My sincere gratitude to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Sir Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council, for welcoming me here today at the opening of Going Global.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to such a distinguished audience of ministers, international education leaders and experts as well as participating in Steering Committee of the Open Government Partnership in Cape Town this week.
Going Global has become the premier platform for higher education leaders from across the world to engage. It lives up to its name. And this is a very special conference: the first time ever held on the African continent. I am honoured to be participating.
In 1947, our great monarch, Her Majesty the Queen, aged 21, visited Cape Town with her parents. During her speech here, she dedicated her life to the service of the Commonwealth, talked about the challenges faced by young people and the need to work together.
Many years later, South Africa’s greatest son Nelson Mandela famously stated that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. While today young people face different challenges, these 2 messages – working together, and transforming the world through education – are as relevant as ever.
This week marks 22 years since the world celebrated, and South Africans participated in, those thrilling first democratic elections.
Over those 22 years, much has changed. South Africa has seen unprecedented development. Successive South African governments have reduced serious poverty in South Africa from 42% in 2000 to 29% in 2011. Yes there are bumps on the road – there always are – but in those 22 years, the world has developed faster than ever before.
And what does that mean? What does it really mean? It means over those 22 years that more people than ever before – millions here, billions around the world – have been lifted out of grinding poverty. Millions more have the chance to put their ingenuity and capability to good use, and to better their lives.
And it has not happened by accident. This unprecedented development over a generation has happened by a golden combination of courageous openness and the expansion of education.
The spread of openness: open democracy, open markets, open societies and open access to education for all have been the seeds of this change, because these things empower the people.
But all is not done. Challenges, deep challenges, remain. And while there is one hungry mouth to feed. While there is one fertile mind unnourished by the invigorating food of education. While illiteracy and want and poverty exist on this earth. It is our job, our task, and our duty, to empower and open and educate.
Let us today recommit to that goal.
Global importance of higher education
For in forging this open, empowered world the global connections of higher education are a major force for good, for innovation, for knowledge and for partnership.
We in the UK take great pleasure – and pride – in welcoming students from all over the world. We work hard to make sure they enjoy as well as learn. Our scholarships have provided life-changing chances for thousands across the globe and here in South Africa.
We are keen too to see more UK students study overseas and I want to thank the British Council for their work on this. And as technology marches on, the world opens up innovative, ways of learning – joint overseas campuses, joint degrees, and online learning – taking advantage of the digital revolution, to reach more young people.
Modern technology allows learning to spread better to every inch of humanity, in every corner of the globe. From here in Cape Town in the south to Nunavut in the north, let us celebrate this radical expansion of the potential for education, that all can benefit from the best teaching and education in the world.
Our research collaboration is second to none, with the growing reach of our Newton Fund supporting collaborative research.
We are privileged to work with so many of you. With Brazil and Columbia on biodiversity; with Egypt on health and water; with India on solar; and with China on life sciences. This is bringing the best people together in our universities and building bridges that go way beyond the research itself.
Our collaboration with South Africa is a great example of success, underpinning our relationship, with joint research to address issues in health, agritech and energy. Their work strengthens our knowledge, understanding and trust.
Growth in global demand, sustainable development goals and the UK’s response
But we know that when it comes to reaching our joint goal, more needs to be done.
Today’s generation of young people represents 1 quarter of the world’s population.
Over the next decade, 1 billion young people will enter the global labour force.
The number of students enrolling in higher education worldwide will increase by 21 million between 2011 and 2020. But only about 2% of these students will travel abroad for study.
In many of the developing countries, where demand for higher education is expanding fastest, domestic systems are not responding quickly enough to meet need.
And for a new generation of 200 million young Africans seeking a more prosperous future, this represents a demographic window of opportunity.
For while the challenges are real, meeting this need will require millions more in higher education.
We need to look beyond primary and secondary education to invest in young people to generate job-ready, productive and entrepreneurial graduates who will be the teachers, engineers, philosophers, diplomats, doctors, inventors and leaders of the future.
I profoundly believe that the ingenuity in every human breast is an asset, with a value incalculable. Let us unlock that potential together.
And while countries around the world face headwinds and risks, I look forward to working with you on your impressive and ambitious national development plan here in South Africa.
I can commit that we in the UK will play our part. Through our trade, growing as it is. Through collaboration, the theme of this conference. And through support for higher education specifically. Today I can commit to you our support for the SPHEIR programme – funded by the UK to catalyse ambitious, multi-sector and high-value partnerships to transform the quality, relevance, access and affordability of higher education.
SPHEIR will support partnerships that bring businesses and universities together to develop bespoke curricula, improve the quality of teaching and make higher education provision more affordable for students.
I want to thank the British Council and others for the role they will play in delivering the SPHEIR programme. The programme will have a strong focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and other countries where there is strongest unmet need.
Let us not see the window of opportunity close. Let us collaborate to deliver for the citizens who we serve.
Just as we must collaborate to support education, so too I believe we must collaborate to promote openness. Sunlight, it is said, is the best disinfectant. And Cape Town this week is host to the Open Government Partnership of 69 countries, across the world, committed to opening up government and tackling corruption. Openness supports the rule of law, builds economies and fights poverty.
And in this context, transparency is vitally important for the further development of effective national education plans, jobs and growth and in developing the international partnerships that Going Global will establish.
We shall only succeed by working together, through and with international organisations and partnerships. Later this month in London leaders from around the world are meeting at my Prime Minister’s Anti-Corruption Summit. This presents a big opportunity for us to demonstrate our commitment to action, and I am very pleased that South Africa and other countries here today will be represented.
So let us rise to the challenges we face together. And let us seize the opportunities the world presents.
Six decades since Her Majesty spoke here, and 2 decades after South Africa opened to the world, that world has changed for the better. But many challenges remain. Our role, and our duty, is to ensure a bright, open future in the decades to come.
So let’s work together and make it happen.
I wish you an excellent conference.