|Improving Higher Education in Developing Countries (WB, 1993, 80 p.)|
I. G. Patel
Debates about higher education have become part and parcel of the so-called revolution in economic thinking and economic policy that characterized the 1980s in developed and developing countries alike. Higher education is predominantly a public sector activity. If the public sector is now suspect and public expenditure and intervention are generally to be reduced, can higher education-or indeed education itself-be exempt from this scrutiny? Should not expenditure on higher education be justified in terms of its relative costs and benefits to society? Is there any reason why the share of higher education in total public expenditure or in total national expenditure should continue to rise rather than remain the same, or even decline? Whatever the level of expenditure, should it not be incurred judiciously, that is, with due regard to efficient and cost-effective use of the resources employed and the social relevance of the results achieved? Does not concern for efficiency imply a radical change in the management of higher education, with greater emphasis on performance and accountability, and perhaps a reduction in the traditional autonomy of universities?
Indeed, if expenditure on higher education has to be justified on grounds of efficiency and comparative social rates of return, does this not argue in favor of differential support for different institutions in consonance with differences in their efficiency? Should not rewards for individual teachers be similarly differentiated by results rather than set nationally in terms of general norms of age, experience, and training already received? To carry the argument further, should higher education be thought of primarily in terms of universities as we traditionally know them, or is there need and scope here for allowing "a thousand flowers to bloom?"
If competition as a spur to efficiency also has a role to play in higher education, should we not let private institutions develop, and indeed encourage them by providing them with public support, at least to the extent of the support enjoyed per student in comparable public institutions? A well-recognized principle of public finance is that even if a service is to be provided at public cost, it need not actually be provided by public agencies if the private sector can provide the same service in a more cost-effective manner.
Once the private sector is allowed to extend into this hitherto traditionally public sector activity, other questions arise, notably, those concerned with equity. All democratic societies value education as the means for bringing about social mobility and reducing differences in income, wealth, and opportunity inherited from the past. Thus, education cements the forces of national unity and a sense of common national purpose so essential for the very survival of democratic governments. But is the present system of higher education really equitable in the sense that it promotes social mobility and greater equality of opportunity? If not, can it be made more equitable, at least in a limited sense, by making those who receive it pay at least part of the costs of their education? The temptation to think so is great when government budgets everywhere are strained. However, a system of partial payment for higher education by the students raises deeper questions of equity that cannot be resolved easily. More often than not, equity and efficiency make strange bedfellows.
The questions raised an not just hypothetical or theoretical questions. They an the stuff of heated public debate around the world, most notably in the United Kingdom. These are important questions and will be asked with increasing vigor in the years to come.
Having been in the thick of these debates for six years as director of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) from 1984 to 1990, I have, of course, acquired my own point of view on these questions. In addition to the six years at the LSE, I was director of the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad from 1982 to 1984. However, my experience of university teaching is almost nonexistent. Thus, my perspective is more that of a manager than of a teacher. My exposure to higher education as a student has been extensive, but was confined to some of the more elite institutions: Bombay; Cambridge, England; and Harvard. When it comes to higher education then, I am likely to be an elitist. By contrast, I have been on the other side as well, being a finance man for most of my life: an economic adviser, finance secretary, governor of the Reserve Bank, and deputy administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. I have been accustomed, as such, to giving money as grudgingly as anyone else. Well, not as grudgingly, perhaps, as Margaret Thatcher, but grudgingly nonetheless.
You will appreciate, therefore, that I have some difficulty in balancing the arguments within myself. You may well find that much of what I have to say falls uncomfortably in the middle, but that is the nature of the beast, and I make no apology for recommending a gradualist and evolutionary approach that nevertheless has a clear sense of general direction. More seriously, I believe that a synthesis of old and new ideas with some forward-looking initiatives toward greater regional and international cooperation and a more imaginative use of the newer technologies offer the best way forward for most developing countries.
The Aims of Higher Education
Above all, in this field more than in any other, we need to avoid the fashionable route meet loudly proclaimed by the revolutionaries of the extreme right. Life is something more than mere economics, and this is true of no other field as it is of education. Let us not be mesmerized by the notion that higher education is an investment good with a productivity in economic terms higher than that of most other investments. This may have been true of the past, and may or may not be so in future, but the central point about higher education is that unlike other forms of capital such as machines, higher education has returns that far transcend mere economic returns. These returns are the very substance of what development is all about, that is, the quality of life in its totality, including individual dignity, self-respect, and command over one's own life, which are the true hallmarks of individual freedom. These returns are difficult to quantify and to compare with economic returns, but they an nevertheless real. They are even more important than the so-called nation building consequences, which are at best means to an end.
