Education and its role in emerging markets – Indonesia

I have just participated in the EHEF (European Higher Education Fair) in Indonesia where we presented graduate and undergraduate programs in Samarkand and Jakarta. It has been a hectic week with around 15’000 participating students and over 100 European universities and higher education institutions as well as representatives from embassies and the EU.

The success of the fair and the eager questions form the students reaffirm my belief in education as a key indication for how Indonesia is rapidly moving ahead.  With a GDP growth of 6,2% a drop in poverty and school enrolment exceeding 100% spurred by more and more overage students enrol in primary school. Indonesians have their eyes firmly targeted at education.

In the years to come I believe that Indonesia will benefit enormously from the education strategy in several key areas.

First, today Indonesia is a multicultural and multi-religious society blending its own unique history with Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and many other religions together. However, as seen elsewhere economic development also have the backside of creating social tensions as some embrace and utilise the opportunities fully, while others feel left behind. What education can help with in this process is to ease the social tensions by providing a more even playing field (or at least as close to as possible) for young people who have talent. While there are differences in access to the best schools and especially for students access to education in Europe and the US it is significant it’s a significant contributor to mitigate the risk of social tensions.

Secondly, it will bring Indonesians in contact with the world in another way than business can. Through the social interaction between students from the countries they travel to and other international students networks are created which will benefit not only themselves, but also ensue long term social and economic sustainability as students become business and government professionals and need contacts that they trust around the world.

Thirdly, It brings knowledge to Indonesia, which is much needed in the years to come if the growth is to be supported and managed. One of the threats that the country is facing is that huge bubbles are created in the economy being in housing or specific sectors. Just taking a look from my one window at the hotel reveals five skyscrapers being build so it is definitely a risk that one have to take serious. And while bubbles is a natural part of a capitalist economy the impact can be cushioned though a economy which is build one more sectors and have more players. As students take business ideas back with them they create new businesses and thereby diversify the economy bringing a valued stabiliser into the equation.

While there are critical voices around the growing internationalisation of undergraduate and graduate education, as it is seen to some as a business rather than an “exchange” of ideas. It think that the benefits significantly and especially long-term far outweighs the downsides.

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China in for a soft landing

After years of two digit growth figures in China the economy is about to slow a bit down for what IMF believes will be a soft landing. The main drive for this change is the situation in Europe, which does not seem to improve anytime soon. However, the domestic Chinese market seems to be a driver.

Tide is turning for China

China Insurance Building (中国保险大厦), Shanghai

Image by thewamphyri via Flickr

I have touched on the subject of China many times in this blog and have warned about what can be perceived as a growing bubble. The speculation in housing has had many similarities to what we saw in Ireland, Spain and Portugal just on a much much large scale. Driven by large scale growth in the area of 10 % the Chinese economy have been a steam train without breaks or at least nobody was willing to scout for all the dangers that lay on the tracks. But now are the first signs that things are about to change and that we are after all interconnected even if we would like to think it is not the case.

Chinese has the second largest economy the world after the U.S. and in 2011 it expanded by 9.2% a figure that European governments can only dream about, but for China these represent the first figures that points in the direction of a slowdown. The economic growth in 2011 was thus lower than in 2010 and country’s statistical authorities expect a even further slowdown in economic activity.

Economic growth was in the fourth quarter, less intense than in the previous quarter but still a bit higher than economists had predicted. Production from China’s millions of factories rose in 2011 by 13.9 percent compared to 2010 but also the improvement was less than the year before. Retail sales, an important indicator of citizens’ private consumption expanded by 17.1 percent. Again also a bit slower than in 2010.

And despite the general slowdown economists do not expect a catastrophic slowdown as we saw in the US and Europe, But then again so did economists in US and Europe in 2007. As one Li Hiyong from the finance house Shenyin Wanguo in Shangha said “The actual growth in the quarter of 8.9 percent indicates that our economy remains in good condition and stable. The risk of an abrupt slowdown in economic growth is thereby diminished.”

While these figures are quite impressive they are indications that things are changing in the Chinese economy. First of all, China is still heavily relying on exports for their growth and with the slowdown in the economies in general they are vulnerable to changes in consumer behavior. Secondly, a lot of companies are taking production home or closer to their markets reversing the outsourcing flow that we have seen. One of the main reason why is because of the recession and the advantages of mass production in Asia is becoming less attractive. Third, wages in China are rising at an alarming rate some estimates puts the figures at above 20%, which have fueled the housing bubble and will eat up the advantage of producing in china. This should be compared with the 0-2% wage raise that we see in most European countries.

I will not say that the Chinese bubble will burst tomorrow but in my mind there is structural issues in the economy that will lead to a sharp corner and it is closing fast. China has a lot of money in the bank and they just might be able to pull through using their reserves to counter the downturn. However, it is imperative that the country starts to have a more conservative outlook in their economic and development of their social systems if they are not going to end up driving into a very big brick wall.