Foreign aid’s educational blind spot

Memories are short. We forget that it was the [university] students in both countries who were in the vanguard of social protest movements in the 70’s and 80’s that led directly to the civil conflicts that the world  remembers now only because of ‘blood diamonds’ and child soldiers.

But in the beginning it was university student groups, sometimes funded by pan-Africanists like Libya’s currently besieged President Quadaffi, who struggled for the overthrow of despotic regimes in both countries.

Charles Taylor, a graduate of Bentley College in Boston, got his start in Liberian student politics in the United States where he organized protests against the Tolbert regime.

That is Michael Keating writing on the sad state of universities in Africa, and the possible political downside.

He makes a couple of great points that don’t think get made enough.

First, everyone worries about revolt from the poor masses. Those people should read their history. The poor may or may not be more likely to revolt than a middle classman (I am a skeptic). But frustration and aggression are channeled into violence when they are politicized. And it is not the poor and dispossessed who do the organizing and politicizing.

Second, the aid community are on top of primary education like an overzealous mother. Tertiary education is pretty much ignored. The MDGs are both a cause and en effect of this sad state of affairs.

Universities will train the next generation of Presidents, bureaucrats, generals and business leaders.

You want industry? Institutions? Accountability? Technological diffusion? Peace? Time for donors to rethink education spending policies in a big way.