HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
SULTAN NAZRIN MUIZZUDDIN SHAH
LAUNCH OF UNIVER-CITIES IV: RESHAPING STRATEGIES TO MEET RADICAL CHANGE, PANDEMICS AND INEQUALITY – REVISITING THE SOCIAL COMPACT?
DATE: 9 JUNE 2021
- I’m delighted to be part of the virtual launch of Volume IV of this book series, and would like to welcome participants from around the world. I want to congratulate all those involved in the conference and in the book itself, especially Professors Anthony Teo, Bertil Anderson and Sharifah Hapsah.
- A core focus of this latest volume is inequality. Rather than it being the great leveller that some predicted initially, the pandemic has had a far more negative impact on the most vulnerable in our societies than on those with higher incomes.
- This is due in part to the greater risk of exposure to covid that is faced by members of lower income groups. They are more likely to be employed as frontline and essential workers, and in jobs in which working safely from home is not possible. These same groups are also more likely to suffer from co-morbidities which greatly exacerbate the medical risks if they do catch the virus. And their livelihoods are far more vulnerable to the impacts of the economic lockdowns imposed to control the spread of the pandemic. At the same time, they tend to have far more limited safety nets available to them than higher income groups.
- These negative impacts are cumulative. Those from lower income groups experience a combination of greater risks and reduced resilience, in relation to their health and their livelihoods. The tragic consequences of this excessive vulnerability have been seen in developed countries in the higher levels of hospitalization and death among lower income groups. Conversely, the advantages enjoyed by the better off have protected them to some degree from the worst impacts of the pandemic. In less developed countries, a much higher proportion of the population falls into the category of the vulnerable. Their health systems are also generally far less able to cope, while social safety nets are even more inadequate.
- These differential impacts of the pandemic have thus exacerbated the already high levels of inequality, both within and between countries. The considerable progress that has been made over the past few decades in reducing global poverty, and more recently, in working towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, is also threatened by these trends.
- While the direct impacts of the pandemic have been highly uneven, its indirect impacts have also fallen disproportionately on some sections of the population. This includes women, who are more likely to work in the economic sectors that are worst affected. They have also generally had to take on a far greater share of the additional workload in the home that results from lockdowns.
- It also includes young people. They may have escaped, thus far, the worst immediate health outcomes of the pandemic. But the continued disruption to their education, and to traditional paths to adulthood, is taking an ever-growing toll on their mental health. Fundamental changes in the workplace that were already occurring due to the technological advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, have accelerated. The deep uncertainties that they face about both the present and the future have contributed to rising levels of anxiety among our youth.
- Once again, lower income groups are affected disproportionately. Differential access to technology – the so-called digital divide – is contributing to uneven outcomes from the home-based learning that has become necessary. Children in families that are unable to afford devices, or have limited access to the internet, are falling behind. And these are, of course, likely to be families that are already disadvantaged in other respects.
- This trend will only deepen the existing inequalities of access to higher education, something that is of direct concern to the Univer-Cities project. This issue is addressed in several of the contributions to this volume, including those from the National University of Singapore, the Singapore University of Social Sciences, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Cambridge. These fresh perspectives on strategies to expand access to universities for local residents from underprivileged groups, are very welcome.
- Policy responses to this specific issue, as well as to the broader challenge of worsening inequality, must be bold and innovative. These are difficult questions that must be confronted, both nationally and globally. Solutions must include a greater role in decision-making at all levels for those who are most affected by inequality, whether of income, health or opportunity. It is only with their direct involvement that genuine progress will be made.
- The challenges we face are certainly great, but the opportunities for change that are presented by this historical inflection point are also immense. Projects such as this can play an important role in developing solutions and driving progress. It is now my pleasure to launch Univer-Cities Volume IV, with the theme of Reshaping Strategies to meet Radical Change, Pandemics and Inequality – Revising the Social Compact ?