IFC’s International Forum on Private Education

Addressed by Tan Sri Lim at IFC's International Forum on Private Education, Wangsinton. D.C
14 May 2008

Emerging New Model

Let me begin by sharing with you some of my concerns to put in perspective the present global environment.

Our world is a most unequal place.

On the planet are 6.5 billion people but only about 900 million live in the 57 countries termed as developed or industrialised. In other words, these 900 million live in the richer part of the globe.

In contrast, about five billion people live in the developing world and the rest in transition countries.

The developing world is made up of more than 120 low and middle income countries in which people generally have a lower standard of living. They have access to fewer goods and services and healthcare facilities than people in high income countries.

The World Bank informs us that, in the developing world, more than 1.2 billion people currently live below the international poverty line, earning less than US one dollar per day.

That paltry sum means they are unable to get adequate and nutritious food for themselves and their families.

Undernourishment negatively affects people′s health, productivity, sense of hope and overall well–being. Lack of food also stunts growth, slows thinking, saps energy, hinders foetal development and contributes to mental retardation.

That reduces their capacity to fight their way out of poverty – even if they are offered the opportunity, which, for most of them, is also hard to come by.

It is a poverty trap with very little chance of escape, if they do not receive help.

Ladies and gentlemen

Throughout the history of mankind, poverty often emerged as a principal cause and a consequence of conflict.

That vicious circle of cause and effect is continuing today. The consequences of poverty and conflict are distressing, and we read about these consequences and see them in bright, coloured pictures each day when we open our newspapers or turn on our TV.

Where peace is lacking, poverty grows like a cancer, undermining social and political order.

More than ever before, there is a need to break this cycle of poverty and conflict.

It must be obvious to all that the eradication of poverty has to come before we can create a safer and a more peaceful world.

And education, I am convinced, is the most effective way to eradicate poverty quickly.

That is because education empowers people and expands their range of choice. Educated people are more likely to be employed, and to remain employed. The better qualified they are, the higher their income is likely to be.

Thus, by dismantling the barriers to education and increasing access to knowledge and skills, we will be helping to create more economic winners, and to transform a culture of war into a culture of peace and progress.

Ladies and gentlemen

However, in Africa, the current state of education is plagued by a lack of funds, teachers, textbooks; all kinds of shortages.

The result is that primary school enrolments and literacy rates in Africa are among the lowest in the world; 42 million school children in sub–Saharan Africa are out of school; many children cannot afford to go to primary school or stay in school after they are enrolled.

According to UNESCO, Africa has the lowest primary education completion ratios in the world.

In Europe, almost all countries have ratios exceeding 90 percent. Out of 45 African countries, only eight reach this level.

In 19 African countries, at least every second child does not complete primary school. In another 25 percent of countries, only one in three pupils at the end of primary school moves on to secondary education.

The low level of education is aggravated by an alarming rate in the “brain drain” from Africa.

Since 1990, Africa has been losing 20,000 professionals annually.

It may be hard to believe this, but there are more African scientists and engineers working in the United States than in the entire African continent.

The “brain drain” has placed Africa at risk of becoming home to even greater mass poverty.

Ladies and gentlemen

Since we started our university, we have been implementing programmes aimed at building the capacity that is needed to develop a country.

It is a formula that we intend to use in Africa as well.

Before I go into that, let me retrace a little about where we came from.

In 1991, we set up a school in Malaysia, which we named the Limkokwing Institute of Creative Technology, to train creative human capital for the communications industry which was then desperately short of professional talents.

We expanded rapidly, gained university college status in 2003 and moved into a landmark campus. Last year, we were upgraded to a full university.

Since then we have set up campuses in 6 countries and increased our student population to 16,000. These young people have joined us from more than 130 countries including the United Kingdom.

Now, we are in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Beijing, Phnom Penh, Gaborone and London.

