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Third world tech

Developing nations need business cooperation with education no less than the United States (as described in last Friday's editorial and special education section). Where the US has to keep from falling behind as a fount of ideas and technology, these other nations have to catch up. Indeed, with today's pace of technological change, it is important that they join in as much as possible right now instead of waiting, as during the past industrial revolution, to be boosted on board by others.

Yet third-world education tends to be short on technology and engineering, thus perpetuating an unfortunate cycle. Trained foreigners get many of the best jobs on local projects. Local students go abroad for training and never bring their skills back home.

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Business can address the problem at both ends. Multinational and local business support can help save local jobs by bringing local education up to date - and fill local jobs by encouraging the return of students educated abroad.

The case for such a business role was strongly made by executives from the United Nations and Organization of American States at the Second World Conference on Cooperative Education, which was held at Boston's Northeastern University last year. Now Northeastern is offering an example of acting on such advocacy in its own cooperative education program.

This program, like those at various other US institutions, has students alternate between terms of classroom study and terms of employment at cooperating companies. Foreign students by and large have spent their working terms with US firms.

This month a Northeastern administrator is traveling abroad to encourage more working terms for foreign students with multinational firms or companies in their own countries. The transportation back and forth is seen as a relatively small item in relation to the hiring commitment made by an employer. The advantages are potentially big: increasing students' knowledge and expectations about home-country employment; giv-ing them on-the-job training and a foot in the door with possible employers; giving the employers short-term workers who may meet seasonal or cyclical needs while becoming well-prepared candidates to meet long-term needs.

Here is one type of cooperation to put beside all the ways business can help - and is helping - with apprenticeships, scholarships, research subsidies, refresher courses. These are investments in human capital as important to maintain as investments in plant and equipment. If they demand new emphasis in America, how much more so in lands whose education faces even more of a challenge to keep up with technological change.

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