Launch of The Higher Education Task Force Report

Wednesday, March 1, 2000 Omni Shoreham Hotel, Regency Ballroom, Washington, D.C.

I have been asked to launch the Report on Higher Education in Developing Countries. I have now read it from cover to cover. And I even have notes from my colleagues in case I didn't read it from cover to cover telling me what I should say about it. So now I'm confused because I'm not sure that I agree with what's been written – [laughter.] – and I actually have some of my own views. So it's not going to go very well, but my colleagues are used to that.

But before I get to introducing it to you, let me say how thrilled I am to have a number of members of the 14 distinguished individuals from 13 countries who participated in this report, and I'd like you to join me in welcoming them after I have read their names.

Mamphela Ramphele, who has give me instructions on how to pronounce her name, which I have been mispronouncing for nearly a decade, I think. It just shows you when you get up in front of a thousand people how you get told things that you never knew before. Anyway, Mamphela, I am very thrilled to say, as you know, is not only a participant in this project, but is now a colleague or will be from the 1st of May, and it's a great joy to me.

Henry Rosovsky, who in many ways has been a spiritual father of this activity, and who has also allowed the Harvard Institute for International Development to be such an important part of the task force Secretariat.

Kenneth Prewitt, Babar Ali, Motoo Kaji, joined also by Kamal Ahmad and David Bloom, and I would like you to join me in acknowledging them and thanking them for their work.


This report which is being distributed today is a first-rate document, in my judgment. It focuses on the importance of higher education and does it in a very, very straightforward and logical manner.

The first thing it articulates is that if you're talking about education, higher education is part of it. That doesn't seem like a surprising finding, but it's something that has so often been misunderstood about what the Bank does and the views of many development institutions.

It's not surprising that they assert--and we certainly agree--that it is impossible to have a complete education system without an appropriate and strong higher education system.

When I came to the Bank, someone told me that the Bank was only interested in primary education. Then I was told, well, maybe we'll consider secondary education. And then the notion that one could extend to tertiary education was perceived to be pushing the Board too far, as was the issue of preschool education.

Well, I'm very happy to tell you that I don't believe that that was ever true, and it surely is not true today. We in our institution regard education as a process which starts at preschool and goes through to the institutes of higher learning and the effective teaching and research at higher levels.

And, of course, it's obvious, when you think about it, that it is impossible to have a system that functions without an appropriate and deep commitment to higher education. And that case is made remarkably in this paper which speaks of peril and promise. A number of examples are given.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they speak of higher education, which is inadequately funded, with 2,500 students seeking to enter university to study the biological sciences and having an ability to do so in a country which has one doctor for 14,000 people. This vignette links dramatically the needs of higher education with the needs of the country. And it would be very difficult for one to assert an argument contrary to the arguments that are made in this document, arguments which correctly state that you need to have proper teacher training, you need to have expectations of excellence, you need to have a balance in the educational program from primary, secondary, to tertiary, if you are going to have a society which confronts the issue of poverty, which provides the opportunities that I know people are longing for from my recent trips and other trips, and if one is to anticipate that a country can compete on a global environment--on a global basis.

And if ever the distance between developing countries and developed countries was under challenge, the distance in terms of the commitment to higher education, then surely it is under greater challenge today. The paper speaks of one-sixth of the budget going to higher education, or the expenditures going to higher education in developing countries than there is in developed countries.

Just think of the implications of that when one looks at a global community in which developing countries need leadership, need depth, need capacity, need those people who can make the sort of decisions that can move their countries forward and they're not retained and not trained inside their countries.

So if we talk of capacity building, which we do so often, in terms of the political and governance issues, how is it that that is possible without tertiary education?

We also look in terms of the Comprehensive Framework, our own general matrix that we have articulated concerning development, not just at strengthen government but at other issues, at legal and justice systems. How can you have equity, how can you have freedom, as Amartya would put it, without an appropriate system of justice and of laws? That doesn't just happen. You need lawyers, you need judges. You need people to write the laws. And if you don't have that, how can you have that fabric in society which can ensure social equity and social justice?

How can you have financial systems that work without people trained in those disciplines? How can you have banks reporting if you don't have people that are trained to report? How can you have supervision if you don't have supervisors? How can you fight corruption if you don't have people that know how to do it, that have the independence and the standing and the income to allow you to fight the corrupt factors in society?

How can you have a meritocracy? How can you open the opportunities for the people that live in poverty unless you give them the opportunity to advance themselves by the use of their minds and their intellect and their creative spirit?

All this case is made in this document, and it's one which, when you read it--I thought last night, Why is it you need a document like this? What they're saying is absolutely straightforward. Well, you need it because we've forgotten it, because we don't give the added weighting that is required. And I am not for a moment suggesting that primary education and secondary education are not at the very essence of development.

What is articulated here and what I agree with is that it's not enough. You have to have the centers of excellence and learning and training if you're going to advance the issue of poverty and development in developing countries. And that peril, which is pointed out also in the document, the peril of the current challenge of globalization adds another dimension to the dimension that I already spoke of in terms of strengthening governance with the challenge of the digital divide, which is also covered effectively in this document.

