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GLOBAL: Hot higher education issues

The global financial crisis means that higher education institutions "need to work smarter", said OECD Director for Education Barbara Ischinger, kicking off the three-day Institutional Management in Higher Education conference on 13 September. "We need to ensure institutions play to their strengths."

Higher Education in a World Changed Utterly: Doing more with less was the sombre theme of the meeting, with the recession affecting public investment in universities while demand for higher education has never been higher.

How to ensure quality and at the same time contribute to research and the community was a major theme.

However, with the international university rankings season coinciding with the conference, league tables were criticised for distorting university priorities and the Chancellor of California State University, Charles Reed, caused a stir at a plenary session when he described global rankings as "a disease". (Click here for the full story.)

Universities have tried to raise revenue, often by attracting overseas students who pay high fees. But it is hard to rely on consistent income when it is so difficult to predict where overseas students will come from as markets mature and die and new ones grow.

In his paper 'Emerging Countries for Student Recruitment in Tertiary Education', Angel Calderon of RMIT in Australia projected global international student numbers to the year 2020, based on international trade data.

He suggested the sun was setting on international students from some East Asian countries, it continues to shine on India and China, while sunrise countries such as Chile and the Czech Republic may not yet be visible on the horizon but will be a source of international students in future. (Click here for the full story.)

Branch campuses, where students can earn a degree from another country without ever going abroad, are another way for institutions to raise revenue. "Branch campuses are largely tuition [rather than research] driven, and almost never operate without the expectation of revenue surpluses," said Jason Lane of the State University of New York in Albany in an analysis with Kevin Kinser.

Kinser said: "Institutes make projections [on earnings from branch campuses] on the basis of wishful thinking rather than knowledge of the local market."

However branch campuses, which are most visible in the Middle East and Asia, were controversially described as "hollow shells" by Soumitra Dutta, a professor of business technology at the Paris-based business school INSEAD. (Click here for the full story.)

Other revenue earners were mooted, most famously by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which revealed it was considering putting lecture notes and other academic content behind a paywall to raise revenue, according to Lori Breslow, who runs MIT's teaching and learning laboratory.

MIT's decision to consider transforming its OpenCourseWare website into a pay-per-view e-learning application was one of the higher profile ideas proposed by a university task force charged with devising a strategic response to the global financial crisis. (Click here for the full story.)

While universities in many countries were bemoaning the fact that they have too many students applying for too few places, Brazil has the opposite dilemma - an abundance of university seats but not enough qualified students to fill them.

"We don't have enough students finishing high school and this is a major issue," said Maria Helena Guimarães de Castro, former state secretary of education for São Paolo and a retired professor of political science at the State University of Campinas.

"Our big challenge is how to get students to stay in school and we're putting an enormous amount of resources into this," she told University World News. (Click here for the full story.)

And quality was a theme that ran through the conference. The US "must adapt and apply the lessons" learned from the Bologna Process if it is to increase the percentage of Americans with high quality degrees, according to Holiday Hart McKiernan, Senior Vice-president of the Lumina Foundation for Higher Education.

Research by Lumina showed that Europe's Bologna Process to harmonise university degree systems developed methodologies that "uniquely focus on linking student learning and the outcomes of higher education," she said. (Click here for the full story.)

Finally, in a closing speech at the conference Qian Tang, Unesco's newly-appointed Assistant Director-General for Education, said the United Nations is to focus more strongly on higher education in developing countries. (Click here for the full story.)
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