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‘Science Can Help to Bring Countries Together in Different Ways’

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Jonathan Linton
Jonathan Linton
Professor Jonathan Linton, Power Corporation Professor for the Management of Technological Enterprise of the University of Ottawa, Canada, and Editor-in-Chief of the ‘Technovation‘ journal spoke on ‘Centers of Excellence. Research Strategy and Portfolio Planning’ at the XIV HSE April International Aca­demic Conference on Economic and Social Development. He gave a special interview to the HSE news service.

— How can Foresight and Roadmapping contribute to university and public research institution management?

— The purpose of Foresight and Roadmapping is to understand what the barriers are to opportunities in the future, in market areas or in different areas of technology. Interestingly it’s typically not been used in a university environment. It is more often found in think tanks, research institutes and private research labs.

The HSE’s strong capabilities in Foresight and Roadmapping allow its faculty and staff to provide advice more directly to industry and government than a lot of universities do. The HSE is one of a small group of universities with this valuable capability.

— Are there comparable situation in North America?

— In North America, Roadmapping and Foresight is used in corporations. The government hasn’t gone into this area much. In North America, the business schools typically avoid Foresight and Roadmapping as they focus on tools and approaches that do not focus on the management of technology. Engineering schools rarely see instruction in foresight or roadmapping as part of their mission. Consequently, these tools are often overlooked in North American Universities – as they do not clearly fit within a specific department or faculty.

In fact in North America training of Research & Development (R&D) managers has too much technical content for Business Schools and too much managerial content for faculties of pure and applied sciences. Consequently, there are very few organizations – private or public that have programmes to train R&D managers. This is a serious barrier as managers of small companies will typically say ‘Before we hire PhD scientists, we need an R&D manager’. Governments increasingly recognize this skill gap. However, the disciplinary-structure of universities discourage the development of this kind of training. This adds to the gap in Foresight and Roadmapping skills in the workforce. This gap is significant in North America and - except for HSE – there appears to be a similar gap in Russia as well. This gap is common for most or possibly all economies.

— What are the critical factors for making international scientific cooperation successful?

— One needs support at the top and at the bottom. Very often you see cooperation agreements signed by governments and/or universities but there are no links at the working level for scientific cooperation. The working links are critical as well as the links at the senior level. For example if the support is not given at top levels, funding will not be allowed for cooperation with other countries or there may be funding from one country but it requires early commitment of funds from another country. Rules can quickly create barriers and bureaucracy that prevents cooperation.

Barriers to cooperation in science are unfortunate as cooperation can help by leveraging resources and bring countries together in other ways. The trick is avoiding barriers. Academics are looking for partners and they will work with the best people they can find unless barriers make it difficult to do so. It’s much easier to collaborate with people in different countries than it was years ago because of inexpensive communication technology, like Skype for example.

— Which initiatives would you welcome and support to strengthen cooperation between HSE and Ottawa University?

— My cooperation with the HSE started last year when I delivered a lecture on ‘Real Options as Decision Support for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy’ organized by the Research Laboratory for Economics of Innovation, at the HSE Institute for Statistical Studies and Economics of Knowledge. Thanks to technology I was able to deliver the lecture from the University in Ottawa to students in Moscow and on other HSE campuses in Russia. There was a tricky situation with the different schedules of daylight-saving time in Russia and Canada but we managed to overcome it and I gave the lecture on time.

The April conference is a great opportunity to meet people and establish working relations. The more opportunities there are for making contacts the more likely research collaborations can grow and develop further. You need to interact frequently to develop productive relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight. For international collaboration to flourish, Universities need to encourage wider and deeper relations. Otherwise, when a single researcher retires long term collaboration between two institutions can stop suddenly.

There are many opportunities for collaboration between Canada and Russia. The countries are both large and sparsely populated. Consequently, telecommunication and logistics are two areas of common interest. The economic important of natural resources for both countries is another area of similarity. Finally, Canada and Russia share concerns in terms of climate and arctic issues.

— How can we steer and evaluate Centres of Excellence and Universities?

Canada is at core a very egalitarian country. Consequently, many Canadians feel that the focus should not be on centres of excellence, but excellence being widely distributed. Consequently, Canada funds all universities at a similar level. This is very different from some other countries. For example in our neighbor America, there is a tremendous disparity in the budget of well funded and poorly funded Universities. Hence, in Canada the focus is more on networks of excellence – rather than specific centres of excellence. This is one of the ways that the Canadian and American Universities differ from each other in terms of both research and education.

It is possible to make an argument that one system is better than the other. My feeling is that it is good that different countries pursue different systems. Having been a Professor in both American and Canadian systems, I appreciate the strengths and advantages that both systems offer.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service


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