And that, I might tell you, was the subject in every meeting I had with the heads of state and with the leadership of all the countries. How do you deal with the question of the challenge of technology? A challenge and an opportunity, a challenge if you seek to grasp it, and a reverse if you don't, and an opportunity if you take it.

And so when I went from Thailand to Indonesia, to Vietnam, to the Philippines, each country is talking about the need to provide appropriate technology, both as a matter of trade and as a matter of transference of knowledge. And we at our own institution are looking at what we call the Development Gateway, in which the rather large concept of pulling together the cumulative experience contributed individually the players in development into what amounts to a huge database, which is capable of distribution to anybody interested in development, and within five years, with low-flying satellites and broad-band communications, to any part of the world, to any village, in any language.

This is not a normal challenge. This is a revolution in mankind, as was the agricultural and the industrial revolution. And so in the virtual university which we're running in Africa in 14 countries, the number one subject in which we're giving degrees is computer science. This work points out the need for general education, and, indeed, it is crucial. But there is also the challenge immediately of technological education. And through technological education, there is the possibility of giving general education because the Net can be used to bring knowledge in many, many ways, and remarkable ways.

I think only of the village which we rewarded in our recent Development Marketplace in South Africa, which has neither water nor power, but where the head woman in the village and the teacher decided that they needed a computer, which they would house in really basically a tin shed with a generator that was provided, I think, by an international company, and where now the centerpiece in the town is a computer which is run by this and also solar power, and this is now the agent of the teaching, the knowledge, and the experience in the community.

This is not a one-off example. Within the last days, we've had here the Minister of Education in Egypt. I was stunned when he told me that the whole primary school system in Egypt is now linked by Internet. In Indonesia, the universities are linked. In Russia, the universities are linked.

This revolution in technology is coming along, but is it hitting those poorest countries? And if it doesn't, how far back are those countries set by the lack of grasping those possibilities? Well, key to that is education. Key to that is higher education, not just on the technological side, but to create people with enough wisdom to be able to use it, and as I said, this document makes the case for general education in a very forceful and convincing way.

We also talked about new science and technology policy, going beyond just the Internet, because science and technology is not just laying down Internet lines. And here, too, we at the Bank have been looking at science institutes which we are starting to set up, under the leadership of Phil Griffith at the Institute of Advanced Study, but many others, so that we can retain scientists and researchers in-country.

One of the points raised in this report is the brain drain from many of the countries in the developing world, where scientists feel that they have to go abroad. What then if we can create a framework within universities or successful institutions that can retain scientists in situ so that they can do their work, not just on global issues but on local issues at a very high level?

And we've seen an exponential growth in a joint papers as a result of Internet, because someone in Addis Ababa can now do a joint paper with someone in Cambridge. And what we need is to create frameworks in which we can establish science institutes that can buttress the work of universities so that you can retain in-country the best of the people.

And Phil has just come back from a trip to Africa, amazed to find both in talking to Africans in-country and Africans in Europe that there is a very strong desire on the part of the best African scientists to go back and live in-country if they're given the opportunity to do it. And we've already seen it now in two countries in Latin America where we've already set one up in Chile and are signing, I think, or about to sign another one in Venezuela.

This is part of the new world. This is not a world which doubts the need for higher education. It's a world which, in the practical sense, accepts that higher education is an essential part of the creation of opportunity for people in development, for people who are poor, to give them an opportunity in a meritocratic frame but also as a national need if the countries are to compete on a global basis.

All that is in this report, put much better than I've just done it, but, then, I was retired when I read the report. It is a remarkable document. It is one for which we should be grateful to the authors in drawing our attention to the need for added weighting in this issue.

The document covers other things--the issues of budget allocations. It gets to the question even of management of universities, and I have a sense how that might have gotten in here given the experience of some of the people that are on it, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with Henry or Mamphela, but it may have had to do with some of the others. They have to give this wisdom away, and it is beautifully done, if I may say so.

These are lines along which for everybody there is something in this report. But the fundamental thrust of it, which is the message that I go away with, is that the authors are confirming for some things that are already being done, but for others where the message has not been received are sounding a note that the issue of higher education is truly either peril or promise, which is the title. And it is my hope that as a result of this meeting, at least for the World Bank, it's promise, not peril; and in the coming weeks, with the launch that you're going to make in June, I think, in Paris and for the Bank itself, that these are lessons that we will absorb.

There was a suggestion that we set up a separate group to monitor this, which I rejected, not because I don't agree with the substance, but because I don't think we need a separate group. This needs to be mainlined for us. This has to be absorbed now. And it's not arguable. This is something which doesn't need a separate heading. It's an act of faith. It's, if you like, true wisdom.

And so we, at least in the Bank, after years of putting a lot of money into higher education, still will benefit from this in terms of giving us a better orientation, a wonderful road map that we can follow, and it is for all those reasons that I'm very happy indeed to launch this document today.