OECD countries have accomplished a significant milestone with widespread higher education enrollment. However, considering future factors like globalization, geopolitical changes, aging populations, technological advancements, and the pursuit of sustainable economies, our societies, lifestyles, work environments, and education systems will undergo further transformations.
What implications should these changes have on our current higher education model, which still appears to serve a privileged few? It’s worth noting that the top 100 universities listed by the Shanghai ARWU, accounting for only about 1.4% of global student population and approximately 4% of European Union students, raise questions about the inclusivity and accessibility of higher education.
There is growing concern for the remaining 50% of learners who are either being left behind by the existing system or facing barriers to accessing education. This situation is negatively impacting social cohesion, political engagement, and trust in our institutions.
A more transformative approach is necessary in terms of the structure, governance, funding, and delivery of post-secondary education. This has prompted numerous countries to rethink their policy discourse surrounding tertiary education. However, it is important to delve beyond the surface and clarify the concept of a tertiary education system and define our objectives. What are our aspirations and desired outcomes?
Embracing Tertiary Ecosystems
The United States, being the pioneer in the era of mass higher education, sparked a comprehensive and impactful dialogue in the 1960s regarding the increasing demand, accessibility, and public significance of higher education. At that time, California had already witnessed 45% of its college-age population enrolling in higher education, surpassing the national average of 25%.
The Master Plan, credited to Clark Kerr and other authors, aimed to tackle the challenges of massification, diversification, and resource allocation within the public higher education system. It sought to establish and maintain three distinct subsectors or tiers, emphasizing the division of labor, talent, and knowledge production.
By creating clear distinctions between elite research-intensive universities, mid-ranking teaching and research universities, and open access community colleges, the Master Plan aimed to facilitate upward mobility and provide pathways of opportunity within the education system. It sought to establish clear boundaries while allowing for upward progression between these different tiers.
The Master Plan aligned with Martin Trow’s concept of the shift from elite to mass or universal higher education. While the Plan emphasized the idea of higher education as a collective entity beyond individual institutions, Trow examined how the challenges of expansion would shape and redefine the nature of higher education.
These changes would impact not only governance structures and delivery methods, but also the relationship between higher education, the state, and society at large. Burton R. Clark further explored this theme of “co-ordination” in his work, highlighting the interconnectedness of higher education with broader societal dynamics.
In the 1990s, the conversation shifted to Europe and other regions as massification of higher education gained momentum. Three key observations emerge from this shift.
Firstly, it is evident that the focus was primarily on higher education. The dominance of the knowledge economy and the human capital paradigm, coupled with the establishment of the bachelor-masters-doctorate framework, converged to highlight and elevate the importance of the research university sector.
The emergence of global rankings and the competition for talent further solidified the position of universities as gateways to the global economy. As a result, the post-secondary landscape became predominantly shaped by higher education, particularly universities. Policy-makers and scholars recognized and affirmed universities as the central components of the post-secondary system, leading to the allocation of resources accordingly.
Secondly, as a consequence, the remaining segments of the post-secondary sector, which serve the majority of learners through highly diverse and specialized institutions, have been largely overlooked.
While Kerr acknowledged the importance of community colleges, the California Plan seemingly aimed to uphold the elite status of the research- and resource-intensive University of California system.
Community colleges have received well-deserved recognition for being pathways to promote inclusivity and open access. However, they often face inadequate funding and insufficient resources compared to the population they serve.
Thirdly, there is growing recognition that post-secondary education, beyond just higher education, is a crucial element of our society’s and economy’s infrastructure. However, the sector has evolved in a disjointed and unplanned manner.
Source : universityworldnews.com