Thus education, and higher education in particular, is part and parcel of the human endeavor for a more civilized existence. Then is, therefore, a fundamental democratic or humanitarian sense in which education of every kind and level should eventually be made available to everyone to the extent that he or she is capable of absorbing it, not just to those who are able to put it to the best use, whatever that may mean, but to everybody who can put it to some we. Not to each according to his ability only, but to each according to his needs as well. Quality and quantity an thus both important, and have to be reconciled as far as possible. Therein lies the rub. However, the essential principle of equality in universality is indisputable and is a logical extension of the so-called Robbins Principle as applied to higher education in the United Kingdom. For more than a quarter of a century his dictum that higher education should be available to all those who can benefit from it has held the stage despite its perhaps conscious ambiguity. Its egalitarian ethos naturally extends to a certain uniformity in public support to different institutions and a more or less similar structure of rewards throughout the system. At the same time, resources are limited and higher education has to compete with alternative uses. When it comes to higher education policy, this brings us to a central dilemma: an unavoidable conflict between the legitimacy of everwidening ends and the reality of limited resources.
An Approach to Policy
Such a situation can only be resolved by compromise, to work out some optimum solution, but one should not make too much of economic analysis in arriving at an optimum solution. When no simple tradeoffs are available, economic analysis can at best illuminate. It cannot provide an answer by itself.
In practice, at least in democratic societies, a variety of motives and interests will enter policy. Where one is concerned with deep-seated issues of equity, autonomy, accountability, and elitism, change is bound to be slow as old attitudes are often grounded as much in good sense as in prejudice or vested interests. Education policy is, in any case, only one part of overall social and economic policy, and one must ask whether general objectives, such as equity, need to be pursued equally vigorously in every field of endeavor, or whether a case exists for tolerating some inequity in some spheres as long as the overall policy framework is slanted toward greater equity. What is true of equity is, of course, equally true of efficiency. It is only one of many good things and pursuing it relentlessly in every field may not be wise.
To put it differently, when change is needed on many fronts the limited resources of social resilience have to be deployed carefully. One has to choose the battlelines carefully, and traditional education may not be the outpost to be overrun first. The future is always uncertain, and calls for caution and a gradualist approach in a field as far-reaching as higher education.
Even the so called consensus of the 1980s on broad economic policy issues is beginning to fray at the edges. In the Mecca of the British New Right, the devout themselves have committed the sacrilege of abolishing the poll tax. Yet, in theory, no better tax than the poll tax can be devised if one is concerned only with economic efficiency. The poll tax distorts nothing and can be evaded or avoided only by voluntarily ceasing to be; not a very likely occurrence.
What is more, despite the new wisdom that there is no such thing as development economics and that the same policies work in industrial and developing countries alike, clearly some problems need to be tackled much more urgently in the developing world. Questions of quality of education, of unemployment among the educated, of social relevance, of how much education to import and how much to produce at home, and of the need for positive discrimination in favor of those deprived of opportunity for long periods in the past are likely to be more urgent and more difficult to resolve in newly-emerging, poor democracies than in well-established, affluent societies. While the problems among developing countries will also differ, we should not import the controversies of the North uncritically into the South. Much less should we borrow solutions wholesale from them.
At the same time, what is happening in the United Kingdom and elsewhere is relevant for Malaysia and India, and even Viet Nam and Zambia, which is why one has to be open-minded about the kind of issues outlined at the start of the chapter. What is not in doubt is that we all need to be better educated about education. We simply cannot take things for granted when what is at stake is the quality of life for generations to come. If this argues for more analysis ant more information and more questioning, it also argues for a very critical look at what might purport to be new findings or new guiding principles.
The Common Ground
Some issues do not entail any great controversy. Most industrial countries may have reaches the stage where the case for reducing, or at least holding steady, the share of government expenditure in total national expenditure is overwhelming. This is certainly not the case in most developing countries. There is, therefore, no intrinsic reason why the share of education in total expenditure cannot increase significantly in most developing countries during the foreseeable future.
I also believe that no one any longer maintains that developing countries cannot afford the luxury of higher education. One has only to look at the profiles of the jobs that need to be done to see why one cannot simply stop with secondary education, let alone primary education. Where will the teachers for the schools, or the doctors and engineers, or the higher civil servants and diplomats be trained? These jobs cannot be manned by expatriates for ever, nor can countries train all their people abroad for ever.
