Professor David Bloom's speech, Conference on
Globalisation and Higher Education: Views from the South"
Cape Town, South Africa March 28, 2001
Thank you Dr. Ramphele for those kind words of introduction.
And thanks also to the Education Policy Unit of the
University of the Western Cape, the Society for Research into Higher
Education, and the members of the Conference Organizing Committee
for their work in arranging this exceptional gathering.
Madam Chairperson, distinguished guests, ladies and
gentlemen: Good afternoon and thank you for taking the time to be
here. Its a great pleasure for me to return to Cape Town.
Seafarers have always looked forward to first sight of Table Mountain.
I saw it in February 1998 when the Task Force on Higher Education
held its first meeting here. Now three years and many circumnavigations
of the world later I am flattered and honored to have this
opportunity to return. It feels like a homecoming at the end of
a long journey.
The Task Force was convened in late 1997 by UNESCO
and the World Bank, with Dr. Ramphele and Professor Henry Rosovsky
serving as co-chairs. With Ramphele and Rosovsky leading the effort,
our worst fear was that the report would come to be known as the
R and R report R&R being a common acronym for Rest and
Relaxation. Fortunately, our fears have not been realized. Ramphele
and Rosovsky had just the right mix of creativity, experience, inspiration,
and humility to achieve a comfortable consensus among the extraordinarily
diverse and never shy 14-member Task Force.
Professor Rosovsky is not here this afternoon, but
he has asked me to convey his good wishes to this distinguished
and dedicated audience. Fortunately, Dr. Ramphele is here, and so
too, is Professor Philip Altbach. Professor Altbach was this mornings
keynote speaker, and is one of the worlds leading scholars
of international higher education. Professor Altbach served brilliantly
as a special consultant to the Steering Committee of the Task Force,
and I am hopeful that he will join Dr. Ramphele and me in responding
to the questions that arise following my remarks.
The main goal of this afternoons session is
to make sure that everyone is properly introduced to the Task Force
and to its work. I am therefore going to tell you a little about
the Task we were set; the Forces that bought us into being; the
report we labored on; and the impact that report is beginning to
Names are important. So Ill start with ours.
The full name of the Task Force is The Independent Task Force on
Higher Education and Society. UNESCO and the World Bank may have
brought us into being but they wisely insisted that we operate
independently. Normally, he who pays the piper calls the tune,
but we were funded by a consortium of 10 financial supporters. No
supporter was dominant and none was intended to be. Our report was
published by the World Bank, but it was published without World
Bank review and is not an official document of the World Bank, or
for that matter, of UNESCO. We were required to think about higher
education afresh and we were permitted to do that outside
any organizational boundaries.
Our first activity was to take stock of the higher
education scene in the developing world, which is home to 85 percent
of world population, but to barely more than half of the worlds
80 million higher education students.
Of the roughly 40 million higher education students
in developing countries, relatively few are enrolled in truly high
quality programs. The rest face a slew of problems. They are taught
by poorly-qualified, poorly-motivated and (no surprise) poorly-compensated
faculty, struggling with inadequate facilities and outmoded curricula.
The secondary education system has often failed to prepare these
students adequately for advanced study and, once on campus,
political activism, violence, cheating, corruption and discrimination
can undermine their progress.
Yet these are the young people who we will rely on
to grapple with the huge task of building a better future for the
developing world. These are the young people who will provide the
capacity to run more effective governments, develop
the businesses of the future, and build the health and education
systems that make such a difference to the quality of life. Universities
and colleges in the rich world may also be in crisis but
there the crisis is not so bad, the resources are many times more
plentiful, and the need for higher educations chief product
knowledgeable and resourceful people not nearly so
Even more disconcerting for the Task Force was the
realization that, without bold action, the performance of the Souths
higher education systems seems certain to worsen. Three factors
are at work here. First, the uncontrollable demand for higher education.
Second, the growing importance of knowledge in the modern world.
And third, the inexorable and often cruel logic of globalization.
