Descriptive and exploratory, this paper addresses the challenges and imperatives of the country’s higher education institutions (HEIs) in the era of knowledge economy. It asserts, among others, that there is no dichotomy between knowledge economy and academic excellence or intellectual pursuits, the classical raison d’etre of universities since time immemorial. However, the paper underscores that academic excellence and intellectual pursuits must not be detached from the existence of society. It must have a societal conscience, a socially relevant purpose that can be felt by the multitude of poor at the base of the global economic pyramid. Academic excellence is not excellent if it cannot provide food to the hungry. Intellectual pursuit is not intelligent if it cannot provide clothes and shelter to the many poor, who like Lazarus, are waiting for crumbs at the gate. The world is not wanting of scholarly dissertations on poverty alleviation. The magnum opus of Adam Smith (1776), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations (for brevity, The Wealth of Nations), is about wealth and poverty. The Asian Drama of Gunnar Myrdal (1971) is not a Broadway play but a scholarly inquiry into the poverty of Asia. The End of Poverty, a book of
Jeffrey Sachs (2005), one of the framers of the Millennium Development Goals, is an ambitious thesis that deals with poverty alleviation. All three celebrated books that span more than a total of 200 years are supposed to be beacon lights that should guide us to the road of our emancipation from poverty. In the same breadth, this paper also asserts that intellectual pursuits can no longer remain within the geographic boundaries of one particular nation or culture. Those pursuits must be framed within a broader and wider macro-environmental context. And that besides educating the total person, HEIs engaging the knowledge economy must develop their students not only as knowledge workers and leaders, but also as socially responsible global citizens, critical thinkers, and able to effectively use/apply knowledge to produce economic benefits for mankind. As Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize laureate in economics has pointed out that we can no longer ignore the protest of the multitude of poor at the base of the global economic pyramid.
Jeffrey Sachs of the Millennium Development Goals was passionate to see the end of poverty in his lifetime.
Contextual factors and issues, such as globalization, multi-cultural diversity, information/knowledge intensity, networking and connectivity, are presented in the paper within the ambit of the knowledge economy, vis a vis the imperatives of promoting international understanding, cooperation, and world peace. Challenges and imperatives, brought about by the world-flatteners (Friedman, 2005), must be addressed by HEIs. Dramatic changes in the macroenvironment have been identified and discussed, from where conclusions and recommendations are drawn, carefully avoiding over analysis that usually leads to paralysis.
Two crucial issues standout in this paper that must be addressed with urgency by HEIs engaging the knowledge economy, and these are poverty alleviation and climate change. Finally, the general frame of this paper supports the view that knowledge economy is the road to better quality of life and prosperity. It supports our collective dream of a world free of poverty, aligned with the Millennium Development Goals. A world (1) that promotes social equity, better quality of life in all nooks and crannies of this one and only planet that God has given us; (2) that fights poverty with passion and commitment; and (3) that helps people help themselves as well as promote their environment by sharing and applying knowledge to build capacity and produce economic benefits for sustainable development.