The Shape of Things to Come – Going Global 2012

The shape of things to come: global trends and emerging opportunities to 2022

I was privileged to chair this session at the British Council’s Going Global event on 15 March:

Over the next five to ten years, which will be the countries with fastest growing higher education systems? Which countries will have environments rich in opportunities for student mobility; for cross-border education provision; and for collaborative research? The new research from the British Council begins to provide answers to these questions. It reveals the new big emerging markets for international students, along with those countries that will be most open for international collaboration in teaching and research. Earlier British Council studies found that the number of students seeking to study overseas depends heavily on family income and the number of students enrolled in domestic higher education. It now depends more on trade links, cost of living and tuition, and exchange rates between the respective countries. The Global Education Opportunities Index maps the economic growth projections and demographic indicators across countries, along with global trade links, to highlight the areas where most opportunities will emerge for international collaboration and student mobility. Dr Janet Ilieva provides an overview of the approach taken and the research methodology, and presents the main findings. The expert panel from UNESCO Institute for Statistics and the OECD then debate the relevance of the opportunities and the implications of this research.

Janet Ilieva delivered an excellent presentation setting out the details of the combination of demographic and economic drivers which will re-shape the global higher education landscape – the data, evidence and forecasts which will be needed by institutions to enable them to address opportunities for student mobility, TNE and collaborative research.

The presentation covered

  • Globally mobile students
  • The internationalisation of research
  • Business collaboration
  • Opportunities for global engagement

Chiao-Ling Chien of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Richard Yelland from the OECD responded with some important additional comments too with the latter noting that we also need to pay proper attention to the other 98% of non-mobile students.

Whilst the content delivered represented significant progress and valuable information, the concerns from the audience largely related to the quality, consistency and timeliness of data.

The video of Janet’s presentation and her slides can be found here. Do have a look. Overall, it was fascinating stuff and a real honour to participate.

The report from which the data was drawn will be published soon. In the meantime University World News carried some of the information contained in it and in Janet’s presentation with the headlines being the slowdown in the growth of higher education enrolments and the impact of economic changes on the HE landscape. First the demographics:

The largest higher education systems are likely to be China with some 37 million students, India with 28 million, the US with 20 million and Brazil with nine million.

However higher education, currently one of the fastest growing sectors globally, is predicted to experience a significant slowdown in the rate of growth in enrolments in the coming decades.

This is according to the report The Shape of Things to Come: Higher education global trends and emerging opportunities to 2020, drawn up for the British Council by Oxford Economics. It is to be published officially next month, but a preview was released ahead of the British Council’s “Going Global” conference being held in London from 13-15 March.

The study forecasts enrolments to grow by 21 million students by 2020 – a huge rise in overall numbers and an average growth rate of 1.4% per year across 50 selected countries that account for almost 90% of higher education enrolments globally.

But this represents a considerable slowdown compared to the 5% a year global enrolment growth typical of the previous two decades, and record enrolment growth of almost 6% between 2002 and 2009.

Tertiary enrolments have grown by 160% globally since 1990, or by some 170 million new students.

This slowing in growth “should be expected with the sector maturing or slowing in some markets, and demographic trends no longer as favourable as a result of declining birth rates over the last 20 to 30 years,” says the report.

rowth in enrolments in China are predicted to fall from a 17 million increase to five million, according to the report’s projections. India’s tertiary enrolment growth overall is forecast to outpace China’s during the period.

“This does not take into account the political ambitions and aspirations of these countries,” said Janet Illieva, the British Council’s head of research, who will be presenting some of the research findings at the “Going Global” conference this week.

“If India manages to double participation rates in the next five years, this will be a phenomenal increase,” she said, referring to Indian government plans to increase gross enrolments from 17% of the cohort now to around 30% in the next decade.

Economic growth fuels enrolments

Over the last 20 years, growth in global higher education enrolments and internationally mobile students has closely followed world trade growth and has far outpaced world economic growth.

“What is changing is GDP (economic wealth), and economic growth which has a very significant impact on tertiary enrolment,” Illieva told University World News.

A country’s average wealth is seen as a clear driver of future tertiary education demand. “Not only is the relationship positive and statistically significant, but perhaps more importantly, at low GDP per capita levels, gross tertiary enrolment ratios tend to increase quickly for relatively small increases in GDP per capita,” the report says.

Around half the 50 countries studied currently have GDP per capita levels below US$10,000 a year. “Provided these economies grow strongly over the next decade, as many are forecast to, there is significant scope for their tertiary enrolment ratios to increase.”

But despite strong economic growth, many of the shortlisted economies are forecast to still have GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity) below US$10,000 in 2020 – including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Morocco, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

This is likely to constrain how quickly these countries close the gap in enrolment rates compared to advanced economies. But it also means continued rises in enrolment ratios and strong growth in tertiary education demand beyond 2020.

“Where income is below US$10,000 a year, a proportional increase in income results in a much higher rise in the rate of enrolments than you would expect,” said Illieva.

Things really are changing. Look forward to seeing the full report when it is published.


International Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO)

OECD is undertaking a Feasibility Study for the International Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO)

The outline of the programme, published here, is as follows:

The OECD Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) is a ground-breaking initiative to assess learning outcomes on an international scale by creating measures that would be valid for all cultures and languages. Between ten and thirty-thousand higher education students in over ten different countries will take part in a feasibility study to determine the bounds of this ambitious project, with an eye to the possible creation of a full-scale AHELO upon its completion.

