Launch of The Higher Education Task Force Report

Wednesday, March 1, 2000 Omni Shoreham Hotel, Regency Ballroom, Washington, D.C.
Mamphela Ramphele, Co-chair of the Task Force for Higher Education

Our president did a fantastic job.

If anybody can really put you to shame it's Jim Wolfensohn. He arrived jet-lagged yesterday. He read the report page to page - or cover to cover - and remembers the details. So he's really set the tone for those of us in the Bank who are looking at this issue. In my case I can only say that a more timely report you couldn't have found.

First, from a personal point of view, it eases my entry into the bank. You can imagine the shock of leaving a higher education institution and coming into an institution where you can't use the HE word. So that word I am pleased to hear. I heard it before the president said it yesterday because I had the privilege of meeting with my colleagues in the Bank who are looking into this issue of higher education. We are all agreed that the work that they have been doing is laudable work that needs to be strengthened - and we are committed to doing that.

It is also a timely report from the point of view that this is the beginning of a new century and as a global community we need a new beginning. We need to focus even more intently on closing the gaps between the haves and have-nots - and those gaps are increasingly being defined by knowledge and its generation, dissemination and its utilization. In many areas of the lives of people in the developing world, it is quite clear that the lack of a science culture (which is deeply embedded in those societies) is a great impediment. In fact, it is indeed the peril that they face with globalization.

It is our belief that higher education will indeed - and does indeed - offer the promise that we need, as a global community. It is also because in this area, more than any other, the issue of the importance of global action has been demonstrated in a very tragic way when one thinks about the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and the whole problem of drug-resistant malaria, and drug-resistant tuberculosis. All those are happening because, amongst other things, the developing world doesn't have the capacity to handle and manage these major health problems. It is unfortunately not only a problem of the developing world. It is, indeed, a problem of the entire global community, as we know there are no more boundaries between nations and therefore in terms of global action we all have to join hands.

The report is also timely because it comes on the heels of the 1998/99 World Development Report which made a case for knowledge, and was quoted so ably as the light that can enlighten the lives of so many people. But you can't have light without a switch, and higher education is that switch which we believe needs to be honest, and made accessible to all of the people of this world.

I was particularly pleased during the course of this HD week to participate in discussions around the World Development Report 2000/01 which is in draft form still. It makes the case for international public goods. We've just heard Ken Prewitt talking about higher education as a public good. And this notion of international public goods is a very attractive one. It speaks to the common wealth that is generated in research, and especially when you look at research around global pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, malaria etc.

When we talk about international public goods, we are also talking about the regulatory framework that makes us a more civilized global village, which can have good governments, and have regimes that promote not only fair trade, but also sustainable environmental development. It's important to recognize that these international public goods cannot simply be generated by the developed world. The developing world must be an active participant in the generation of international public goods, and it cannot do so unless it is enabled by an efficient and high quality higher education system. It is therefore very important for us as a global community to be enabling and supporting reform, and strengthening higher education systems all over the world to help us meet these challenges.

I also believe that we have to look at the fact that you cannot have international public goods - or any good - without being willing to make the public investment to generate those goods. We make the case in this report for not only talking philosophically about higher education as a public good - or indeed linking it to the WDR report 2000/01 - or just talking about international public goods without being willing to make the international public investment in generation of these goods.

I am very delighted to be having the opportunity to join the Bank at this exciting moment in our history - and as the president said, what's key to the future success of the human development agenda is how we mainstream this report, as well as many other ideas that have come through the UNESCO conference, and the other papers that were referred to that have come out of the World Bank's own work.

I was very pleased to hear from my colleagues within the Bank that today the higher education thematic group launched a website which will put this document on-line, as a major contribution to the thinking on higher education. There's also been a discussion this morning with UNESCO to have a joint collaboration, so that we can follow up the UNESCO World Higher Education conference to include the task force report as part of the electronic forum that can help us think more innovatively about higher education and appropriate intervention.

On 14th June the Bank will participate in the UNESCO launch of this document, again making sure that this is not a one-off launch that then leaves the document on the shelves of libraries to gather dust.

There has also been a very useful discussion between myself and my colleagues within the Bank working on higher education. I am told there will be a workshop of Bank staff looking at this issue of higher education, in which we will take this report, analyze it and look at the appropriate interventions that the Bank can make (together with its many partners) to promote the whole notion of knowledge management - but also to enter into policy dialogue with client countries on this topic of what is the appropriate way in which the Bank can enhance its work in higher education.

The World Bank Institute has focused its attention more and more on making sure that we become a capacity builder, not just for the clients out there, but also for ourselves as an institution. It will incorporate this report in its flagship course on educational reform as part and parcel of mainstreaming the report. There are many other activities that will be taking place, including the Halifax Commonwealth Conference in November, when these issues will be discussed. There will be regional seminars and workshops all over, and I can speak as a South African that I, for my sins, am chairing a task team on the size and shape of higher education in South Africa.

We are looking at how to reconfigure the higher education system from the legacy of apartheid which created institutions where there shouldn't have been, or created institutions in a manner that is not serving the interests of development in South Africa. We need to break from that past.

This report is going to be required reading for all members of my task team and I hope that they will be put on the mailing list - as should be all members of the Council of Higher Education, so we can be enriched by the insights in this report.

But it is important to reiterate what Mr. Wolfensohn said. We must take this report as an important benchmark with the issues that it raises, and we must have a system of monitoring development (through the people within the Bank who are active - as well as with the input of partners) with indicators that will be reliable to show how far we are in terms of reform and improving some of those really major threats to the success of human development all over the globe.