Now we are Asian, African and European all at once in the way we think, in the way we see and do things. At the right time, we will open our campus in New York, which will mean expanding our presence to four continents.

We will set up campuses in countries where we can make a difference, where we can make a contribution.

We should be in 10 countries by the end of this year – including in Lesotho and Swaziland – and we plan to be in 30 countries within the next 5 years.

The goal within the next 10 years is to have one million students, either on campus or online.

The interest shown in our university and our programmes has been overwhelming. We receive more than 2 million visitors from more than 150 countries every month to our website.

We have also built up a collegial network of more than 160 universities spread over 70 countries in support of our “Global Classroom” concept which enables students to learn in different countries en route to completing their degrees.

We want to use this network and our campuses to facilitate a two–way traffic in education between Asia – the East – and the rest of the world – the West.

The merging of the best of the East and the West will broaden the cultural and intellectual learning experience of students, and open minds to new ideas and perceptions.

If students spend all their time in only one side of the world, they will spend their lives knowing only half the story, seeing only half the picture and missing out on half the opportunities.

The establishment of Limkokwing London last year marked a pioneering endeavour to integrate Asian, African and Western values, traditions, creativity and technology in education.

From London, Limkokwing University will take the vision it shares with its partner universities to transform university education around the world.

Ladies and gentlemen

The lessons we have learnt, the experiences we have gained and the knowledge we have acquired as a university are now being used in Botswana to assist in developing human capital and building capacity.

Bridging the global divide is a priority of the university and this objective is driving our global expansion programme to set up campuses in African countries, Cambodia and elsewhere. Our campus in London serves as a centre to keep us in touch with the latest in technology.

Limkokwing University is working with Africans to liberate the vast store of African talents. We have been putting into practice the Smart Partnership principles adopted at Malaysia′s Langkawi International Dialogue and the spin–off Southern Africa International Dialogue.

Since 2000 we have been hosting hundreds of students sent to Malaysia by the governments of African countries like Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Sudan and Nigeria.

In all the places in Africa and Cambodia where we are setting up campuses, we work closely with the government under the Smart Partnership concept.

The governments provide us with the land, buildings and students while we bring in the technologies and know–how.

We move in quickly to start classes by occupying temporary premises, and then begin building the permanent campus. For instance, in Botswana, we were up and running the programmes within three months after obtaining approval from the government.

Our university in Gaborone, Botswana is the first Malaysian university and first Asian university to open a permanent campus in Africa.

Everyone in Botswana, from the President down to ordinary Batswana, has been most supportive.

The response from young Batswana to our university has been overwhelming.

Some 5,000 students signed up for Limkokwing Botswana′s first year of operation last year, and we expect to double the number this year.

By 2016, our objective is to have 30,000 students at our campus in Botswana and 150,000 students via satellite campuses set up throughout Africa, and a million students via online delivery to a hundred countries.

By then, we would have achieved our goal of making Botswana a global education hub.

Ladies and gentlemen

Our university adopts a participatory model in operating our campuses.

We will work with the local populations and share our experiences, knowledge and skills.

I am proud to say that most of our staff in our Botswana campus are Batswana alumni of the university.

Limkokwing Botswana will also work closely with the Government of Botswana and the other institutions of higher learning in the country to turn the country′s national vision, Vision 2016, into reality.

Through our investment in Botswana, we are helping to save millions of foreign exchange which would otherwise flow out of the country, as well as generating jobs and increasing business opportunities for the local people.

As an additional benefit, by keeping Botswana′s students at home, we will be helping to reduce the “brain drain” of precious human capital to other countries.

Ladies and gentlemen

Besides setting up Limkokwing Botswana, to be followed by more campuses in other countries in Africa, the Limkokwing Group has also launched a programme to provide free skills training to disadvantaged communities in Africa.

This initiative is spearheaded by the Limkokwing Institute for Tomorrow or LIFT.

Initially, LIFT will focus on setting up centres to provide free training on the use of computers and creative technology.

