Mr. Carlos Slim met distinguished UNAM students, teachers and researchers to talk about diverse Mexico’s problems, Mexico’s insertion in the current world, its institutions, UNAM and the world as well.

The talk came about in UNAM campus. Dr. José Narro Robles, UNAM rector, welcomed Mr. Slim.

México City, June 21, 2010.

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Pre-payment service has been a breakthrough innovation in telecommunication access. We feel very happy about this because, in a certain way, mobile-phone pre-payment is our own idea, our own project. 85 percent of Latin American population has a mobile phone at least, some users have more than one, including kids and the elder, above Canada. That is penetration.

The next step is universal broadband access. At its beginning, broadband service was very expensive, about 1,500 dollars a single connection; nowadays it costs about 100 dollars as a world average. Decreasing prices is a benefit of technology. Service costs tend to diminish consistently. Nowadays, a kilobyte costs a hundredth in respect to eight years ago. 56 kilobytes rated 189 pesos before; five mega will cost the same price next year. What is needed? What we need is deep penetration, complete service, including video. By offering a 149 pesos package, in a single year Dish has grown more than it did during the past 40 years.

Brain drain, I am not very afraid about it. There have been some Mexican drained brains, like Mario Molina, who did award Nobel Prize, and he is already in Mexico back. Had he stayed in Mexico, he wouldn’t be awarded, perhaps. What we have to do is to withhold or bring brains back.

Developed countries heavily invest in research and development, so they have many Nobel awarded science men in many fields. We can not say to our graduate “Don’t go to study abroad”. At the extent they keep their own roots in Mexico, they will remain Mexican, even if they get Nobel awarded. They can go abroad and come home as they develop their own work. The important point is that we get able to offer better conditions for highly-qualified scientists. So, pushing investment and economic activity is the essential thing.

We run a fellowship program covering about 15,000 or 16,000 grants. We have met many well-qualified young graduates without a job or having unfit ones in respect to their own qualification, which is very sad. We have to solve that problem, and the only way to solve it is by forming human capital and improving health. Again, the key word is investment for increasing economic activity.

I am going to answer both first and second question. As the new civilization moves onward, the State economic activity will lessen. Civil society and entrepreneurs are called to perform a bigger responsibility.

I am going to make a weird analogy. Modern firms are alike ancient armies. Ancient armies used to conquer and raise taxes. Modern firms are aimed to conquer new markets to raise profits and royalties from the market itself. These are global enterprises.

Domestic firms are like defensive armies. They invest and create jobs in order to withhold profits in their own country. I am not meaning to say that we should banish foreign or global firms. On contrary, we should attract those convening us the more.

In the scientific part, we should consider that technology is global, and science is even more global than technology. We should mediate if developing basic science is a good thing for us. What we need is to develop abilities to assimilate, adapt and develop science and technology.

We are not going to be the biggest science developers. We don’t originate science and technology. We should, however, be able to absorb them from all over the world in order to be able to adapt and innovate them.

Our university has many good things, and I am not able to talk about other ones. By instance, the Engineering Institute has a good relationship with both building firms and public authorities, especially in coping with natural disasters. It has closely worked with Mexico City government in responding to earthquakes. It assisted Comisión Federal de Electricidad during the Grijalva river flood. As president of Centro Historico I asked the Engineering Institute for technical help to inject water into the valley basin to stop sinking. Comision Nacional de Agua lacks a technical norm for injecting water into the basin. What we have underground is a big tank from which we are already extracting 20 cubic meters per second. We have to solve that problem by tertiary treatment.            

We are already engaged in the Atotonilco Waste Water Treatment Plant to treat 40 cubic meters per second. This water is already wasted in irrigation. What we are aimed to do is to introduce primary and secondary water treatment to bring about 15-20 cubic meters per second to Mexico City, while improving irrigated land and crops there. We are also building the East-Outflow System, yet a louver work is sluggish because of huge hydrostatic pressure. Engineers are now measuring underground water volume. We don’t exactly know how big it is, surely it is huge, and we could bring back it to the valley.

So, we and the Engineering Institute are working together in several projects. We should extend collaboration to other works.

We are already working in the City of Health with emphasis in genomics, a frontier field requiring high research and development. As we enter to modern and expensive health-conditions age (cancer, diabetes, kidney diseases, hearth conditions, etc.), Genomics will be the key to lowering health-care services. Health conditions are already mutating, so we have to decide how to focus them.