In addition, higher education is necessary to satisfy some of the higher aspirations of a society. Historians, archaeologists, and writers chronicle the past and present in a way that shapes the future and nurtures the roots that bind communities together. Universities students as well as teachers everywhere are uniquely motivated to keep alive the values of freedom and universality. Witness tyrants' fear of university campuses and how universities everywhere traditionally transcend purely regional or national loyalties. Universities are, in general, also the greatest source of change, not just technological change, but social and cultural change.
No rules are available that can tell us how the kitty for education must be divided between primary, secondary, and tertiary education. There may be some point to making calculations that compare rates of return to primary versus secondary education or secondary versus tertiary education, but the different stages of education are mutually complementary, and returns change with time as they are very much the product of relative scarcity. Common sense tells us that a broad-based structure of primary education is necessary for secondary education to take off, just as secondary education must be grounded in a sound and extensive system of secondary education. Thus, the structure of education will always be a pyramid, although one may hope that eventually it will resemble a cube. How fast this "cubic transformation". can take place is a question that can only be answered on an individual basis. What one can say is that even though there is a logical sequence from primary to secondary to higher education, we cannot wait until the first stage is fully in place before we start to build the second and third stages. Most people would agree that more or less universal education up to the primary and secondary stage should be provided as soon as possible, without neglecting higher education altogether in the meanwhile. Higher education accounts for some 20 percent of total public expenditure on education in most countries, and there is not much reason to suggest a significant shift upward or downward.
The question of the pace at which higher education should expand is clearly more complicated. The very rapid pace of expansion of the past two or three decades obviously cannot continue. For a variety of reasons, the party is over and some "reversal of fortune" for higher education-and indeed for education in general-has to be accepted as a practical necessity in most developing countries. To be more precise, the rate of increase in public expenditure on higher education will be somewhat slower in future than in the recent past.
This does not mean, however, that the share of education-including higher education-in total public or national expenditure should remain unchanged, much less that it should decline. Without invoking the somewhat dubious calculations that purport to show that higher education is more productive than other forms of public expenditure, one can make two points. First, even if health or preservation of the environment, for example, are serious contenders for public attention along with higher education, surely areas like administration, defense, or internal security deserve even greater scrutiny than higher education. Second, and this is often overlooked, higher education enjoys and deserves to enjoy an even higher priority in private expenditure than is reflected in current reality. If only this private propensity could be properly invoked, it could permit an increase in the proportion of national expenditure devoted to higher education.
There is now increasing recognition that we need not make much of the distinction between vocational and general education, between specialists and generalists, or between natural sciences and social sciences or humanities. I doubt if questions such as priorities within higher education for different disciplines can be decided based on calculations of the private or social rate of return on the study of, say, economics as against medicine. As in the case of industry versus agriculture, versus large-scale production, or exports versus import replacement, we need both, and we need both generalists and specialists as well. It will not do to ridicule one or the other by clever arguments. I remember being told that a specialist is one who knows a great deal about very little and goes on to know more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing. The obvious retort is that a generalist is one who knows a little about many things and goes on to know less and less about more and more until he knows nothing about everything. Most of us, I think, are content to fall short of both these ideals.
This is not to say that questions of priorities within higher education are not important. Clearly, each society has to choose whether to have one more medical school or five schools of business administration, and developing countries, can make gigantic mistakes for the sake of false prestige, as my country did when it spent more money initially on research in physics and space technology rather than on agronomy and biology. However, questions of priority within higher education cannot be decided in either/or terms as skills are complementary and society's needs are many and diverse. Nor can they be decided with reference to rates of return as social returns are difficult to compare and private returns are not all that relevant except in the context of financing higher education. When it comes to priorities within higher education, one has to adopt a common sense trial and error approach, learning from experience elsewhere, and above all, from debates among professionals. The main meat of higher education surely must be that it develops the same professional attitude of objectivity and sensitivity to evidence among practitioners of all professions.
