Higher education, developmental leadership and good governance

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What impact has higher education had on developmental leadership and on good governance?


The last decade has witnessed 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.

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 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 visa-vis other factors, like family, religion, peer group and socio-economic 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.

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