First, we should salute, but recognize the problems
caused by, the incredible and growing thirst for education that
we see all around the world. We have educated more and more young
people to primary and secondary level but, like Oliver Twist,
they want more! They realize something that even the richest governments
are only beginning to wake up to: in todays world, higher
education is basic education. Education that is needed by
the masses and can no longer be confined to a tiny elite.
Added to this thirst for knowledge and skill are some
demographic realities. Most developing countries have large baby
boom generations. And as babies will, these boomers are growing
up. So there are more and more young adults. And more of these young
adults feel the need for advanced education. It is worth noting,
of course, that this is a huge opportunity dressed up as problem
not the other way round. The baby boomers will keep aging
and, as the West struggles to cope with aged and decrepit populations,
the developing world will have access to a demographic dividend
as a rising proportion of workers supports a falling proportion
of dependents. This dividend will be collected, however, if
and only if the workers have the education to create, seize
and exploit new opportunities.
So developing countries cannot stand still and focus
their attention on improving the quality of their higher education
systems. They must first direct their efforts and resources to increasing
the quantity of education on offer. And they must do both it in
a planned way. At the moment, this planning is not there and its
leading to a burgeoning of new institutions many of them
private, most of them poorly focused, and some that do little more
than prey on the aspirations and assets of well-intentioned students
and their families.
Second, developing countries face the problem that,
across the world, everyone recognizes the growing importance of
knowledge that weightless asset that is fast supplanting
tangible resources as the foundation of wealth and power. Unfortunately,
knowledge begets knowledge and rich countries have, so far, shown
themselves to be in a better position to nudge their higher education
systems in the direction of providing what will be needed in tomorrows
world. The knowledge economy seems to be reinforcing and further
magnifying income differentials that are already huge by historical
comparison. IT has some countervailing potential but so far
it has too has delivered most benefits in rich countries. It was
in the USA, not an emerging nation, that a university, Stanford,
and a whole series of new technologies came together to produce
Silicon Valley a phenomenal (if now troubled) economic powerhouse.
The third factor globalization adds
to these difficulties. As we know, it is a shorthand term for the
process through which national economies are integrated. Globalization
occurs through four principal channels: movements of goods, capital,
labor, and ideas. Its potential benefits are huge but, so far, these
benefits have been delivered predominantly to the rich world. As
a result, as the Battle in Seattle highlighted, the process of globalization
faces growing opposition. But in the meantime, globalization increases
the ability of rich countries to compete for talented students and
faculty and focus their attention on the problems of the North,
not the South. Globalization is also making the world economy increasingly
competitive, and increasingly unforgiving of laggards. The phenomenon
of drain, train, and retain the best brains clearly undermines the
Souths ability to compete in business as well as weakening
its chance of building the better high education systems that are
essential to it achieving even a semblance of parity.
So this is the problem.
And to try and tackle it, the Task Force ended up
focusing its energy on three overarching questions:
- First, what is the role of higher education is supporting and
enhancing the process of economic and social development?
- Second, what are the major obstacles that higher education
faces in developing countries?
- Third, how can those obstacles best be overcome?
We didnt approach these as academic research
questions. Rather, we addressed them by blending analysis, intuition,
and background reading, with the knowledge and experience of Task
Force members and dozens of others around the world who shared their
insights and observations or who provided comments on various drafts
of our report. We also tackled 5 specific issues, each of which
constitutes a separate chapter in the report.
- Higher education and the public interest
- Systems of higher education
- The importance of general education
- Science and technology
We chose these issues because of their importance,
and because of the fact that they seem to have been neglected elsewhere.
By contrast, we do not provide detailed treatments of the undeniably
important issues of higher education finance and the role of information
technology in higher education. It seemed to us that relatively
little was to be gained by duplicating the good work of others in
For good measure, and in the interests of creating
a resource for other researchers, we also included a statistical
appendix describing and reporting international data on higher education.
