In this guest entry, Simon Schwartzman examines the link between economic growth and higher education expansion. He argues that this links exists, but not in the expected direction; economic growth is the cause, not the product of the expansion of higher education and research. However, this situation may be changing now, with the growing demand for qualified manpower and research capabilities by the knowledge economy.
This post was originally published as at International Higher Education (issue 67), but is being reposted with permission from the author.
Brazil is one of the new “emerging economies.” It is flexing its muscles to become a leading international player, and thus, it needs good university institutions capable to produce the scientists and engineers needed to keep the momentum. Therefore, clear policies are required, to improve the standards of universities and the quality of higher education institutions, based on a clear identification of priorities. However, contrary to the assumptions and expectations of external observers, Brazil does not have such a strategy.
Brazil experienced cycles of rapid economic growth in the 1930s, after World War II, in the 1970s, and again after 2002. Each of these cycles can be explained by favorable external conditions—the revenues created by the agricultural and mining sectors, the influx of international investments, and the use of such resources to finance a growing public sector, the steady transfer of the population from the countryside to the urban centers, and generating a growing internal consumption market. These developments were also preceded by internal reorganizations of the economy, controlling inflation and increasing the governments’ ability to raise taxes, as it happened in the late 1960s and more recently in the 1990s. In none of these cycles is a causal link found between investments in education, science, and technology and economic growth. (more…)