When you look at third world countries like Nigeria, the evidence of the impact of education both on the individual and society is hard to see. For example, a majority of people who complete higher education are finding it difficult to get jobs that match their hopes and dreams. Across the country, there are incidences of unemployment and underemployment. In 2012 a job opening for drivers by the Dangote group received applications from PhD holders, and there are other occurrences where individuals deemed to have attained higher education studies seek jobs below their level of educational qualification. As concerns about poor returns become more frequent, some might want to question the benefits of education in the long run.
The missing point though is that the question on returns should be looked at from a different perspective. At the level of policymaking, it should be about the benefits of a world-class schooling system to the future of the country or specifically, coming to a clear understanding of what Nigeria is losing by not operating an educational system whose primary focus is quality and excellence at all levels of learning.
To provide an answer, one area to point decision makers to is the Knowledge and Technology Intensive (KTI) sectors in developed economies. The ‘K’ in KTI stands for knowledge that people acquire in academia and research, and it is the basis for Advanced Industries in areas such as Semiconductors, Consumer Electronics, Pharmaceuticals, Automotive, Aerospace, Computing, among others. According to reports from the OECD and the National Science Board, KTI’s generated over Twenty-Two Trillion US Dollars or 29 percent of world’s GDP in 2015. However, only countries with a good system of learning and research are in a position to create and earn value from this knowledge opportunity.
If you disaggregate the KTI sectors and look at their global value chains, you will see their absolute dependence on academia and research as their foundation as well as huge revenue opportunities for countries that have and are investing in quality learning in schools. Take semiconductors, for example, which control everything we do in the digital world. The Semiconductor Industry Association suggests that direct sales revenue among countries in the semiconductor value chain reached $335.2 Billion in 2015. Global trade in semiconductor goods was approximately $1.34 Trillion in that same year, but only a handful of countries remain the ultimate beneficiary of the massive economic gain because of their strategic competencies and good education framework. For any country to develop intellectual capital in this space, they would have to have as part of their foundational strategy a good schooling system that is excellent in delivering Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics(STEM) across all level of learning.
The same goes for the pharmaceuticals and automotive as other examples. In 2014, pharmaceutical production and export reached $1.1 Trillion globally. To succeed in this space requires a country to develop educational excellence in the fields of life-sciences, basic sciences, mathematics, research, entrepreneurial vision as well as a robust framework for knowledge transfer between academia and industry. In 2015 worldwide sales of automotive products reached $1.7 Trillion. However, countries who are leaders in this sector are renowned for their excellent engineering and creative design schools.
At the national level, KTI’s could be used to measure the contribution of knowledge to an economy. By looking at data from the, OECD and the National Science Board, we found that the knowledge intensive sector generated 39 percent or $7 Trillion of the United States’ GDP in 2014. In the United Kingdom, it was 37 percent or $1.05 Trillion of GDP. In the EU area, 30 percent or $5 Trillion of GDP is as a result of investments in education and research; China generates 21 percent or $2 Trillion of GDP, from KTI’s. In Japan, 31 percent of GDP in 2014 or $1.3 Trillion is from KTI’s. From Canada to Turkey, Vietnam, Brazil, South Africa, and others, good education has a direct correlation in the formation of industries in the KTI space.
So, on what foundation does the world’s most prosperous and advanced economies build their success on? It is partly their good education system dedicated to research and academic excellence. We believe Nigeria can turn things around by rethinking its education goals towards building a 21st-century economy. This means that policymakers would have to develop a good vision of education. However, more than that, they would have to be intentional and decisive on what they want to pursue and be clear on what success looks like.