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ADB Fostering Science and Technology in Sri Lanka’s Higher Education

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The project will help nurture a new breed of technology-oriented graduates equipped with skills and entrepreneurial spirit for the economy. Photo: ADB

The Board of Directors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved $145 million in loans to develop new applied science and technology programs in four Sri Lankan universities.

“To achieve higher incomes and better standards of living, the Sri Lankan government aims to transform the country to a knowledge-based economy by 2025, with education playing a key role,” said ADB Principal Social Sector Specialist Ms. Gi Soon Song. “To this end, the project will help nurture a new breed of technology-oriented graduates equipped with skills and entrepreneurial spirit for the economy.”

Sri Lanka’s education system is facing several challenges in delivering quality learning relevant to the labor market, particularly in science, technology, and engineering subjects. Higher education opportunities as a whole are limited, with the gross enrollment rate at less than 19%—much less than the 50% average for upper middle-income countries. Moreover, less than 20% of graduates are from science and engineering subjects.

Although more than 60% of undergraduates in Sri Lanka are female students, they overwhelmingly (about 82%) concentrate on liberal arts and social studies where unemployment is highest. Encouraging more women to take technology disciplines will increase women’s career opportunities in technical areas where wages are high.

A lack of investment, laboratory facilities, researchers, and qualified academic staff are holding back the quality of teaching, learning, and research. Existing degree programs in scientific or engineering areas are more theory-oriented and lack practical applications of knowledge and skills.

Recognizing this, the government in 2013 introduced a technology stream into secondary education, supported by an ADB Education Sector Development Program. Since 2015, about 7,000 students from the technology stream have become qualified for higher education annually. The government also selected 11 public universities to open new technology faculties. The World Bank is providing financing for 8 technology faculties. The government requested ADB to support the development of technology faculties in the remaining 3 universities—Kelaniya, Rajarata, and Sabaragamuwa—as well as an engineering faculty in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

The project will construct faculty buildings following green building standards, ensuring they are climate proofed, well equipped with laboratories, and offer flexible spaces for different kinds of research and learning as well as facilities that help integrate female students and staff, such as day care centers.

Under the program, the universities will develop complete degree program curricula incorporating industry inputs and aligned with international standards. The project will also support the recruitment and training of academic staff for the new programs. Staff performance management systems will be strengthened to continuously improve teaching and learning, student services, and industry collaboration. The universities will develop joint proposals with industry partners for research and development activities to resolve industry problems or come up with new products and services. In addition, the project will develop a future project proposed for 2021 focusing on research and development capacity.

The total project cost is $165 million, of which the government will provide $20 million. It is due for completion at the end of 2023.

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Achieving Broadband Access for All in Africa Comes With a $100 Billion Price Tag

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Across Africa, where less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity, achieving universal, affordable, and good quality internet access by 2030 will require an investment of US $100 billion. This is according to a report launched at the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group, which calls for urgent action to close the internet access gap while providing a roadmap to reach this ambitious goal.

The report from The Broadband for All Working Group  gives practical insights and suggestions of what is needed to attain this objective, including an action plan for universal broadband connectivity in Africa. To achieve universal broadband access, African countries will need to bring about 1.1 billion more people online. This will require exceptional and coordinated efforts from governments, the private sector, development partners, and civil society, the report says, but the investment is worth it.

The digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda,” says Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure. “The working-age population in Africa is expected to increase by some 450 million people between 2015 and 2035. If current trends continue, less than one quarter will find stable jobs. Broadening internet access means creating millions of job opportunities.”

While the number of broadband connections in Africa crossed the 400 million mark in 2018 (nearly twenty times 2010 levels), the regional average broadband penetration —including 3G and 4G connections— is only 25% in 2018. Mobile broadband coverage in Africa is still at 70% of the population. Even in North Africa, there is ample room for growth with 4G networks covering only about 60% of the population. Additional challenges, such as the lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity, make accelerating Africa’s digital transformation journey even more difficult.

