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?
Institute for Education Policy Research
Staffordshire University, UK