I hope not to sound so harsh in recalling that, at the time I was a university student, we were very good in studying topology. At that time, students just choose agreeable fields, independently of social benefit. Now students and researchers are called to embrace what our society really needs. That is the way to create joint projects.

In fully agree that both sides are responsible for failure in creating joint projects. Yet I would like to stress that business use to make a lot of research & development, many more than it is recorded because of undiscerning accountant criteria. It is a cost or an asset? Our university could help in distinguishing them.

I fully agree that scientific research needs more money from all of us, but I think we should focus on applied sciences rather than on basic ones. Of course, basic-science talents should be encouraged, yet what we need is applied science, technology and innovation. We should work hard and together in theses strategic areas. The state should continue supporting, of course. The university, however, could do a lot by just orienting its own budget to promote private support.

We have worked together with Instituto Politécnico Nacional in hydrometallurgy, and talked about with the national university.

The Engineering Institute has worked well in big works. Its support has been indispensable. We could extend cooperation to other institutes but perhaps I don’t know what they are already doing. We would be happy if they be as indispensable as the Engineering Institute it is.

Now, I don’t deem that Mexico is backward in science. Mexico did adopt XIX century’s science in the course of the ensuing century. On the other hand, some countries have excelled in the arts, others in science, and others in philosophy. Germany had Mozart and Beethoven almost at the same time. Italy had Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticcelli, etc. Instead, England had Newton, and the United States have Silicon Valley, etc.

Creating another one Silicon Valley could be expensive and redundant, I am afraid of. Riding on it to take further steps could be gainful. See Linux, which is Windows’s competitor, and it was created by a Mexican. He also is Intel’s competitor. Intel is the most innovative firm in the whole world. All platforms, even Apple, are based on it. Yet, Intel’s most aggressive competitor is a Mexican one.

Technology serves as a bridge, rather than widening gaps. The Chinese have proved it. They build bridges between them and the most advanced technology to profiting from it. Science and technology are running fast, some big firms are in deep troubles, while others have bankrupted. Think about Canadian Nortel, which went bankrupt after been in the lead. Motorola, long-standing radio communication leader, is already in big troubles. Lucent, after having introduced the transistor and the mobile phone, went to a merger with Alcatel; nowadays they both are fighting for survival. Ericsson and Nokia tell a similar story. The Chinese, on the contrary, are technologically surpassing these once billionaire firms. Then, I fully agree what you have remarked, that is, to deeply link firms to scientific research, including researchers stays in business.

At the time the mining school was created, during the XVIII Century, in-detail provisions were made to support mine stays, including a priest. Stays were six-months long, I guess. Academic formation was very close to work places then. So, we have a lot to do to get academy and business close.

José Narro Robles: There is a lot of pending questions, so we are going to end the list. For the rest I would ask to send us their papers in written form.

Carlos Slim Helú: … and their answers too.

José Narro Robles: No, otherwise that meeting would be nonsense. We are going to give participants an e-mail address to send us theirs own papers. Questions should be concrete to save time. I am going to read pending questioners names:

Rosaura Ruiz, Mario Andrés de Leo, Beatriz Sánchez, Estela Morales, José Luis Navarro, Karina Culebro, Alán Antonio Cisneros, Ciro Murayama, Luis Abel león, José Gilberto Parra Leyva, Miguel Ángel González, Héctor Iván Sánchez Mendoza and José Saniger.

Doctor Ruiz, please…

Rosaura Ruiz: Thanks, Mr. Rector. First of all, I congratulate you for taking that initiative and thanks to Mr. Carlos Slim for his support to UNAM. Since we are mutually provoking each other, I am going to disagree with you: without basic science there can be no applied one.

Mexico’s scientific production is too small, about 0.75 percent of world production, against U.S. 38 percent, to say. Our scientific community is tiny, yet highly valuable. We are a part of the world scientific community and our participation could be bigger and more focused on problem solving, according to our own potential. After all, almost all of the basic knowledge has been applied in solving practical problems.

You have talked about evolution, which I like much because it happens to be my own specialized field, human evolution and evolution in general. I am glad to meet an outsider knowing it well.

