Universities drive economic growth and improve society says UNSW’s Jacobs

Ian Jacobs has put universities at the centre of economy and society in a speech at Beijing University, arguing they were “the driving force for the commercial and industrial revolutions,” in Britain, France and the US in the 19th century and now in China;

China’s incredible rise to second largest economy in the world over the last 30 years aligns with the rapid expansion of its university sector – the teaching and research quality of which can independently secure a nation’s future economic strength,” the UNSW VC said.

They also serve society by, “eradicating problems in health, addressing inequality and prejudice,” and helping “develop community identity through history, languages and the arts.”

And, Professor Jacobs added, we need more of what universities can do; “higher education is not a zero-sum activity. All the evidence indicates that the more people who can access education, the more the benefits will accrue for the wellbeing and prosperity of all.”

Jacobs isn’t alone in seeing universities as driving economic growth and social values, separate to business and government. His Group of Eight colleague at the University of Melbourne, Glyn Davis, argues that research universities in large cities can “create value with and for the communities they serve.”

The potential of universities to lead growth and change must have gone down well with the Chinese academics in Professor Jacobs’ audience. Perhaps not so much with any party officials who were there.


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