So how to summarize a report? It is tempting to take
you through the whole thing, but as the Nuremberg Trial lawyer,
William Norman Birkett, once said: "I do not object to people
looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object
when they start shaking them to make certain they are still going."
So, in the interest of brevity and of the discussion time built
into this plenary session, I will refrain from anything resembling
a comprehensive review and opt instead for a quick advertisement
and then for a One Minute Manager version of each of
the key chapters.
First, the advertisement.
I have three copies of the Report with me today. They
are bribes and will be awarded to the first three people
who break the silence and ask questions after I have concluded my
remarks. For the less vociferous among you, the Task Force has a
website where the report and related materials can
be downloaded or read. The address is www.tfhe.net
and you will probably be able to get hold of a hard copy if you
email the web master at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, now some quick summaries.
I want to start with the importance of the public
interest in higher education which is another way of talking
about the strength of interest that a society has in a top class
higher education system.
Why are we arguing this case? Surely, the importance
of higher education is self-evident. Well, it may be to us, but
for many international institutions most notably our co-convenor,
the World Bank it has not traditionally been a priority.
I am reminded of a story told by Chief Justice Fuller,
who sat on the US Supreme Court at the beginning of the last century.
He was chairing a conference when one of the speakers started to
rant about the evils of higher education, praising God that had
been spared contact with a university. "Are we to understand
youre thanking God for ignorance?" asked Fuller. "Well
yes, I suppose you could put it like that," the man replied.
"In that case," said Fuller, "you have a great deal
to thank God for."
Modern ignorance about higher education has been led
by economists the tribe of dismal scientists, of which I
am one. Our habit of knowing the worth of everything, but the value
of nothing, has led us into an incredibly simplistic way of assessing
the return on investments in higher education.
There is not time to explain the calculation in full
but the basic flaw is to measure return on education exclusively
through wage differentials. Take someone who has no education, someone
who has been to primary school, someone who has completed secondary
school, and someone with a degree. How much more does each earn
than the previous? This differential is then compared to the amount
invested in their education to find the return. The results suggest
that higher education yields a lower return than primary or secondary
education and has been used to justify the skewing of government
budgets (and developments funds) away from higher education institutions.
Out of politeness, the Task Force doesnt use
the phrase Garbage In, Garbage Out but thats the
gist of its observation here. Higher education obviously confers
benefits above and beyond enhancing the incomes of those who received
their degrees. And many of these benefits take the form of public
goods, such as the contribution of higher education to enterprise,
leadership, governance, culture, and participatory democracy. These
are all vital building blocks for stronger economies and societies
and all routes by which the benefit of investment in higher education
multiplies throughout society.
Common sense tells us that countries need primary,
secondary, and tertiary education, not two out of three. All three
are vital to human, social and economic development. All three are
very definitely in the public interest. So the Task Force is adamant
that education should not be thought of as a zero-sum game, where
basic education is pitted against advanced study. Education is a
positive sum game. We need more of it, and of higher quality, at
A focus on public interest and higher education has
two further implications. First, that market forces alone will not
deliver vital public goods. 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. This observation
is especially true with respect to the basic sciences and the humanities,
vital subjects the market will never deliver optimally because there
is not enough money to be made. Markets, on their own, will not
deliver access for all, either. They will cater mainly to the privileged,
creating education for the elite, not the masses. The publics
representative i.e. government must be prepared, therefore,
to protect the public interest. This does not mean that governments
should crowd other players out. But it does mean that government
must be prepared to act as guide, facilitator, funder in some areas,
strategic planner and, when necessary, regulator prepared to wield
a hefty stick.
The second implication concerns the oft-repeated argument
that public investment in higher education is socially inequitable
because university graduates the future elite are
already part of the current elite and therefore not deserving of
public subsidy. This view has some merit, but it is not decisive.
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.
Society must get people to pay as much for their education as they
are able to and simultaneously avoid shooting itself in the
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
So subsidy is needed, but the government should only
spend its very limited resources where no-one else will meet the
bill. This means subsidy when bright but disadvantaged students
cannot pay, or in areas where the market will not provide.
