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The OECD’s new report “Learning for Jobs” explores how vocational education programs can improve country competitiveness and reduce unemployment.


“Vocational education and training has been neglected” says the latest OECD report, Learning for Jobs. Students, parents, and policymakers often think of “Voc Ed” as inferior to a classic “academic” secondary education, which is geared towards preparing students for college or university. But most of us know that not everyone follows this path. Once people join the workforce, much of what we learn about our jobs comes from experience, not from the art history class. Why, then, is vocational education and training, too often ignored and underfunded?


Increasingly, countries are recognizing that good vocational education and training can be a major contribution to economic growth by giving people the skills needed in the labor market. In the US, several organizations such as ConnectEd in California and New York’s Multiple Pathways to Graduation Program are seeking to implement more programs in high schools that connect learning in the classroom with the economic needs of the community. Workplace training opportunities are very important.


Finding the optimal point where labor supply meets demand is no easy task. In a tough economy, the mismatch between can be even greater. The OECD’s Learning for Jobs not only takes a look at the economic outcomes of vocational training, but it also examines the importance of career guidance, professional development, and workplace learning.


As the need for technically skilled workers increases in a globalized world, vocational education might become the newest popular policy on the block.

A reputation well deserved.


To read more about the policy recommendation from Learning for Jobs, check out the report.

Fifty years ago Marshall McLuhan observed that “the medium was the message” and after awhile the “modern” US universities got the point. They created “traditions”, events and merchandise that celebrated institutional identity and affiliations. Everything was tied to the year of graduation, the mail outs, the t-shirts, “homecomings” and donation targets. Universities controlled the imagery, the event planning and all forms of media that carried the same basic message- you are “the class of”. It was a good way to manage, promote and protect a brand. It created a sense of belonging, and an obligation to “give back.”


This branding strategy suited an environment where communication costs through print and telephony were relatively high. This encouraged institutions to maintain consistency of message and to use the same message across different target groups and over time. High costs were also a barrier to alternative message providers. Mass media was aggregated, with radio and television in networks and newspapers in chains and syndicates making it easy to manage press relations. Production cycles were leisurely – daily, weekly, monthly and even quarterly- giving institutional managers time to monitor and react to messages. The dominant models of brand management were production and reaction: create a product, feed demand and repel criticism. Communication was also relatively tightly targeted. It focused on alums, parents of students, policymakers rather than the general public. 


Social media is changing the higher education branding environment because its various forms increase the scale and speed of interaction. More people participate more frequently in exchanges of information that shapes a brand. The interactive, dynamic nature of new media has splintered the locus of communication control. It is now dispersed, diffused and decentralized.


These changes have rippled through most sectors of national economies especially those that rely heavily on branding and advertising to differentiate themselves in crowded markets.  Higher education is no exception. It is one of the most affected because its community members are the creators and early adopters of most forms of social media.


It is not just a technological shift it is a cultural shift. In the 21st century the medium is still the message and “social” is a message that teaching and learning institutions must embrace to survive.


Social media has increased the ability of students, graduates and faculty to extend themselves, to connect with more people, more quickly and more often than ever before. (McLuhan’s book was subtitled “Extensions of Man”.)


Individuals can extend themselves through different forms of social media; social networking sites like Facebook, video sharing sites like YouTube or information networks like Twitter. And they use them: 61 percent of adult U.S. internet users use a social networking site.


These platforms that allow individuals to extend themselves do not face the boundaries of time, cost or control of conventional mediums like print, radio or television.  With increased choice and reduced barriers to participation more voices shape, validate and construct the market value of an institution’s brand.


How should institutional leaders respond? They still have a responsibility to their consumers and stake holders to protect the brand. We offer three observations.


First they need to recognize that it is no longer sufficient to produce and promote static brands. Failure to do so will undermine an institution’s reputation as “social” community.


Second they need to acknowledge that the speed with which a message can be delivered and spread by individuals is a stark contrast to the controlled, aggregated sources from the past. The “viral” metaphor is powerful because it is apt with its connotations of contagion, infection and capriciousness. In practice, that means monitoring and responding to messages that are shared in social media.


Third, university leaders need to understand that they steer and guide communities that have three characteristics in common with social media: they are based on interactions between people, they are led by the choices of consumers and authority is diffused.


