Extracting Economic Value From Higher Education: What African Universities Can Learn From Singapore

Yue Chee Yoon of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore says African universities can learn from Singapore.

Yue visited South Africa for the inaugural Africa Universities Summit, under way at the University of Johannesburg.

The summit brought together educators, business people and policy makers to talk about moving Africa’s universities forward and building a shared global legacy.

The event is part of the Times Higher Education World Summit Series, under the umbrella of the THE World Academic Summit. The goal is to share best practices in developing world-class teaching and research and shaping institutions’ strategic missions in an African and international context.


Yue Chee Yoon of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore,  provided a compelling argument for direct state intervention and support for universities that could have tangible economic benefits.

He explained that the government of Singapore had recognised after independence 50 years ago, that education had an important role to play in building social cohesion and nation building. Prior to independence, participation in higher education was below 10 percent and is currently close to 40 percent, he said.

“The second key pillar was the intimate link between education and economic development. Singapore has no natural resources, so we always say our greatest natural resource walks around on two legs.”

This focus on higher education has seen the country’s economy shifting through distinct phases from being based on manual labor through to skills, then technology and today it is recognised as a strong knowledge-based economy.

The government’s commitment to prioritising higher education for the good of the economy, he added was evident in the education ministerial committee being headed by the minister of trade and industry.

This singular focus on extracting economic value from the higher education sector is a lesson that African government’s certainly could emulate. The Singapore example, however, does feel a little exceptional.

The country has a population of only around 6 million, its transformation into an advanced economy has not taken place overnight, and its tertiary education sector has the luxury of considerable financial resources at its disposal.

Yue said that Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore alone have around $3 billion in endowments available to them, which is in addition to the $1 billion annual budget for their educational and research activities.

The fact remains though that none of this would have been possible without a concerted government commitment to investing in higher education.

Source: Mail & Guardian

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