Academia, the government and industry collaborate on research and development in the state of San Luis Potosí

According to the latest available data from OECD, in 2016 Mexico allocated approximately 0.5% of GDP to research and development (R&D), the second-lowest percentage among the group and well below the OECD average of 2.3%. The country’s low expenditure on R&D makes it very difficult for academia to react quickly to changes, contributing to the perception that the field works slowly and is therefore an unsuitable partner for the more dynamic private sector, Emanuel Gustavo Inserra, director of partnerships at the Institute for Scientific and Technological Research of San Luis Potosí (Instituto Potosino de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica, IPICYT), told OBG. The institute was founded in 2000 and seeks to train students according to international standards, foment interdisciplinary practices and promote links with different areas of society.

Trilateral Teamwork

Cooperation is therefore vital to ensure the continued growth of R&D and the triple-helix approach, which emphasises the intersection of the public and private sectors with academia, is finding its feet in San Luis Potosí. While federal funding for R&D is below the OECD regional average, a 2018 report by the state government noted investment of MXN1.4bn ($72.4m) in scientific services, technology, investigation and experimental development through a combination of federal, state and private funds since 2015. The state government is indeed playing an important role in facilitating further study, awarding postgraduate grants to 1582 students in 2018, of which 122 were given to students to study in San Luis Potosí.

The Sectorial Science and Technology Programme 2016-21, a fundamental part of the State Development Plan for San Luis Potosí 2015-21, aims to promote science, technology and innovation in order to stimulate the development of the economy and boost social well-being in the state. The programme has identified the importance of the triple-helix model to meet these goals and will attempt to apply scientific solutions to social problems, as well as attract international investment in the sector.

The IPICYT is seeking to integrate its academic network into the triple-helix ecosystem by furthering cooperation with public and private entities. In 2018 the institute signed 60 agreements, and in July 2019 it negotiated a deal with the state capital’s municipal government for the two bodies to take part in joint training activities. Businesses, universities and research centres have a direct dialogue channel with the state government through the San Luis Potosí State System of Science, Technology and Innovation. Seeking to further embrace the cooperative potential on a national level, San Luis Potosí city hosted the 24th National Science and Technology Week in July 2019, which was attended by 80,000 people and showcased 581 activities.

New Facilities 

The San Luis Potosí Science and Technology Park is at the centre of the state’s triple-helix model. While no further information on its development has been released as of September 2019, once completed, the technology park will provide a space for partnerships to be forged between academics, businesspeople and government representatives, with the aim of transforming the state into a leading centre for research and technology The San Luis Potosí Science and Technology Park will focus on agriculture, food technology, chemical engineering, the energy sector and automotive innovation. It is expected to span over 120 ha to the east of the capital. Among the facilities include a station by the Mexican Space Agency that will be able to receive and process information from a National Aeronautics and Space Administration satellite scheduled to be sent into orbit by 2022.

Links have been announced with the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, IPICYT, the Polytechnic University of San Luis Potosí, the Secretariat of Economic Development (Secretaría de Desarrollo Económico, SEDECO), and the San Luis Potosí Secretariat of Communications and Transport. A new robotics training centre in the park – set to be the country’s largest public centre – is expected to open in the near future, Jorge Viramontes, director of industrial development and promotion at SEDECO, told OBG. Another planned research facility coming to the city of San Luis Potosí is an office for the National Seismology Service.

There are 87 programmes at higher education institutions in San Luis Potosí that have been registered with the National Council for Science and Technology, placing the state 7th in the country in this metric, and the state has six national laboratories. Among the facilities offering students hands-on education are the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, while the University of New Mexico will be opening a campus in the city of San Luis Potosí in 2020. The Metropolitan Technological University of San Luis Potosí, a bilingual public education institution, opened its doors in August 2017.

International Cooperation 

While links are being established with institutions in other states, San Luis Potosí is also looking to strengthen its cooperation with entities on a global scale. “There is significant development in terms of links with the rest of Mexico and the world. Universities are adapting quickly to the new requirements of industry,” Viramontes told OBG. In 2018 students enrolled at the IPICYT came from 28 of Mexico’s 32 states and from seven other countries.

Demonstrating its global outlook, San Luis Potosí hosted the Franco-Mexican Forum on Science and Technology for the first time in May 2018. The state’s push to foster growth in R&D and technology dovetails with the country’s efforts to strengthen international ties in the field. Financed by the European Commission, the EU-Mexico Bilateral Innovation Initiative began in 2005 and was renewed for a further five years in 2010. Following the conclusion of the EU-Mexico initiative, San Luis Potosí is currently involved in the Horizon 2020 Project, a programme funded and directed by the EU, with €77bn in financing available over seven years between 2014 and 2020. The scheme, which is managed on the Mexican side by the National Council of Science and Technology, seeks to address social challenges while promoting industrial leadership, the use of technology and scientific excellence.

Meanwhile, the IPICYT is also seeking to develop its international links and attract further foreign investment. Of the 121 projects the institute undertook between January and September 2019, 66 were funded externally across its five divisions: molecular biology, applied mathematics, environmental sciences, applied geoscience and advanced material studies. Five of these were undertaken with international financing, with the institution seeking further links to foreign direct investment in the future.

Dual Education

The most common request from big businesses is the development of human capital, and the arrival of global players in San Luis Potosí has heightened demand for highly skilled graduates to join the workforce, according to Inserra of the IPICYT. “One of the challenges to developing local capacity in education is that big companies arriving in San Luis Potosí tend to bring their own research departments with them or subcontract only a small share of the local population,” he told OBG.

As such, the state administration has been a keen proponent of the dual education model, which sets students up to work with a company as part of their study programme. Through this model 483 students graduated with dual degrees between 2015 and 2019. There were 791 dual education students in the state as of 2019 and 64 businesses participating in the model, up from eight companies during the 2014-15 academic year. Viramontes sees potential in the dual education model, as “it creates links with a brand or company from early in the career cycle so that by the time a student graduates they can be employed by the business and they have already undergone basic training”.

US automotive manufacturer Ford was expected to participate in the dual education scheme, however, in January 2017 it pulled out of a $1.6bn investment in San Luis Potosí (see Automotive analysis). Another carmaker, Germany’s BMW, opened a production plant in the state in June 2019. Under the dual education model, BMW has cooperated with the Technological University of San Luis Potosí since 2015 to train apprentices to work at its facility.

According to Inserra, if San Luis Potosí can continue to combine the multitude of comparative advantages the region holds – such as its proximity to industry for the promotion of dual education – with strong inter-sectoral cooperation, then the outlook for academia in the state will be positive.

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The Report: Mexico 2019

San Luis Potosí chapter from The Report: Mexico 2019

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