Ignoring any of these three maxims ensures failure in communication. They can, and should, be used to leverage and increase brand impact.   Institutions can engage current, former and potential consumers in conversation (interaction), meet stakeholders already using these platforms (consumer-led), and create spaces to invite comment on ideas under development – accepting that authority is diffused. For example the University of Pennsylvania, displays its social media platforms and 50 of its Twitter accounts.


These three lodestones for navigating the virtual sea of social media are a good beginning for higher education managers. They offer points of certainty and familiarity. Just think of social media as slightly fractious faculty and student council meetings in a university with a long tradition of shared governance. It is just that social media makes everything happen faster.


by Alan Ruby and Shannon Kelly


Alan is the head of the Global Education Policy Group and served as Chair of the OECD’s Education Committee and as a member of the CERI Governing Board in the mid 1990’s. He lectures in higher education management at the University of Pennsylvania and consults for governments and institutions on a range of education policy matters.


Shannon is the Job and Internship Coordinator at University of Pennsylvania Career Services and manages the department’s social media presence and spearheaded the growing use of new technology in Penn’s University Life division.  She has presented at regional conferences and conducted webinars on this subject.

What do we know about how people learn?

How do young people’s motivations and emotions influence their learning?

What does research show to be the benefits of group work, formative assessments, technology applications, or project-based learning and when are they most effective?

How is learning affected by family background?


The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice is important reading for all of us interested in what research has to say about how to optimise learning in classrooms, schools and other settings.



This book brings together the lessons of research on both the nature of learning and different educational applications, and it summarises these as seven key concluding principles.


Centre for Educational Research and Innovation

What’s the big idea?

Posted by Cassandra Davis Sep 15, 2010

OECD to launch an innovative new technology, “Raise Your Hand” to survey the world (yes, the world!) on how people prioritize global education issues.


Who would have expected that the rise of the Google search engine would have made the word “algorithm” cool? In a world with endless streams of data, computer algorithms that help organizations sort through the data “noise” are hot these days and just keep getting hotter. The OECD is once again on the cutting edge with the launch of a new crowdsourcing initiative, “Raise Your Hand,” to poll people from all corners of the globe.


Part survey and part focus group, the tool will allow the OECD to find out what’s important in education by asking you to rank education ideas as well as submit your own for others to rank. The top five ideas will be presented at the OECD Education Ministerial meeting on November 4, 2010.


The technology behind Raise Your Hand, called "All Our Ideas", was developed by a propitious mix of sociologists and computer scientists at Princeton University. Professor of Sociology Matthew Salganik collaborated with computer science graduate students to develop the tool, which is now being used by hundreds of organizations around the world.


“All Our Ideas" is a tool that allows groups to collect and prioritize ideas in a way that is democratic, open, and efficient. By combining a voting system with the open uploading of ideas, it provides the quantifiability of a survey with the openness of a focus group,” said Salganik.


Try it out, you might just have the next Big Idea!

Read about the OECD Education Ministerial Meeting on November 4-5, 2010.

See the article in the Princeton News about All Our Ideas.

During the Education in times of crisis-conference in Copenhagen, July 2009, Dirk Vandamme stated, together with Education at a Glance (EAG) 2009 and 2010, that it was high time for governments to invest in higher education, a safe investment for a way out of the global economic crisis.  However, reports from 23 national unions of students across Europe have shown that not all of the ministers of Education were able to reach their ministers of Finance.  To the contrary a number of governments have agreed to massive budget cuts for education of up to 40% in for example Latvia, with the interesting twist that the budget cuts have mainly affected students’ support services but not research and development for example.


The crisis has also served as an excuse for many institutions to make the final push towards introducing or raising cost-sharing systems, directly affecting the students’ financial situation and access to higher education, but also the quality and accessibility of student support services (including grants and loans). The European Students’ Union believes, together with the EAG reports, that education is indeed a way out of the crisis : by skilling students, up-skilling workers and innovating in society, education provides the exact answer to mistakes that have been made in the past and caused this situation.  It was therefore very unfortunate to see both governments and institutions seizing the opportunity to withdraw from investing in a main cause of welfare of their societies.


