Emerging Markets’ Higher-Education Challenge

As many high-income economies continue to flounder, many regard Brazil, China, India, Russia, and smaller emerging-market countries as the best hope for short-term global recovery. But, unless constraints to longer-term growth, including weak tertiary education, are addressed soon, the emerging markets’ rise to prosperity and global influence will be short-lived.

LONDON – As many high-income economies continue to flounder, many regard Brazil, China, India, Russia, and smaller emerging-market countries as the best hope for short-term global recovery. Cautious optimism seems justified if emerging markets can weather the impact of shrinking demand for their exports, and sustain their recent records of prudent macro-economic management. But, unless constraints to longer-term growth are addressed soon, the emerging markets’ rise to prosperity and global influence will be short-lived.

The main constraints include environmental degradation, economic deprivation, social inequality, ineffective public-sector management, and weak corporate governance. None of these challenges can be overcome without a massive increase in the number of competent and motivated leaders and professionals. But that requires reforming and expanding access to post-secondary education.

Tertiary education’s pivotal importance in emerging markets was emphasized at a recent symposium that I chaired at Green Templeton College, Oxford. We concluded that expanding access to higher education could be a game-changer for emerging markets if they act promptly and decisively.

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