The machine for the production of scientists and science

Three apparently indirectly related news items motivated these lines. Not too long ago the magazine Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific publications in the world, published an article where it affirmed that Cuban science can be “Global.” On Wednesday it was published in Cuba that UNESCO is forecasting a deficit of teachers worldwide for the next decade. But in September of this year, when the school year was inaugurated in Cuba, it was also announced that we already have a deficit of teachers.

The “machine for the production of scientists,” a decisive part of the “science-making machine,” which has been one of the best achieved creations of the Cuban socialist project since 1959, is today facing practically unprecedented challenges.

It’s not that we didn’t have important scientists before 1959. It would be false to affirm something like this, but what we did not have before that year was a system capable of massively producing high-quality scientists.

The University we have today is the direct product, but evolved, of the University Reform approved on January 10, 1962, a reform carried out to put that University inherited from the underdeveloped capitalism in tune with the development effort the country needed. Two of our country’s personalities very linked to the economy, Regino Boti and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, together with another, very close to education and culture, Armando Hart, were responsible for this task. What we have today in terms of science has there one of its causal factors.

The change was radical; from barely three higher education institutions in the country to more than 50 universities and several other dozens of municipal centers. From a small group of careers that barely responded to Cuba’s development needs to a University that assumed as one of its principal missions the formation of top-level specialists. From barely a couple of research centers to more than 200.

Producing science and producing scientists is perhaps the longest of all the harvests. Planting takes place 25 years before, in the primary schools. The “planters,” the primary education teachers, “produce” the miracle of making us fall in love with science. When that first link of the “productive chain” fails, we collect its harmful effects many years later and the negative impact on our society and on our productive system is incalculable.

The end of this first stage culminates in the universities and research centers. For that moment it is decisive to have highly qualified professors and researchers, Doctors in Sciences, with international experience. Cuba got to have an impressive plant of university professors and researchers. Our capacity to “produce science producers” was perhaps the most important of all the productive capacities created in these last 50 years.

This entire leap was possible because we had had a long-term vision about the role of science in the country’s future development. Fidel Castro’s famous phrase that the future should be that of a country of men of science had as correlate a policy that generated the centers and universities, in addition to dignifying the “trade,” in the moral (status) as well as in the material (wage).

The result can still be seen today when the wage differences make a university degree barely have a significant impact on the amount of the wage. For our families it is still a “value” that their children have a university degree. In fact, when we speak of the advantages that Cuba offers foreign investors we affirm, with no fear of being mistaken, that having a highly “educated” (a term quite different from “qualified”) workforce is one (and perhaps in this case, the most important) of the advantages that Cuba can offer.

But everything has changed: the world, science itself, the ventures and also Cuba.

We are in the face of a fourth Industrial Revolution that is changing the paradigms of science as we know it today and with this also the paradigm of the learning and education needs. The world is demanding more than a reform of the universities, a revolution of university education that accompanies, promotes, boosts this new Industrial Revolution.

While access to the Internet makes access to specific contents of each one of the sciences increasingly irrelevant, that same “technological revolution” makes the dominion of the abilities to “resolve problems” decisive.

“Teaching to learn” is also a key matter, because the borders between sciences, in that classic style in which we knew them, are disappearing. The university professors will have to transform themselves more and more into “mentors.”

The University as a major promoter of innovation, as a “factory” of innovators in all the fields of science, as a great incubator of ventures (the term understood in its essential sense, that of venturing) will have to go hand in hand with that other function, the one of forming responsible and committed professionals who will contribute to boosting the sciences. And without science there will be no development.

The other part of the science-making machine is in the ventures. It is one of its final targets, but at the same time has become one of its principal driving forces.

If the ventures are not capable of turning the science products into goods and services that improve the quality of life of human beings, then all the previous work has no sense. If the regulations do not boost, promote, certify, encourage entrepreneurs to have, know, use, the results of science, then 20 years of investment in forming persons will have gone down the drain.

The Global Report on the Perspectives of KPMG High-Ranking Executives (2016) points out that 41% of the surveyed high-ranking executives consider that in the next three years their companies must make significant changes, 77% considers that explicitly including innovation in their strategies is determinant in the future success and 77% of them are also worried about their company’s capacity to maintain-safeguard the new technologies.

Fifty percent of those entrepreneurs consider they will have to face an important skill gap in the principal functions of the companies they manage, while 99% of them consider the development of talent as a priority for their company’s future.

In the Cuban business sector we can barely find innovations that end up as new products. Our product export core continues depending on first generation industrialization products, except for biotechnology and oil by-products. Just in the services sector, thanks to the “science producing machine” we have achieved the export of medical services that have made it possible to balance our current account.

Cuba complies with that double condition that is so rare, being an underdeveloped country with a theoretically significant human capital. It is the result of a planting made 40 years ago. But today’s talent is as sought, or more, than oil.

The wealthy countries design strategies to “appropriate” the talent created by any country, from policies that encourage selective immigration to “scouting” work to localize “outstanding talent.” To be in tune with these times, with those tendencies, to be proactive, is always better than being forced to be reactive.

It’s no secret that today we are facing a multiple drain of created talent. Scholarship programs like World Learning or other political schemes like the so-called “Parole” for Cuban physicians who abandon official missions, also contribute to the drain. But the exodus of professionals is very associated to our own inadequacies, to the slowness in adopting proactive policies that allow us to keep, produce and reproduce talent.

Some policies have been adopted, but they are insufficient and slow for the speed these times require.

The mobility of one sector to the other of our economy, sacrificing qualification for wages in posts of less added value, the systematic and fast loss in recent years of university professors, the natural aging of the teaching staff and the gap between the new generation of professors and researchers and the preceding generations, are the consequences of that relative inertia, of a lack of updating in the thinking about the “science producing machine.”

Having a good “factory” for the production of science and scientists that adds value to the natural talent of the sapiens cubanensis seems to be an unavoidable challenge for the future development of the country. But “workers” are needed for that factory.

The one we had, the one we created in the 1960s, has deteriorated in the last 20 years. The demands of the current conditions of our country, the tendencies of science, the technology and the economy in the world, more than a repair of what we had demands a revolution to create what we need.

If the policies do not promote the creation of jobs and new businesses in sectors of greater added value with the participation of all the agents and forms of ownership that allow for a better use with advantage of those created capacities, the “social cost” will not be able to be paid.

If the policies do not give greater autonomy and decision-making capacity to our entrepreneurs to make good use of the results of that special factory, and they do not generate sufficient incentives for them to do so, if those policies do not rescue the moral and material status of the “workers” of the “factory for the production of science and scientists” then we will lose what was once a competitive advantage created by the Revolution.

History is written every day. Living off of history leads to ostracism and complacency, learning from it to transform reality leads us to the future.


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