One could argue that students should contribute to their own careers and elevation of future incomes, but one could also argue that the skilled student and soon to be worker will contribute in a larger scale to its society, by working, by innovating, by staying more healthy, by producing and consuming and by paying taxes.  Taxes that can and should be used to provide his or her education, and that of his or her children.  Although governments have been withdrawing from investments in education, we have not seen that cutback reflected in the taxation systems, nor have we heard what priority higher than education deserved additional investment.  Contrary to the signals of the OECD, countries have been withdrawing from their responsibility of educating their society, keeping the students burdened with debts that postpone their participation in society and hinder them to spread out their full personal and academic capabilities.


Nevertheless, one could further argue that investment into research and innovations has increased. And this is true in many places, indeed. As well as the truth that the investment into student services, housing, transportation or other facilities that are a very core needs undermining each student’s life has not moved from the point of death. Modern labs are not a substitute of food or roof over the head of one engaged in academia. Higher education is a complex system that consists of human beings, their intellectual, social and also physical needs. This cannot be forgotten while making decisions concerning the development of future educational institutions.


In addition, there are some prejudices that the current crisis is a main cause of the enormously high youth unemployment rates. However, one has to remain honest and admit that students have never been the most popular workforce in the job market. Claiming that the reason is an unstable market and that the situation should change over time is ignoring that the problems are in many more layers and the degree of them makes a largely potential group of the society vulnerable and cynical towards its future prospects of the career. A new approach towards existing problems and education is needed and therefore this is certainly not the time to limit the possibilities of both students and institutions in education.


Student life has changed over the years.  Financially burying yourself to pass for a degree that does no longer guarantee a job in an unstable market or completion of what you invested in is not the way to promote education and will only enhance the problematic situation we have found ourselves in – when students are dropping out because their education is no longer affordable.  Education needs to regain its value with the help of quality assurance and a larger student-centred approach to teaching methods and desired learning outcomes.  All of this does cost money, but who said it wasn’t high time anymore to invest in higher education?


Bert Vandenkendelaere
European Students' Union (ESU)

Over the past several months, my office [Vice President for Research and Enterprise] has been inundated with requests for data. These requests have come from government and government agencies, and from commercial ranking and profiling organisations. At the same time, since the beginning of 2010, the office hosted five governmental and funder audits totaling 14 days. These sought to scrutinise travel and hospitality costs, student accounts, EU and national research projects. Some have looked to assess expenditure going back over five years. The question is: do we know what we are counting, and whether the data being collected is interpreted appropriately or counting what is important?

The drive for greater transparency and accountability is not new – although it is arguable that globalisation and global rankings combined with the effects of the global financial crisis have re-energised the emphasis on and importance of value-for-money criteria. ‘Transparency instruments’ have become the new policy catchphrase.

Performance outputs are being aligned to resource allocation. Assessment of scientific-scholarly research is a vital tool to help drive up productivity and quality, and assess return-on-investment, especially for publicly funded research. Global rankings – an inevitable response to globalization and global mobility – have helped spur the proliferation of worldwide comparisons of higher education performance and national competitiveness.

Australia’s Kim Carr (2009) opined that ‘[I]t isn’t enough to just go around telling ourselves how good we are – we need to measure ourselves objectively against the world’s best”. I’ve used a similar sound bite: ‘less self-declaration and more external verification’.

But the history of rankings shows that measuring the wrong things can produce distortions and perverse actions. In many instances, governments have directly adopted or ‘folded-in’ the indicators into their own performance measurements or used rankings to set targets for system restructuring. The quantification of performance has become a powerful tool because as Ehrenberg (2001) said, they give the ‘appearance of scientific objectivity’.  Indicators are often chosen and decisions made without fully understanding the methodological shortcomings or the limitations of the data. And, because rankings act like other performance instruments and incentivize behaviour, governments risk perverting public policy imperatives to meet criteria set by the vagaries of ranking or other profiling organisations.

