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Title: Public higher education, the knowledge economy and regional development in Costa Rica
Authors: Viquez-Abarca, Rosibel
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis concerns, firstly, the role of public higher education institutions, in particular the Distance Learning University (UNED), in the new economy model being encouraged in Costa Rica and, secondly, the role that public higher education could play in an alternative model of development which is more socially and regionally balanced. Until the 1980s, Costa Rica possessed a well-governed and stable political-economy but imbalanced at the same time since it promoted uneven development between the central region on the one hand and the peripheral regions on the other. Since the mid-1990s, the country has developed a strategy to move from an export-led growth economy to one based on foreign direct investment. In such a scenario, the Knowledge-Based Economy model was introduced as an option to speed up the pace of development. Nonetheless, the new model has faced several changes to the original plan. It moved from an open economy attracting high technology investment to practically any kind of foreign direct investment (FDI). The resulting model has implied negative consequences in terms of sustainability and social development. One consequence is a minimum impact on the skill level of the work force. Another consequence has been a low level of investment in infrastructure (particularly in peripheral areas). Additionally some of these activities favoured by the new model imply damage to the natural environment. The present research shows that the new model of the Costa Rican economy still encourages uneven development, generating different trajectories of growth not only among the regions but also inside them. In terms of the public universities, the institutional transformation that is taking place globally prompts these institutions to solve the problems of the labour market through supplying the necessary trained people. Three key questions were addressed in this thesis, in order to present a perspective on the Costa Rican process: (1) Has Costa Rica become a more Knowledge-Based Economy in the last 30 years?; (2) What role have public universities played in this and what role has UNED specifically played?; and (3) How could UNED contribute in order to accomplish a more regionally-balanced Knowledge-Based Economy model? Drawing on quantitative data and interviews with actors from different sectors, the research demonstrates that Costa Rica has been endorsing an open economy, where the attraction of FDI is related not only to high technology industry, as the Knowledge-Based Economy model assumes, but to change in all of the traditional economic sectors of the country. Paradoxically, the companies of the new economy are looking for those qualified to technician-level, rather than to those with higher-level qualifications. In terms of the institutional transformation, public universities in general and UNED in particular are immersed in stress promoted by at least four contradictory internal and external discourses. One is the entrepreneurial university discourse which is a properly discourse of the KBE, close to utilitarian approaches. Second is the university as entrepreneur’s promoters. The third is the university as a central government partner to attract FDI. The fourth is the traditional discourse of state-funded educational institutions’ mandate for education to build collective responsibility and social justice. Finally, in terms of an alternative role, the thesis presents an option for the public universities to challenge the territorial inequalities implicit within current strategies by focusing more on the peripheral territories.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

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