Role of Education, Science and Technology in Developing Countries

A. Bilsel and Ö. Oral
Eastern Mediterranean University
Gazimagusa, North Cyprus (via Mersin 10, Turkey)


This paper emphasizes the importance of a science policy which assigns the highest priority to stimulating and supporting science education and research. The impact of such a policy on economic growth is discussed, and in this context, the policies of developed and developing countries are compared. Strategies and policies for developing countries are compared. Strategies and policies for developing countries are recommended. The state of engineering education in Turkey is summarized and compared with the American curriculum, as exemplified by electrical engineering.


There are significant social and economic differences between developed and developing countries. Many of the underlying causes of these differences are rooted in the long history of development of such nations and include social, cultural and economic variables, historical and political elements, international relations, geographical factors. These, however, do not tell the whole story. The differences in the scientific and technological infrastructure and in the popularization of science and technology in the two groups of countries are the most important causes of differential social and economical levels. An essential prerequisite to a country's technological progress is early recognition of necessity of a good educational system. This was one of the key factors that contributed to Japan's economic success [1]. The role of Technion, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute in Israel's rapid development cannot be underestimated [2], [3].

In this paper we shall emphasize the impact of scientific and technological infrastructure on economical growth of developed and developing countries. Recommendations for developing countries on necessary policies that they should implement will be discussed. The state of engineering education in Turkish universities will be summarized and compared with the American curricula.

Science and Technology in Developed and Developing Countries.

As Abdus Salam, the Nobel Laureate in physics in 1979 observes, in the final analysis it is basically mastery and utilisation of modern science and technology that distinguishes the South from the North [4].

Some developing countries have made important contributions to the development of science and technology in the past and some even served as the cradle of human civilization. But the flowering of science and technology that began in Europe in the 17th century was used to advantage by only a relatively small group of nations [5]. This situation created not only a difference in material aspects of cultures, but also a difference in the social climate of the two groups of countries. The practical use of science through technology created the climate for ever increasing emphasis on the pursuit of science and education in developed countries, where funding scientific enterprises is widely accepted as a vital and long-term investment. For example, federal funding alone provided for non-defense basic and applied research in the States, was $7.9 billion in 1985-and more than half of this kind of support is given to the universities [6]. Contributions of industry to national expenditures on research and development are about twice this amount [7].

Today, in developed countries basic and applied scientific research is

an essential investment in the long-term welfare [8]. In the universities, they assign highest priority to stimulating and nurturing scientific and technical talent, and to the concomitant training of students. What is emerging from this priority is the close association of education and economical growth. Accelerating the rate of growth and rate of productivity can basically be accomplished by stimulating and supporting scientific education in universities.

Salam [9] states that science in developing countries has been treated as a ``marginal activity'' and perceived even as an ``ornament.'' Indeed, most of the developing countries do not realize that their situation can only be rectified with the infusion of modern science and technology into their societies. Although some of the developing countries are aware of the importance of science and technology, this awareness does not necessarily make it easy to develop, and popularize science. Inadequate scientific infrastructure is a critical factor which creates strong barriers to the path of advancement in developing countries.

The critical size of human resources and infrastructure, and the amount of investments in these areas, illustrates how science and technology are of neglected importance in developing countries. Industry and universities in Turkey face shortages of researchers-10 for every 100,000 of population compared with 280 in US, 240 in Japan, 150 in Germany, 140 in the UK [8]. In 1984, in Turkey non-defence research expenditures were 0.20%of GNP [10], while in the US they were 2.74%, 2.65%in Japan, and 2.54 %in Germany [8]. Thus, developing countries have principal shortcomings in their funding and supporting scientific infrastructure.

Another indicator of how science is of neglected importance in developing countries is that most of these countries fail to stress that, for long term effectiveness, technology transfer should always be accompanied by science transfer. From the simplest to the most highly complex industrial products are based upon the rapid advances and accumulation of scientific knowledge in various related areas.

Compared to technologists, economists, and planners, the extent to which scientists are allowed to play a role in nation building is another important problem. Few developing countries have formulated such a policy of allowing scientists to play their roles [11].

In summary, the social and economic growth of the developed countries is dependent on an essential emphasis on education, science, and technology. The basic problems of developing countries are the weak educational and scientific infrastructure, and a lack of appreciation of the importance of science as an essential ingredient of economical and social development.

Strategies and Policies for Developing Countries

Modern science permeates every aspect of economic and social life. For this reason education, research and technology as instruments for accelerating development should receive special attention in national planning in the developing countries.

One of the major factors for marginal science and technology development in the most developing countries is the lack of planning and management of these activities. Thus far, only a few developing countries have attempted to formulate and adopt a national policy [11], [12].