The LIFT programme has three primary thrusts. Firstly, it is to use Information and Communications Technology or ICT as an enabler to provide impoverished communities with new knowledge and technological skills so as to enhance their ability to improve their incomes.

Secondly, by creating ICT–trained human capital, LIFT will play the role of a catalyst to attract investments in industries that expand employment and business opportunities.

Thirdly, LIFT will support the development plans of African governments by encouraging mindset change and promoting innovation that will benefit national advancement.

The Limkokwing Foundation for Creative Excellence plans to provide a sum equivalent to US$16 million (RM50 million) to fund the LIFT initiative. Ladies and gentlemen

Since education in Africa is not well developed, the focus on eradicating poverty must involve a strategy that will get as many people as possible into work to earn an income.

There must be a massive effort to create jobs by making use of knowledge and skills that are indigenous to the rural population. It must be so if we are to get moving quickly. We must be able to hit the ground running.

Training, innovation and marketing are key components in the development of the indigenous craft industry.

These are areas where Smart Partnerships could be forged between institutions of higher learning and national governments.

It is another initiative that Limkokwing University hopes to explore with local community leaders in Africa.

We could help develop new and better designs, enhance the appeal of products, expand the range of products, research the use of new materials and find ways to produce crafts cheaper and in larger quantities for export.

Our industry partners could encourage investors to supply machines and bring in the most sophisticated technologies that would increase productivity, add value and enhance quality.

Working with the national governments, Limkokwing University could help set up training centres to improve existing skills of crafts people, expose them to the use of modern production methods, and educate them in marketing skills that enhance the value of their work.

If developed as an integrated platform, the crafts industry could create large–scale employment, increase exports of value–added products and produce human capital that will be able to create more and more wealth year after year.

Ladies and gentlemen

Traditionally, education provides knowledge and develops skills. That is no longer enough, if the transition to a creative and innovative nation is to happen.

To thrive in today′s world, to pull away and take the lead, we will need to have people who dare to take on the world.

People who do things; people who build things; people who develop industries; people who advance nations.

It is assumed that such people must have skills; that they have the knowledge to use technologies.

Those skills and technologies are available in the advanced economies. If we have the money, we can import them. But by doing that, will we too become an advanced nation?

Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong were once famous for imitating products from more advanced economies. Then they adapted the products and improved them. Finally, they made their own original products.

These countries now have the most developed and competitive economies in Asia. They are among the richest in Asia. They are also among the most innovative nations in the world, creating products wanted around the world.

What drove these Asian countries up to the top of the value chain in just a few decades, although they have few natural resources? It took the Western economies more than 200 years since the Industrial Resolution to arrive at their present level.

The answer is the mindset of their people.

People with the right mindset to acquire knowledge and the skills to use it strategically to improve their competitive edge; people who are able to turn information and knowledge into products, systems and services, and create wealth.

They have human capital that understands how to wield creativity and arrive at innovation.

That is the ability that is the real driver of their economic growth and the creator of their wealth.

Can the developing countries in Africa repeat the successful economic evolution of the northeast Asian countries?

I believe they can. I am convinced African countries have the will and the ability to catch up with the rest of the world. They are already giving world–class performances on the football field and on the running track.

What they need to do next is ensure that their education systems promote creativity, inventiveness and innovation.

They will need to create a learning environment that fosters high expectations among both the students and teachers.

They will need to develop a system of training that motivates and inspires the young generation to be people who are creative thinkers and who want to achieve greatness.

When they have built a critical mass of this kind of people – people who have the knowledge, the skills, the attitude and the motivation – their nations will be ready to take off.

Limkokwing University, through Limkokwing Botswana and the other campuses that we will set up elsewhere in Africa, aims to play an active role in this effort and make a difference in the development of the continent′s nations.

We would welcome any opportunity to work hand in hand with the World Bank and other organizations to further expand skills–based education in under–developed nations.

Thank you.