Mexicans’ scientific illiteracy worries me much. Main scientific theories are little known off walls. Both basic and applied science has a big work to do in closing that gap. Obviously, specialists know more than non-specialists about their own fields. You know the Engineering Institute well and how Mexican engineering has contributed in solving practical problems. Yet, science has also contributed to education.

Without science, Mexican education, particularly higher education, would be meager. We are already working together with Secretaría de Educación Pública in improving elementary education. Higher education main problem is small matriculation; elementary education main problem, instead, is low quality. For the first time in history, UNAM is directly working with SEP…

Carlos Slim Helú: Such a commitment… it stands for basic or applied science?

Rosaura Ruiz: It stands for applied science, the kind you like, yet what we are teaching is basic science.

Carlos Slim Helú: I agree teaching basic science, but if you have a limited amount of money, you should choose strategic areas, even in basic science.

Rosaura Ruiz: I fully agree, of course.

Carlos Slim Helú: I mean basic, pure or applied science.

Rosaura Ruiz: My question is as follows: I have heard your broad proposal for Mexico’s development many times. What is your own suggestion for improving education? A crucial resource is information technology. UNAM and SEP are already creating together a site to link a lot of UNAM content to preschool, elementary and high-school professors. A big obstacle is lack of connectivity by Mexican schools. What do you suggest to solve that problem?

Carlos Slim Helú: Unfortunately, since two or three years ago, the government has assumed the connectivity process. You have read it in the news. We are now expecting how it will do it. I am afraid it is a flaw. If government wants Telmex out of the process, let third parties, not government itself, to perform it…

Rosaura Ruiz: Lack of connectivity remains to be a fact.

Carlos Slim Helú: What we are encouraging is digital education right now. We are going to place Wi-Fi networks in all of UNAM centers, Mexican universities and public places. We and MIT are running an innovation and digital education program since ten years ago. Thanks to that program we both have designed a 100 dollars computer machine. We also are increasing broadband penetration and have multiplied users one-hundred times since 2002 year. That is connectivity.

In 2002 year we had 27 percent (66,600 clients) of the market. We already had almost seven million clients. We have grown one-hundred times during a five-year period.

Our mobile-phone market did grow 67 percent during 17 years. Our broadband users are growing more than 90 percent per year, from a smaller base, yet.

My own view about education goes beyond instruction. It starts by feeding pregnant women to beget weightier child, about 15-20 percent more weight on average. Perinatal care comes next. We already have installed perinatal equipment in 450 hospitals, just for a start. My own daughter has outlined an early-education program to stimulate child’s senses and mental abilities (math, logic and a lot of abilities which have been largely studied, as you have said). It includes a handbook for guiding mom’s relationships with social security institutions. The program is already functioning through workshops, info distribution and so on, and it has been linked to Social Security and DIF.

In respect to elementary-school teachers, we proposed to Zedillo’s administration, ten years ago, to deliver both a computer and internet connection to each one. In respect to computer use, I don’t assume a generation gap to exist. I have seen computer-deft old people. Retirees have both free time and money to buy equipment, etc.

There is pyramidal-education program to digitally train newer teachers, yet there has been no advance in spite of available money. President Fox did announce it three times and the secretary of education did it many more times. It seems that it have started to run recently.

We did start by creating Casas Telmex, a few of which have been created. Then we run Telmex Digital Library program to lend laptops instead of books. We have lent 80,000 laptops in schools from a 100,000 stock. Our aim is to have fully digitally-connected classrooms and we have donated equipment, installation, etc.

Yet it is true that many schools have no computers and many health centers are disconnected, as you have said. That problem is in government’s hands by now.

Information technology will be very important. Its income is about two or three times bigger than phone service’s. Very big firms are profiting by adding value. After seeming obsolete, IBM veered to information technology and did hit the target.  Sometimes you are added, sometimes you add. We are looking for Mexican firms able to add value, not just to be added. When you add, you create human capital.

I am afraid I have entered into unknown territory. I do understand networks for sure. Call centers are needed. We have started in training young people in Inttelmex (Telmex Training Center), about 1,000 boys for the first year. Our aim is to create human capital to be employed and well-paid by digitalized firms and government. Once employed, so-trained people could develop its own abilities, including content creation. I would like we all talk about it with Javier Elguea and my own daughter.

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