Can we then decide on priorities within higher education in terms of some assessment of future needs, or some kind of manpower planning? On the face of it, this seems sensible considering the extent of unemployment among the educated and the waste inherent in a mismatch between supply and demand. Indeed, some degree of planning in higher education is unavoidable as it is in all activities that take years and vast resources to complete and the benefits of which are spread over a number of years. All one can say is that such manpower planning and, even more, the allocation of resources in accordance with such planning, must be not watertight, but open-ended in many ways. We all know the difficulties of forecasting and the pitfalls of excessive planning. The future is uncertain. The only certainty is that there will be many changes from the past, so that flexible or adaptable skills are more the answer than precise, but narrow, skills. Higher education is also not just an instrument of the public good. It is also a private prerogative of each citizen, so there must be room left where different tastes, temperaments, and absorptive capacities can breathe freely without being obsessed by private financial or social rates of return.
One thing that is peculiar about higher education is that its practitioners are notoriously oblivious of competition in terms of financial rewards. They choose instead to form their own noncompeting groups within which competition is fierce, but in terms of their own standards, set by their own peer groups, and not by anyone outside. Civilization is enriched essentially by those who refuse to compete in every market, but choose instead a niche of their own, be it in art, literature, learning, or a life of service. True, civilization also needs for its sustenance and enrichment those who are driven more by acquisitive instincts. Both have their place, and the priorities in higher education must provide room for all.
A related question of priorities concerns research as distinguished from teaching. No one believes that research is a luxury for developing countries, or that it can be done in some second-class manner. Developing countries, have problems and priorities not shared by others. To develop acceptable and economic forms of family planning, to conquer tropical diseases, or to make local products more competitive at home and abroad are challenging tasks for the most gifted of scientists. In addition, social science research in societies bedeviled by differences of caste, tribe, religion, and cultural sophistication is likely to be more difficult, not less. Whether research and teaching always go together or can usefully be separated to some extent is a question on which opinions will differ, but I suspect this is a less serious question in developing countries, where current standards of both teaching and research are generally so low that there is room for experimentation in devising a suitable institutional framework for improving both.
One can also safely assert that in developing as well as in industrial countries, higher education will in future provide, indeed demand, a much greater diversity, not just in subject range, but in terms of institutional arrangements, how subjects and how research is done. The concept of a university offering degrees with precise and somewhat stylized courses taught within a specific time frame and with periodic examinations to assess and establish performance and ability will perhaps persist for many years to come, especially in developing countries. However, private institutions are already becoming more important in Latin America and parts of Asia where higher education has already advanced a good deal and where so much demand goes unsatisfied. With the aim of meeting the demand as cheaply as possible will come experiments in modular degrees, evening classes, correspondence courses, private diplomas, and a burgeoning of all kinds of tutorial arrangements.
In such rapidly changing times, education is a lifelong process, so that short courses provided either by universities, business firms, or specialized private and public agencies will become more necessary and more common. How to finance, regulate, and supervise such a diverse structure in the interests of quality and economy while responding to varying and changing needs is a question that requires more attention.
Let me state one more proposition. While higher education is crucial, it is by no means a panacea for all ills, and one should not judge it with reference to impossible criteria. I remember thinking seriously when I was young that most of our national ills in India such as harmful social customs like dowries, religious and caste or linguistic conflicts, disregard for law and order and a general absence of civic sense, or a lack of concern for the weak and disabled-would disappear with the spread of education among the masses. Nothing of the sort has happened. indeed, in some ways the educated are the worst offenders and rationalizers. The issue is as old as civilization; knowledge is not wisdom. Plato thought education or knowledge would make people reasonable, but reason alone is not a sure guide. The rational are not always reasonable, and, as is well said: the heart also has its reasons which reason does not know.
What is more, education is only a part of overall social and economic policy, and it cannot compensate for the infirmities of policies in general any more than it can radically alter basic human propensities. One can only hope that it can make some difference for the better.
Area of Dissent
I have spent some time spelling out what I think would be generally accepted to counteract the tendency in many seminars to focus on differences and controversies. However, it is not my intention to suggest that the" are no serious issues in higher education where them is no dear consensus. On the contrary, it is precisely because some major issues remain to be more fully debated and decided that seminars like this one are important.
Among the unsettled questions in higher education where we need a balanced approach that is not yet dearly defined, I would mention the following, which overlap in some ways:
- The precise connotation of the concept of efficiency,
- The right balance between autonomy and efficiency,
- The conflict between efficiency and equity or between quality and quantity,
- The financing of higher education,
- The proper management structure for higher education.
