Professor David Bloom's speech, The Lahore University
of Management Sciences
Lahore Pakistan, February 5, 2001
Thank you Syed Babar Ali for those kind words of introduction.
Thank you also for all of your remarkable efforts
during the past few years on behalf of the Task Force, as well as
your efforts in organizing this workshop.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be
here among such a distinguished and experienced group.
From Henrys introduction to the Report of the
TFHE, you know that the Report has two core messages:
first, that higher education matters to the pace and
process of economic and social development;
and second, that the obstacles to higher education
reform and strengthening are formidable, but they are not insurmountable.
What Id like to do is to spend the next 20-30
minutes expanding on and reinforcing these two core messages. I
would also like to unpack a bunch of ideas in the interest of informing
and stimulating some discussion during the next few days.
If you examine the Task Force report closely, especially
the chapter on the public interest in higher education, you will
see the potential benefits of higher education spelled out. These
benefits include the well-established boost that higher education
provides to productivity and income for the people with higher education.
But higher education also confers benefits beyond
the incomes of the educated. This occurs because higher education
promotes benefits at the societal level. These improvements take
such forms as greater entrepreneurial dynamism, more effective leadership,
and stronger governance. For these main reasons, one of the main
contentions of the Task Force report is that higher education should
be viewed as a vital ingredient in building stronger economies and
These contributions of higher education to national
development have been true in the past, but will be even more true
in the future, given the growing importance of knowledge in a world
economy that is growing increasingly competitive, and, I might add,
increasingly unforgiving of departures from a liberal policy environment.
As we state in the Report: Higher education
is to a knowledge economy as primary education is to an agrarian
economy and secondary education is to an industrial economy.
Pakistan must, of course, plan for tomorrows
world, not yesterdays, which means moving higher education
closer to the center of the radar screen.
But we also have to show a little humility about the
theme of this workshop. Yes, its true that higher education
is a crucial determinant of national development, but we mustnt
get carried away into believing that higher education is the panacea
that will thoroughly transform Pakistan and cure its woes.
Social and economic development are complex processes
in which lots of factors play a role.
One of the oldest questions in the whole field of
economics concerns the matter of why some countries are rich and
others poor. Economists have been working on the answer to this
question for over two hundred years, dating back at least to Adam
Smiths Wealth of Nations. If you will indulge me as
I offer a very simplistic summary of the answer emerging from over
two centuries of literature, there appear to be three sets of factors
that are important:
- First, what a country has by way of resources and accumulated
- Second, what a country does to add value to what it has
- And third, how a country markets what it has
Successful economies tend to have a number of features
They exploit their natural resources, accumulate physical
capital, and build infrastructure that facilitates economic activity
and human security.
Their workers acquire general and special skills,
which they continually apply to their most productive uses.
They trade vigorously in goods and services,
technology, and ideas.
And they have liberal policy environments that encourage
competitiveness as judged by an international standard.
The point here is that higher education contributes
to development not just by training workers. It also contributes
by enhancing other channels of the development process. It promotes
the accumulation and wise use of resources, and the creation of
favorable and forward-looking policy environments.
In this connection, its important to note that
market forces alone will not ensure the development of a higher
education system that promotes national needs. Markets are moved
by profit, mainly quick profit. Private interests overlap, but only
partially, with a societys long-term interest in accumulating
and imparting knowledge and its capacity for generating new knowledge.
Unfortunately, there are two political and technical
difficulties that beset us when it comes to mobilizing political
commitment and public resources in favor of higher education reform.
The first has to do with the long payback period for investments
in higher education. This payback period is measured more naturally
in decades than months, and certainly extends well beyond the normal
time horizon of political leaders, reducing the benefits to them
of acting now.
The second problem is the claim that public investment
in higher education is socially inequitable because university graduates
who may reasonably be expected to be a countrys future
elite, are disproportionately drawn from the current elite and therefore
not deserving of public subsidy.
There is surely some truth to this view, but its
not the whole story and its not decisive. As mentioned earlier,
higher education confers huge benefits on society as a whole. It
would be narrow-minded and counterproductive for a society to forego
those benefits simply because they are not distributed equally.
In addition, we must keep in mind that higher education is one of
the most powerful mechanisms societies have for upward mobility:
it has enormous potential to promote prosperity among people with
talent and motivation, irrespective of their social origins.
Let me now offer some brief thoughts on what the analysis
and recommendations contained in the TF report might mean for Pakistan.
We all recognize how difficult it is for Pakistan
to strengthen its higher education sector in the current economic
climate. Pakistans health and education indicators are poor
in comparison to other countries in the region, population growth
continues to swell, there are sizable government spending and trade
deficits, a huge debt burden, narrow tax base, and lack of foreign
It is incumbent upon us to recognize that Pakistans
overall situation limits its options for higher education reform,
and its especially tough on options that require more funds.
It would therefore appear that the natural first step in strengthening
higher education in Pakistan involves devising ways to use the available
resources more efficiently. This suggests devoting attention to
matters such as governance, rationalization of the system of higher
education, and improvement of curricula, all topics that are well
represented on the agenda for this meeting.
