World Bank warns poor countries on building Universities

A new World Bank report on higher education has warned low- and middle-income countries to resist the temptation to establish world-class universities … before educating their own citizens to high tertiary standards.

The report titled: “The Road to Academic Excellence: The Making of World-Class Research Universities” charts the experiences of 11 leading public and private research universities in nine countries from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

The report says that not every country needs comprehensive world-class universities, at least not while more fundamental tertiary education needs are not being met.

President Mutharika laying a foundation stone at Thyolo University constructed at his Ndata farm

Many countries, it adds, would be better off initially focusing on developing the best national universities possible.

“For example, higher-level research institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa that are equipped to provide quality education and conduct relevant applied research can play a key role in training skilled workers to be fluent in the latest technologies and apply them in industries to make a broader range of products that win customers worldwide,” the study said.

In May this year Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika reiterated in his State of the Nation address that his government commenced the processes of establishing six new universities.

“The Malawi University of Science and Technology is being funded by the Government of the People’s Republic of China. They have decided to complete the work in twenty months,” he said.

Mutharika said his government has prioritized education, science and technology to develop adequate national capacity for development.

“The main focus of the education sector is, therefore, to ensure improved equity, quality and relevance of education as well as to expand institutions of higher learning to make more students access better education,” he said.

But the new Bank study noted that building and operating world-class universities can cost millions of dollars.

“For example, Saudi Arabia announced plans for a new $10 billion graduate research university; Pakistan plans to spend $750 million for each of its new universities of engineering, science, and technology during the next few years; and the school of medicine established by Cornell University in Qatar in 2002 cost $750 million,” the report said.

The World Bank believes that education is a powerful driver of human development and economic growth, and is also one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty.

The Bank manages a portfolio of $11.2 billion with operations in 82 countries, and invested more than $1.8 billion in education in 2011.

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