"Universities as Agents of Prosperity"
Op-Ed, Business Daily
November 1, 2007
Authors: José A Zaglul, Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development; Director, Science, Technology, and Globalization Project; Principal Investigator, Agricultural Innovation in Africa
This op-ed first appeared in Daily Nation (Kenya) on October 31, 2007, with the same title.
University education and technological innovation hold the key to addressing global challenges. African countries can learn from experiences around the world to make their universities agents of prosperity.
The current world population is calculated at 6.35 billion and according to United Nations projections, in three years, we will be seven billion; in 2025, eight billion and in 2050, the figure will be nine billion.
The search for strategies to feed and provide water for this population should be vital to avoid and prevent major catastrophes. Currently, millions of people are undernourished, most of them in Africa.
Hunger is not just a consequence of poverty, but rather one of its causes and puts at risk the productivity of people, families, and communities.
This challenge is compounded by an alarming decrease in available crop land and the hope of many countries — including China and India — to reach a standard of living of the First World, which will exponentially increase the demand for food, energy, water, and forestry resources.
But there is a hopeful side to the equation.
Technological innovation is an alternative to focus efforts on. Technologies exist that promise to lower costs and increase the quality and quantity of our productive activities all with a greater attention to environmental sustainability.
Tropical biological diversity is also a resource that deserves greater research and effective technologies to successfully be adapted to small-scale production and commercial agriculture.
The challenge is for universities to adopt and apply this new perceptive in their programmes.
African countries and the Developing World at-large should seek to transform themselves from being producers of primary materials to adding value to products.
Universities should be promoting a new economic model for agriculture where waste is converted into commercial products, where carbon sequestration becomes a marketable service.
We know that there are great advances, but we should achieve much more.
Access to knowledge is very important and it is imperative that education reaches the greatest number of people, particularly young people from economically disadvantaged families.
It is the duty of universities to form new leaders that the world requires to transform. These leaders have to be educated in a holistic way.
They should have strong ethical values and understand the urgency of prosperity and justice.
These leaders should be sensitive to the real problems that face the world, and should be equipped to offer practical solutions that permeate society.
Academic institutions have to be protagonists in change. We have to convert education into the axis of development and promote peace and democracy.
Costa Rica, which shares commonalities with many African nations in terms of climate and resources, has been privileged to have visionary leaders who have understood the importance of education and, since 1949, has had a free and mandatory educational system through elementary school.
In this same era, the army was abolished, arms were exchanged for books and canons for school desks and state universities offering a world-class education were established. Costa Ricans are very proud of this and stable.
The formula is simple: if we invest in education, we won’t have to invest in arms. If we invest in education, we invest in life, not in death. We invest in peace and not in war. The international community needs to support such efforts.
Prof Zaglul is Rector of EARTH University, Costa Rica, and Prof Juma teaches at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
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