Launch of The Higher Education Task Force Report
Wednesday, March 1, 2000 Omni Shoreham Hotel, Regency
Ballroom, Washington, D.C.
Henry Rosovsky, Co-chair of the Task Force for Higher Education
I realize that most of you have not read the report so what I will
try and do is very quickly to summarize the report. I think Jim
Wolfensohn has made it easier for us because he has mentioned many
of the most important points. Before doing that, I just want to
add something to what my co-chair said at lunch. She mentioned Kamal
Ahmad, who actually in many ways started this whole exercise. He
first came to see me - I don't remember how many years ago - to
suggest this undertaking. David Bloom has already been mentioned
- without him, we would not have had a report. Larry Rosenberg is
here who did an enormous amount of work with us within the secretariat
and Phil Altbach, well known indeed to many of you, provided us
with a great deal of good advice and assistance.
I should also say that we have a website: www.tfhe.net. You can
all go there and download the report and do whatever you wish with
it, in the spirit of what our chairman talked about.
The Task Force asked three questions. What is the role of higher
education in enhancing and supporting economic and social development?
Secondly, what are the major obstacles in performing this role?
And thirdly how might these obstacles be overcome?
Keep in mind that we were assigned 80% of the world's population.
That is the population living in developing countries. So obviously
detailed country-specific policy recommendations were out of the
question. Instead, what we decided to do was to write what might
be called an essay, to stimulate discussion from the point of view
of individual countries. In fact, our hope is that people concerned
with higher education, in universities, in ministries, the public
and so forth, will sit down, examine what we have to say and filter
it from the point of view of their own societies, their own culture
and their own needs.
Our report is not primarily a research document but our arguments
are based on specific information. We conducted hearings in different
parts of the world with members of the higher education community.
We did an extensive literature review. We sent our report out to
literally hundreds of critics and we had consultations and finally
we relied heavily on the intellectual capital of the task force.
This was quite considerable if you look at the amount of experience
that we were fortunate enough to garner.
The report itself is divided into the following: first, a description
of the baseline as far as higher education in developing countries
is concerned today, followed by five topics which we chose because
in our view they had not been dealt with in previous work. We paid
less attention to, for example, finance and information technology,
both of which have a very extensive literature. We mention them
but they are not the primary focus of our work. I'm going to try
and give you a one or two sentence summary of each chapter.
Let me begin with the baseline. The traditional difficulties of
higher education in most of the developing world need very little
elaboration to an audience of this kind: inadequate qualifications,
poor facilities, poor compensation, poor funding - all of these
are well known.
Add to that what we call the new realities. In fact the new realities
probably become important sometime in 1960s but they are becoming
more and more important all the time. One is the tremendous expansion
or pressure for expansion of higher education -within that private
higher education is the most rapidly growing sector. And in addition
to that is the frequently uncontrolled differentiation of institutions
of higher education - many different institutions coming up all
the time - private, public, denominational, vocational, you name
it. A tremendous and quite uncontrolled proliferation.
Add to that one other element: the knowledge revolution and its
corollary globalization, that appears to be a cause of an already
large gap between rich and poor, and that has made higher education,
we believe, more important than ever before in human history.
That is the baseline. From there we go on to consider the public
interest in higher education. I'm going to say very little about
that because Ken Prewitt will address that specifically, let me
only say this: globalization and the rising importance of markets
really raises questions about how to define and how to protect the
public interest. Markets can play a major and very beneficial role
but they will not deliver some crucial educational goods, for example
markets are unlikely to deliver very much basic science; they are
unlikely to deliver education in the humanities in adequate quantities
and they are unlikely to provide access for the disadvantaged.
Therefore, and this leads us to the next topic, we urge the development
of rational and national systems of higher education. Very often
if you look at the literature, it tends to focus on institutions,
it very rarely focuses on national systems, that include in their
purview all the different kinds of education that exist. When we
talk about systems we welcome private, we welcome even, for profit,
we want to put these together with public, with universities, with
colleges - and try and develop a vision of the whole system.
We talk about the characteristics of a good system at some length.
We say it should be supervised but not controlled. That it should
be stratified. In other words that the various missions of institutions
be clarified; that they have clear roles; that indeed there should
be system-wide resources - something Mr. Wolfensohn mentioned on
an international level. We develop the concept of learning commons,
perhaps laboratories, computer facilities, libraries and so forth,
not just for one institution but available for many different institutions.
From systems, we turn to governance, which I have to say, seems
to be viewed by nearly everyone as a, or even the, key problem for
higher education in the developing world. I happen to be personally
interested in issues of governance and wherever we pressed this
issue, we received the answer that it is a problem of major dimensions.
We tried to develop a set of principles as parameters for management
of institutions of higher education. We recognize that traditions
differ, that there are many different habits and ways of doing things,
but we tried to develop a flexible set of principles that can be
applied to almost any institution of higher education. These include
academic freedom, a certain amount of shared governance, accountability,
standards of selection and things of that kind. They are too numerous
for me to discuss here. If followed, we believe they will improve
Next, we turn to the question of science and technology. This is
one of the few things that the bank specifically asked us to look
at. Rich countries are leaping ahead and the gap is growing wider
in science and in technology. We tried to outline specific actions
for improving the situation in developing countries. Again, I can
only touch on this very superficially. We look at it from the point
of view of physical capital, laboratories, a global clearing house
for second-hand equipment just as an example, abolishing tariffs
for the importing of scientific equipment, things of that kind.
We look at it from the point of view of human resources, various
measures to prevent or lessen the brain drain, again something Mr.
Wolfensohn talked about. And we explore network capital, especially
the importance of internet connectivity.
Lastly our fifth chapter is a plea for general education, which
some of you may see as our most eccentric recommendation and it
may well be. What is it we're talking about? We're talking about
imparting general knowledge and developing general intellectual
abilities within university education. We're talking about the development
of an individual, apart from occupational training.
Each country, in our view, needs to develop its own vision of what
an educated person is from their particular point of view. We believe
that in itself developing this description, this criterion, is of
very great value. We recognize that general education probably emphasizes
the most talented segments of the population. We emphasize flexibility
for this group. We strongly believe these capacities are highly
valued by the labor market and we also believe that secondary education
can no longer perform this task. At one time, in some of the countries
there were traditions of very high level of secondary education,
usually very elitist in nature, that may have done some of it but
this is really no longer possible today. I think the obligation
for general education today has clearly shifted to the universities.
We believe that higher education has an important role in poverty
elimination. It is needed in the current world to prevent national
marginalization in a knowledge-intensive globalized world.
The issue is not less primary and secondary education, not at all,
the issue is better higher education. Higher education benefits
all segments of society, we think, directly and indirectly. Our
position is not elitist except in the sense of providing opportunities
for the most able to make maximum contributions. That helps everybody
in the society.
Lastly, I just want to make a very brief comment about what the
Doctor Salmi said in his introduction when he asked us to imagine
what a university looks like or higher education. I have had a nightmare
like this myself and I can picture my own university. The library
has become an old-age home, I suppose. The dormitories have become
condos. The president is an 18 year old geek with an associate degree
from Vigi-Penn Institute of Technology, and all of Harvard University
has become one big server which can fit in the corner of one of
I have to say that I don't believe that will happen. I think that
many of the trends that we are indeed living in revolutionary times
and I suspect that 50 years from now it may be difficult to recognize
some of our institutions, but I am quite sure many aspects of the
traditional university will survive, because I do think that tertiary
education carried out at its best at some point will continue to
involve human interaction. The key is of course to combine it with
all the technological advances to produce the most efficient system.