The Development Equation/History of University Development

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Learning and Knowledge in the 21st Century : The Development Equation
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During the 1960s investment in education at all levels was a main focus of national and international development throughout the world. Canada greatly expanded post-secondary education between 1964 and 1971 (Banting, 1995). As early as 1945, Harvard president James Conant argued that a strong system of higher education was essential to American democracy, social mobility and egalitarianism (Conant, 1945). Thomas Schulz championed a ‘human capital revolution’ in the approach to development economics through the 1960s (Schultz, 1960). During the independence era in 1966, Nigerian author Dowuona discussed a cycle beginning with the weakness of higher education translating into a lack of trained post-primary teachers culminating in a vacuum of skilled personnel to support the few highly educated Nigerians running the country (Dowuona, 1966). Dowuona saw a critical role for universities in self-determination stating that “until the developing countries build up the right foundations and tradition for training to the highest level, they will not be able to be masters of their own destiny.” In 1968, U.K. statesman Sir Andrew Cohen placed education as the highest priority in African development, and universities as the first concern. He saw a critical role for institutional capacity-building through some 50 arrangements underway between British and mostly African universities – giving the example of the cooperation of medical schools in Nairobi and Glasgow (Cohen, 1968).

Responding to this push for higher education in Africa, international aid and national efforts pushed allocations for education to over 1/5 of national budgets in some developing countries (Lulat, 1982). However, the scale and speed of these initial efforts outpaced development in general, and the expected returns in development outcomes did not materialize. Human capital theory was sidelined in the 1970s when ‘educational reform’ became the development buzz-word. Reforms tried to shift the focus towards basic needs for the rural majority, strategic investment in quality, introduction of technology and nonformal education. However, reforms were not carried through extensively owing to lack of resources and political will (Lulat, 1982).

Following the initial push, the development of tertiary education and research in Africa has been neglected (Birdsall 1996, Bloom, Canning and Chan, 2005). Spending on higher education has sometimes been seen by donors and policy-makers to favour elites and exacerbate inequality (Lulat 1982, Birdsall 1996, Kapur and Crowley 2008). However, some have seen tertiary education not as a distant goal to come after primary education has been dealt with, but as the root for effective national development including the effectiveness of primary education (Schulz 1960, Dowuona 1966, Cohen 1968, Lulat, 1982, Stiglitz, 2000, Cao et. al, 2002, Lorenzo 2002, Colle, 2003, Kapur and Crowley, 2008) and at least one author proposes to focus on the quaternary level with graduate training and research (Birdsall, 1996).

Developing countries have not by and large realized the vision for higher education set out by Cohen, Dowuona and others. As an example, Zambia followed the normative pattern of ambitious investment in the sixties and ambitious reform in the seventies. Zambia’s copper crisis in 1975 led to austerity measures and a focus on more urgent needs. Zambia’s failure in reform was also linked to the mismatch of ideology and political will (Lulat, 1982). More dramatically, at the Juba Health Institute in Southern Sudan, progress in medical and nursing education was halted by a two decade long civil war where the entire academic staff was in exile, emerging only recently with the peace accord signed in 2005. Various patterns of conflict, fiscal crises, ideological constraints, Cold War interference and other circumstances have held back the development of universities in the South and the focus on higher education.

A handful of influential authors have noted the significance of the infrastructure of knowledge creation and dissemination itself to the process of development. A leading voice on knowledge for development is Nobel Prize winner in Economics and former World Bank president Joseph Stiglitz, who stated the following in a speech from 2000:

“If the developing countries are really to be “in the drivers’ seat” they have to have the capacity to analyze the often difficult economic issues which they face. Local researchers, combining the knowledge of local conditions—including knowledge of local political and social structures—with the learning derived from global experiences, provides the best prospects for deriving policies which are both effective and engender broad-based support. That is why locally-based research institutions are so important.” – (Joseph Stiglitz, 2000)

This brings us full circle to Dowuona and Cohen, who were both concerned with capability and self-determination through higher education and research, and the same sentiment is reflected in Stiglitz’s approach to knowledge in general.

Despite the cautions that large-scale investment and reform provide in history, the significance of higher education remains. Along with the Ontario government’s recent announcement of funding for University of Toronto’s ailing infrastructure, Paul Genest of the Council of Ontario Universities stated "The Ontario government clearly understands that universities are the knowledge infrastructure of the province" (Smith, 2008). The question being asked today is how universities in Africa and other developing regions might take advantage of digital technologies, on-line literature and international networks to re-assert a stronger role in development as the knowledge infrastructure of their localities. Knowledge for development is an extension of human capital theory that gives greater attention to institutions and infrastructure for knowledge, with communications technology occupying a central importance (World Bank, 2008). Technology often predicts social change, for better or worse, and we have new choices to make.