To paraphrase Einstein, are we measuring what counts or counting what can be measured? Three examples:

  1. The education level of entering students is generally considered a good proxy for student ability on the basic assumption that a roughly similar range of performance can be expected throughout their higher education career. This forms the basis by which many HE systems and institutions select students. But do entry scores and standardized testing simply reflect socio-economic advantage? ‘Many colleges recruit great students and then graduate great students [but is] that because of the institution, or the students?’ (Hawkins, 2008).
  2. One of the most noticeable changes in how higher education is funded is the shift from inputs to outputs. Financing the number of students who actually complete and graduate within the determined time-frame is seen as a good measure of quality. But measuring graduation rates may be disadvantageous to lower socio-economic and ethnically disadvantaged groups or mature students whose life or family circumstances disturb ‘normal’ study patterns. It may undermine institutions which are working hard to widen participation, and dis-incentivize access/2-year programmes because students often transfer to other universities which then get the credit for student completion.
  3. Counting peer publications and citations has become the most common way to measure institutional/individual academic research productivity and quality. However, by relying on these methodologies, we undermine that which policy wants to encourage: research beyond the academy, e.g. contributions to technical standards or policy, commercialization and innovation, and other forms of ‘Mode 2’ engagement.

Cross-national comparisons can improve strategic decision making, and help identify and share best practices. But national context resists attempts to make simple and easy comparisons. The new QS and THE rankings and profiling information, for example, each measure academic staff and students but with completely different data sets, which is not just confusing for the institutional researcher but potentially disastrous for those making decisions based upon them.

The drive towards metrics-based tools appears to be a ‘cheap and cheerful’ transparency instrument, but it encourages simplistic solutions, skewing agendas and policies to become what is measured. Ultimately the public policy imperative is lost in the belief that quantification equals quality. Policy-making by numbers is not the solution many governments think it is.


Rankings and the Battle for World-Class Excellence: How Rankings are Reshaping Higher Education will be published by Palgrave MacMillan, March 2011.

Doing More with Less?

Posted by 612602 Sep 8, 2010

Universities cost money.  They need to hire highly qualified faculty, they need to provide financial support for talented students in financial need, the need to have high-quality facilities for research as well as for teaching.  Increasingly, they also need substantial administrative staff to provide quality assurance, accountability, public relations documents – all of which are designed to make sure they continue to benefit from adequate funding.  In the wealthiest countries of the world, the money comes from three sources:  the local or national government, the students themselves and philanthropic donors. Universities of the North have also opened branch campuses across the world, seeking to generate new sources of revenues.


Universities in the developing world are probably as varied as those in the developed world.  Yet, there is an argument to be made that many of these universities need adequate funding right now if they are ever to support national development and innovation agendas where these are most needed.  Their governments have fewer resources.  Their students are poorer and donors are rarer. Yet, it is hard to imagine sustainable development without increasing overall education levels and creating a pool of highly skilled human capital, country by country, across the world. Development requires innovation and innovation requires education.


Innovation is closely tied to talent, to highly skilled people solving problems, creating new products and services and building a base for developing economies to be nimble, to be responsive, to be attentive to world trends.  In The Bahamas, the economy is driven by two industries: tourism and financial services.  Both are undergoing major changes as a consequence of trends and events far beyond the control of the national government. In both cases, there are efforts to create centres of excellence and innovation to support appropriate responses to these trends. These will require funding. Innovation is also important to the development of social policies that support poverty eradication and social cohesion.


We probably will not do more with less; but can we do differently? Can we help universities with a strong social responsibility agenda in their country and in their region, build a teaching and research agenda directly tied to national and regional issues of importance for sustainable development in that country and in that region?  Can we think of investment in universities in a developing context as akin to development of roads, of telecommunications, of renewable energy sources, of schools and hospitals – a main infrastructure of development and innovation?  Unless universities can play the role in the South they have so successfully played in the North, it is difficult to see how all countries will ever have fair access to peace, prosperity and sustainable development.


Janyne M. Hodder

Past President, The College of The Bahamas

Member, Administrative Board, International Association of Universities

The OECD’s new 2010 Education at a Glance rings in the new (school) year


We all remember the feeling before the first day of school: new notebooks, freshly cut hair, and a carefully packed backpack. It’s a special mix of nervousness and excitement for a new year full of new knowledge. Here at the OECD we feel the same about the upcoming release of the 2010 Education at a Glance (EAG), the OECD Education Directorate’s flagship annual publication.


Interested in the percentage of young people going to college? Wondering if college graduates are still earning more after the economic crisis? Want to know the financial return on investment in education? How about the social return on education spending? Compare OECD country data or check out how your country is doing on its own. It’s all here in this year’s EAG.


The report is full of facts about public education spending, individual costs of education, teacher salaries, parent choices in education and much, much more.


