Why does the HDR gather interest and praise – but so few universities use HD for teaching and research?
Hirai, Tadashi (1); Comim, Flavio (2,3); Jolly, Richard (4) (2016). 'Why does the HDR gather interest and praise – but so few universities use HD for teaching and research?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.
How strong and real is the interest and support given to the Human Development (HD) approach and methodology when it seems that it has not been able to raise consistent professional interest among those teaching and undertaking research in development? Is HD suffering from a ‘lip service syndrome’ receiving praise but not being effective in changing the way that different scholars from different disciplines think about development?
The Human Development Report (HDR) has certainly gathered widespread international attention and often praise since its inception in 1990 – more than has been true of the World Bank’s World Development Reports and substantially more than other economic reports of the UN. In addition, the publication of National and Regional HDR have reached 701 (in 145 countries) and 33 respectively. A series of Arab HDR, for example, play an important role in triggering the current democratic movement in the region.
Indeed, many projects organised by the Human Development Report Office (HDRO) in field offices have attracted academic groups other than development economists, particularly geographers and sociologists. In turn, they have contributed, as HDRO members or not, to the construction of the report for reflecting the cultural and socio-political conditions which cannot be addressed on a global level. This feature strikingly contrasts with the Bretton Woods approach.
Putting these rosy pictures aside, the member of the Human Development and Capability Association seems to have reached a plateau (945 members as of March 2016) despite the initial boom with around 525 members in 2006. More strikingly, the impact factor of the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities has not only been relatively low but also decreased from 0.878 in 2011 to 0.855 in 2014, whereas that of the World Development has not only been high but also increased from 1.537 in 2011 to 1.965 in 2014. Overall, both the interest in and the influence of the HD approach seem not to have increased much in academia for the past decade.
UNDP has continued to support the HDRO and preparation of HDR. But other parts of the UN treat these reports as UNDP’s baby, greeting the annual release of the HDR more with slight feelings of jealousy rather than as an international report which gives a common boost to human concerns common to all the UN funds and agencies. Apart from that, there are some direct objections to HDI as an alternative indicator in terms of its statistical robustness by statisticians as well as its meaningfulness by economists and social scientists. In addition, some economists and social scientists have recently questioned further the validity and reliability of the concept of HD itself for policy making.
The insufficiency of corresponding to such oppositions could carry a risk of leading HD to failure let alone ‘lip service’. But this seems less a matter of consistent objection than of neglect and failure to see, accept and use the HD paradigm as a framework within which to work. The HDRO has demonstrated over 25 years how the HD paradigm can provide a coherent and consistent approach to human problems and human policy making, both at global and country level. But why has this so rarely been true of other institutions of research, teaching and policy making?
Mahbub ul Haq had the vision of creating chairs in HD in 25 universities round the world. Unfortunately, this never came about. Since the crisis of 2008 and the widespread adoption of policies of austerity, there has been widespread disaffection with the strong hold of neo-liberal economics on many economic departments. Though this has led to the search for alternatives, these have mostly focused on less dogmatic approaches to economic and financial analysis of developed countries midst the current crises of austerity rather than of approaches with more explicit human objectives, broader critiques of current patterns of economic development and more multi-disciplinary methodologies.
The challenge is, however, still open. There seems little reason why the HD approach could not be brought into many research efforts and papers, either as the main frame for analysis, or if this seemed too bold, as a final commentary or critique of conclusions reached using other methodological approaches. To make this happen, new sources of funding appear to be a critical bottleneck. Besides, more teaching material for human development could and should be produced. A few materials are useful for undergraduate teaching (e.g. Fukuda-Parr & Shiva-Kumar 2003, Deneulin & Shahani 2009, Nussbaum 2011) but they are too few and in many ways not ideal for undergraduate teaching. Econometrics could also be used to bring more rigorous quantitative analysis to these broader approaches to research and to the production of teaching materials. More substantive contributions have been made in some research and non-government institutions (e.g. the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the Centre for the Economics of Human Development at Chicago on the one hand; and HelpAge International on the other).
Whilst some publications (e.g. Boni & Gasper 2012, Walker & McLean 2013) have addressed the importance of the HD approach for the improvement of the quality of university education, the main focus of this paper is to delve into the reasons for the cautious reluctance and sometimes disciplinary opposition the HD approach has faced in universities and research institutions.
Some proposals to strengthen and widen applications of the HD approach would be:
Establishing academic posts for HD in university and research institutions
Finding sources of funding for HD, for conferences, teaching positions, research projects and post-graduates
Organizing global and regional conferences on methodological aspects of HD and keeping active discussion with outsiders for improving the HDI
Providing more support for HD analysis and reports within UNDP regional and national offices
Undertaking joint HD reports with other UN agencies.
Widening the range of authors, including critics as well as supporters.
Establishing a prize or prizes for innovative essays on HD and its methodology
In addition, a new statistics will be worked up about the life of the HD scholars (senior, mid-career and junior).