US: Higher education's new global order

Governments are having an epiphany. They are increasingly recognising that their social and economic futures depend heavily on the educational attainment of their population, and as a corollary, on the size and quality of their higher education institutions and systems. Within this relatively new policy and economic environment, the command economy approaches to creating and regulating mass higher education that once dominated most parts of the world are withering. What is emerging is what I call 'Structured Opportunity Markets' (SOM) in higher education - essentially, a convergence, in some form, in the effort of nation-states to create a more lightly regulated and more flexible network of public higher education institutions, including diversified and mission-differentiated providers, new finance structures, and expanding enrolment and programme capacity.

Paper from the Center for Studies in Higher Education, Berkeley

We are in the midst of a monumental shift in the value placed on higher education by nations and citizens of the world, and in the quality and structure of national systems. So where is this all headed?

This paper outlines the major characteristics of the SOM model and provides a brief discussion of the reasons why governments are pursuing higher education reforms that reflect this model, an outline of important policy environment variables that influence these reforms (such as demographic and cultural factors), and finally, why Europe and other parts of the world are replacing the US as a model for restructuring and expanding higher education systems.

My objective is to create a relatively simple way to interpret the rapidly and often complex changes occurring on a global scale. Hopefully this will aid scholars and practitioners often in the midst of a seemingly localised period of reform and restructuring of their higher education systems.

Increasingly, institutions and developed and developing nations, and in some cases, supranational entities such as the European Union and those in Asia and South America, will move to most if not all of the components of SOM, in part influenced by a relatively new and vibrant global process of policy transfer. Those that don't will be compelled to offer in both domestic and international forums clear reasons why they are not adopting some aspects of the model. One important result of this debate within and among nations is the emergence, in some form, of more comprehensive and perhaps eventually more coherent visions of the structure and respective roles of higher education within their societies.

* John Aubrey Douglass is senior research fellow in the Center for Studies in Higher Education, CSHE, at the University of California, Berkeley.

* "Higher Education's New Global Order: How and why governments are creating structured opportunity markets" is a research paper by John Aubrey Douglass, published by CSHE. It reflects a pending chapter in the book Access, Equity and Capacity in Asia Pacific Higher Education (forthcoming Palgrave Macmillan), edited by Deane E Neubauer and Yoshiro Tanaka, and a presentation made at an international conference held at Cheng Chung University in Taiwan, co-sponsored by the East West Center. A summary of its themes was published earlier in the online Global University Network for Innovation newsletter published by UNESCO.