Human resources for the knowledge economy

Posted on October 28, 2014  /  1 Comments

The development of knowledge workers is obviously important for the emergence of inclusive knowledge economies. We have been working on this, but it has not been front and center of our public communication. This will change in the next little while.

The 2015 Budget Speech of the Government of Sri Lanka placed its central emphasis on the development of human resources, as befits a country moving into middle-income status. But the policy proposals require some focus. As a think tank that has been working on these issues for some time, we will try to sharpen the focus.

Here is the first contribution, through a column in the Financial Times:

Sri Lanka should increase its tertiary school enrolment to keep up with its peers. The comparison below may come as a surprise to those accustomed to think of Sri Lanka’s educational attainments as exemplary. In this comparison, it leads only in secondary school enrolment. Its tertiary enrolment rate should at least be above that of Vietnam, a country with a lower per-capita GDP. Ideally, it will approach Thai levels.

But should this be university enrolment, or tertiary enrolment, including university? Expansion of university seats without a corresponding expansion of appropriate employment opportunities in the 1960s was widely seen as contributing to the emergence of Sinhala and Tamil insurrections in the 1970s and 1980s.

Where are the jobs? For example, it is estimated that the hotel industry will need 200,000 employees by the time we reach the target of 2.5 million tourists in 2016 or a year or two after that. It is obvious that no more than a small fraction will require university degrees or equivalents. There is a shortage of skilled workers in the hotel industry, but the answer to that problem is not more university seats. In fact, expanding subsidised university seats may create worker shortages in critical areas, given Sri Lanka’s youth population is not growing, as shown by the high median age.

So the first thing to be done is to redefine the objective set out in the 2015 Budget speech as 100,000 entering tertiary education by 2020. The second thing is to expedite the conversion of the technical colleges and similar entities scattered around the country into efficient mechanisms for the delivery of employment-focused tertiary education. To the extent possible, private tertiary education suppliers should also be integrated into the exercise.

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