According to the report, nearly 80% of all required investments are directly related to the need to roll out and maintain broadband networks. However, connecting the unconnected is about more than just infrastructure: about 20% of required investments consists in building the user skills and local content foundations, and another 2-4% should be allocated to setting up the appropriate regulatory framework, the report notes. While the private sector has driven most successful broadband initiatives, public agencies play a crucial role by implementing effective sector regulation, addressing potential market failures, and creating the conditions for an open, competitive broadband sector. 

“In large parts of Africa, we are witnessing a lack of progress in extending access and network coverage. Affordability is also declining in many nations. Promoting greater digital inclusion is going to require more effective and innovative collaboration,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Executive Director of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “We need to leverage our strengths and expertise. Governments can help with policies enabling new technologies, new business models and investment. The right policies will, in turn, provide the private sector with the incentives to build out infrastructure and explore new technologies and applications that will drive demand.”

Connecting the 100 million people in rural and remote areas that live out of reach of traditional cellular mobile networks will require strong private sector involvement, innovative business models, and alternative technologies, such as satellite and Wi-Fi based technical solutions, the report notes.

Let us be clear: no single actor will be able to meet Africa’s 2030 target and carry the burden of a $100 billion investment funding requirement alone. All stakeholders must work together to make sure that every African has affordable and reliable access to the internet”, says Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank’s Vice President for the Africa Region. This includes: the African Union and regional economic communities; African governments and respective public investment agencies; sector regulators; multilateral development banks and regional development banks; the United Nations and other development agencies; the private sector; and civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.

* The Working Group on Broadband for All: A Digital Moonshot Infrastructure for Africa, led by the World Bank, was established in 2018 under the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development with the primary objective of identifying investment requirements and policy roadmaps to increase connectivity and to reach full coverage in Africa. This report draws upon the expertise of Broadband Commissioners and experts from around the world.

About the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development: ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 with the aim of boosting the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda and expanding broadband access in every country as key to accelerating progress towards national and international development targets. Following adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, the Commission was re-launched as the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development to showcase and document the power of ICT and broadband-based technologies for sustainable development. Its members include top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, international agencies, academia and organizations concerned with development.

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Medicine from the Sky: Telangana Hits Milestone for Drone Delivery of Medical Supplies

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The Government of Telangana has been exploring the use of drones to increase access to healthcare for communities across the state. Drones can dramatically cut transport times and increase supply chain efficiencies. Countries around the world have experimented with drones for last-mile delivery for the past five years, but the first big leap forward took place in Rwanda, where experiments, or pilot projects, matured into national-scale implementations. Through drones, Rwanda cut the delivery time of medical goods from four hours to fifteen minutes, in some cases, and saved thousands of lives in the process.

Now, Telangana is one step closer to actioning its own large-scale programme to deliver blood and transport of medical samples via drone. The Government has adopted a new framework to implement drones for last mile delivery. This will integrate them into the state’s healthcare supply chain. Co-designed with the World Economic Forum and Healthnet Global Limited, an Apollo Hospitals Group company, the framework will become the foundation for the pilot project to test drone delivery and eventually for an RFP.

“Drones are helping people in remote rural areas become connected to important services,” said Timothy Reuter, Head of Aerospace and Drones, World Economic Forum. “Adopting this framework brings Telangana one step closer to rolling out a system that could save lives. It outlines what challenges drones can solve, how to oversee operations and how to implement them. We are looking forward to the next steps of this project.”

“Apollo Hospitals Group company HealthNet Global Limited truly believes that use of Drones for transport of Organs and other Medical aid will contribute to saving many lives. We are happy working with the World Economic Forum and Government of Telangana, as a clinical partner in this drones project, which I am sure is the next step in our journey of remote healthcare delivery,” says Dr. Sangita Reddy, JMD Apollo Hospitals Group.

“Telangana has been a pioneer in using technology for improving the lives of the citizens. Using drones to deliver blood and other medical goods to people in remote and inaccessible areas is an exemplary project that demonstrates use of technology for the social good,” said K.T. Rama Rao, Minister for Information Technology and Electronics and Communication, Industries and Municipal Administration and Urban Development. This project that could save lives would serve as a reference model for other States in India.

