Entrepreneurial reform gets to scientific sphere

The government is undertaking the reorganisation of a sector in which it has traditionally pinned great hopes but which has provided it with patent benefits.

The biotechnological centres are among the best trained for a transition to entrepreneurial forms.

A few days ago new laws came to light in Cuba, in another attempt to reorganise a sector that has absorbed substantial resources but has not met all the hopes that at some time were pinned on it. With the explicit aim of turning science and technology into a more effective factor for development, the government approved a decree law and three resolutions, published last August 29 in the Gazeta Oficial Extraordinaria.

Researchers have scored relevant points on an international level in areas like biotechnology and genetic engineering, but the authorities are not satisfied with the destination of the general work of the country’s numerous scientific centres. “An analysis determined that the number of these entities does not correspond to the levels of application of science and their impact on development,” the daily Granma recognised when presenting these legal regulations.

Decree Law 323, signed by President Raúl Castro, approves the rules of the game for using with greater “rationality” those resources and recognises the need for “achieving a more integral and economically sustainable management of science, technology and innovation.”

In November 2012 the government had taken a previous step when it created the BioCubaFarma Business Group. Through the merging of the biotechnological centres with the medical pharmaceutical industry it sought a more effective closer linking of innovation and production. But evidently it was not sufficient. A wide range of scientific institutions were waiting for a restructuring that would lead to a closer connection between research and development (R+D).

The results of the Cuban scientific centres “have not always been oriented at resolving the country’s fundamental problems or have not been well considered for the benefitting potentials,” said the principal official newspaper of the Caribbean nation. “And, contradictorily, the technical and agricultural sciences have not been the most favoured, even though they are the ones that should have the greatest impact on our development.”

There are 232 science and innovation entities in the country. In addition to the 20 working under the umbrella of BioCubaFarma, another 44 are grouped under the Public Health Ministry, 33 under the Higher Education Ministry and 19 are dedicated to research under the Agriculture Ministry.

Despite the spread of those institutions in the agricultural field, this sector’s production has been dragging a marked deficit in its yields and harvests due to the poor application of technological and scientific breakthroughs. It is probably the best evidence of the distance existing between research and innovation on the one hand and production on the other.

According to Decree Law 323, the restructuring points to “the creation, merging, division, transfer and extinction of the science, technology and innovation entities,” according to a group of requirements and missions established for those institutions.

Perhaps the most daring step, and potentially controversial, of the reorganisation is to extend the entrepreneurial conception to the scientific sector, financed until now by 97.5 percent of the State Budget. “The science, technology and innovation entities that contribute their results to the production of goods and services will form part of the entrepreneurial system in as many cases as possible,” Decree Law 323 stipulates.

Science, Technology and Environment Deputy Minister José Fidel Santana Núñez said to the Cuban press that the process hopes to give “rationality and economic sustainability” to the sector, but “always defending the work of the scientist, the researcher, the highly qualified staff, as well as all the projects prioritised for the country’s development.”

The government admits that recognition of the activity of science, technology and innovation has been insufficient, in the moral as well as the economic aspect.

Santana reported that at present work is underway in the creation of the procedures that will enable the entities and staff that work in these activities to participate in the economic benefits generated by the application of the results of their researches.

The proposals can be tempting in spheres like medicine, biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, which a few years ago incorporated to Cuba’s exports, for the first time ever, an offer of services and products with a high technological value. But it could also put on the ropes scientific institutions whose usefulness has traditionally been hindered by the lack of motivation of the producers or final beneficiaries. (2014)

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