BRAZZAVILLE, May 28, 2010— Knowledge is the cornerstone of development, as is the source for the creation of value added, growth, and the diversification of the economy. It also contributes to employment creation, the improvement of individual income and poverty reduction, and, lastly, the creation of comparative advantages and competitiveness.
Knowledge-based development is the process of increasing real income (and transforming economic, intellectual, and institutional structures) based on the quality of education, the soundness of the institutions, ease of communication and dissemination of technical information, and skills in the areas of management and organization.
An assessment of higher education in Congo has revealed inadequate physical infrastructure; small and obsolete libraries that do not meet the information and document needs of students; insufficient teaching materials and equipment; an inadequate number of permanent teachers and heavy reliance on part-time teachers; the lack of training for trainers; an insufficient number of senior faculty members; and poor grasp of fundamentals among high school graduates. To help address the situation, the heads of Congolese institutions of higher learning met in Brazzaville around the minister of higher education. “We are here because of two imperatives—poverty reduction and chartering the path to a knowledge-based economy,” said Midou Ibrahim, World Bank Country Manager for the Congo Republic.
To date, higher learning has undergone three phases in Congo’s development strategies. Initially, under colonial administration, a strategy centered on raw materials exports sought to provide workers with basic skills. This was followed by an import substitution manufacturing strategy, under which workers received training that would enable them to operate in established industries. In the current phase of liberalization and opening up (from the 1980s to the present), higher education and training remains a low priority owing to budget constraints.
Unlike previous stages, the current strategy does take a multi-faceted approach, paying attention to various challenges, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and priorities set out in the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP). Under the current strategy, the primary objective of higher education is “to produce and disseminate high-level scientific and technical knowledge, train middle managers and competitive staff who are essential to national development; provide quality and useful higher learning, and disseminate national culture.” Despite this good faith attempt, the priorities of NEPAD, the MDGs, and the PRSP were defined without taking into account the corresponding need for highly qualified professionals to efficiently implement these programs.
In addition, budget expenditure for higher education in the Republic of Congo currently represents 26 percent of total expenditure allocated to education. While this allocation is among the highest in Africa, the amount remains well below the sector’s current needs.
In light of these inadequacies, authorities agreed on a number of modalities that must be implemented in order to make a meaningful contribution to the training of human capital for poverty reduction.
This requires, first and foremost, the creation of other centers of higher learning in the country’s major cities, starting with Pointe-Noire (the economic capital), in order to keep young people close to potential employers. Next, there is a need to provide training for a qualified labor force that possesses the capacity to adapt to the labor market, create better employment and income opportunities for disadvantaged students, and reduce inequalities by allowing young people from disadvantaged sectors to access more substantial income.
Training for self-employment should also be facilitated (training in entrepreneurship) to overcome the very limited absorptive capacity of the public service, and support the rest of the education system by training primary school and junior and high school teachers, as well as education officers.
Higher Education, Innovation, and Poverty Reduction
The Congo Republic has a national science policy and research program. However, weaknesses have been identified in this area, which include an incomplete strategic framework; programs whose relevance has not yet been proven; a low ratio of researchers among educators; and inadequate and under-equipped research laboratories.
To make university research more effective for poverty reduction, there is a need to establish “a national system of innovation,” according to Professor Herve Diata, the dean of the faculty of economics at the University of Brazzaville. Such a system, he added, would include a complex set of institutions and practices aimed at producing and disseminating scientific and technical knowledge. This would be accompanied by a suitable macroeconomic and regulatory framework, and knowledge-producing organizations―research centers, laboratories, learned societies, communities of practice, enterprises, and networks of innovative enterprises.
These reforms require the involvement of researchers and teachers by direct participation in policy-making bodies (government, parliament, political parties) and the establishment of specialized agencies such as lobby groups, research centers, observatories, and advisory committees. The creation of training centers within the country will also help support local development.
Participants at the Brazzaville forum proposed a number of solutions for a more effective involvement in the implementation of reforms. This requires, inter alia, the formulation by researchers of more attractive recommendations; the acquisition of skills in the area of marketing new ideas; the formulation of an original scientific concept, encompassing a broad spectrum of theoretical and methodological perspectives; and the openness of public sector decision makers to the advice of university researchers.
In conclusion, it was agreed that the role of higher education is a critical factor in the promotion of knowledge-based development and poverty reduction.
This role, first and foremost, involves the training of human capital that is useful for development, the formation of social capital, and support for the rest of the education system.
It subsequently requires the capacity of higher education to innovate, which depends in turn on the establishment of a national innovation system, the implementation of deep reforms for the higher education system, and the involvement of researchers and teachers.