Universities cost money. They need to hire highly qualified faculty, they need to provide financial support for talented students in financial need, the need to have high-quality facilities for research as well as for teaching. Increasingly, they also need substantial administrative staff to provide quality assurance, accountability, public relations documents – all of which are designed to make sure they continue to benefit from adequate funding. In the wealthiest countries of the world, the money comes from three sources: the local or national government, the students themselves and philanthropic donors. Universities of the North have also opened branch campuses across the world, seeking to generate new sources of revenues.
Universities in the developing world are probably as varied as those in the developed world. Yet, there is an argument to be made that many of these universities need adequate funding right now if they are ever to support national development and innovation agendas where these are most needed. Their governments have fewer resources. Their students are poorer and donors are rarer. Yet, it is hard to imagine sustainable development without increasing overall education levels and creating a pool of highly skilled human capital, country by country, across the world. Development requires innovation and innovation requires education.
Innovation is closely tied to talent, to highly skilled people solving problems, creating new products and services and building a base for developing economies to be nimble, to be responsive, to be attentive to world trends. In The Bahamas, the economy is driven by two industries: tourism and financial services. Both are undergoing major changes as a consequence of trends and events far beyond the control of the national government. In both cases, there are efforts to create centres of excellence and innovation to support appropriate responses to these trends. These will require funding. Innovation is also important to the development of social policies that support poverty eradication and social cohesion.
We probably will not do more with less; but can we do differently? Can we help universities with a strong social responsibility agenda in their country and in their region, build a teaching and research agenda directly tied to national and regional issues of importance for sustainable development in that country and in that region? Can we think of investment in universities in a developing context as akin to development of roads, of telecommunications, of renewable energy sources, of schools and hospitals – a main infrastructure of development and innovation? Unless universities can play the role in the South they have so successfully played in the North, it is difficult to see how all countries will ever have fair access to peace, prosperity and sustainable development.
Janyne M. Hodder
Past President, The College of The Bahamas
Member, Administrative Board, International Association of Universities