Some highlights this year include:

  • The unemployment rate for 15-29 year-olds in OECD countries increased on average by 3.3 percentage points between 2008 and 2009, more than for the general population.
  • Across all countries and all levels of education, women earn less than men, and that gap is not reduced with more education.
  • The net public return is almost three times the cost of investing in tertiary education.
  • On average, OECD countries spend nearly twice as much per student at the tertiary level than at the primary level.
  • Reforms over the last decade have seen tuition fees introduced in Luxembourg and parts of Germany, and significant fee increases in Austria, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom.
  • Salaries for lower secondary teachers with at least 15 years’ experience range from less than USD16,000 in Hungary and Estonia to more than USD 98,000 in Luxembourg.
  • Opportunities for school choice have expanded in the past 25 years. Restrictions on school choice among public schools have been reduced in more than half of countries that reported findings.


Now you have the teasers, prepare yourself for the full report. It’s the back to school homework you can look forward to.


To access the full report for free, go here


Read the press release

Imagine, if you will, a train that is getting ready to leave the station. There is a large group of 500 people who all want to get on the train. The train can usually fit about 100 people. If people are willing to stand, they can fit 200 people on the train. But that still leaves another 300 people waiting at the station. How will the train serve them? Should the engineers and porters keep working through the night? Should they ask the people to wait many hours or days until more trains can be re-routed to the station? Or should the train operators just turn those 300 people away?


It’s a simplistic comparison at best, but it speaks to a challenge facing higher education in our global community. Universities are being called upon to educate more students to bolster the world economy, and yet budget cuts have forced them to work with fewer resources than before.


At the California State University, we have been driven to tackle this challenge with a multi-faceted approach. We are trying to focus on managing our limited resources with the most efficiency, and on helping our communities understand the critical importance of higher education.


To meet our students’ needs, one of the most obvious changes involves offering more classes on evenings and weekends. This can serve the dual purpose of helping us reach more students who have full- or part-time work responsibilities, and helping us make better use of our facilities. Additionally, we have begun to offer more courses with an online component that would allow students to “attend” class remotely, from their home or place of work. We also have been exploring how to improve efficiencies and streamline requirements so that students’ time is spent more productively.


We are also trying to help the public understand the importance of what we do by quantifying our institutions’ productivity and importance to the economy.


We recently showcased a study that credits the CSU and its graduates with producing $70 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 485,000 jobs – or one in every 32 jobs in California today. This kind of information helps our audiences understand that higher education reaps benefits not only for the individual but also for society.


Last but not least, we are continuing to seek out partnerships outside of higher education. The model of a university operating high up in an “ivory tower” is increasingly archaic. We need business and community partners who understand our challenges. And likewise, we want to understand what employers need from our graduates so that we can prepare our students to be successful in the workforce.


In these difficult times, we are confident in knowing that an investment in higher education will reap long-term dividends for any economy, but we need to make sure that the rest of society understands that and believes in us. That’s why we must continue to serve students with quality and accountability – and demonstrate that we have the flexibility and resiliency to deal with whatever challenges we come across.


By Dr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, The California State University

Academics’ ways of working - urgent changes needed?


In these times of austerity, all businesses need to review the costs of activities against projected income and universities, as global businesses, are no exception. Well managed universities will be asking ask hard questions of their systems and staff , and most importantly, this is a time to ask hard questions about academics’ ways of working:

  • are academics’ ways of working more akin to those of the 19th century than the 21st century?
  • how might emerging technologies be used to increase the impact, quality and cost effectiveness of the work of academic?


Much of the knowledge once only easily accessed by academics through their access to books and libraries is now in the public domain and available almost anywhere anytime through the internet. Publication of new knowledge was a slow process controlled by a few. Academics weren’t usually expected to provide research evidence to inform decisions about how society and its institutions might function.


The business of knowledge production and publication once the province of academics has changed radically in the last twenty years but for the most part it seems, academics’ ways of working have not adapted to the new international environment.


Perhaps a prime area for the adoption of new ways of working is social science research where it is not uncommon for staff to be lone researchers and for PhD students to work on isolated projects. The outcome of such work is rarely generalisable at the national and international level and so cannot easily be used to inform national decisions about such important areas as education. New technologies can now be used to connect up researchers with similar interests so they can scale up small scale research to levels at which it becomes nationally and internationally significant – but to do this, the expectations of what constitutes accepted academic practice need to change.


