Higher Education and the World Bank

HOPES of higher learning institutions in the country of obtaining faster access to broadband space links on the basis of a project of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology forwarded to the World Bank for a loan facility have now evaporated. A ministry proposal for $7bn loan from the World Bank to finance access to broadband for close to 35 institutions of higher learning fell flat, partly because broadband communication is not a core business of the International Development Association (IDA(), its soft loans window. At the moment IDA is interested in the wider doing business environment, not big ICT.

It is undeniable that the ministry prepared the proposal in line with Vision 2025 and the Big Results Now program, without understanding that the notion of ‘development partners’ does not mean there is always an element of co-financing. The error of the ministry was to seek ‘big finance’ for a big ICT project, whereas it is more likely that IDA         would be safer extending leverage financing, so that it catapults project uptake by other stakeholders like commercial banks, bond holders of university investments like pension funds or private foundations, charities, etc. Asking the IDA for a $7bn ICT loan was faulty, an error on its strategies, mandate.

The lesson from this failed inititive is that Big Results Now has to be pegged more or less consistently to availability of local financing, and this doesn’t just mean the government budget or loans from commercial banks, Indeed it is hard to see how $7bn can be raised by commercial banks at the local level, but it is easier to see how foreign investors actually purchasing land, for instance that which bears this or that mineral, could ‘beef up’ owners of land with that sort of cash. It is a matter of strategy where the government skips its prerogative of owning the land, as that way it is compelled to bring up cash, instead of land raising it in being transfered.

Uplifting the country’s information technology level is vital in mapping out all issues of quality education as well as inserting small local firms, entrepreneurs in the local and regional market. They also need to make inroads into wider markets, where access to bits and pieces of information spread out in websites etc is key to success. Banks can supply much of this finance if they can take land as collateral.

What this drawback means is that the country’s doing business environment needs to be reformed in a way that is more radical than in current government programs, as a conservative attitude on land transfer and ownership presumes that one does not need the land to raise finance. It is to suggest that the government shall meet most of what higher learning institutions need and then it is supplemented by either World Bank loans or grants by donors, a modality that is now diminishing.

For instance Kenya has a fixed broadband subscription of upwards of 43,000 by mid 2013, Uganda upwards of 36,000 subscriptions and Tanzania slightly below 4,000 subscribers to broadband connection. Those who place their hopes in IDA loans should ask if it is the World Bank which facilitated our neighbours to obtain Big Results in the ICT broadband field? Not at all; they used local resources, and this means transferability of property and access to loans, not widening the tax base as some experts constantly scream at the government this side of the border.

Nobody has doubts that the current team of cabinet ministers, the veterans and the novices, all have great ideas about Big Results Now, the problem being that the Tanzanian bureaucracy has not yet come out of its planning mentality. They see achievements not as a result of an excellent business envirronment whose essential premise is the transferability of fixed property but elaborate or ‘deliberate’ plans and powerful delivery bureaus to ensure that results are registered as expected.  When we have one tenth of broadband connections at individual level (not at group level as in offices or internet cafes), and we depend on World Bank loans even to link up universities and colleges, loans we can’t get, do we wait for Big Results?