From our public interest focus, you will see why we
developed an interest in higher education systems. Thinking about
systems forces countries to focus on the forest as well as the trees
to view the structure and operation of higher education institutions
in concert, not just individually. Our view of higher education
systems encompasses everything from public research universities
to private vocational schools. It addresses the place of these institutions
viz-a-viz each other, as well as their links to the rest of the
education system and the broader society. Such a perspective lends
itself naturally to the development of a rational system of higher
education in the public interest, rather than the poorly coordinated
structures that are growing up higgledy piggledy because no one
dedicating themselves and taking responsibility for the big picture.
Effective systems are supervised, but are not controlled,
micromanaged, or manipulated politically by government. They are
explicitly stratified, with different types of institution dedicated
to different missions. A technical college is not better or worse
than a research university. It is different and it must play
to different rules and achieve different objectives. Excellence
in higher education, we believe, is only possible when this realization
is built into the very fabric of the system. As an American with
an Indian wife, I feel just about qualified to make a cricketing
analogy. Occasionally, cricket teams are blessed with a true all-rounder,
like Indias Kapil Dev or South Africas Mike Procter.
But mostly they rely on specialists, each of whom understands his
role and each of whom can play as part of a team that becomes
more than the sum of its parts. Likewise, a higher education system
must value the contribution of each of its specialists, while blending
them together into a powerful and preferably world-beating
Now lets turn to governance, by which we mean
the arrangements -- both formal and informal that allow the
higher education team to function. Many of the people
who gave evidence to the Task Force pinpointed this as the key problem
impeding the effectiveness of higher education institutions. And
so we developed a set of principles of good governance, such as
academic freedom, autonomy, the need for monitoring and accountability,
meritocratic selection, and so on. And we also describe a set of
tools for converting these ivory tower principles to action, ranging
from specific mechanisms for hiring and promoting faculty and for
appointing university administrators, to boards of trustees, faculty
councils, institutional handbooks, and visiting committees.
In the end, we reach the common-sense conclusion that
good governance is not sufficient, but is most definitely necessary
for quality higher education. We also stress that the tools and
principles of good governance cannot be blindly transported from
either the public or private sector, and applied to higher education.
Higher education institutions are different both from large
seniority-based government bureaucracies and from commercial enterprises,
with their focus on results in the short term. They need to be prepared
to learn from other organizations but must always adapt new
solutions to their own very special needs.
The next two themes look at areas that are at the
heart of any education system. First general education which represents
an answer to the age-old question What is an educated person?
And second, science and technology an area that is fast becoming
the center of gravity for the emergence of new knowledge.
General education emphasizes the development of the
whole individual, and not just their occupational training. It highlights
the ability to think, communicate, and learn; and to adopt a broad
historical, comparative, and disciplinary perspective on different
issues. And it is a foundation for later, more specialized, study.
The Task Force Report urges the introduction
or in a few cases the expansion -- of high-quality general education
in developing countries. Such an education is not for all students,
but it is in each countrys public interest to have individuals
who can operate at a high intellectual level in rapidly changing
times whether that involves negotiating with the IMF, deciding
whether to import generic AIDS drugs, or acting to develop a national
legal system that can robustly protect fundamental human rights.
The content of general education curricula will naturally
vary across countries. For example, South Africa should not blindly
adopt the conception that exists in Britain or Taiwan. Designing
a general education program offers the opportunity to ask fundamental
questions about what matters to a particular society. The Task Force
believes that not only the outcome of this exercise, but also the
process itself, is likely to be of great value. It will help energize
the whole higher education system and, in time, change the
way a society thinks about itself too. Higher education has always
been about lofty ideals. These ideals are not luxuries, but help
form the vision that makes higher education thrive.
Science and Technology
Science and technology is the final thematic area
covered in the Task Force Report.
