The front cover of The Economist dated March 3-28, 2015 was headed “ The whole world is going to university, and sub headed “ Is it worth it?”
The supplement on this topic is worth reading by all who are concerned with university education, academia and policy makers. Most developing African countries are part of the global economy; not only in terms of markets, but also in terms of education.
From the supplement we learn that China produces more graduates than the USA and India combined. One would assume that as far as education is concerned, China is self-sufficient but you will find thousands of Chinese students in western universities, especially the USA. China is sending so many of its students abroad because it is interested not just in quantity but also in quality. According to researches done by Chinese scholars on universities, about 70% of the world’s best are in the USA. Britain comes next in quality of universities. We are told by the Economist that governments want top-class universities because the modern economy is driven by human capital. The goal is to nurture people who will create intellectual property and clusters of high tech companies similar to those of around Stanford and Cambridge.
Recently, there were comments by members of the public to the effect that political parties have defaulted on their promise to build more universities. Was this fair and constructive criticism ? In the present circumstances when millions of people are in dire need of food, is it prudent to divert scarce resources to building extra universities when we already have quite enough, though whether they effectively cater for the needs of the country is another matter ?
What most developing countries in Africa need at the moment aren’t extra universities. Priority should be given to the quality of research in universities. Invention and innovations these days originate in university laboratories.
We aught to be discussing the more urgent problem which is to upgrade our universities to world-class levels. Universities are crucibles of what develops into technology, and technology is the indispensable factor of production. Let us not feel contented that we have people with doctorate degrees while some are professors. Are these people comparable in quality to professors of Harvard, Oxford or Sorbonne? It is not titles that enhance the reputation of universities, but contribution to knowledge. Let there be a policy of having visiting professors. We should avoid inbreeding; there must be intellectual cross fertilisation. Human resource is a nation’s greatest asset, and these assets are outcomes of quality education.
From the Economist, we learn that in countries like France the state meets full tuition for students in public universities, but at public universities in the USA a student meets part of the costs. I think the American system is better because it encourages the spirit of self-reliance among students and enables universities to admit more students because not all the money is concentrated on the lucky few.
For general effectiveness, there should be management by objective. Having made a decision at one point in time to upgrade universities, at a later time we should demand reports on the progess made. Open ended plans are of no value.
With regards to natural intelligence, it is no disadvantage to be born in a small country. In contests between world students of mathematics, science and reading, small countries like Singapore defeat giants liken USA and Germany.
If properly organized, many can contribute to innovations and inventions. The key lies in motivation. Nothing great was ever invented by chance!