Degrees and Development

Chris Blattman links to Lyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji’s post in Project Diaspora (via Africa Unchained). While Aboyeji takes a delightful swipe at international aid when he writes – 

The current system where African higher education receives little or no support while universities in the west launch multi-million dollar “Development Research Centres” they don’t need is not only clearly unsustainable, but highly self serving. 

Ouch! But he gets scathing with the following – 

It pushes an imperialistic mindset that allows western institutions to serve as command centres for Africa’s economic and political systems without the proper context and it leaches Africa’s best academic minds, leaving young Africans not fortunate enough to afford an expensive international education largely clueless and underesourced with respect to international development issues in their own countries.

The development sector in India is quite evenly divided among those who respect a western degree and those who don’t. The ones who don’t are quite convinced that an idyllic western campus is the wrong setting to be analysing problems of the developing world. Worse still, they suspect that young professionals armed with a western degree tend to come back with their heads in the air, quite unsuitable for the grind of development projects back home. And being one such western degree holder, I have to admit that quite a few of us have done our bit to strengthen this skepticism.

Apart from the above, there is the practical issue of what opportunities are in the offing for a western-educated development professional back in their home country. Armed with concepts and discourses, he/she is a better fit for research/policy organisations and think-tanks – the kind of which have been the traditional stronghold of the west, as opposed to the rest. I have blogged previously about my disappointment with arguments that seek to further widen the gulf –

In his speech, Simon talked about the need for institutes like IDS/ODI etc to focus more on “moving up the value chain” by working with the UN General Assembly, the EC and the other IFIs, instead of wasting time and resources working on rather “low value” agendas like community farming systems, tribal customs and rural surveys.

That is probably why Aboyeji ends with – 

So that when I must obtain from a reputable university, my masters degree in International Development, there will be reason enough for me to be resident in Nairobi,  not New York.

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