This post originally appeared on the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ website.

Rapid advances in technology are transforming every industry in the global economy. In particular, the disruption created by the COVID-19 pandemic pushed governments, companies, and citizens to adopt a wide range of digital solutions. Many activities—including government services, work, schooling, and retail—shifted online. The pandemic also revealed that workers and regular citizens were not equipped with the right skills to operate in the digital age. A study conducted by the European Commission in 2021 revealed that only 54 percent of Europeans possess basic digital skills. In 2022, Salesforce’s new Digital Skills Index found that three out of four workers globally did not feel ready to operate in a digital-first world. Most worrisome is the fact that the same study revealed only 28 percent of respondents were actively engaged in training programs or pursuing learning opportunities to acquire digital skills.

CSISPhotoBlog2-702fe0.jpgPhoto: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images.

Digital skills are critical for citizens and workers to do their jobs, seize new tech opportunities, and mitigate the risks that technology-based tools and services can introduce. Professionals in the field of international development are not immune to these trends. They need to acquire skills and knowledge to successfully embrace the opportunities that digitalization brings and employ these skills to address global challenges. But they need to understand technology is a tool that we can apply to solve social and development problems—a human-centered design approach. At the same time, professionals should discern and manage the threats associated with technology, including cyberattacks, data privacy breaches, bias and discrimination, the rise in disinformation and misinformation, and the growing trend of digital authoritarianism worldwide.

In this regard, educational institutions play a vital role in equipping students with the right knowledge and skills to be responsible citizens and graduate “work ready.” In particular, graduate programs in international development, public policy, and related fields are responsible for training the next generation of development professionals. How are these institutions preparing their students for the digital age? To better understand how universities are approaching this issue, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub and DAI’s Digital Frontiers team on a yearlong research project to analyze the trends, challenges, and solutions that these institutions are experiencing. As part of the research methodology, CSIS collected information from the websites of 70 graduate schools that offer programs in international development, public policy, and related fields (35 inside the United States and 35 abroad); held a series of focused interviews with 16 universities; and organized a half-day seminar with 50 professors, recent graduates, university administrators, and development practitioners. In the end, this project identified a number of foundational skills that students need for the digital age, as well as concrete actions these institutions can pursue to better prepare their students for the future.

To read about these skills and dive into the complete research, download the CSIS Analysis Brief here.

Romina Bandura is a senior fellow with the Project on Prosperity and Development and the Project on U.S. Leadership in Development at CSIS.