Latin America ‘needs targeted and collaborative research’

Universities operating in difficult environments can have more of an impact by pooling resources, summit hears

July 5, 2023
South American connections illustrating connections between national university systems
Source: iStock

Scarce resources and fraught political climates require Latin American universities to be selective in the research they conduct and they should target areas where they can make the most difference, according to Mexico’s most cited researcher.

Guillermo Torre-Amione, vice-president of research at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, known as Tec, said commonalities could be found across the region, with many institutions dealing with populist governments, underfunding of science and animosity between private and public education.

He told Times Higher Education’s Latin America Universities Summit that many universities operating in such “difficult” environments should ask themselves why they want to do research and, for him, a “simple answer” was that it fosters a culture of innovation within the university.

Tec made a commitment a few years ago to significantly invest in research, he explained, to both play a role in solving the greatest problems of humanity but also because it “makes the education process better”, something he saw as a “fundamental justification” for investing in research.

He explained that Tec has prioritised three areas for its own research; the future of education, health – in particular the country’s obesity pandemic – and skills training to service its “nearshoring” boom.

“We may not solve these problems tomorrow but we clearly want to make an impact,” said the cardiologist, who, during the pandemic, led the clinical trials of the mRNA vaccine manufactured by CureVac.

“To do that we call for researchers to have actionable solutions. We not only want to answer questions but we want that question to translate into a solution; that may be a policy, it may be building a business or forming a partnership with a business to develop research opportunities.”

“Resisting the urge to do more” was a big part of the process, Dr Torre-Amione said, and “writing papers for writing’s sake has no purpose” but universities should instead seek to create a culture of impactful research.

Funding remained an issue and it was therefore important to foster close ties with businesses in the area but again it was important to focus on creating “truly great projects” otherwise no money would be forthcoming.

Other panellists said that the level of collaboration between universities was still lacking in Latin America, compared with other continents.

Javier Páez Saavedra, the director of research at the University of the North, Colombia said initiatives such as Horizon Europe had fostered partnerships between European and Latin American universities but there were no similar initiatives solely for the continent itself.

Fátima Nunes, a computer science professor at the University of São Paulo, agreed that universities had often been better at forming ties with those in the global north than those in countries on their doorstep.

“I think we have to make agreements between our countries to solve the common problems...and put together the excellent research we have here in Latin America.”

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