Public spending on universities should be maintained where possible as countries seek a road out of the consequences of the global financial crisis, Richard Yelland, head of the OECD's Education Management and Infrastructure Division, told University World News this week. He said the crisis did not change universities' responsibility to use resources efficiently - but "makes it more urgent".
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He added: "Some institutions and some systems have made a lot of progress in trying to understand their costs and to control them, but there is an awfully long way to go."
Next month in Paris, the OECD's Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education general conference, Higher Education in a World Changed Utterly: Doing more with less, will explore the prospects for exactly that. University World News is a media partner to the conference.
Yelland reiterated the OECD view that there are powerful economic and social arguments for cost-sharing.
"Higher education is never free, and public spending is paid for by tax-payers," he said.
"The argument for cost-sharing is based on the equitable apportionment of costs in relation to benefits. Graduates tend to have better and more satisfying jobs, to earn more money, and to be more healthy and live longer than non-graduates. They will pay more in tax but there is a strong argument for asking them to contribute directly to the cost of their education."
He did not accept that cuts imply a choice between erosion of quality of teaching, maintenance of the teaching environment, or reduced access.
"Finding a solution to that conundrum is what our conference is about. The answer may lie in greater productivity, utilising more effectively some of the technological advances we have made in recent years; and it may lie in some rationalisation of provision.
"One thing we do need to do urgently is to get a much clearer understanding of what we mean by quality teaching and how we measure it."
Despite the global nature of the financial crisis, Yelland did not anticipate an impact on the market in international students. But he made it clear that it is a decision for individual universities whether they try to compensate for budget cuts by seeking to increase recruitment.
While he anticipated an increase in student numbers, he expected there would be a trend towards fewer, larger universities as a result of the crisis.
"A rationalisation of the institutional landscape is gathering pace," he said.
Read the interview in full here
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