Tertiary Education is key to rebuilding COVID-hit economies

COVID-19 is devastating human capital around the world, affecting lives and livelihoods and posing risks for long term growth and productivity enhancement.  As the world seeks to build back better into a new era of green and equitable economic growth, a new World Bank report stresses that smart investments and reforms in tertiary education systems are at the heart of the big transformations required throughout economies and societies. Tertiary education is vital for the development of human capital and innovation to spur long term growth.

“Tertiary education is central to the development process – it is essential for the creation of opportunities, competitiveness, and growth,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development.  “We encourage countries to address the challenges brought by the pandemic, to build back better, more equitable, efficient, and resilient tertiary education systems. This will build the essential professional expertise required to drive public and private sector development, including, among others, the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, technicians, scientists, and managers needed to support effective education, health service delivery, and to drive productivity and growth.”

Presented during the United Nations’ General Assembly meetings, the new policy approach paper, Steering Tertiary Education, Toward Resilient Systems that Deliver for All , reinforces the imperative that every country invest thoughtfully and strategically in diversified, well-articulated, and inclusive tertiary education systems.  It examines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global tertiary education sector and identifies policies that can promote a resilient recovery.

The reportproposes a framework to guide policies and investments in tertiary education comprised of five principles to STEER tertiary systems and institutions toward greater relevance and impact:

  1. Building diversified Systems – shaping a strong contribution of tertiary education to both growth and competitiveness, and also social cohesion and human development; and positioning tertiary education in a lifelong learning context with flexible pathways allowing for access to different types of institutions and greater adaptability to the labor market needs and opportunities.
  2. Investing smartly in new Technologies – profiting from digitalization, to support improvement of teaching and research capacity, innovation and agility in service delivery, as well as the building of a digital ecosystem, which, overall, make tertiary education systems more resilient.
  3. Ensuring Equity in access and financing – acknowledging that inequity is a form of injustice and acting to ensure that equity and inclusion in access and success are a driving ethos for an effective and relevant tertiary education system.
  4. Achieving Efficiency in resource utilization – improving information systems by utilizing evidence to strengthen oversight and management; devising and deploying governance, financing, and quality assurance instruments that are designed to deliver more value for investments.
  5. Acquiring Resilience in service delivery so that learning continues – acknowledging the need for resilience planning, by taking stock of the successes and failures of the COVID-19 response at the systems and institutional levels; utilizing adaptive governance frameworks to embed immediate and strategic resilience interventions as well as leveraging digital technologies.

Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, emphasized that, “Building back better tertiary education systems requires a holistic view of the tertiary ecosystem, removing the barriers that lead to isolated siloes of universities, technical institutions, colleges, and tertiary technical and vocational education institutions. They should all be part of one single ecosystem that assures opportunities of lifetime learning for all.”

The World Bank has been providing support for tertiary education reforms and innovation since 1963, collaborating with governments, tertiary education institutions, and other stakeholders across the globe. With more than $9 billion in investment projects, the World Bank is the largest external financier of the tertiary education sector.

Now and in the future, the World Bank will continue to support the development of agile, equitable, and efficient tertiary education systems and dynamic tertiary education institutions. This development is enabled by goal-oriented steering, effective financing geared toward performance, and purposeful quality assurance. It aims at a strong contribution of tertiary education to equitable growth, social cohesion with strong democratic foundations, climate resilience, and the success and social mobility of students.