Wednesday, 16 August 2006

A Tectonic Shift in Global Higher Education

by John Daniel (president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, an agency created by Commonwealth heads of government to help developing countries expand access to learning through the use of technology.)

For two decades, worldwide enrollment growth in higher education has exceeded the most optimistic forecasts. A milestone of 100 million enrollments was passed some years ago, and an earlier forecast of 120 million students by 2020 may be reached by 2010. If anything, enrollment growth is accelerating as more governments see the rapid expansion of higher education as a key element in their transition from developing to developed countries.

In this article, John Daniel continues to explain how the rapid growth of higher education participation in developing countries may be achieved. He cites comparisons between pairs of countries such as South Korea and Ghana or Malaysia and Zambia. "There are, of course, numerous reasons why South Korea and Malaysia have developed more than Ghana and Zambia. However, part of the explanation is also that the Asian pair promoted the rapid development of higher education sectors with strong private-sector participation, while the African countries relied only on the state sector and kept tuition free."

Cross-border higher education may be supplied by a wide range of providers such as conventional or open universities, multinational companies, corporate universities, networks of universities, professional organizations, and IT companies. It is interesting to note that Nearly all cross-border higher education is effectively for-profit in the receiving country. Even when the originating institution is a public institution in its home country, it must make "excess revenue"—or profit—on its operations in other countries in order to sustain those operations. Does this spell a problem or an opportunity for these institutes? (think Australian Universities depending on foreign students to supplement their income.)

Here are two interesting observations by John Daniel (in the conclusion):

Cross-border higher education will require providers to develop a competitive edge. Costs will be critical. Only by targeting the massive numbers of people at bottom of the pyramid, not just the elites, will economies of scale be achieved.

In previous eras, the use of technology in developing countries usually resulted in a transfer of wealth to the developed world: The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Those days could soon be over. Because of their lower costs, developing countries may gradually reverse the direction of cross-border relationships so that their providers serve students in richer countries.

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