Mexico shows big is not always better

May 23, 1997

A NEW research centre in Mexico City has been asked to investigate the relationship between students' study habits and their exam results.

In a country where libraries are inadequate, books are expensive and students frequently live in overcrowded conditions with their families, study distractions are continual and difficult to avoid.

The investigation is just one of a number of projects being undertaken at the new Center for Economic, Administrative and Social Research (CIECAS), which opened in April.

Given the history of Mexico's National Polytechnic Institute, it is not surprising that it has set up a centre of this nature.

Founded in 1936 (a year commemorated in Mexico for reforms such as the nationalisation of the country's abundant oil resources), the institute has specialised in the applied sciences, training many of the country's engineers, technicians and other professionals for work in the state-owned oil, petrochemical, rail and electricity industries.

The institute's direct and technical relationship with Mexico's economic development has not disappeared with privatisation and free trade, but has taken new forms. CIECAS is a good example of this change in direction.

With only six full-time research staff CIECAS is small, but its structure allows it to take on research projects far greater than its size.

All research is contracted by clients and CIECAS has a port-folio of the curriculum vitaes of economists, sociologists and specialists in the field of administration who would undertake research when work is available. With this low-overheads philo-sophy CIECAS is expected to be 50 per cent self-financing within two years.

CIECAS director Alfredo Tajonar Cifrante says that the centre's already-full research load is due to the wide range of research topics it can take on and its competitiveness in terms of cost and time.

Research is tax deductible for companies, and the majority of CIECAS research is oriented to making recommendations which, if carried out, would lead to greater efficiency and would therefore be cost-effective in the future, says the director, who is himself an ex-banker.

Until now CIECAS has undertaken research into the future of maquiladora industries in the state of Chihuahua, and made proposals to improve service industries in one of Mexico City's most densely populated municipalities.

The municipality, close to the city's historic centre, houses Mexico City's only international airport and three of the biggest markets in Latin America. Apart from being colourful and congested, the markets provide around 100,000 direct jobs and sell basic products to the poor who come from up to 30 miles away to do their shopping.

Other research undertaken includes feasibility studies on possible productive activities for Mexico's native Indians, and proposals for a fund-raising strategy for Mexican charities.

However, it can be expected that the bulk of CIECAS's research in the future will be about economic forecasting and econometric modelling.

CIECAS has formed links with CAPEM Oxford Economic Forecasting and applies the London Business School's "bench-marking" model, which evaluates the world's most efficient and productive companies.

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