High-tech Development and the University

According to the 2001 U.N. Human Development Report, "Making New Technologies Work for Human Development," the high-tech development sector is still dominated by countries in the West. Some East European countries the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary are rapidly catching their western counterparts. Other countries including those with relatively high completion rates for basic schooling but still low university completion rates (as occurs in East Europe) still lag behind in technology.

Is the percentage of university graduates the key to fueling high-tech development? Is this why countries such as the United States, one of the world's leaders in per-capita university graduation, excel while other countries lag? Or is capital the real key?

The Driving Role of Research and Development in High-Tech Development

It has been argued that research, not demand, was for some time the key to spread of computer networking and electronic communication. Van Den Ende and Dolsma (2002) argue that the internet would have been in demand before the 1990s and perhaps before the 1960s had it existed, but its development had to be preceded by the development of packet switching, hypertext, and extensive local networks in businesses.

Research has certainly been essential, and the University, with its relation to research, clearly has a role in high-tech development. In many less-developed nations, including those in North Africa, the level of research or government support may still control the level of technological development with demand playing a more limited role.

The U.N. Human Development Report on Technology and University Graduation Rates

A comparison of data from the United Nations (2001) Human Development Report and data on educational attainment at Allcountries.org suggests that countries ranking the most highly in technology were those where at least twelve percent young people completed University studies.

The U.N. Human Development Report categorized countries' technological development considering such factors as diffusion of the internet, per capita receipt of royalty and patent fees, diffusion of telephone and electric connections, as well as the supply-side factor of enrollment ratios in science/mathematics/engineering at the tertiary level and total years of schooling.

Twelve Percent University Graduates: A Threshold?

Finland, a country where post-secondary vocational study was more popular than university study in 1998, received the top rating of 0.74. Finland however was followed immediately by the United States , the country with the largest percentage of students completing university education according to 1998 census data , which received a rating of 0.73. (Note: as of 2006, Canada awarded the highest number of university degrees according to some data.)

In Japan and Canada, also highly ranked according to the U.N. report,18% to 19% of the population held university qualifications in 1998, while a large number held other tertiary that is vocational qualifications instead. France where 1998 university graduation rates exceeded 20% is likewise high on the U.N. list.

Nevertheless, the high rankings of Germany, Finland, and Sweden, countries where only 13% to 14% of the population received a university education according to the 1998 data(another 9% to 17% received post-secondary vocational schooling and certifications) suggests that just around twelve percent university graduates may be the threshold for fueling high-tech development.

With education itself composing twenty-five percent of the U.N. score, it's of course impossible to give an exact appraisal of its relationship to technological development. Nevertheless, a country's having at least twelve percent university graduates seems to be associated with the development of its high-tech sector, which – in a sort of "Catch 22" scenario – includes the university sector. One possible explanation is that the percentage of tertiary qualifications is associated with the capital necessary to fuel technological innovation. However, universities and research may to some extent still drive technology.

According to a December, 2005 report for the European Commission by Otero and McCoshan, tiny increases in spending – as little as 1% of a nation's GDP – are sufficient to fuel development of the university sector. Unfortunately 1% of the GDP may be a lot for poor nations.
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