The last decade has witnessed a renewed interest in the social benefits of higher education, with recent research suggesting that universities have a role in nurturing developmental leaders who
enable positive change and better governance in low-income and conflict-affected countries (Brannelly et al, 2011b). This review summarises available evidence on the relationship between
higher education, developmental leadership and good governance in developing and conflict-affected countries. It draws on examples from a variety of countries, including Ghana, the Philippines, Oman, Lebanon, Cote d’Ivoire and Botswana among others. Most of the literature considered in this report is academic. A large proportion was produced by the Developmental Leadership Programme (DLP) based at the University of Birmingham, which is currently in the process of publishing a summary report (Schweisfurth, forthcoming b).
The existing literature suggests first that there is no established causal pathway connecting higher education, developmental leadership and good governance. Recent studies have found a general pattern of a positive correlation between levels of enrolment in higher education and indicators of good governance, but debates continue as to:
- the ability of individual leaders and developmental coalitions to affect change in the presence of powerful structural constraints to reform;
- the extent to which education alters individual values and socio-political participation vis-a-vis other factors, like family, religion, peer group and socioeconomic background;
- the impact of higher education independent of other factors. Case studies of Ghana and the Philippines produced by the DLP, for example, show convincingly that the contribution of higher education to developmental leadership is also a function of secondary and primary education.
Second, the relationships among higher education, developmental leadership and good governance are highly complex and context-specific. The evidence is sparse and anecdotal, but it appears that some kinds of higher education promote developmental leadership, while others hinder the emergence of dynamic leaders committed to development. Universities foster developmental leadership when:
- they operate according to principles of meritocracy and inclusion;
- they teach a broad and comprehensive curriculum through interactive and student-focused pedagogies. Most developmental leaders hold degrees in the arts, humanities and social sciences. This calls into question the recent emphasis on supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects;
- they promote opportunities for leadership training and practice through extracurricular activities (such as community work, political science societies, student councils and student newspapers);
- they provide role models and a new social environment and peer group. Mentorship and shared living experiences are helpful in this sense;
- they model an environment of good governance in their leadership and governance structures;
- they encourage the creation of heterogeneous networks by encouraging social, religious, ethnic and economic mixing as well as providing scholarships to study abroad. To avoid fostering predatory and extractive networks, universities should inject a strong value base and emphasise inclusivity.
Unfortunately, the studies examined suggest that higher education most often entrenches rather than erodes existing patterns of power and inequality, hampering the emergence of transformative and developmental leaders. For example, students from elite socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to access and succeed at elite universities whilst others are permanently excluded (as people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa). Similarly, universities’ governance structures do not model democratic practice due to low transparency, authoritarian management and political appointments, and the leadership of universities is not reflective of the diversity of gender, nationality, ethnicity, ability and language of the student body.
The evidence reviewed in this report made limited reference to gender in the context of higher education, development leadership and good governance.