Firms and academia: a bad marriage?


23rd May 2018

Latin American universities must concentrate on improving their quality, otherwise they will not be a solution to the lack of innovation. They will become a bigger part of the problem.
There is a widely shared agreement about the role that universities play on innovation. In general terms, it is believed that building a good triad of firms, government and academia, is a necessary condition for innovation. What if we take a different stance, and claim that in Latin America it might not even always be advisable?
The effect of putting firms and academia together is expected to be dual. It would swiftly diffuse basic and applied research to firms and products, and it would have companies steer research in the direction of relevant, practical market problems. Governments facilitate the process mostly with financial or fiscal incentives.
It’s true that some of the most potent innovation corridors in the world have been built around universities. Silicon Valley, the latest, had its origins in Stanford. Boston’s tech innovation ecosystem evolved around MIT and Harvard. The Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation has documented many other cases, like the Medical Alley in Minneapolis in the 50s, formed alongside the University of Minnesota.
An optimistic view of the power of the triad induced many Latin American university presidents to look for places to copy from. Stanford has a favorite model. In the 1940s, Frederick Terman, the MIT Engineer …

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