The concept of efficiency in higher education dearly has two aspects. Resources must be used efficiently in the sense of obtaining the maximum output per unit of resource. Second, supply must reflect demand. However, maximizing output per unit of resource is not a simple matter, and them is a danger here of circular reasoning. Generally this kind of argument leads to an endorsement of increasing the number of students per teacher or, at times, even of restraining teachers' salaries, both tear to budget cutting bureaucrats and politicians. But increasing quantity by reducing quality makes no sense. Both quality and equity, for example, can be increased by providing residential accommodation for teachers and students at subsidized rates rather than by letting them fend for themselves in overcrowded urban conglomerations, but this will increase the cost per student. Should we therefore frown on it? Nor can simplistic notions like this take account of the diverse needs of society. The fact that doctors cost more to produce is no reason for stinting on producing them. Even when appropriate, comparisons of cost must include total cost to the community rather than to the exchequer, something that is seldom done and is not easy to do in any case.
This is not to deny that costs can be cut, by more intensive use of buildings, for example, but petty economies generate more annoyance than they are worth, and academics are better left alone to do their own thing rather than to keep accounts and fill in forms. A more promising approach is through greater use of modern technologies. More secretaries can work at home, and tutorials, and even lectures and discussion sessions, can in part be replaced by tapes (students at LSE, 1 am told, do brisk business by taping lectures anyway). Distance learning and open universities deserve more attention. They can more easily draw upon material produced by the best universities abroad. This is one area where universities in more advanced countries can contribute to the quality and cost-effectiveness of higher education in developing countries.
The issue of a mismatch between supply and demand is also not simple. We are obviously not speaking here of effective demand only as understood in economics. Demand for some disciplines like medicine and the priesthood may have to be created if it does not exist for reasons of cost or rewards.
What is more important, much of higher education is, or should be, flexible as there is always scope for substitution and adaptation over time. A temporary mismatch in the form of unemployment cannot be avoided when change is the order of the day. Such a mismatch has to be met by remedial training rather than by changing the educational profile, except perhaps to make education a more versatile tool generally. This is one reason why conceptual or theoretical modes of instruction that address the "why" of things are better than practical modes that concentrate on the "how" of things, as the former permit better adaptation to changing situations whereas the "how" of things dates relatively quickly. It is undoubtedly true that developing countries produce far too many unemployable graduates or graduates with very little added value, but this is because the quality of education is low, and not because the educational profile is necessarily wrong.
Concern for efficiency requires more than taking steps to reduce costs without reducing quality. The actual results achieved need to be assessed, and perhaps rewards for individuals and institutions adjusted in response to such assessment. This question of efficiency and performance audits conflicts with universities' traditional autonomy. However, the area of conflict can be reduced in several ways. First, the respective spheres of responsibility-and hence of autonomy-for different constituents of the university need to be clearly established and respected. Universities consist not just of teachers, but also of students and managers, and the management structure often includes not just paid staff, but government representatives and people prominent in public life. They each have a specific responsibility, and hence a claim for autonomy. Second, even where primary responsibility rests elsewhere, there should be participation and discussion, but a clear distinction needs to be drawn between the right to participate and the right to decide. Third, much of the sting of an audit can be taken out by making it primarily internal.
In passing, one cannot help remarking that the talk of autonomy sounds rather hollow and ironic in most developing countries, where government intervention is rampant even in matters concerning appointments and promotions. Even the lay representations reflect not public or professional eminence, but political patronage. Such autonomy as the teachers and students enjoy is exercised not in committees, but in agitations of the most disorderly kind without any restraint in canvassing the most indefensible forms of self-aggrandizement. Thus, teachers agitate to prevent any proper assessment before promotions and students press for easier examinations and better results.
This issue aside, reconciling autonomy and accountability is possible by using the principles I just outlined. Students, for example, have every right to assess their teachers' performance, that is, the quality of their teaching. Teachers cannot resent such assessment in the name of autonomy. The quality of research must also be assessed, not just by peer groups, but also in terms of consumer preference and confidence as measured by research contracts or consultancies. All evidence of teacher performance must count when the time comes to renew contracts or tenure or grant promotions and salary raises. These cannot be settled merely in terms of the passage of time. Even if teachers' overall performance is finally judged primarily by teachers rather than by administrator, lay governors, or government representatives, the process must be credible and objective. This may well require not just the use of external assessors, but also the acceptance of rotating internal assessors.
I am not in favor of differential rewards for individual teachers. This generates conflict and discord, which can be counterproductive, but by the same token, strict standards must be applied when it comes to increments, or promotions, or renewal of contracts and granting of tenure. Universities must also be more tolerant of teachers earning income from outside. One test of a good leader or director is the skill with which he or she allows different teachers different degrees of involvement in outside work without creating jealousy or neglect of duty.
