Nation’s best resource

The following is part 2 of an excerpt from a speech delivered recently by attorney at law Hilford Murrell at the first in a series of lunchtime lectures put on by the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies and the Central Bank of Barbados.

Keeping pace with the competition

I mentioned earlier the subject of international competitiveness. In any civil activity that involves an element of competition, it is not uncharacteristic to ferret out even some basic understanding of a rival’s procedure and propensity. The same can be said of education as a fulcrum for economic success.

In this context I have chosen to make reference to the broad views expressed by David Coates, a Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies at Wake Forest University, North Carolina. In his publication Models of Capitalism – Growth and Stagnation in the Modern Era, Professor Coates affirms that the importance of education as an economic input has been triggered by the intensification of international competition. He then advances three distinct theses to support his claim.

In the first instance, Coates asserts that education is now the nation’s key resource – its ultimate guarantor of economic success – because it alone focuses on the one input into economic activity. He further added that in an age of global capital, investment in human capital is all that remains as an instrument of policy for a government that seeks to attract global investment to its territory and economy.

In short, his thesis reminds us that educational performance becomes the central determinant of where high-value-added production facilities settle and reside.

The second thesis advanced by Coates recognises the paradigm shift in business culture. He argues that the old principle of sustained profitability through market dominance and economies of scale have given way to less tangible assets such as Research and Development. This paradigm shift has introduced a new work ethic which again places education at the forefront of economic growth. What this means is that successful economies will in future place greater reliance on tertiary education as central to economic success.

In his third hypothesis, Coates argues that the new paradigm will renew enthusiasm for educational routes to economic competitiveness and this in turn will raise productivity of the economy as a whole.

The examples proffered by Professor Coates are as relevant to Barbados as they could be to and other developing country in the Caribbean or elsewhere. It is on this premise therefore that we will now turn attention to the domestic market/environment.

Tertiary Education and the Local Environment

The social revolution of 1937 was a watershed in the history of Barbados. Thereafter, the colonial government maintained a watching brief on its West Indian colonies then, one of its main sources of sugar. On the pretext of being a protective and caring landlord, the colonial government commissioned Sir George Seel in 1951to undertake what in modern terms, would be referred to as an audit of the development and welfare of the West Indies.

In his report which was shared with the colonies, he included as a point of reference, a statement made by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the House of Commons on 15th June 1874: “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of the country depends. Ironically, this broad statement continues to be the bedrock and standard bearer of our social and philosophical perspective.”

In this context, I could not fail to bring to your attention part of the citation in 1988 by Princeton University on Nobel Laureate, Sir Arthur Lewis, who is reported to have devoted his life to the thesis that “the fundamental cure for poverty is not money, but knowledge”.

As I speak to the positions adopted by some of our graduates of tertiary education, it behoves me to rekindle the memory of those present as well as those absent that “To whom much is given, much is expected”.

I make this declaration because I hold steadfast to the view that one of the fundamental principles of education is to lend a helping hand to the less fortunate. This means that the higher one ascends the ladder of educational exposure, the greater the burden of responsibility.

Such responsibility must be expressed not only in the narrow confines of the workplace but also in a specific as well as general sense for public edification.

As far back as the Colonial Estimates for the fiscal year 1948/49 expenditure under the head of Education was L234,108.00 equivalent to 25 per cent of overall estimates. This trend of high allocations to education has continued with the result that during the last 15 years cumulative expenditure under the head of Education stood at BDS$6,566,605,908.

With such levels of expenditure on education, are we getting open feedback on matters of to public interest and concern? I can hear the rumblings in the background: “Me? And get transferred?”, “Not me, I have my children to feed”, “Let so and so make that suggestion, because she/he is a ‘B’ or ‘D’,” depending on which political party holds the reins of government.

If this muzzled situation persists one may be inclined to question to what avail is this expansive expenditure on education.

The truth of the matter is that for a long time Barbados has become too politically polarised. This trend of purposely engineered party affiliation has stymied and stifled critical analysis and intellectual discourse for fear of parliamentary backlash.

It is indeed ironical that with the privilege extended under the umbrella of our system of parliamentary democracy, these very Parliamentarians have a licence to speak freely and fearlessly of and about anything and, at times, about anyone of their choosing within the precincts of Parliament.

However, if the maturity of higher education is to be realised and manifested, those who have benefitted from the highest station of education must join forces and let their voices be heard on matters of public interest and concern.

We must ask ourselves, for how long will our society continue to be influenced only by the few commentators from the Cave Hill campus who enjoy security of tenure in their workplace? My guess is for a long time. What is yours? The reason simply is – the preservation of job security in a society with limited employment opportunities.

But there are times when personal conscience takes precedence over political patronage. I refer no doubt to the passage of The Tenantries (Freehold Purchase ) Act 1980 which for the first time, allowed working class persons to own the parcel of the land on which they resided. The price of ten cents per square foot may be inconsequential but the enshrined right of passing this legacy to generations yet unborn will be immortalised in the memory of these workers.

It is indeed an enduring shame that some of the very offspring from working class background who attained the highest levels of education and should therefore know better, frowned upon what may ordinarily be termed a “gift” to those who, with minimum wages, cut and loaded our canes, forked and weeded our cane fields, picked up the trash and headed canes in the most difficult terrain, in the boiling sun and pouring rain.

They withstood all these hardships in an effort to enhance the Barbados’ foreign exchange earnings from sugar production which, after surpassing the 200,000 mark in 1967, has steadily declined to an all time low of 23,524 and 24,526 tonnes for the years 2011 and 2012 respectively.

If a political argument may be advanced for not supporting one’s rival, there is no excuse why those of higher learning distanced themselves from any association with the working class who sought their assistance.

Let me give you an example. In 1997, in the spirit of worker empowerment, Government, with the blessing of the Barbados Workers Union, decided to partially privatise some of the operations of the Transport Board. A company United Commercial Autoworks Limitedwas incorporated and a prospectus issued with a public offering at $1 per share. With all the diatribe of support for the working class, guess how many private individuals persons sought to acquire shares in this working class company – less than 20.

There is a song which asks, “Where have all the flowers gone?” Why did all those beneficiaries of higher education distance themselves even to give critical support to an initiative to which they would have been taught, and indeed expected, to give guidance and direction?

These persons must be reminded that those who are most highly educated have a moral obligation to come to the assistance of the less fortunate. This proclamation was made in a publication The Creation of Wealth in which its author Professor Brian Griffiths makes reference to the following quotation from renowned economist/ philosopher Adam Smith: “In civilised societies man stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain friendship of a few persons. In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity , is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren.”

However, despite the national stand-off, come July 31, 2013, UCAL will celebrate its 16th anniversary under the chairmanship of Sir Roy Trotman. It worthy of note that during its 16-year existence not one employee has been laid off or put on short week employment. Why therefore is all the rhetoric about giving ordinary citizens a stake in the ownership of productive assets via partial privatisation?

* To be concluded tomorrow.

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