Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 March - 5 April 2006
Issue No. 788
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Human development first

A strategy for human resources development is prerequisite for improved economic and social performance. Mona El-Fiqi listens to a recent seminar

The lack of a clear strategy to develop human resources is considered by experts to be the key obstacle to economic and social development. At a seminar organised by the Arab Management Association (AMA) and the National Society for Technology and Economic Development (NSTED), experts argued that although the Egypt Human Development Report recently issued by the United Nation's Development Programme offers a reliable strategy for improvements in human development, the concerned Egyptian cabinet ministries have no idea about the findings of the report. NSTED Chairman Essameddin Galal argued that Egypt's participation in global competitiveness depends upon the application of a balanced national plan for realising human resource development. Such a plan should include promoting investments in human capital "in a comprehensive manner which is supported by training". Galal also underscored the importance of an effective educational system capable of coping with fast-paced global developments.

Chairman of AMA Ali El-Selmi added that changing the government's perception of what human resources actually are, is as important as applying a strategy for human development. "The government always regards population as a consuming power instead of a productive one," he said. Professor of engineering Abdel-Malek El-Asfouri said that Egyptian human capital is only "partially used" since only five per cent of existing total human resources is actually utilised.

El-Selmi argued that at a time when it should be giving top priority to developing human resources, the government continues to single out population increase as the prime factor hindering economic development.

A strategy must be developed to promote the labour force according to internationally accepted standards, El-Selmi added in support of this argument. He said that such a strategy should encompass all elements of the labour force "which would include workers and scientists". He said that "training labour on how to be committed to the technological and economic global environment (is important) when developing its capabilities. The government must at the same time guarantee that the educational system fulfils the market's needs."

Experts attending the seminar were critical of the fact that the government seems more concerned with investment, as opposed to reforming education.

El-Asfouri cited the instance of South Korea which has allocated 8.8 per cent of its total GDP to education since 1998. The result is a zero illiteracy rate "which has become the basis for improving economic performance, among many other things". South Korea now competes with developed countries like Japan and Britain El-Asfouri said, adding that the budget allocated for education in Egypt stands at the relatively modest amount of LE24 billion annually, representing around 4.5 per cent of GDP. Referring to the continuing brain-drain in the developing countries El-Asfouri said that World Bank statistics show that labour immigration from the developing to developed countries has become a "real threat" to these developing countries. According to a World Bank study, 50 per cent of university graduates in the developing countries immigrate to the more advanced economies. El-Asfouri described this as "an alarming figure".

Hanafi Soleiman, a professor of commerce at Al-Zagazig University said that "more than LE11 billion are currently spent on private lessons". He suggested that the government's current subsidising of education needs to be reconsidered. "It would be better if students paid a small part of the cost of [good] educational services instead of receiving [inadequate education] completely free of charge."

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