The framework outlines the key factors in evaluating drone operations and the technical requirements for each use case. It will ensure government services are used as efficiently as possible and will serve as the starting point for discussions with civil aviation authorities.

This framework is part of the Drones and Tomorrow’s Airspace Portfolio, run out of the World Economic Forum Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution India. The Network brings together government, business, start-ups, international organizations and NGOs to co-design innovative policy solutions to accelerate the benefits of emerging technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence, internet of things, and blockchain while mitigating the risks. Pilot projects have already positively impacted the ecosystem of autonomous flight around the world. A first of its kind Performances Based Regulation (PBR) was published in Rwanda, testing the theory that by promoting a risk focused methodology to evaluating operations, instead of traditional prescriptive government mandates, new and socially important use cases can be enabled. Learn more in our Advanced Drone Operations Toolkit: Accelerating the Drone Revolution.

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With 50,000 Start-ups Registered, India Aims For As Many More By 2024

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“There are 50,000 registered start-ups in India, and there will be 50,000 more by 2024 at this pace,” said Guruprasad Mohapatra, Secretary at the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade of India. There has been tremendous attitudinal change among government departments, he said, speaking for himself as well as colleagues in different parts of government. He added that this change has been accelerated since 2015-16 when a new policy came into effect. Regulators and officials now see potential in start-ups, and are invested in boosting their size and number.

Indian start-ups have come into their own in the last four to five years, agreed Shailendra Singh, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital India, Singapore. The optimism, the ability to dream, the amount and quality of capital available, the sheer size and scale of start-ups, as well as their ambition and ability to execute globally, are remarkable. “It is exciting to back these companies that have both disrupted existing companies and become full-stack online and offline businesses themselves,” he said, “Technology is intrinsic to these companies, not only impacting them at a superficial level.”

Asian start-ups are significantly different from their counterparts in Silicon Valley, Singh said, where markets are deep and very large, and companies have the incentive to do one thing and do it very well. Companies also need not go outside. In Asia, on the other hand, there are “lots of white spaces” and individual markets are very small, so that companies can and must quickly mutate to related businesses. For instance, Indonesian start-up Gojek started as a bike rental service, and then branched out into logistics, payments, delivery, etc.

Sharing the experience of the fast-growing hospitality start-up, OYO, Aditya Ghosh, the company’s Chief Executive Officer said that OYO realized early on that the best way to create higher margins was to own the entire value chain end-to-end – operations, properties, customer experience and so on. It also grew a diversified portfolio with multiple brands offering hotel rooms, holiday homes, cloud kitchens and co-working spaces, resulting in an “omnichannel presence”.

What business needs from the government is investment in infrastructure and ecosystem, much of which relies on removing ground-level constraints, and providing light-touch but adequate regulation that ensures Indian companies enjoy credibility as they scale-up globally. It is essential for businesses to have regular and deep engagement with policy-makers so they can take steps to pre-empt a full-blown a crisis. They must also nurture and train talent to create innovative mindsets for the next wave of start-ups.

India must also overcome some systemic challenges, such as low participation of women in the workforce, said Ankiti Bose, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Zilingo, Singapore, a four-year-old start-up that has brought technology and seamless connectivity to supply chains in the global clothing industry. With adequate data and regulatory support, Zilingo could “bring in capital at an unprecedented scale” to the fragmented, typically small apparel manufacturers and sellers in India, she said.

Mohapatra emphasized that the government is committed to improving women’s participation – by providing preferential access to capital to women-led start-ups, for instance – but the issue is of wider inclusion. “There are large tracts of India untouched by start-up presence,” he said, adding that the government is committed to spreading its start-up mission to the country’s more disadvantaged areas.

The government is committed to providing technology start-ups with room to experiment and develop without setting tight regulatory boundaries, as it did with the IT sector and the aviation sector earlier, he added.

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