Ministers call for science link-ups

October 6, 1995

Science ministers from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development held decisive talks on internationalising science policy in Paris last week.

Jo Ritzen, Netherlands minister of education, culture and science and meeting chairman said that ministers from member and observer states acknowledged that structures were too often national and resources needed to be pooled even though science by its nature was international.

The final communique called for a re-assessment of the role of the universities, the core of the science system in most countries, and the balance between their traditional knowledge production and knowledge transmission functions and the relatively novel knowledge-transfer function.

"Few of us would agree that the (higher education) system is `medieval', but we did agree that present systems of education have to be questioned with regards to their flexibility and to outside developments," said Mr Ritzen.

The post-Berlin Wall era has been a "determining factor" in opening up scientific co-operation, noted Mr Ritzen. Ministers from Russia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech and Slovak Republics attended the meeting as observers.

Although the ministers did not decide on any follow-up, Japan proposed that a conference on human resources be held in Japan as part of the Megascience Forum, established following the OECD science ministers' meeting in 1992.

The final communique said the ministers "recalled the need to maintain the essential social function of universities to conduct research that has no visible immediate relevance, and to provide a broad-based education to an increasing number of citizens".

John Gibbons, assistant to the United States president for science and technology argued that such open-ended fundamental research had "an early pay-off" as well as potential long-term returns.

"Exciting research at the very frontiers of knowledge is the very sorts of activity that draws the best, most creative young minds - and that is an early pay-off in that it creates new and very well-trained scientists and engineers," he said.

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