Universities in Central America are being induced to pay for awards without having to submit to any assessment procedures, a university rector warned a session of the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in Paris last week. Dr Miguel Escala, Rector of the Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, described how universities were receiving invitations to attend an event to receive an award – in exchange for US$5,000.
'World class' status for universities could take years to achieve, cost a large amount of money – and still fall short of the social and economic rewards commonly associated with top brand name institutions, according to a report launched at UNESCO's World Conference on Higher Education.
Private universities have been expanding rapidly worldwide but particularly in developing countries, as rising demand for higher education has meant private providers plug a gap that publicly-financed institutions cannot fill fast enough, according to a new study.
UNESCO's World Conference on Higher Education 2009 opened in Paris last week. The 1,000-plus delegates from governments, national, regional and international organisations, and individual higher education institutions arrived to tackle the new dynamics of higher education and research. As official media representative for the conference, University World News provided daily reports.
Key drivers of a 21st century academic "revolution" are identified in a trend report produced for this week's UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education. The drivers are the massification of tertiary systems everywhere, the 'public good' versus 'private good' debate, the impacts of information and communications technology, and the rise of the knowledge economy and globalisation. All major changes in higher education stem in one way or another from these motivating forces, the report's authors say.
The enormous challenge facing global higher education in the next decade is the uneven distribution of human capital and funds, which will allow some nations to take full advantage of new opportunities while others drift further and further behind. This is one of several future trends predicted by a report for the UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education. It says accelerating change is presenting more complex problems with each passing decade.
Five leading organisations committed to upholding academic rights and assisting refugee scholars throughout the world will urge UNESCO this week to take a stronger stand against persecution of academics and to show a greater commitment to core international higher education values.
Our special edition published last Wednesday was based on a report by the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge. Our coverage of the report generated a considerable number of responses. You can read two of them in our U-Say section in this issue while the others are attached to specific articles in the special edition.
The inexorable advance of the Knowledge Society and Knowledge Economy – both fuelled by higher education, research and innovation (HERI) systems that have undergone profound changes in the past decade – have made 'research on research' increasingly important to all countries, whatever their level of development. A new meta-dynamic that has emerged has been the observation and study of 'knowledge systems' in which higher education, research and innovation activities have converged and become strategically interlinked.
Global research by UNESCO has found that key factors in responding effectively to the changing dynamics of higher education, research and innovation systems include recognising the knowledge dividend, reinforcing the role of HERI systems in knowledge-based societies, reaffirming the right to research, and learning from positive and negative experiences.
In its first 10 years of existence, the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge has proved its potential as an arena for researchers to present original studies and research on the common ground between universities, research and innovation. Aggregated data gathered and generated by the Forum builds a way of assessing trends over time and making comparative country-by-country assessments.
Universities and colleges the world over have undergone profound transformations in the past three decades. The changes to institutions and the nature of academic work have no precedent in the history of post-secondary education. Public resources have declined significantly and in the fiscal crisis, ideas of universities as producers of public goods have been substituted by stress on their links with markets and by notions of 'entrepreneurial universities', excellence, managerial goals such as 'productivity' or 'efficiency', and educational privatisation.
Trends in the financing of higher education are placing research at risk, even though research spending has grown enormously and research has become increasingly important for the Knowledge Economy, for the preservation of cultures and for tackling social and political problems. Institutions must support both their instructional and research missions – especially research that is basic or risky or likely to suffer if left solely to the commercial market.
Higher education has expanded rapidly since World War II and with it, issues of diversity that affect almost every aspect of the sector – access and equity, teaching methods and how students learn, priorities in research, quality, management, social relevance and finance. However, academics have long debated the character and extent of diversity and have even asked: Is diversity a worthwhile goal? Or should differentiation be the real aim?
In a perfect world there would be perfect research universities delivering perfect high quality courses, and the more ground-breaking research undertaken by academics the better their teaching would become, with new knowledge passed on to students. But the fact is that when professors are researching they are not teaching and vice versa – there is often conflict at the teaching-research nexus.
Students from Arab countries, and not from China, make up the biggest proportion of people from a region or country studying abroad – and if one is searching for a winner in north-south research initiatives, look no further than Brazil. Those are two interesting surprises revealed by a study undertaken for the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge.
The role of professors around the world has been altered by a push for more applied research, a growing list of administrative tasks and increasingly managerial-style control by universities. In many countries academics are obliged to spend too much time teaching with little left over for research – and even when there is time, academics may be swamped by paperwork and lack freedom to pursue a chosen line of research.
The academic world urgently needs a critical discussion on what is meant by 'good' research. While there is no single yardstick for assessing research quality across all disciplines, regions and cultures, this does not make the question of quality irrelevant. On the contrary, the issue concerning appropriate criteria for assessing the quality of research should be on the agenda wherever it is being conducted.
Researchers in economically advanced countries exert considerable influence on their colleagues in low- and middle-income countries. Whether the latter unconsciously absorb or consciously follow the presumed success stories they read or hear about, or whether they are affected by researchers who have studied abroad and bring these attitudes back home with them, they adopt the same approaches they believe will improve the quality of their work and help modernise the higher education and research taking place in their own nations.
A growing gap in knowledge production exists not only between high-income and other countries but also within the developing world – between a handful of 'emerging' countries, intermediary nations numbering five to 10 on each continent, and a remaining 100 countries whose productivity remains very small (60 countries) or minute (40 countries). Stagnating research means some nations have lost their relative share of global knowledge production – but the burning question for the developing world is one of critical mass and the resources required to maintain scientific quality and build a new generation of scientists.
Academic publications produced in China grew 13-fold in a decade to reach 53,000 in 2006, and the country now spends 1.4% of gross domestic product on research and development, according to a comparative study of 52 developing countries conducted for the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge. Publication figures leaped 23-fold in South Korea and 28-fold in Iran during the same period.
Science, technology and innovation indicators for measuring and comparing the knowledge systems of developing countries need to be specially redesigned to take into account the very different conditions and characteristics of these countries. The challenge is how to make statistics and indicators both cross-nationally comparable and able to adequately reflect a country's specific economic and societal features.
After 10 years of analysising systems around the world, the UNESCO Forum on Higher Education, Research and Knowledge needs to redefine key concepts that underpin research and innovation and their contributions to development. Profiles and analyses of emerging knowledge systems in low- and middle-income nations have provided a vital building block – but it is limited in usefulness as the basis for new and more effective ways of linking knowledge with development for the benefit of developing nations.
The past decade has provided evidence that higher education and research contribute to the eradication of poverty, to sustainable development and to progress towards reaching global development goals, says the final communiqué of the 2009 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education.