Global participation the challenge for higher education
Wednesday, 12 April 2006
The key challenge in international higher education is the stark contrast in participation rates across the globe, a leading academic today told a gathering of his peers from around the globe.
In a keynote address to the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Conference of Executive Heads being held at the University of Adelaide, Sir John Daniel said that after "many wasted years" in which some international bodies downplayed the importance of postsecondary education, "everyone is now agreed about its vital role in development".
"Postsecondary education must take up the challenge of serving the four billion people at the bottom of the world economic pyramid," he said.
Sir John is the President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), a former Assistant Director General for Education at UNESCO, and has 17 years' experience as a university president in Canada and the UK. His co-researchers - Asha Kanwar of COL and Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic of UNESCO - have worked extensively in Asia, Africa and Europe.
"Expansion is the challenge," he told the conference. "Our question is whether there is an international dimension to resolving it. Should developing countries try to bootstrap the growth of postsecondary education from their own resources or is there a role for outsiders?"
Sir John said four basic questions underpinned the issue of how to deal with global demand for education. First, where should the drive for expanding postsecondary education in developing countries come from: the public sector or the private sector? Second, how can providers, whether public or private, scale up postsecondary education quickly enough, in particular what should be the balance between building campuses and expanding distance education? Third, what sorts of study programs are needed? Fourth, how will we know whether the expanded provision is any good? What quality assurance mechanisms are needed?
And then he drew some conclusions, based on detailed research with his international colleagues.
"Before long most postsecondary education will be in the developing world," he said. "Massive expansion of provision is required in both quantity and diversity. This will lead to the increasing globalisation of provision and its progressive privatisation, which is another way of saying the same thing because cross border providers are by definition private and for-profit.
"For this process of globalisation to improve the livelihoods of poorer people and contribute to the development of their countries, postsecondary education must cut its costs through new, technology mediated approaches to distance learning and focus on relevant vocational education.
"To protect their citizens and fulfil their international obligations governments must work with partners to put in place national arrangements for quality assurance and work with other countries and international bodies to create global coherence in the recognition of postsecondary qualifications.
"This will greatly expand the global public good of postsecondary education and put paid to accusations of cultural imperialism."