However, when it comes to what to teach and how to teach it, what to do research on and how to carry it out, and what standards to set for examinations, teachers must have the final say even if administrator, lay governors, or even students participate in the discussion. By the same token, teachers cannot dictate how many students to take or how much of everything must be taught or researched on in the aggregate. Questions of total resources to be employed and of financial management must be the prerogative of the administration, government representatives, and lay governors. Expenditure audits, in general, can be made more acceptable by including teachers, and even students, in the process and by using objective criteria, but the final say on the budget has to be with the governing bodies and not with directors or teachers.
In short, autonomy, efficiency, and performance audits are all important, but each in their respective sphere and when exercised in an appropriate style. In my experience, it is not that difficult to avoid or bypass militant trade unionism by assuring genuine participation and involvement, and one can get teachers' and students' support for a sensible audit system if one succeeds in creating confidence that it is objective, even-handed, and, within limits, participatory.
Unfortunately, despite much governmental interference in everything, including appointments and promotions (and perhaps because of it), the system of efficiency and performance audits of higher education leaves much to be desired in most developing countries. This is undoubtedly one of the main causes of high costs and poor quality. The situation has actually deteriorated so much that not many people are willing to accept the post of vice chancellor, which used to be so prestigious not long ago. Restoring a semblance of management and managerial autonomy by rolling back government intervention and political patronage and making students and teachers responsive primarily to purely educational criteria are perhaps the greatest challenges to higher education in many developing countries.
Even more worrisome, perhaps, are the appallingly low standards of quality in most institutions of higher learning. In the understandable desire to spread higher education as widely as possible, standards have been allowed to fall, and few institutions are of world class in most developing countries. It is, of course, not just that resources are spread too thinly. The problem goes even deeper. Very few developing countries have the manpower and other resources required to develop really world class institutions, and in a way poor quality teaching and research is worse than none. Given that the demand for higher education is strong and, in one sense, everyone has a right to such education irrespective of absorptive capacity if only society could afford it, how do we reconcile the conflict between quality and quantity?
The simplest way to improve quality would be to have very high admission and instruction standards. This would achieve many things at once. It would reduce the rate at which expenditure on higher education expands. Available resources would be concentrated in a fewer institutions, which would make it easier to maintain and improve quality. Even today, admissions to medical and engineering colleges are severely restricted by merit, and this has been generally accepted as necessary. One should be able to apply similar planning to the hundreds of commerce departments and replace them by fewer, but more credible, schools of business management. One can at least insist that government supported institutions have certain minimum admission standards. That is the only way to assure that higher education leads to sufficient value added to deserve the epithet of higher.
Such an elitist approach has many disadvantages that can, however, be countered, at least to some extent. Those who are rich and do not qualify to enter highly subsidized public schools will gravitate to private commercial establishments, or even go abroad, and the really poor seldom go in for higher education as they can ill afford to forego the income they might otherwise earn. The really bright among the poor and the not so well-off can be taken care of by scholarships that must, however, be large enough to cover maintenance as well as fees, and when institutions are fewer, maintenance costs will be higher as students might have to live away from home.
If education beyond the school level enriches individuals' lives and widens their mental and spiritual horizons, the best way to provide it to the masses is not through full-time university degree courses taken away from home between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one or more. Short courses outside office hours, programs like the Workers' Education Programme in the United Kingdom, and training organized by employers (if necessary with government support by way of tax concessions) are likely to be more effective. All this should also be eminently feasible in this age of television. Building not more universities, but more facilities for continuing education, including libraries, is the answer for satisfying the legitimate hunger of the many for some exposure to higher learning.
With high admission and instruction standards, there could be a shortage of students to admit, but this will spur improvements in the quality of secondary education, which is all to the good. There might also be a need for positive discrimination in regard to admissions for some historically disadvantaged groups, but this can be accommodated in a system with high admissions and instruction standards if we are prepared to have remedial courses in advance of admission as well as after.
If standards of admission and instruction are pitched very high, small countries may not have the scope for even a single institution for some disciplines, but it is high time we extended notions of regional cooperation to higher education in any case. Apart from the immediate educational gains, throwing together young men and women from neighboring countries may well provide a more lasting basis for mutual regard and cooperation on a wide front. The potential for regional cooperation in higher education is considerable even between large countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, and Pakistan, and needs to be seized in the interests of regional peace and prosperity.
