Universities have key role in reducing poverty

May 28, 1999

Universities in developed and developing countries are strongly placed to guide the government in its prime overseas aid aims: halving the numbers living in extreme poverty and achieving universal primary education by 2015.

It is disappointing, then, that this week's education policy framework from the Department for International Development gives only passing recognition to universities' potential as engines for sustainable development.

Its handful of paragraphs on the subject will do little to dispel the anxiety of academics who have detected at best a hint of indifference from Clare Short to the university sector.

Worse still, those paragraphs paint a largely functional, mechanistic role for universities in developing countries as producers of the doctors, teachers, research scientists, technicians and economists needed for an advancing society.

Home-grown skilled intelligentsia are an important ingredient in economic and social development. But the framework document fails to recognise the value of a strong, autonomous university as a necessary partner to liberation from poverty.

Ms Short's officials this week sought to include the higher education community in the process of fleshing out the framework. In doing so, they identified an absence of credible data as one obstacle to their minister's strategy. They need look no further than universities for the collection and critical evaluation of data on which sound policies can be built.

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