In order to make a realistic plan, not only a vision, but also scientific leadership, and investment in scientific enterprise both by government and private sectors are required. Short-term financial considerations in investment decisions, that have been observed so far in developing countries, will always be more costly and time consuming.

The institutions for scientific education and research oriented, professors, well-equipped laboratories, modern libraries and archives within these institutions, constitute the minimum requirements of a scientific infrastructure any developing country must provide for. In order to establish this infrastructure then, the support and funding for universities should be increased.

The science policy in a developing country should be determined in collaboration with the government, universities and industry. This collaboration should take into account technological needs, resources and practises. For this purpose, government efforts must be addressed to establish an industry-university cooperation to communicate technological advances to potential users.

As Salam [9] says, developing countries which plan to have a rapid economic growth, should first consider if they have provided ideal opportunities for their high-level scientists and nurtured their talents for the nations' well-being. Furthermore, these countries must ensure the economic and social well-being of their scientist and provide an attractive and well equipped research environment to their migration to countries with enriched scientific and social opportunities. Science and technology based industry should be identified as a major source of economic growth and a means of addressing important social problems as well.

In conclusion, developing countries should be committed to retaining high-level scientists, stimulating them, and providing funds and other support to encourage and maintain their productivity.

Engineering Education at Turkish Universities

Higher education in Turkey is developing very rapidly. The average annual growth rate of students in higher education in Turkey during the period 1980-85 was one of the highest in the world: 14.1%as compared with 7.8%in Canada, 5.0%in the UK, 1.4%in Italy, 0.2%in the US, -0.2%in Hungary, and -5.3%in Poland [13].

The number of students enrolled in engineering is high: 18.33%of the total enrollment as compared to 8.20%in Italy, 7.90%in Austria, and 3.29%in France. The relatively low enrollment in natural sciences, mathematics and computer science, however, reflects the ``marginal activity,'' attitude of developing countries: 5.46%as compared to 15.58%in France, 10.10%in Italy and 9.20%in Austria [13].

Turkish universities require four years of study for the completion of an undergraduate degree in engineering. Turkish industries expect engineering graduates to have the current know-how to solve immediate problems. This expectation is often reflected in university curricula: there is a tendency to teach as many courses as possible in the core subject. As a result, the total credit-hour requirement is considerably higher than that required at American universities. The mean number of credit-hours required for the BS degree in Electrical engineering at eight established engineering schools (Bilkent, Bogaziçi, Çukurova, Technical University of Istanbul, Karadeniz, Middle East Technical University, Selçuk, and Uludag) is 161.3. It ranges between 146 and 211. According to the results of a recent questionnaire completed by 125 electrical engineering departments in the States, the mean number of credit hours required for the BS degree in American universities is 133.5 [14].

The mean number of semester credit-hours of electrical engineering courses required by Turkish universities is 100.9. The range is between 77 and 166. Even at the three universities known to be closest to the `American model' the number of required electrical engineering credit hours is high: Bogaziçi 77, Bilkent 78, Middle East Technical 83. The corresponding mean number of required credit hours at American universities is almost half of this: 52.9 [14].

The emphasis on mathematics and basic sciences (with the exception of chemistry) is strong. The mean number of mathematics credit-hours is 22.7, compared to 17.8 at American universities. The mean number of required physics credit-hours (11.9) is higher than the American mean (10.9). The chemistry mean (3.9) is, however, lower than the American mean (5.1) [15].

The increase in the number of core subject courses in Engineering curricula has occurred at the expense of general liberal arts education courses. Thus, for example, the mean number of credit-hours in general humanities courses available to engineering students in Turkish universities is 3.8, as compared to 18 credit-hours in American universities. This presents another dilemma which must be resolved for the university in a developing country, if the aesthetic, psychological, sociological, and other cultural relations and consequences of scientific and technological development are to be taken into account.


In developing countries economic growth can mainly be enhanced by a science and technology policy. However, science and technology can play their role in development only when the integrity of the whole enterprise-research institutions, universities, publications research priorities and emphasis and the education of creative scientists, as well as those active in science is preserved. Thus, the simplest strategy in developing countries is first of all, to increase the percentage of GNP that is to be devoted to universities and research institutions.

Developing countries should understand the fact that perceiving investment in sciences as a time-consuming, wasteful and costly activity will bring further limitations on their economic growth.

In conclusion we believe with Salam [4] that it is a political decision on the part of those who decide on the future of developing countries to take proper steps toward creating, mastering and utilizing the resources of science and technology.


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Mon Oct 2 14:19:56 PDT 1995