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The Case for Tertiary Education in the New Global Economy

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The finance minister of Chile, Felipe Larraín, recently wrote an important article about the role countries like his are playing in the new global economy.

In it he describes how the so-called 'emerging market countries' such as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) as well as a host of smaller countries, also achieving good growth - including Chile - are finding themselves at an absolutely critical crossroads.

Their economies are growing while more affluent, Western countries are flagging. There is talk of further crisis in the US and in Europe. And thus the world increasingly looks to countries like Chile in search of key players to create future global growth. But emerging markets must first ensure their own resilience and prepare contingency plans in case the global economy continues to worsen.

If they succeed, countries such as Chile will guarantee their own prosperity for years to come, and their standing in the world economy will continue to rise. As Mr Larraín puts it, they will be "part of the solution instead of being part of the problem".

In the context of these contingency measures, Mr Larraín argues that a priority for emerging market governments should be to ensure that people can get jobs, "in order to combat unemployment's pernicious social effects".

I would like to take this point a step further and raise the importance of education in the emerging markets in creating the jobs to which Mr.Larrain refers - and specifically tertiary education, in public and private universities community colleges, research institutes to name some examples, as well as distance and lifelong learning.

Mr. Larraín's argument indeed echoes much of the discussion at an important Symposium I attended recently at Oxford University, which brought together former government ministers from emerging markets, economists and education experts to discuss this very issue.

The Emerging Markets Symposium focuses on the critical issues facing the emerging markets countries as they experience rapid growth, rapid change - and are changing the balance of the global economy in the process.

Previous symposia addressed issues of health and healthcare, and the combined challenge of urbanisation and health. In previous years we stressed that emerging markets needed to plan for the scaling-up of their ability to tackle complex health issues, particularly as their cities continue to expand and the face of their disease burdens evolved accordingly.

Tertiary education relates to other challenges facing the emerging markets. While they may require short-term contingency plans for jobs, in the longer term their governments also need to make sure that there is a tertiary education environment which allows people to train in more depth for jobs that advance the prospects of the economy and, in so doing, provides everyone with a fair chance.

Good primary and secondary education are also essential to the development of good tertiary education. If emerging markets are able to deliver appropriate and relevant tertiary education of quality, they will create the people with the necessary skills to meet the challenges of producing high economic growth: reducing the risk of increasing social inequality, managing the threat of environmental degradation - and of course addressing the health of their populations.

My own background is in the health sector and my concern, both as a health professional and as a University Chancellor, is with education as well as health. I want to see tertiary education provide the necessary "trampoline" for upward social mobility that younger generations deserve, and I also know it has an enormous responsibility in catalysing positive social values for helping to maintain the cultural patrimony of our societies and for reducing social inequalities.

And of course the solution to many of our pressing health problems will lie in the training and research activities in our tertiary education institutions, I alluded to the fact that tertiary education in the Caribbean attracts more females than males, but this is a phenomenon that is apparently seen in many other parts of the world. This has major social implications for our societies.

The Emerging Markets Symposium also highlighted the fact that tertiary education is an inherently globalised business. Scholars have travelled the world for centuries and tertiary education naturally benefits - and contributes to - a broadening of perspectives, and indeed many institutions are forging partnerships across borders to this effect.

But the imperfections of the global education market are placing a significant strain on the ability of large numbers of students in the emerging markets to receive an international education, and on the ability of tertiary education institutions to wield more influence on the global stage as well.

If you are interested in our full set of recommendations, they are available on the Emerging Markets Symposium website . If they are to fulfil their potential, the emerging markets need to address these points now.