A group of UK staff from different universities has made a commitment to test out such new ways of working. We are using existing staff research time already paid for by the taxpayer, and partnerships with schools and other organisations, to collaborate in order to scale up promising small scale research rather than continue to undertake small scale studies. We will be talking at the IMHE conference about an online environment to support this work cloned from the successful UK online communities of practice for local government  which now has over 1500 communities working in the 700 areas for which local government is responsible. (The embryonic site is on . In working in this way, co-researchers in schools and university staff including researchers around the world, will be able to collaborate to share and build knowledge, cost-effectively.


Anyone interested in working in this way or indeed wanting to join with us on this journey of doing more with less, please feel free to contact me on or or indeed via the Education Communiities site as above.


Note: Further information about the author is on

Higher education reform -- everyone's doing it.


I have worked recently in countries as diverse as Lithuania, Azerbaijan and Syria, all of which see the need for improvement in their higher education systems. The problem is that reform challenges vested interests. And so resistance to reform often seemed like conservatism, but in fact it is vested interests reluctant to have their powers and privileges undermined. Nevertheless, a realisation that other countries are making reforms can be a spur to reforming within a country, especially where there are reform minded people in positions of power who see the need.


Given the widespread realisation that the development of knowledge economies requires strong universities, finance ministries all over the world appear surprisingly reluctant to provide the resources needed to create strong universities, and tend to see higher education as a cost rather than an investment. I have seen this in surprising places, for example the UAE -- one of the richest countries in the world -- where the finance ministry has been fighting a rearguard action against providing sufficient resources to its federal universities to enable them to function at international levels . And Azerbaijan, where there is a boom economy fuelled by oil, but which devotes one of the lowest proportions of its GDP in the world to University education, and where, because numbers are constrained, private investment is relatively low as well. Yet not only does the Finance Ministry resist increasing public investment, but there are barriers to increased private provision as well.


We see the same phenomenon now in the UK, where the government has announced 25% or more in cuts in public expenditure across the board, without any reprieve so far for education in general or higher education in particular. The argument that higher education expenditure is an investment cuts no ice -- the answer is that the cupboard is bare and that there is no cash for investment for the future because the present is so pressing; and so we have to consume our seedcorn and hope for the best. This is in sad contrast with some other countries -- like Ireland where the economic hard times are much more severe than in the UK -- and yet where higher education expenditure continues to expand in the knowledge that severe damage will be done in the long term if investment is not increased. In those countries the long-term is not being sacrificed to the short.


Restrained investment in higher education will have a number of consequences, all of them unpalatable. It may lead to disappointment for increasing numbers of aspiring students. That will be politically difficult. But the alternative would be to allow (or indeed for political reasons to insist on) more students to be recruited without more funding, so risking lasting damage to the quality of education.


There is a third possible response to constraints on public funding, which is to require students to pay more -- to introduce or to raise tuition fees. For some countries that will be an obvious approach. But for countries like England that already have a relatively high level of student fee, the benefits of that approach are not so readily available, and there is a risk of increasing fees to the point where they begin to have a deterrent effect on participation, particularly participation by poor students (of which there is no sign of their having done in the past).


There is nothing like a financial crisis for spurring reform, but the wrong reforms, introduced for the wrong reasons?  That's the danger.


Bahram Bekhradnia
Higher Education Policy Institute

The global achievement gap

Posted by 612758 Sep 3, 2010

Given the ripple effect of the financial crisis, leaders around the world have taken a keen interest in reexamining strategies for long-term economic and societal growth.  Although varied opinions exist about the cause, magnitude, and ultimate duration of the current economic situation, there appears to be a growing consensus about the connection of education to social stability and long-term economic success.  World leaders who desire for their countries to have a competitive advantage in the global marketplace all recognize the first step toward this goal is to have a well-educated citizenry and workforce.


In recent decades, the United States, like many other countries, has experienced growth in participation rates in tertiary education, but completion rates have not kept pace.  The postsecondary system has widened opportunity to numerous students from diverse backgrounds and encouraged lifelong learning among adults and existing workers.  Subsequently, increased attention has been placed on student success and completion in the nation’s colleges and universities.  And many have begun to question whether college students are truly being prepared to compete in a dynamic global economy.  In fact, some have argued that until fundamental changes occur within the educational system, U.S. students will face what Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls a “global achievement gap.”  In Wagner’s assessment, he focuses primarily on the need to enhance educational quality in America’s secondary schools; however, I believe the premise also applies to our postsecondary system.  As we educate and prepare students for the workforce, we must be sure to teach them “how to work” and “how to live” in this new economy.


