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Shanghai Statement – ‘The Future of Higher Education’

Following their first global meeting in Shanghai earlier this month, 33 higher education research and policy experts from around the world published the ‘Shanghai Statement’ calling for greater intellectual input, data, policy analysis and professional training for the world’s expanding and increasingly important higher education sector.

The “International Higher Education Research and Policy Roundtable” was organised by the Center for International Higher Education, or CIHE, from Boston College in the United States, hosted by Shanghai Jiao Tong University and supported by the Innovation, Higher Education and Research for Development, or IHERD, programme of the Swedish International Development Agency.

The statement follows.

The ‘Shanghai Statement’

“The Future of Higher Education: The need for research and training for the higher education enterprise.”

This ‘Shanghai Statement’ is intended to highlight the need for ‘thinking capacity’, data, policy analysis, and professional training for tertiary education worldwide.

We are convinced that both institutions and systems, faced with a myriad of challenges and crises, require thoughtful leadership and data-based analysis. We can no longer rely on amateur management and ad hoc solutions to unprecedented problems.

The context

Postsecondary education is central to the global knowledge economy, as well as to both social mobility and workforce development worldwide. Vast investments are being made in higher education across the globe – developed countries spend 1.6% of GDP while emerging economies allocate somewhat less. Global enrolments approach 200 million.

Tertiary education has become a major policy arena in most countries, because of its importance for educating a skilled workforce for the knowledge economy, social mobility and the production and dissemination of research. Governments, the private sector and academic institutions themselves require both data and policy guidance to adapt to a changing environment.

In a few countries, a field of higher education studies has emerged to serve these needs. Data are collected by governments and other agencies. Research is undertaken to provide guidance for policy and practice at the national and international levels.

Centres and institutes, located mainly in universities but also in government agencies or in private organisations, have been established. This developing field is so far limited to a fairly small group of countries.

Higher education requires professional management.

Although only a few countries currently provide such training, there has been recognition, again in a small group of countries, that academic institutions, now in many cases large and bureaucratic entities, require professional management. Programmes have been established to provide training for those involved in university service and management, including in some cases the top leadership of academic institutions.

The field of higher education needs to expand worldwide and requires careful attention and development – if the tertiary sector is to be effectively managed and led – and ultimately to deliver desired results for stakeholders. Data and analysis are required if informed decisions are to be made.

Training and education are needed for the rapidly expanding cadre of higher education professionals. Research is needed to better understand the nature of the academic enterprise – institutionally, nationally and globally – and the complex economic, political, pedagogical and social issues central to higher education.

Necessary infrastructures

Higher education requires a range of institutions and infrastructures and, most importantly, a cadre of qualified researchers, scholars and professors, to provide the research, analysis and training needed by an expanding and increasingly complex and sophisticated higher education enterprise. Among them are the following:

  • Research centres: Building and maintaining research capacity in higher education requires dedicated centres or institutes. Interdisciplinary in nature, centres are probably best located in universities. They require qualified staff with deep expertise on higher education.

    Such centres may be attached to graduate training programmes in universities that bring motivated students to assist with research work and the stimulation of an academic environment. Adequate size, scope and dedicated budgets are necessary.
  • Training programmes: Higher education administration requires professionalisation in the era of mass enrolments and increasingly large universities worldwide.

    Professionalisation means training programmes in higher education management and leadership, and in specialised areas of academic life – such as research management, quality assurance, financial affairs or student development. Some of these may be degree programmes at the masters or doctoral level, as is common in the United States.

    Some countries offer management degrees in higher education administration, as is common in the United Kingdom – although universities cannot be equated with other kinds of business enterprises. Shorter programmes and courses focusing on university management and other higher education issues may also be useful.
  • Institutional research and statistical data: Academic institutions of all kinds and higher education systems need strong research capacity and the means of data collection.

    Often called institutional research, universities in a growing number of countries collect and analyse data about their own characteristics, policies and results with the aim of effective decision-making and planning.

    National higher education systems and governments also require good statistics and analysis. Good data are often unavailable, hindering both research and effective decision-making.
  • International and regional centres: In a globalised world, comparative and international data and analysis are crucial. This is particularly true since academic institutions and systems are themselves increasingly globalised.

    At present, there is no international organisation with the capacity or interest to systematically collect and analyse data on a broad range of higher education themes, including basic statistics about institutions, systems and trends. The same can be said for world regions.

    Further, international organisations can provide ‘thinking capacity’ for considering policy issues and other matters in a broad comparative framework.
  • Specialised organisations and centres: As higher education has become complex and specialised, the need for specialised knowledge and analysis in, for example, fields such as student affairs, internationalisation or academic administration, has become necessary.

    Organisations focused in specialised areas may be useful in larger countries, and on a regional and international basis as well.

The policy environment

Higher education faces a myriad of challenges and there are many enduring themes of policy and practice that deserve additional in-depth research and analysis. While both diverse and requiring a range of approaches in terms of research and analysis, these topics deserve the attention of the higher education community:

  • The implications of globalisation – cross-border initiatives, international student flows, the impact of global inequalities and related themes.
  • Challenges of quality and equity in higher education.
  • Governance – what are the best models of governance for the era of massification and declining public resources? What is effective in practice?
  • Systems – how are academic systems organised to meet the needs of massification and the global knowledge economy?
  • Private higher education, privatisation, commercialisation and related issues.
  • The impact of higher education research on higher education, its funding, its relevance to policy and practice, and the means of sustaining and communicating research findings and analysis to both institutions and policy-makers.

Commitment to the future

Postsecondary education, a central element of the emerging global knowledge economy and increasingly important for both social mobility and workforce development worldwide, requires professional expertise, a knowledge base, relevant research on key issues, and training for professionals responsible for academic institutions and systems.

Higher education centres and programmes – linked with policy-makers in government, the private sector and in academe – are necessary for the success of the enterprise. The effectiveness of higher education centres and programmes, however, hinges on their ability to:

  • Engage in a robust and relevant ongoing dialogue with colleagues and counterparts in the policy-making sphere.
  • Cultivate successive generations of talented young researchers who share an appreciation for, and commitment to, rigorous scholarship designed to enable thoughtful, data-driven decision-making.
  • Train academic leaders and professional administrators to manage tertiary education institutions and systems in an increasingly complex environment.

Thoughtful leadership, future-oriented planning, and a sustained commitment to the crucial mission of higher education research as a key ingredient for effective policy formulation and implementation, will be needed more than ever in the coming years.

All relevant stakeholders should recognise this fundamental dynamic between research, policy and practice, and contribute substantively to the realisation of its full potential. The future of higher education hangs in the balance.

Meeting in Shanghai, China, on 2-3 November 2013, the first international roundtable of directors of higher education centres from around the world along with key higher education policy specialists, deliberated on the themes discussed in this statement.

This document reflects in general the thinking of 33 research and policy professionals concerning the future development of the field of higher education research, policy and training – at a crucial turning point for tertiary education globally.
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