Constraints to higher education

Nieuws | de redactie
11 november 2011 | Higher education institutes have to maneuver an asymmetrical global market, says Richard Yelland (OECD). "The quality and relevance of higher education programmes and institutions is far from transparent, even at national level."

Richard Yelland, Head of the Education Management andInfrastructure Division from the OECD Directorate for Education,discusses the challenges of higher education stakeholders in hislatest opinion piece. How do universities need to adjusttheir strategic planning in this environment? How can studentsdiscriminate between universities if the only benchmark areresearch based rankings?

Finding your way in the higher educationmarketplace

Suppose you are running a business with global brand recognitionand tens of thousands of customers trying to buy your product. Youcan choose to remain exclusive and put the price up, or you mightwant to increase production to meet demand.

If you are running a university you might well find that yourGovernment won’t allow you to do either of these things. Indeed,they might not even allow you to charge for your product at all. Atthe same time some of your competitors benefit from publicsubsidies and strong support for their export efforts.

As higher education has grown and expanded over the past fiftyyears its international dimension has become stronger. OECD datashow that the numbers of students attending institutions outsidetheir country of origin tripled between 1985 and 2008 andexpectations are that the market will continue to grow.

Strategic planning in a global market

It is however a very asymmetrical market, dominated by somestrong providers, mostly in English-speaking countries: the UnitedStates in terms of sheer numbers and Australia in terms of theproportion of its student body who come from abroad. Moreover it isa volatile market, where public perceptions can be quickly swayedby relatively minor incidents. Changes in Government policy onimmigration or institutional funding can make a big difference.

The challenges to those who responsible for strategic planningin universities and other higher education institutions aretherefore considerable. OECD’s Programme on Institutional Management in HigherEducation (IMHE)  has been running a series of focusgroups to explore some of the issues and the conclusions will bepresented at a conference at Lund University in Sweden inmid-December. The aim is to learn from each other and to come upwith some useful advice for institutions as they plan theirapproaches.

Call for greater transparency

And if those who are responsible for the supply side arestruggling to keep up with developments, spare a thought for thestudents and prospective students who make up the demand side. Somecountries will provide scholarships and other help, while elsewherethey have to fend for themselves. The quality and relevance ofhigher education programmes and institutions is far fromtransparent even at national level. Internationally, where studentsare prey to misleading – and sometimes fraudulent – advertising,and where their only guide is rankings largely based on researchoutcomes, it is very hard for them to reach the right decisionsabout their futures.

As we traverse the second decade of the twenty-first centurythere is more than ever a need for us to focus not only on thequality of higher education, but also on being transparent about itand on communicating what we know.

Richard Yelland is Head of the Education Management andInfrastructure Division, OECD Directorate for Education

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