Structure of keynote:

Higher Education in the 21st Century,

Challenges and Potentials

Mr. Alan Smith

Senior Administrator

European Comission

 

Introduction

- congratulations to EURASHE on its tenth anniversary;

- reiteration of the importance of this sector of education (non-university higher education): 1) in national systems; 2) in European programmes

Challenges to and Potential of Higher Education in general

a. Familiar Challenges

- how to make HE as a whole more responsive to its increasing range of stakeholders: HE institutions as service-providers, not just knowledge-producers; more intensive interaction with economic and societal environment; continuing need for diversified HE systems; implications for the policy of institutions;

- how to defend the university as an institution with a high degree of autonomy, nurturing individual and critical thinking and creativity;

- how to reconcile mass HE with the legitimate social need for meritocratic elites;

- how to come to terms with diminishing public resources and to diversify sources of income; reconciling the right to free or highly subsidised HE as a constitutional right, on the one hand, with the charging of tuition fees (since HE provides generally enhanced professional opportunities), on the other;

- how to demonstrate value for money, positive cost-benefit ratio; quality assurance, benchmarking; keeping academics motivated despite the business rhetoric;

- how to internationalise the institution

b. Newer and potentially more 'existential' challenges

- the apocalyptic undertones of recent debate: 'can the university survive...?': three key and perhaps existential challenges to HE as we traditionally know it: lifelong learning; information and communication technology; globalisation;

- lifelong learning (LLL): the changing economic, social and demographic conditions which have given the concept a new sense of urgency; recent policy statements in the EU (Lisbon summit) and G8 contexts; need for interlinkage between the various educational sectors and between education and training; specific implications of LLL for HE institutions (diversifying access, outreach, credit for experiential learning; more varied and flexible courses, responding to a greater diversity of needs; fading distinction between initial and continuing training; credit accumulation; modular courses; increased emphasis on project approach, problem-solving, interdisciplinarity, creativity and entrepreneurship; increasing importance of guidance and counselling; implications for institutional management; implications for governing bodies and those responsible for the legal, administrative and budgetary framework within which institutions operate);

- information and communication technology (ICT): shortfall in digitally qualified human resources in Europe; the e-Europe and e-Learning initiatives as the EU's response; implications of ICT for HE institutions (ICT as subject of teaching and as teaching tool; changing relationship between teacher and learner; provision of HE at dispersed locations; course delivery via ICT modes such as cable TV, satellite, interactive video, Internet etc.; new forms of accreditation and assessment; consumer protection; implications for institutional management; competition between HE institutions and other providers: cutthroat competition or division of labour? -possible scenarios);

- globalisation: distinction between globalisation and internationalisation; increasing competition among HE providers world-wide; franchising and the rise of transnational provision; quality assurance, accreditation and consumer protection; the challenge to university research from global R&D enterprises; possible scenarios for a division of labour between HE institutions and other providers; ways in which prior internationalisation / europeanisation may help HE institutions to survive in the global HE market place.

The international dimension of Higher Education: Points of emphasis in recent European debate

- role of HE in preparing citizens for life in a multicultural society;

- internationalisation as a means of enhancing curricular quality;

- European dimension in quality assurance of HE institutions;

- internationalisation and globalisation, international competition in the provision of educational services, attractiveness of countries / institutions for foreign students; hope that increasing emphasis will be placed on HE's role in recognising and fulfilling global responsibilities (sustainable development, environmental protection etc.);

- transnational provision of educational services, and the concomitant challenges for new international forms of accreditation;

- improving articulation between EU programmes and national programmes;

- integrating physical and virtual mobility in a new framework for internationalising the institution;

- dismantling the barriers to the European HE area;

- reconciling the EC Treaty's abstinence with the push for greater 'coherence' coming from national governments (and industry?): the Sorbonne/Bologna process;

- maximising the efficiency of the international dimension of institutions;

- reconciling the need for greater central institutional anchoring of exchange and cooperation on the one hand, with the need to ensure continuing motivation of departments and individual academics for European/international cooperation.

Challenges and Opportunities for the non-university sector

- in the light of the analysis above, the non-university sector is comparatively well placed to meet the challenges identified:

- in cost-benefit terms, the sector seems attractive: short duration courses, low dropout rates;

- challenge of becoming more responsive to society and cooperating more closely with other social 'players': the non-university sector typically regards interactivity with the community as part of its specific vocation. The generally smaller size of institutions should make them less bureaucratic and more flexible than universities;

- lifelong learning: the non-university sector is typically more open than universities to modular approaches, the provision of non-degree courses, credit accumulation and transfer, and crediting experiential learning;

- information technology: non-university sector institutions often offer computer science as a subject, and many such institutions focus on the application of new technologies to other fields;

- the new information and communications technologies open up new and enhance internationalisation opportunities for the non~university sector, which has normally been characterised by institutions which are often regional or local in orientation;

- hope that in the future, the non-university sector will become more heavily involved in contributing to sustainable development and in helping to meet global challenges such as environmental protection and healthcare, as there is a strong need for the more application-oriented types of higher education in the developing world;

- challenges and potential within the EU programmes themselves: despite considerable growth, there is still much room for the non-university sector to exploit fully its potential for European cooperation. Research has shown that this sector should invest more effort in strategic Planning for European cooperation and in diversif'ying cooperation beyond student mobility, this still being very prominent as the non-university sector's preferred means of engaging with partners elsewhere in Europe;

- the sector will only be able to derive maximum advantage from and contribute most effectively to European (and international) cooperation if the necessary internal and external conditions are created and maintained.

The second phase of SOCRATES as a means for the non-university sector to fullfil its potential for European cooperation

- the advantageous characteristics of the non-university sector identified above are reflected in the new opportunities opened up for the institutions in this sector under the second phase of the programme; lifelong learning approach of the programme as a whole, and non-university institutions well positioned to benefit from it;

- continuing and improved opportunities within Erasmus;

- but the sector should look at all the opportunities offered by SOCRATES, also under the Actions other than Erasmus:

- Comenius 1: opportunities to be associated with school projects, and in particular the new School Development Projects with their emphasis on outreach into the local community;

- Comenius 2: teacher training activities of all kinds, and activities in the area of intercultural education and catering for the needs of target groups such as immigrants;

- Lingua: for example, networking local resource centres for language learning;

- Minerva: various opportunities related to the new technologies;

- Grundtvig: probably most important Action of all to the non-university sector, as it provides great opportunities for short-cycle HE institutions that straddle the divide between vocational / further / higher education and which have (therefore) not been well catered for in the past; even more opportunities in the future: not just the European cooperation projects as hitherto, but also the new Learning Partnership and individual training activities, as well as the Grundtvig Networks.

Concluding remarks

- belief in the increasing importance of adult education / other educational pathways / lifelong learning has led me to opt for working in this field in the period ahead;

- hope that in this new capacity, I shall have many opportunities of working closely with the 'Eurashe' sector of higher education;

- best wishes to the association for its second decade.

 

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