Sustainable development seems, in a loose sense, the newest of the world’s recent obsessions – one that commands great attention from global leaders and theorists at the moment. And quite like many of such in the past, its success will be defined by innovation – a word that is quietly supplanting Research & Development in its use and importance in today’s technology and business conversations, contextually. By the way, many sustainable development advocates believe that the way the world decides to deal with this development concept has a huge bearing on the future of its prosperity. This statement is no different, though, from such similar caveats that helped galvanise global efforts during previous obsessive endeavours. In this era and in the preceding ones, a common feature is clear; the quality of human capital is the constant variable that makes for success or failure.
The crux of this piece is neither about innovation, research & development nor is it about sustainable development. One classical advertisement script that says, “Ideas are capital. The rest is just money” closely introduces the real drift here. But to put it even more succinctly and vividly capture the arguments that follow, it is rephrased to read, “Human capital is everything. The rest is just consequence.” So if human capital is everything, then it really should be any nation’s most important resource. Not the mineral resources.
It must be noted that human capital is as much not a natural occurrence as it is not a game of luck. It requires painstaking planning, aggressive investments, unrelenting and disciplined execution to build. And this is where most developing countries fail woefully. Nigeria is among the top countries in the world with very large youth population; however it is viewed, it obviously has no problem of human resource. But the big challenge lies in her inability to convert this resource to capital.
Of all the investments required in human capital development, higher education infrastructure remains the most critical. Countries that have this understanding and are making requisite investments are reaping the bountiful benefits. Some countries are even generating more revenues from higher education services than you can imagine. For instance, in 2015/16, Australia from “the education of international students generated a record $20.3 billion in export income”, which represents an 8 per cent increase from the previous year. In fact, “international education is Australia’s largest services export and third largest of all export industries…” With “over half a million international students studying in Australia in 2016, international education is estimated to support around 130, 700 jobs in Australia.” Guess what! “To support economic growth and prosperity, the Australian Government invests over $9 billion in science, research and innovation each year.”
Back home, within the last three decades, our tertiary education witnessed what could be regarded as its darkest moments in history. In those decades (and perhaps till date) the only resource we knew, valued and of course were ready to die for was crude oil, over and above human capital. And that explains why till date we are not able to fully optimize the crude oil value chain. Comparatively, whereas Nigeria’s 2015 distributable oil revenue stood at approximately 3.75 trillion naira (at 197 per dollar, this figure equals $14.9 billion; at 305 per dollar, it is $9.6 billion), Australia earned $20.3 billion, as mentioned earlier. Our situation is as embarrassing as it is pitiable.
Yet, it is unclear whether we are ready to make the requisite investment in our higher education to remedy our despicable situation. The lost opportunity is always frustrating to every concerned citizen. Should the endless hope and frustration continue? It’s time to rethink!