While the “global achievement gap” is a phenomenon affecting the United States, it also holds true in other nations.  As institutional leaders across the globe push for greater accountability, the need to “count” has become a worldwide phenomenon in education.  We count the number of degrees conferred; we count the number of faculty with doctorate degrees; we count the number of articles published in specific types of journals, and on and on.  But none of these counts truly equate with quality; none of these counts are a true measure of students’ success; none of these counts ensure global competencies; and none of these counts guarantee a competitive workforce.  In a recent report by the Asia Times, it was reported that China replaced the United States to become the world’s top producer of doctorate holders in 2008.  The article also reveals that the vast majority of employers indicate that these recent Ph.D. holders were of “low quality.”  Similar accounts are told about graduates in the United States and elsewhere.


In an effort to ensure that the U.S. economy keeps pace with China and others, we are “counting” too and the big push is to increase the numbers of college graduates.  Across the nation, college and university leaders are taking initiative and making changes to ensure that they graduate more students.  While graduating students is a worthy goal, we must make sure that our students complete their programs of study with quality degrees, applicable global competencies, and the technical training and expertise needed for high-skill, high-demand jobs.  Although there are exceptions, few institutional leaders have explicitly linked these three components in students’ postsecondary education.  And until we do so and willfully adjust current notions of teaching and learning, today’s students – tomorrow’s workers – will continue to be caught in the global achievement gap.


Because we live in an increasingly interdependent world, we cannot afford for any of our students to be stymied by the global achievement gap.  Financial markets across the globe are interconnected.  Technology has changed our modes of communications, access to information, and overall way of life.  Political decisions made in one country can have effects, and sometimes even far-reaching consequences, on other countries and regions of the world.   So, as we prepare our students with the expertise to be active players in the workforce and in shaping the economic, technological, and political context of our society, let us also teach and empower them to be socially responsible citizens of the world.


Michelle Asha Cooper, Ph.D.
Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP)

The second part of the Insitutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE) General Conference refers to ‘Doing more with less’.  What is noticeable in both Western countries and in the emerging nations is a continuing policy drive to expand the numbers of those able to access higher education and to produce a ‘fairer’ system whereby opportunities are made available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds to develop their full potential.  Indeed, the demand for ‘fairness’, ‘equitable treatment’, equal opportunities’ continues to be reiterated, despite the lack of funds and the consequent major cutbacks in the finance available to higher education.  Can one argue that an important aspect of ‘doing more with less’ is the recognition, particularly in democratic societies, that those from disadvantaged backgrounds must be offered routes to access higher education?

Could one go further and argue that globalisation itself has heightened the desire of governments to be seen to be bringing the tenets of social justice to bear on this issue?  The restructuring of higher education systems can be seen as one aspect: the establishment of government-linked bodies to oversee access to higher education is another.  My recent edited book, Access and Equity: Comparative Perspectives, 2010, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, explores a number of these issues in more detail, drawing on the insights of authors from the Far East and Africa as well as the Western World.

The economic crisis, in a sense, appears to heighten the awareness and concern of governments. Poverty becomes more widespread: economic divisions are more deeply etched.  No government wants to contend with the riots that can result.  Television and today’s communication technology purvey images of plenty, of ‘the good life’, that demand comparison with one’s own situation.

President Obama is particularly aware of these issues, and is seeking to address them.  A recent publication from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (Michelle Asha Cooper and Arthur Coleman, The Economic Imperative of Achieving Diversity, 2010, Washington D.C.) points out that only by increasing the number of racial/ethnic minorities, low-income and disadvantaged students who successfully enter and complete higher education can the human capital of the US be effectively developed.  The President is calling for an extra eight million US graduates by 2020, and they need to be drawn from diverse populations: by 2050 55% of the working age population will be drawn from racial/ethnic minorities.  Social justice, as well as economic self-interest, demands they should have access to higher education.

The will, then, is there.  The question remains: can resources, in a time of financial retrenchment, be refigured to achieve social justice in higher education?


Heather  Eggins

Institute for Education Policy Research

Staffordshire University, UK

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