Mexican vista

December 8, 2016

Writing from another Centre of Advanced Research in Mexico City, I share with Carolina Guzmán-Valenzuela the preoccupation of how to strengthen science in Latin America (“How to make Latin America’s universities stronger”, 1 December). Guzmán-Valenzuela is right to point out the low investment in research and development in the region; one should also examine the political decision-making over resource allocations.

However, the usefulness of consulting rankings or publishing in leading journals is questionable. Take, for instance, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. UNAM has numerous institutes conducting high-level research. When I compare UNAM’s ranking with that of a UK institution that I have worked at, I can hardly contain my incredulity.

Likewise, publishing in leading journals should be looked at with caution. Not only is there a language barrier in terms of English being the standard for scientific papers, there are also very few prestigious publishers that do not have close ties and partnerships with industries, governments and institutions, none of which are from Latin America.

Brazil benefited from public investment in science, and the results were spectacular. However, politics have already reversed the situation. Interestingly, it was the national petrol industry that was attacked first. In Mexico, the same has just occurred: Pemex has been opened up to competitors from wealthier economies. The argument is that science requires technology; technology can be generated or bought; as long as Latin America is a buyer and not a producer of technology, its higher education sector will remain inferior.


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