Developing Education in Developing Nations

Article excerpt

An interview with Jamil Salmi, higher education economist at the World Bank

JAMIL SALMI, A MOROCCAN EDUCATION ECONOMIST, is the coordinator of the World Bank's network of higher education professionals. Prior to joining the World Bank in December 1986, Salmi was a professor of education economics at the National Institute of ducation Planning in Rabat, Morocco. He also worked as a consultant to various ministries, national professional associations, and international organizations. In the past 12 years, he has provided policy and technical advice on higher education reform to more than 30 governments in developing countries. Salmi is a graduate of the French business school ESSEC. He also holds a master's degree in public and international affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in development studies from the University of Sussex (UK). He is the author of five books and numerous articles on education and development issues.

IE: What is the general status of higher education in developing nations today?

SALMI: Higher education in developing countries is undergoing change at a rapid pace. In some places, the 'future' is already here. Imagine some students receive free ipods, laptops, and Blackberry handhelds upon enrollment. Students may elect an individualized program to suit their specific career plans or study interests. Courses might be systematically redesigned every two years. Many courses are online. There might be no physical library or laboratories, only e-libraries and i-labs. While many ideas about the future of higher education appear like improbable science fiction dream to some, or a terrifying nightmare to others, each element mentioned above can actually be found in some form among today's universities. These futuristic features are symbolic of the rapid transformation affecting higher education in the industrial world-some of these developments are already happening today in some developing nations. In the past few years, many countries have witnessed significant transformations and reforms in their higher education systems, including the emergence of new types of institutions, changes in patterns of financing and governance, the establishment of evaluation and accreditation mechanisms, curriculum reforms, and technological innovations.

IE: Is higher education changing like this in developing countries universally?

SALMI: No, it is not changing at this impressive speed everywhere. Most developing countries continue to wrestle with difficulties produced by inadequate responses to long standing challenges. Among these unresolved challenges are the sustainable expansion of higher education coverage, the reduction of inequalities of access and outcomes, the improvement of educational quality and relevance, and the introduction of more effective governance structures and management practices.

IE: Why is the growth of the higher education system in developing countries so important and specifically for a knowledge-based economy?

SALMI: Economic development is increasingly linked to a nation's ability to acquire and apply technical and socioeconomic knowledge, and the process of globalization is accelerating this trend. Comparative advantages come less and less from abundant natural resources or cheaper labor, and more and more from technical innovations and the competitive use of knowledge. Today economic growth is as much a process of knowledge accumulation as of capital accumulation. It is estimated, for instance, that firms devote one-third of their investment to knowledge-based intangibles such as training, research and development, patents, licensing, design and marketing.

All countries also need the scientific capacity to understand critical issues such as global warming, the pros and cons of using genetically modified crops, or the ethical dimensions of cloning. Finally, progress in seismology, vulcanology and climatology has enhanced the ability to anticipate and prepare for natural disasters like floods, tsunamis and droughts. …