The Development Equation/Universities, Knowledge and Development
Universities have long played an integral role in national and international development. In the context of contemporary globalization, the information and communication technologies (ICT’s) have accelerated the shift to a knowledge economy. Universities in the North have capitalized on the communications revolution to accelerate and widen the dissemination of and access to knowledge and information. They have also increased their capacity to generate new knowledge through international networks and partnerships. Higher education and research institutions in the developed world attract significant public resources, which they in turn invest in human capital, provide basic research and train researchers and students. Basic research allows educators to develop curricula, entrepreneurs to develop technologies and civil society to promote informed citizenship. Publicly-funded research provides evidence for social and health policy-making and practise and knowledge for the development of public services and infrastructure. Scholarship in the humanities provides critical reflection, preserves and enriches culture and informs ethics. Universities have the technical infrastructure required for the dissemination of knowledge (Willinksy, 2006).
The evidence would suggest however that Southern universities, having faced numerous obstacles in development, have not yet been able to benefit significantly from dissemination of on-line research and participation in international research networks remains concentrated in the North. Stable, broadband internet access and the technical capacity to maintain a network remains significant obstacle, and in many areas electricity itself cannot be relied upon. Price barriers to access to basic research in the form of peer-reviewed literature present a second obstacle which detracts from the value of returns on investing in ICT's.
Fortunately, the open access movement and subsidized research programs have vastly increased the possibility of access to research in the South in recent years. New technologies and falling technology costs put network access within reach of Southern universities. There is opportunity and rationale therefore, for universities in the North and South to focus their efforts on establishing network and literature access as a primary and basic goal towards developing equitable roles in research and institutional capacity-building parternships. It is predicted that if resources are prioritized towards these capabilities, the development impact flowing from North-South parternships will be more substantial with greater capacity for Southern partners to lead. Digital communication can assist partnership projects to widen their scope and develop more consistent and sustainable programs less dependent on 'development travel'. South-South networks and partnerships, and the sharing of knowledge within and led by the countries most concerned with the development challenges laid out by the Millenium Development Goals should be seen as critical to progress on them, and long-term resilience to regression on those targets. The Millenium Development Goals are focused on basic human rights and needs, on addressing grave social injustice in a world where global social and economic relations are more integrated and observable, and where resources to effect changes exist. Learning and knowledge in the 21st century should be led from a global perspective with the pressing challenges of the global majority in mind, and resources need not be constrained by the concentration of capabilities in a handful of countries as a byproduct of historical injustice. A shift to more equitable participation made possible by communication technologies and open access policies in addition represents the possibility to restore and reflect a history of knowledge which has always been global. Attention to this understanding is critical to avoiding the pitfalls of both the fear and the illusion of 'Western knowledge', and notions that learning and knowledge in any form from scientific method to oral history are constrained within some intractable cultural origin and dominance.