MINT with a policy hole

As more emerging economies get their own acronym, perhaps some high-powered advice for Cameron et al will hit home

December 5, 2013

China and India are often spoken of as two huge peas in an increasingly lustrous pod. But they are not really the same at all: China is a far more significant economic force, with a rate of growth that produces the equivalent of another India in gross domestic product terms every two years.

Population offers another source of difference: while China faces the impact of its one‑child policy, with its proportion of young adults set to decline rapidly (albeit in tandem with growing demand for higher education), India’s rapid demographic expansion is set to continue.

As we publish the inaugural Times Higher Education BRICS & Emerging Economies Rankings this week, Jim O’Neill, former chief economist at Goldman Sachs, makes the case in the pages of THE for a wider and more nuanced view of the global economy.

We are entering an era in which demand for world-class education will be supercharged by the next generation of emerging economies

We are entering an era in which demand for world-class education will be supercharged by the next generation of emerging economies, he argues, with the now ubiquitous BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) challenged by a group of young pretenders that O’Neill calls the MINTs: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.

A range of factors have put these economies on the front foot but demographics are key: the MINTs’ youthful populations will need to be educated to a high level in order to maximise productivity (to put it in the most instrumental terms).

The release of our ranking coincides with David Cameron’s trip to China; and despite the nascent superpower’s demographic dip, it will remain one of the most important economies of the age. But while China has for some time been the most vital source of international students for UK universities (and one of the few countries where they have established full campuses), O’Neill sees similar opportunities in the MINT nations, as does David Willetts, the universities and science minister, who has frequently pointed to Indonesia as a potentially huge overseas market.

That is not to say there aren’t challenges in those countries: our cover feature focuses on the turmoil that has gripped Turkey this year and the dual pressures of violent confrontations between student protesters and the government, and the state’s simultaneous promise to relax its control of a relatively young academy. What is clear, however, is that global demand for higher education will only grow.

O’Neill is just the latest to comment on the impediments posed by the coalition’s visa policy, and with UK public funding for the academy well below the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average, perhaps it is no surprise that he suggests sovereign wealth funds or even the mooted BRICS Development Bank as possible sources of funding to help UK universities internationalise. Such funders may well be interested, he says, because “the prize for getting it right is huge”.

Arguments for investment in UK higher education – other than via student loan subsidies – have fallen on deaf ears in recent years, and as we report this week, a fresh funding crisis could put British higher education back on the chopping block.

If previous arguments about the importance of our universities failed to hit home, perhaps the government will listen to the former head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

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