Because universities in developing countries have failed to address the growth of environmental degradation and poverty, new institutions are needed, say Kamaljit S. Bawa, Ganesan Balachander and Peter Raven.
Writing in Science, they say universities duplicate knowledge or generate knowledge for its own sake and are not moving fast enough to develop programmes to meet new challenges.
Other institutions capable of translating knowledge into action — such as nongovernmental organisations and the extension arms of universities — are few and have weak capacity.
New institutions, the authors say, must be problem-driven, geared explicitly towards poverty alleviation and environmental sustainability, and transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. As examples, the authors cite the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment in India and the EARTH University in Costa Rica.
The governments of China, India and other countries could channel resources into new or changing institutions of knowledge, as could the new class of wealthy social entrepreneurs in Asia and Latin America. In addition, bilateral donor agencies and foundations could switch funds from short-term projects to new institutions addressing long-term capacity building.