There has been significant cross-fertilization between scientific research, technological innovation and commercial exploitation of research results. Moreover, the institutional settings for the conduct of basic research, applied research, and the development of new products and processes are experiencing significant changes, particularly because of shifts in the sources of funding and a more prominent role for the private sector. Links between universities and industries are being strengthened, collaborative industrial research and technological alliances have become an imperative in certain fields, and venture capital firms and some specialized government agencies are playing an increasingly important role in providing capital for new technology business.
However, these very mechanisms have also become the Achilles' heel for the developing countries. The closer links between scientific capacity, developments in technology and economic growth, the increasing costs of scientific research, the emergence of new transdisciplinary fields, and the growing complexity of the institutional setting for the conduct of research are making it more difficult for them to push quickly towards the frontiers of knowledge and take advantage of scientific and technological advances. At the same time, the slow-down in the rates of economic growth, the severe resource constraints and the growing social demands are undermining the long-term efforts required to build scientific and technological capabilities in developing countries.
The nature of the innovation process has also changed significantly, particularly in science-intensive industries. It has acquired a more complex character, becoming more expensive, involving greater sophistication in management techniques, intensifying both international collaboration and competition, and enlarging the role of governments in the support of innovation. As a result, the costs of incorporating research results into productive and service activities, and of bringing new products to the market, have been steadily increasing during the past few decades. In addition, a well developed physical infrastructure is required to support innovation, including a good network of roads and transport facilities, telecommunications and data transmission networks, reliable electricity supply, access to waste disposal facilities, and clean water supply. These requirements, coupled with the higher costs of innovation and the larger risks faced by firms in a more competitive environment, have in effect increased barriers to entry in many fields of industry.
The above impediments aside, in the transition to the twenty-first century, the building of an appropriate level of scientific and technological capacity will continue to be an essential requirement of the development process. Without this capacity no country will be able to make the major decisions that affect its policies and strategies for achieving sustainable human development; absorb, adapt, and improve upon imported technology; or expect to develop its productive potential, even in those areas where it has competitive advantages.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
UNESCO enlists the cooperation of the communities of scientists, engineers and technicians, and that of the organizations that represent them at the national, regional and international levels. Their collaboration ensures the development of science and technology, the relevance of higher scientific education and training, the renewal and suitability of curricula, the networking of research and training programmes, the strengthening of infrastructures and the establishment or strengthening of linkages between the production sector, industrial corporations and higher education and training systems.
The most technologically advanced countries continue to promote their industrial competitiveness by subsidizing research and development, regional development and environmental protection. In addition, their up-and-coming firms benefit from special incentives offered for locating residence in science parks and industrial estates.