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Higher Education is Back on the Development Agenda

Posted By Guy Pfeffermann, Monday, July 28, 2014

Last month I was invited to participate in a gathering at Wilton Park (UK), which discussed higher education and development. The Department for International Development (DFID), the UK Government’s major development agency, and Pearson ( sponsored the event. 

The meeting brought together high government officials from developing countries and the UK, higher education experts and practitioners, civil society organizations and business representatives. Three representatives of the Open University, whose business school is a member of GBSN participated in the discussions.

As the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), launched in 2000, run their course next year, intensive discussions are going on around the world about what is to come next. The MDGs focused on eight goals: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.  I remember my former boss Larry Summers, then US Secretary of the Treasury, speaking at the World Bank on the occasion of the MDG’s launch. He said, presciently, that having a list of goals would galvanize development funders, but warned of the risk that development bureaucracies might consider that list in an exclusionary way. His concern proved to be justified. As the MDGs governed the official development cooperation agenda, policy advice and funding for secondary and higher education were reduced sharply. Indeed, very little development assistance was given to the developing countries’ universities (including, sadly, teacher-training institutions, without which it is hard to see how primary schools are to expand and improve).


The Wilton Park conference was a breath of fresh air for those who understand the key importance of universities in development.  Among other topics, we discussed what higher education should deliver for developing countries in the 21 st century; higher education, jobs and growth; innovation, quality and affordability; building networks and other ways to strengthen higher education systems and institutions. It was clear from the discussions that public universities in the developing world are facing immense challenges.. I was pleased that GBSN sat at that table and made the case for capacity-building for the developing world’s business schools. Our brainstorming will inform a DFID Higher Education Taskforce, signaling a welcome return of higher education to the official development agenda after 15 years of unfortunate neglect.

Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network

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