The shortage of qualified teachers in universities can be met by training some young men and women abroad. Of all the forms of harmful do-it-yourself protection, insistence on training everyone only at home is perhaps the most harmful. Yet many countries do exactly this in many ways: by not having sufficient scholarships for study abroad, and even by limiting access to foreign exchange. Such practices are largely self-defeating. By all means let us insist on high standards for qualifying to receive the scholarships or for access to foreign exchange, but let us not have arbitrary limits in terms of the level of degrees to be taken abroad or the particular courses to be pursued even at private expense.
In this context it is a great pity that barring a few countries such as the United States and France, most industrial countries are becoming inhospitable to students from developing countries. Fees for them have been increased greatly, and even the United States has a quota system for bright students from some parts of the world. Funds available for technical assistance should be used to train young people from the developing countries in universities in donor countries and to strengthen the best institutions in the receiving countries. Even the World Bank and private foundations underestimate the importance of financing graduate studies at the world's best universities for bright students from developing countries. What is true of teaching is even more so for research. Indeed, the research agenda of European or American universities must increasingly include problems of concern to the developing countries as the resources required can be found more readily in the North than in the South, and if good scholars from the South are associated with such research in the North, so much the better. The scope for international cooperation in raising the quality of higher education in the developing countries is so vast that we have only begun to scratch the surface. Twinning of institutions in the North and the South, for example, not just cosmetically, but with a genuine transfer of skills and resources, has great potential if only the aid establishments and international agencies were willing to consider such initiatives as the most vital part of their assistance.
As an alternative to training abroad, but without giving up strict standards of admission ant instruction, countries such as India have experimented with specialized institutions outside the main university system as a kind of oasis in the ocean of mediocrity. The institutes of management, of technology, and the specialized research centers, such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, on the whole constitute a successful experiment (some might say too successful, as many of the products seem to get jobs or scholarships abroad without much difficulty). These elitist institutions do cost much more per student than normal universities, and there could be scope for some scrutiny here. Some of the purely research institutes should also perhaps do more teaching. By and large, however, such experiments make sense, and one should not forget that the only alternative to such privileged institutions is training abroad.
In short, in the struggle between quality and quantity, I come out strongly in favor of quality while modifying some of the adverse consequences by appropriate remedial action. One has unfortunately to recognize that democratic societies cannot easily resist the urge to do the most popular things in the short run no matter how expensive they may prove in the long run, but that is all the more reason to explore alternative approaches.
On the question of financing higher education, I am largely in favor of maintaining the status quo, that is, keeping it essentially as the government's responsibility. This largely reflects the great importance I attach to higher education and the scope I perceive for raising revenues and for economies elsewhere. The alternative approaches, in my judgment, am either inappropriate or infeasible at this stage of development, or are already adopted to a greater extent than is often realized. One should also consider that if the government has to take on public opinion and do the unpopular thing, it would do better to begin by insisting on higher admission and instruction standards than by shedding its fiscal responsibility.
I am also firmly of the opinion that public funds can be supplemented by private contributions provided such contributions are seen as a worthwhile addition to, and not as a replacement for, the public sector's legitimate responsibilities. Take voluntary donations by individuals or businesses, for example. These are forthcoming in large measure even today and are encouraged by tax concessions. They are more likely to be forthcoming for capital expenditure and scholarships than for universities' recurrent expenses, and they respond to specific or local appeals more than to general appeals. University vice chancellors should be encouraged to raise part of the requirements for their pet schemes of expansion from private sources, but good vice chancellors already do so, and know that it can only be done for something new and not for maintaining the old.
Similarly, business contracts and public consultancies can put more resources in the hands of universities, but these additional resources should go to the individual teachers concerned rather than to the institutions. This is the major way to reward individual performance in systems of national wage setting and to attract and retain high quality staff. If they so wish, universities can levy a proportionate charge on such outside income for the facilities provided, but I would much rather that universities willingly provided such facilities to increase outside consultancy and other income to support their endeavor to become elitist institutions by attracting the best staff. If they succeed in doing so, money will tallow in many ways.
