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Investing in younger generation

AS Nigeria consolidates its economic dominance in Africa and presses to attain the projected 12th position in the global economy by the year 2050, we need to see that the present decline in revenues due to the slump in world oil prices does not deflect our trajectory to the mid-century target date.

A major driver of global competitiveness is the higher education attainment of the productive population. For Nigeria, the unfolding austere conditions threaten the pursuit of this goal. Therefore, if we are to realize our global destiny, we need to bring new ideas to bear on investing in Nigeria’s younger generation, our future leaders and builders. In this way, we avoid poor attainment and stem dropout in higher education. We need to explore extra-budgetary resources to deliver as student financial support. We should aim to distribute such assistance to the doorsteps of Nigerian households with greater focus on young people in the lower socio-economic groups, especially the women. In this way, we democratize access to higher education and strengthen our competitiveness.

In this discuss, we do not address issues of capital investments that enlarge holding capacity in our higher institutions, nor financing for administration and research. These forms while important benefit all students both rich and poor. These are matters for another day. We therefore limit ourselves to direct financing that ends up in the student’s wallet to cover tuition fees, books, accommodation, travels, meals, personal care, among others. While the rich can conveniently afford these, poor youths and their parents are hard pressed to do so. The latter groups are the focus of this intervention.

What then are the directions we should chart in our bid to accomplish these goals?

From work we did in 2012 – 2013, evidence from emerging economies of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) showed that an average of about 20 percent of their productive populations had attained higher education. For Nigeria the attainment rate was about 8 – 10 percent leaving an enrollment gap estimated at about 2 million to be bridged by the year 2020.

Currently, South Korea leads the world with over 60 percent higher education attainment of their young adult population. Earlier, America was ahead. And when President Obama took office in his first term, he committed America to the goal of restoring its leadership in graduate attainment by the year 2020. Accordingly, he strengthened America’s student finance system to raise the levels of enrolment and attainment for young university graduates.

It is therefore crucial that Nigeria takes a cue and the concerted measures to raise enrolment and attainment, bridge the gap and build the momentum for competitiveness.

Apart from the higher education of the productive population, another variable in the global competitiveness equation is knowledge driven leadership. As the industrial revolution ebbs, and the knowledge revolution unfolds, leading nations are taking vantage positions in the knowledge spaces in order to maintain dominance, infusing doses of knowledge leadership in all spheres of governance. For example in politics, leadership is no longer a matter of dexterity in wheeling and dealing. Rather, forward looking nations increasingly turn to and present the best from higher education systems all over the world.

Modern Singapore started its journey many years ago when late Lee Kuan Yew, its extraordinary founding father with two first class degrees at Cambridge University, took over the headship of the small nation and transformed it from a third to the first world.

Other leading nations have done the same. In the United Kingdom, we had Margaret Thatcher of Oxford, a research scientist. Also, Tony Blair and now Cameron are of Oxford. In America, we had Bill Clinton, an alumnus of Oxford and Yale and a former professor. Under him, America witnessed its longest period of economic prosperity in history and fiscal surpluses for four years running. Now they have Barack Obama of Harvard and a former senior lecturer at Columbia.

Even in global governance, knowledge leadership is reaffirmed. We have the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, product of Harvard. At the World Bank, we have as the President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim also of Harvard. Incidentally both have roots in South Korea, a world leader in higher education attainment.

Of particular interest, the current World Bank president is a medical doctor who worked at the highest levels in higher education governance and in global civic sector development. As a result and for the first time a president, who does not come from a political or financial background, now steers a rebranded ‘knowledge’ and ‘solutions’ institution for a balanced pursuit of human and social development in health and education, among others, and economic goals.

The foregoing leadership choices reflect the global impact of the unfolding knowledge revolution fueled partly through the expanding access to higher education worldwide to produce quality higher level human capital of knowledge and skills. In this new revolution, knowledge is the primary factor of production, just as land was to the agricultural age and machines to the industrial revolution.

Global competitiveness is a function in part of the quantum and quality of the productive population and leadership, both drawn from the higher education systems of the emerging knowledge societies.

In Nigeria, we should align with these unfolding scenarios. Our citizens and governments at all levels need to see to it that we invest heavily in our younger generation to enhance our global competitiveness and leadership position. The key is the democratization of higher education access through student financing targeted as safety nets for the vast majority of our young men and women residing at the lower strata of the society. It should aim at the strategic goal of at least a graduate in every home in Nigeria by the year 2030. The building of this high level human infrastructure should complement the physical infrastructure of the National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan, 2014 – 2043.

This challenge is surmountable. All it demands is the political will.

It needs emphasis that in investing in our younger generation we do our youths no favour. We are only discharging the abounding duty of grooming the heads that lie uneasy to bear the heavy burdens of leadership and nation building for a future Nigeria.

In this regard, we would like to draw attention to a flagship programme, the Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development for first class graduates now spread across the leading 25 universities of the world. As part of a more comprehensive national student finance initiative, this scheme should be sustained as a nest, a breeding ground for future leadership for nation building for Nigeria.

Mr.Nathaniel Abara, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Owerri, Imo State.




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