Interview: Alberto Edgardo Barbieri
How can the link between universities and businesses be strengthened in Argentina?
ALBERTO EDGARDO BARBIERI: The role of universities is essential not only in spreading knowledge, but in creating knowledge through the promotion and implementation of scientific research. However, in Argentina we have experienced a slight decline in this regard over recent decades as a result of lower investment in research and development (R&D).
The government is, and has been, responsible for the vast majority of such investment; the private sector only represents 15-20% of the total, whereas in countries like the US and Japan, this percentage is nearly 80%. It will take a long time to change this investment mix, so for the time being Argentina needs to depend on government spending to advance science, technology and innovation.
The current challenge is how to monetise scientific research projects and transfer the created knowledge into a productive economy. Essential steps have already been made in this direction, for example, through the National Scientific and Technical Research Council. For our part, we have a specific organisation created in collaboration with the City of Buenos Aires, the Unión Industrial Argentina and the Confederación General de la Industria with the goal of strengthening the link between the state, businesses and academia in order to turn our scientific research into greater economic growth.
To what extent do local universities need greater integration with the region and the world?
BARBIERI: In a globalised world, Argentina’s universities need greater international exposure for the benefit of all stakeholders – graduates, postgraduates, professors and administrators.
But we also ought to strengthen the local knowledge base and capitalise on our strengths to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world.
The top-three universities in Latin America are in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, and there are great opportunities for stronger integration. The areas for strategic collaboration are significant, spanning energy projects, health treatment and prevention systems, and smart city applications.
Students should also have access to international educational experiences, with opportunities to study abroad, which are vital to prepare them for global exposure in their professional careers. We are aware of this need and have particular scholarships in place, such as UBAI nt, which allows students to attend any university from a list of 25 worldwide.
Language skills are another key area to develop. If we consider the importance of English and Chinese in the world economy today, we have to ensure our students learn not only the languages, but also the cultures and related business practices.
What measures are needed to meet growing demand for engineers in Argentina?
BARBIERI: The demand for engineers in Argentina is so great that companies even hire students who have not yet completed their studies. The financial offers are so attractive that some students prefer not to graduate and instead enter the labour market right away. We believe this is a mistake, and we need to take strong action to reverse the situation. Over the past few years, engineering has been the fastest-growing career field in terms of the percentage of student applications, meaning that in five to 10 years we will have enough newly graduated engineers to meet the country’s needs.
In the meantime, all education sector stakeholders in Argentina should join in efforts to design a long-term educational strategy to develop local talent in other important fields, such as bio- and nanotechnology, agriculture, energy and mining – sectors in which Argentina can become a global powerhouse.
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