentina show the highest percentages of links to Latin American and Caribbean Universities from the total of links received on think tanks webpages, however these percentages are well below 10%).
  • Of a sample of 30 think tanks analyzed for their collaboration with universities in the production of articles published in SCOPUS, only 16 collaborated with universities. However, these are the ones that produce more articles in SCOPUS and research generated by think tanks is often disseminated through alternative channels.
  • 68% of the institutions with which think tanks collaborate to publish articles in SCOPUS are universities.
  • The link between think tanks and universities is weak and sporadic. Relationships between these actors are de-institutionalized, informal, disjointed and personalized.
  • Universities and think tanks have different research foci. Universities, when they produce knowledge, are more focused on theoretical research papers published in indexed journals, while think tanks aim to generate applied research published in short papers.
  • The factors that promote collaboration are:
    • Shared researchers
    • Joint efforts to communicate and disseminate results
    • Joint efforts to produced applied knowledge
    • Networks
    • Complementary capabilities (for example, in research results, communications and policy influence, theoretical research, and applications for theories)
    • Spaces and events for dialogue

What should we do?

Some recommendations from the study include:

  • Create databases of research products, indexed and not indexed, so that researchers both in think tanks and universities can access them easily and find synergies, complementarities and opportunities to carry out shared research projects.
  • Widen the study of the knowledge ecosystem, analyzing its links, networks, actors and roles, to further understand the dynamics of knowledge production, dissemination, usage and translation into public policies.
  • Create and strengthen training programs for public policy specialists and policy designers to facilitate the process of translating evidence into practice, and enhance the role of both think tanks and universities in this ecosystem;
  • Design fiscal incentives for businesses and individuals to support research both in think tanks and universities;
  • Promote financial support targeted to collaborative public policy research projects;
  • Promote collaborations between think tanks and universities around the dissemination of research results, not only in indexed journals in the region, but also through social media; and
  • Design exchange programs for public policy researchers in the region to promote more collaboration among knowledge producers.

In the 21st century, knowledge is not produced in isolation; instead it depends on the establishment and mobilization of networks of collaboration. Think tanks and universities are key to increasing society´s knowledge production capacities. The challenge is to promote more collaboration between them knowing that, as stated by Garcé and López, researchers in the Más Saber team:

collaboration is not an end in itself; it truly is part of the broader objective of increasing the offer of social research focused on improving the quality of public policies in Latin-American democracies.