Or, take again the much talked-of question of student fees or parental contributions. In my opinion, people make too much of the fact that the upper- and middle-income groups benefit the most from a university education. I do not doubt that this is so, but to a large extent it cannot be helped. The poor cannot afford to forego earnings, especially in poor countries. Looked at another way, the middle classes who flock to the universities in developing countries are not all that affluent and they do make great sacrifices to keep their children at universities, first, by spending a good deal of their own money to send them to good schools so that they can get admission to good universities, and second, not only by foregoing the support of their children, but by paying for their maintenance, books, and the like. Higher education may be subsidized, but it is far from free, and there is something insensitive about thinking of the middle classes as privileged in countries like India, where the middle is only just above the minimum. It is this class that hankers for upward social mobility more than any other, perhaps because it has just managed to afford at least a part of the price of such mobility. To stop them in their tracks when our countries need skilled people in every walk of life makes no sense socially or nationally. I suspect this is true to some extent of Malaysia as well. Yes, someone has to pay, but in the aggregate the middle classes pay for a fair share of government expenditure, and we need not pursue equity blindly in every walk of life. What may be true of the United Kingdom or the United States may become true of Malaysia, and even India, in the years to come, but we a" not quite there yet.
This is not to say that countries should not experiment with fees to some extent. I think there is a case for much higher fees in some of the elitist institutions like the international institutes of management and technology in India, and those who cannot afford their fees can be given scholarships. However, if some institutions are allowed to charge higher fees, the proceeds should remain with the institutions and not reduce the government's involvement. That way, a certain sense of institutional solidarity or pride can be invoked: directors should be able to say that if they charge higher fees, they give more scholarships, have more books in the library or mom computers in the classroom, or pay their teachers more, and not that they have to charge higher fees to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. One test of a truly elitist institution is that it can charge more than others.
If students need help, I would favor outright grants, some of them by the universities themselves from the funds they raise or generate from within. The ability to do so will be another test of a truly elitist institution. Loans to the needy are more trouble than it is worth, and I am surprised that this simple lesson is not learnt despite the experience of a debt crisis among some of the more advanced developing countries. A grant to those with merit and in need rather than a loan may seem unfair in relation to those who do not go to universities anyway, although I would question even this. However, it is certainly fair in relation to others who do go to universities, but are in no real financial need. Why should a rich student have no loan burden while a poor student does when both have passed the same test of merit?
For the same reason I do not favor vouchers to everyone wanting to go to university, whether public, private, or mixed. Why not vouchers to everyone of a certain age then, irrespective of whether they want to study further or not? One could argue that vouchers will generate more competition from private institutions, and thus make for efficiency. I am afraid this is too simplistic a view. Higher education is far too expensive to be made privately profitable unless it is reserved for the rich or is of very poor quality. If private effort needs to be encouraged, it can be done in other ways, for example, by making it tax free, and even by allowing tuition fees to be tax deductible to some extent, but we do not have to put private and public institutions on a par in terms of public support, if only because supervising private institutions and making them publicly accountable will be too great a task for most developing countries. This consideration becomes all the more relevant if public institutions insist on high admission and instruction standards. Once again, we need not be beguiled by the circumstances of countries far ahead of us in wealth and talent. Scarcity demands concentration if quality is to be enhanced, and if this means less competition, other means to encourage efficiency must be found, and in education at least, quality is not that difficult to assess, if only because the international market in higher education is more open than other markets.
Finally, just a few remarks on the appropriate style of management for higher education. The present situation is so unsatisfactory that one has to begin by reversing many trends: too much governmental interference, rampant trade unionism of students ant teachers, and indifference of or inappropriate interference by lay governors whose interests are anything but educational. My views on the management of higher education are greatly influenced by the style of management at the London School of Economics, which I consider to be one of the best examples of the right mix of participation ant decisiveness. It is based on a clear, if conventional, notion of the appropriate sphere of responsibility of each constituent of the school students, teachers, and lay governors, none of whom represents the government, but many of whom have been civil servants and know what accountability in the public domain is. Styles by their very nature evolve as a result of patient effort over the years and cannot be produced at will in a standard design on the drawing board. Nevertheless, there have to be certain underlying principles, and I can think of none better than those I referred to earlier when discussing how to reconcile university autonomy and efficiency audits.
A keynote address is expected to strike a theme note for the seminar. In trying to do so, I have spelt out some general principles, as well as areas of agreement and possible disagreement. What I have kept in mind are the highest aims of higher education and the undoubtedly sad realities in most developing countries. If I have stuck my neck out and expressed my views rather forcefully, it is in the hope of provoking discussion. The issues that confront us in higher education in developing countries are of paramount importance to our future, and they deserve nothing less than the most patient and penetrating discussion.