Reform higher education to produce job creators

-UG Vice-Chancellor candidate

A paradigm shift is needed in the education system to produce job-creators and not solely job-seekers, according to University of Guyana (UG) Vice-Chancellor candidate Professor Muniram Budhu, who says wide acceptance and funding are critical for the success of reforms.

“I’m under no illusion that education reforms will be easy and inexpensive but failure to make education reforms is not an option… we have to go beyond talk-the-talk and walk-the-walk,” Professor Budhu told a small gathering at the Turkeyen Campus’ Education Lecture Theatre on Thursday, during his presentation, ‘Weaving education into the social fabric of small developing economies.’

Budhu, Professor of Geomechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, in the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, at the University of Arizona, in the United States, was the last of the four candidates shortlisted for the Vice-Chancellor post. The candidates were asked to deliver a public lecture on a subject of their choice as part of the evaluation process

Muniram Budhu

Budhu is originally from Windsor Forest, West Coast Demerara and holds a PhD in Civil Engineering from Cambridge University. He also attended the University of the West Indies and later graduated at the top of his class with a Higher Technical Diploma. He has held several teaching appointments, including at the UG.

During his lecture, Budhu explained that small economies often do not have the commercial and industrial infrastructure to hire all of the graduates from the higher education institutions and as a result many graduates migrate to developed countries, where the living standards are higher and where there are many opportunities for personal development.

“The worldwide need for these graduates is growing and some developed countries are relaxing immigration laws to allow highly-qualified persons to immigrate easily… This means developing countries are faced with a dilemma: You have to educate your students using small, scarce resources only to find that the best of them depart from their shores. This brain drain will further put strain on these small economies,” he stated.

According to Budhu, one solution is to provide a learning environment that allows the students to be innovative and create enterprises for them to be self-employed and to be able to employ others. He pointed out that the premier avenue for creating enterprises is the internet.

Budhu also suggested the revision of the national curriculum, which he said would provide challenges and continuously advance the level of achievement. “Students should vest energy to learn… They must be challenged to innovate and to demonstrate measurable level of mastery, understanding… higher education should strive to produce a holistic education,” he said.

He added that higher education administration cannot and should not expect a new graduate with an advanced degree but without any teacher training to be an effective teacher. Therefore, he said, that there should be a system in place whereby faculty members are provided with the training needed for instructional practice, consistent with knowledge-based constructivism and effort-based learning. “Students need high-quality, well-qualified teachers to provide the kind of education that will enable them to be successful,” he noted.

‘Nothing possible
without education’

According to Budhu, these reforms will not be successful if they are not universally accepted in a nation’s school system. He added that the administrators and all teachers must be engaged in the reforms. The expected education outcomes from reforms practiced only by a few teachers are unlikely to be realized, he warned.

Education reforms need funding, Budhu also emphasised, while adding that in small, developing economies, funding is invariably public and so education reforms have to compete with basic societal needs that require public funding.

“Should funds be spent on education reforms rather than building a road or health clinic? These need-based questions are generally answered by governing officials. A road or health clinic could not be built and operated without education. I believe that education must be placed on a completely different footing from other needs of a nation for without education nothing is possible. Government officials must therefore find innovative mechanisms to constantly support education reforms,” Budhu suggested.

For education reforms to meet the challenges of the 21st century, Budhu said they must include: innovative financial models that safeguard education from large budgetary fluctuations; curriculum changes that make use of contemporary understanding of teaching and learning; forging education within the community that it serves; elevating the status of teachers to the professional ranks with remunerations, better working conditions and continuous professional training; and crafting education outcomes to improve the nation’s economy.

He cited the World Economic Forum in its 2012 global competitiveness report, which listed 12 pillars of competitiveness. He explained that the report divides 144 of the world’s economies into three categories: factor-driven, efficiency-driven and innovation-driven. Guyana, he pointed out, is listed as one of 33 countries in the efficiency-driven economies and such countries need to concentrate on six of the 12 pillars that the report had identified.

He pointed out that at the top is higher education and training, followed by good market efficiency, labour market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness and market size.

Addressing higher education and training, Budhu said the report found that “quality higher education and training is particularly crucial for economies that want to move up the value chain beyond simple production processes and products. In particular, today’s globalizing economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers who are able to perform complex tasks and adapt rapidly to the changing environment and the evolving needs of the economy.”

He added that higher education must be a top priority for countries such as Guyana to be successful. “Regardless of which group of countries listed in the World Economic Forum, the achievement of any of those pillars of competiveness requires a well-educated, innovative and adaptive workforce. Every nation, big or small, has to continuously be involved in education reforms to respond effectively to the challenges of the 21st century,” he stated.

According to Budhu, the reforms that are needed depend on the stage of development of any particular country and the role its leaders decide it should play in this interdependent, knowledge-driven world. He pointed out that small economies, such as Guyana, generally do not have the institutions and the resources to make rapid modification to adjust to the changes in technology and that the economies are vulnerable to changes in world events and natural disasters. In these economies, education is not only viewed as part of the problem but a problem in itself, he added.

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