This morning we heard from some of the more recent success stories in science and technology. Atta ur Rahman, the former science advisor to Pakistan’s prime minister, described how targeted policies had managed to increase the country’s citations in international journals by 1000% in the last four years.
He emphasised the importance of nurturing excellence, saying that too often, developing country universities lack the creative “soul” of science embodied by the “beautiful” minds that work in places like Oxford or MIT.
Excellence had been top of the list when drawing up Pakistan’s S&T policies, he said. Paying high salaries for mediocre scientists would not give the desired results. So efforts focused on identifying the brightest students used independent auditors to ensure they got the scholarships rather than the merely well-connected.
Quality has been a buzzword at this conference. This indicates a growing maturity in the debate. But not all developing country governments seem to have caught up on this. One South African delegate I spoke to after Rahman’s lecture told me his government would never place such emphasis on top of the line science and technology.
South Africa’s science minister Naledi Pandor would disagree. She is actively promoting excellence, she says. But some academics fear that a more left-leaning government in South Africa will regard elite universities and research as a bourgeois luxury. The country’s mid-term budgets next week may show which way the wind is blowing…
Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net