Science presents a particular challenge for universities
across the world. First, science is, itself, a public good. Scientific
inquiry often needs huge investment to deliver long term, but highly
uncertain, benefits. The market is not very good at funding this
research on its own especially when the benefits will be
felt by the poor more than the rich. As has often been noted, in
todays world it can be easier to find funding for research
into a new dandruff shampoo than it is to try and develop a cure
Second, the way that scientific knowledge is produced
is changing rapidly a point that is made forcibly by Michael
Gibbons, yesterdays key note speaker. Increasingly science
is done across organizational and disciplinary boundaries, it involves
public and private sector participation, and it is often directed
towards solving a strategically important problem.
Third, scientific progress is leading to growing uncertainty,
rather than certainty. The furor over genetically-modified foods
which ties together cutting edge science, big business, and
globalization into a heady cocktail is a perfect example
of how difficult it has become to understand where a particular
scientific advance is taking us. The relationship between science
and society is becoming increasingly vexed because increasingly
experts must admit: we really dont know.
Science as a public good. Changing modes of knowledge
production. A growing climate of uncertainty. These three factors
mean that universities must be substantially more flexible and fleet
of foot if they are to fund science adequately, pull together the
highest caliber of scientific teams, build curricula relevant to
modern societies, and maintain public support for their scientific
These problems are compounded in many developing countries,
where the science and technology base is currently low. The Task
Force believes that developing such a base is no longer a luxury,
but is becoming a necessity for all countries trying to compete
in the global knowledge economy.
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. From bio-
to nanotechnology, IT to pharmaceuticals science holds the
power to make a dramatic difference to quality of life in developing
countries, but only if their higher education systems can help guide
and control its development.
I want to conclude by returning briefly to the three
questions that the Task Force focused on. First, the importance
of higher education to society. I think that higher education is
transformative. It has certainly been an absolutely transforming
experience in my own life. My grandfathers were both immigrants.
One drove a cab, the other peddled vegetables on the street. I consider
myself incredibly fortunate to have attended college and graduate
school as higher education has catapulted me through class and income
categories and opened the world up to me. This transformative effect
spreads to whole societies and investment in higher education
systems is one of those far-sighted decisions that our descendants
are sure to thank us for.
Second, I think we are agreed that higher education
in developing countries faces a legion of problems. These obstacles
are formidable but not insurmountable, so it is a matter of switching
attention to the third question how these problems can be
As Lloyd George, wartime English prime minister, said:
"The finest eloquence is that which gets things done"
and, from the beginning, the Task Force report was intended to stimulate
others to take action. Obviously, we could not hope to prescribe
for 80% of the world cultures differ, economies differ, and
higher education systems must be different too. The task for us
was not to design solutions, but to outline problems and suggest
ways to approach the issues. The vision, political will, and managerial
skill to move beyond our call to arms can only be found
at national level. Our role as a catalyst is already being vindicated.
In Pakistan, for example, educationalists, policy-makers, business,
civil society and international organizations recently came together
to discuss what our report means for Pakistan. That countrys
higher education system faces serious difficulties and must try
to reform within a troubled economic and political setting
but we were all impressed by the seriousness and ingenuity with
which the people we met in Pakistan have dedicated themselves to
the reforming task.
When considering implementation, perhaps the toughest
issue is the question of priorities. (And I too have had to prioritize
in this speech there are many important areas that I would
like to have discussed, but have not been able to for reasons of
time.) But as policy-makers and educationalists sit down in each
country to plan the reform of their higher education system, Id
like to leave them with two thoughts. First concerns the importance
of their task for they are dealing with the knowledge, which
as John Bates Clark, has remarked is the only factor of production
that is not subject to diminishing returns. Second, concerns the
importance of the decisions they make. In the Harry Potter novels,
Harry is warned that it is our choices
that show what
we truly are, far more than our abilities. As for Harry, so
for national decisions on higher education. Whatever the short term
pressures, it is countries that make decisions for the long term
that, in the long term, will surely prosper. I hope the Task Force
will prove a catalyst that helps release the energy for those decisions
to be made.
And on that note, I think Ill close.