Another area that is well represented on our conference
program is science and technology. As this is the one of the main
thematic areas covered in the Task Force Report, I thought it might
be worthwhile to devote a few minutes to this topic.
The central view we take in the report is that a strong
science and technology base is becoming less a luxury and more a
necessity for developing countries that wish to maintain or improve
their living standards.
In some developing countries, this base will be useful
because of the new discoveries developing country scientists make
especially the ones that have commercial value whose intellectual
property benefits accrue to the developing country.
But, more broadly, a strong science and technology
base is important to low and middle income countries because it
puts them in a stronger position to select and implement existing
technologies, and to adapt them to local circumstances.
As an example of this need, the case of genetically-modified
food is of some interest, especially appropriate for discussion
here in the birthplace of the Green Revolution.
GM food is produced through the manipulation of genetic
material to achieve changed properties in the living organisms that
become our food.
Although selective breeding has been used for centuries
to genetically modify food crops and livestock, advances in biotechnology
promise future changes that are far more rapid and far-reaching.
We are talking here about possibilities that range
- improving crop yields
- to increasing crop resistance to droughts and pests
- to improving the nutritional value of familiar foods
- to using those foods to create edible vaccines against common
- to reducing the need for environmentally-unfriendly chemical
The day is not far off when we will be able to insert into an orange
a gene from a fish that lives in very cold seas so that the orange
can survive an early snow or frost.
Biotechnology innovations are being dominated by life
science companies in the US and Europe. But the implications for
developing countries are profound. On the upside we have the potential
of GM foods to help address malnutrition and ill health. But on
the downside is the risk these foods will create new allergens,
or unwittingly transfer existing allergens to different foods. Cross-breeding
between genetically-modified crops and undesirable vegetation could
also lead to the creation of monster weeds whose control
requires the application of larger amounts of yet more poisonous
Fears have also been raised among the public of monopolized
food markets, or of growth-enhanced genetically-modified salmon
escaping their ponds and altering other aquatic environments and
species of fish.
GM foods are thus creating an enormous and increasingly
urgent need for a new body of technical expertise throughout the
world. Developing countries like Pakistan will need this expertise
if they are to take advantage of the benefits of GM foods, while
seeking to minimize the risks. The situation is especially complex
since the risks involved seem to be of low probability events that
could have catastrophic impact, even more extreme than the risk
of nuclear accidents. Higher education is the natural sector for
societies to rely upon as repositories and imparters of this expertise.
But this requires huge investments in infrastructure and training,
connectivity to the world stock of knowledge, university-industry
cooperation, and international cooperation, as well as sustained
long-term commitments to all of these.
It might also be noted that GM foods also raise many
complex ethical and policy issues that are probably best addressed
by individuals with a good general education.
I would like now to draw to a close by sharing a few
further thoughts concerning the subject of what Pakistan can do
in the area of higher education reform. In offering these remarks
I should say that I have benefited substantially from the ideas
of a small group of U.S.-based Pakistani professionals that Henry
Rosovsky and I met with over dinner last month. Henry and I have
promised to report back to the group and so we will be very interested
in your reactions to these ideas.
This group made two very practical and thoughtful
points that deserve mention and I hope some discussion, as
First, the group argued that Pakistans higher
education system cannot be effectively strengthened without reform
of its public universities. In other words, notwithstanding some
noteworthy exceptions, such as LUMS and the AKU, Pakistans
private higher education institutions do not collectively have the
reach, the influence, or the freedom to leverage a wholesale improvement
in the quality and coverage of higher education in Pakistan. Thus,
a plan to reform and strengthen higher education in Pakistan must
confront the public sector, which means it must confront problems
of bureaucracy, politicization, outdated curricula, rundown and
inadequate facilities, paltry budgets, underpaid faculty that moonlight
extensively, poorly prepared students, and so on.
Second, the group argued that effective reform requires
more than just articulating a sensible new vision for Pakistani
higher education. It also requires deep attention to the process
of mobilizing political will, building a broad-based consensus in
favor of key reform proposals, and marshalling the economic and
human resources necessary to implement a reform.
The point here is that its easy to stand up
here and say that Pakistans higher education system needs
more and better faculty, students, and resources, academic curricula
that are more thoughtful and forward-looking, and better internal
and external governance.
Its far more difficult to devise a strategy
for achieving these goals.
- This requires a deep understanding of the interests of key decision-makers
and of a host of other relevant stakeholders.
- It requires an appreciation of national needs and concerns
outside the area of higher education.
- It requires taking painfully objective stock of Pakistans
financial, human, and political resources.
- And it requires a sensitivity to Pakistans history and
culture to ensure the workability and legitimacy of the institutions
that have to be built as part of the reform.
The field of international development is littered
with good ideas that have failed to deliver their promised benefits.
This intellectual wastage is often due to inattention to the reform
process, and because clever policy ideas have not been matched by
implementation strategies that pay appropriately sophisticated heed
to the harsh realities of the field.
The Task Force report devotes far more attention to
policy ideas than to implementation strategies. But if Pakistan
wants to succeed in this area, it appears that it will have to devote
significant attention to both policy and implementation or, as our
colleagues refer to it, to both the technical and political aspects
of higher education reform.