July 26, 2008
You are more than a class. You’re a network, learning beyond the old physical intimacy of the classroom via the electronic community. You can be part of it wherever you are, and as we just heard, you’re from many different places and countries, but you’re part of a bigger class still, a class that’s almost doubled over the last 20 years. You’re part of the 132 million people in the world in global tertiary education, university education. A number that will double again to 264 million in the next 15 years, and that growth is in some of the countries mentioned today where students are from.
The numbers of university students in Africa will double every five years because today only 5 percent of Africans are in university education, compared to 50 percent of Americans or Europeans. Similarly, there will be dramatic catch-up in East Asia, where under a quarter are currently in university or have been in university, and Latin America, where it’s still only a third. So the world wants to go to college, and that aspiration is something you all graduating today can relate to, finding your time in busy professional lives to combine school—reading stories in some of the literature and listening last night at dinner to how some of you have juggled work and family to get a postgrad degree. One remarkable story [is that of] of one of our Ph.D.s today, who’s already been honored, trying to study quietly while her two daughters slept in bed on either side of her. You, more than almost anyone perhaps, know that education matters.
You reflect so many nationalities here, and you know, therefore, how it matters to so many people in so many lands, across divisions of religion, ethnicity and economic circumstance, of geography and political opinion, education matters. But for all of you today, this great surge in demand for learning of which this university is such a proud part is just [the] top of the ant heap. Below it are the teeming layers of secondary and primary schools, with the world pushing hard to achieve the so-called millennium development goal of universal primary education for all boys and girls by 2015. It’s this global education surge, that first and foremost—because so many of you today who are graduating are teachers—that you have such a role in it. Because as teachers with the degrees conferred on you today you have more opportunity than yesterday. You can be leaders and agents of change of this education surge.
Waves of education expansion throughout history have been associated with great social, political and economic transformation. The American state universities across this country emerged as global manufacturing and then political power came to this nation. Universal public primary and secondary education here, or in my own country, Great Britain, allowed the human capital to grow for global leadership. And even today, [the] U.S. public education budget is about equal to that of the Arab States, Central and
Eastern Europe, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, South and West Asia, and Sub-Sahara and Africa combined. This great country matters, and is concerned, when it comes to education, but if you’re looking for a sign of the future, China now graduates two times as many university graduates as the United States.
And so to the broader point for all of you here today, teachers or not, education and knowledge is perhaps the most exciting frontier in today’s global society. First, because we’ve become a global knowledge society. Increasingly, what differentiates between nations and between individuals and their success and career fulfillment is education, but because beyond that we are relying more and more on the ingenuity of our minds as we push up against the physical limits of our current global economic model, if I can put it like that. Yours is the graduating class of $4/gallon gas, of climate change, but also of a time when the U.S. and the West have fallen foul of dark undercurrents in politics and religion around the world, as small groups have sought to defy what they choose to see as a U.S. global-led capitalism that is reordering the world. At their most fanatic, they have substituted for the absence of a democratic mandate the use of our own technologies against us—Boeings flown into the World Trade Center, dirty bombs in crowded city centers from London to Nairobi or Madrid, from Israel to Indonesia.
All of these indicate how urgent the need is to build bridges again, between peoples and countries. And if I can say, this is finding expression in the presidential campaign here. On Thursday, 200,000 people turned out in Berlin, Germany, to hear Barack Obama speak of renewing transatlantic relations. There hasn’t been such a talked-about candidate visit to Europe from the Americas since Madonna’s Evita Peron did it on film. And John McCain similarly speaks of repairing relations. Today’s security is not just in our military defenses but in the minds of men and women. Can we build a community of shared knowledge, ideas and values that doesn’t overcome or brush away differences but places their resolution in the arena of debate about ideas between friends rather than terrorism in our cities?
Further, as our weather, our fields, our transportation and our heating costs show the stresses and strains and the price of living beyond our global means, how do we find shared ways to rein back what we consume so that we can live within the capacity of our common resources? Education and knowledge are the platform on which answers will be built. And the nature of this new world is if the answers that carry authority, then that education platform from which they come must be a global one. I can hence see profound change in how we learn, how we pay for it and what we learn.
Here at Walden, you know more than most about the how we learn. Clearly, as university education doubles in size, distance learning is going to play a growing role; so will the support from established Western education institutions to newly established sister campuses and institutions in the south. We will see post-teacher training as a core source of improvement to secondary and university sectors around the world, as those teachers seek to raise their standards and capacity. We’ll see a wide range of partnerships, both public and private, and networks to take this capacity to teach and learn across the world. It will be the cutting edge of a global revolution, and how we pay for it will also be profound.
Africa, which I said has the fastest growing student enrollment anywhere, a third of its 300 universities are privately funded. Predictably, university education everywhere reflects a higher degree of private funding than secondary or primary [education], because amidst low-income countries almost half of education funding is assigned to primary schools, about a quarter to secondary and only 16 percent to tertiary. That’s unlikely to change given the very proper public demand for basic schooling. So we’ll have to rely on public resources being used in creative ways, with guarantees and tax credits and scholarships and bursaries, but we will need also the private sector to play a creative part. We’ll need in poorer countries the equivalent of a microfinance movement for college loans so that, like here in the U.S., it’s possible to get the finance to go through college.
We’ll need visionary investors who build a system of market-based affordable higher education for the poor. The most dramatic example of that I’ve seen is in India, where in its IT sector demand for software expertise has postponed private technology college in Bangalore and Hyderabad that draws in fee-paying poor with the assurance of jobs at the end of their diplomas or degrees. That’s a virtuous circle of where education and employment provide reinforcing opportunity. Elsewhere, graduates often face in the developing worlds sclerotic economies, which are not yet generating the modern jobs the graduates seek.
And so to the what we should learn: I’ve stressed the theme or value already of the global liberal education that inculcates in all of us a sense of a shared global home, whatever our differences, but the second thing are the skills and entrepreneurship to prevail in this world where knowledge, but particularly applied knowledge, so clearly offers an edge. In many developing countries, the main employer remains a failing state sector that absorbs graduates into a do-nothing civil service because there is nowhere else to go. Elsewhere, though, small, local and medium-sized businesses, together with the entrepreneurs of civil society, are transforming countries and individual career opportunities. Some 17 million people a year are estimated to be currently joining the global middle class. And in the U.K., my own country, which is very open to foreign investment, we’re now seeing the success of, say in India transforming itself into a knock-on benefit to a country such as our own. The iconic but struggling car brands of Jaguar and Land Rover have just been sold by Ford to Tata of India, thereby saving British jobs.
Yet India also shows how far there is to go. Some 20 percent of its billion-plus population have been drawn into this world of global transformation, but up to 80 percent remain mired in a life where little has changed. I’ve seen young kids in schools all over India racing to learn, carrying bulging book bags on their backs, often up a mountain or hill or across a valley to get to school, poor parents subsidizing a local teacher’s state salary and kicking up hell if standards fall or the teacher is absent. But even at the end of that great investment by the village in education, there often remains little escape from the village life. Limited secondary school opportunity, less university, and the jobs of the international high-tech sector are only enough for a few in the vast subcontinent of India.
So the educational frontier still has a long way to go in India and across so much of the world. In global terms, we stand where America stood when its universities were all back East and available to only a privileged few. There are worlds to conquer, and you, Walden’s graduating class of 2008, are as well-placed as any to conquer them. We stand on the cusp of a revolution as consequential as any of our times—a great leap in global educational opportunity with profound consequences for how we live together as global neighbors. May you all be part of it. Thank you.