The 21st Century is witnessing the rapid transformation of higher education. More students than ever before enter higher education and a growing number study abroad. The job market demands new skills and adaptability, and HEIs (“Higher Education Institutions”, which include universities, polytechnic schools and colleges) struggle to hold their own in a fiercely competitive marketplace. Ministers at the Athens Conference agreed that OECD countries needed to take a further step by making higher education not only more available but of better quality, and that current assessment methods were not fully adequate to meet these changes. An alternative had to be found. AHELO is the result.

There are, however, some real problems with this approach. Let’s look first at the elements of the study:

The factors affecting higher education are woven so tightly together that they must first be teased apart before an accurate assessment can be made. The AHELO feasibility study thus explores four complementary strands.

The four strands are:

    – generic skills
    – discipline specific strands in engineering and economics
    – learning in context: physical and organisational characteristics; education-related behaviours and practices. including “student-faculty interaction, academic challenge, emphasis on applied work”; psycho-social and cultural attributes; behavioral and attitudinal outcomes.
    – value-added (fraught with difficulty)

All seems worthy and laudable stuff, particularly the desire to move away from the reductionism of international league tables in favour of a more rounded and teaching and learning focused view. However, the approach is fundamentally flawed in its core assumption that learning outcomes are assessable in a meaningful and comparable way and indeed that this is desirable in higher education. This approach is therefore quite mistaken. One of the reasons that the factors affecting HE are so closely woven together is because of their inter-dependence and inseperability. The approach to assessing learning outcomes which seems to underpin the study has its origins in the Learning By Objectives movement of the last century from the USA: it failed there as a means of assuring standards of education and does not offer a way forward here. Looking to make the outcomes explicit and judge the standards of those outcomes and then compare them is misguided.

This is because explicitness about such outcomes, cannot, in itself, convince us that those outcomes are being achieved or that they are correct or even worthwhile. Even if we were in a position where we were able to describe the standards embodied by such outcomes satisfactorily (a questionable assumption), this could in no way be taken as assurance that such standards were being achieved or indeed that anyone fully understood what was meant by such descriptors. There is no necessary correlation between description and understanding – rather this would represent an extended and complicated version of a naming fallacy.

An extract from my book (with apologies for the self-referencing) ‘Dangerous Medicine: Problems with Assuring Standards and Quality in UK Higher Education‘ (p158-9) reinforces this:

Commenting on assessment in US education, Stake highlights the failure of large scale mandatory externally imposed assessment in schools in the USA to improve standards. He argues that the consequences of this assessment regime need to be more fully evaluated in order better to inform policy but the lessons for the UK are instructive. Glass, pursuing a similar theme, criticises the ‘nonchalance’ of ‘experts’ in dealing with the issue of standards, particularly in relation to those concerned, such as Mager, with the setting of behavioural objectives (from which the origins of the UK competence movement can be traced) and observes that the ‘language of performance standards is pseudoquantification, a meaningless application of numbers to a question not prepared for quantitative analysis’. He further examines the evolution of ‘criterion-referenced testing’ in which he describes the meaning of ‘criterion’ as a ‘case study in confusion and corruption of meaning’. Glass takes particular exception to the use of cut-off scores to differentiate performance where, ultimately, a decision on whether ‘to ‘pass’ 30% vs. 80% is judgmental, capricious, and essentially unexamined’, ie totally arbitrary.

It is important to note the culturally specific origins of these ideas which were developed in the United States in the 1930s; adaptations of Tyler’s approach became extremely influential there in the 1960s with the country desperately seeking technological advance and therefore open to an industrially-oriented and rational model which, in providing specified and measurable behavioural objectives, was inevitably attractive to federal and state funders. Although the circumstances are rather different in a post-millennial UK, the HE sector nevertheless appears to be moving towards adopting a new version of 70-year old model, a bastardised interpretation of which failed in another country 30 years ago. There are many other problems associated with the learning by objectives approach but it is worth noting Stake in his retrospective on his earlier paper ‘The Countenance of Educational Evaluation’ admitting, in slightly apologetic tone, his error in stating in the paper ‘that evaluators could improve their judgements of quality by identifying congruence between intent and outcome’. As Stake acknowledges, all this does is assist with description and understanding and such congruence says nothing about the merit of the course, programme or the individual student’s learning evaluated. As Norris observes, objectives-based evaluation inevitably leads to an over-valuing of measurable tasks and assumes that values are relatively unimportant.

So, I would suggest that this is really the wrong approach to be taking.


Stake, R (July 1998), ‘Some Comments on Assessment in US Education’, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 6(14) http://www.olam.ed.asu/epaa
Glass, G V (1978), ‘Standards and Criteria’, Journal of Educational Measurement, 15(4), pp237-261.
Stake, R E (1991), ‘Retrospective on the Countenance of Educational Evaluation’ in McLaughlin, M W and Phillips, D C (1991), Evaluation and Education at Quarter Century: Nineteenth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, pp67-88.
Stake, R E (1967), ‘The Countenance of Educational Evaluation’, Teachers College Record, 68(7), pp52-69.
Norris, N (1990), Understanding Educational Evaluation, London: Kogan Page.

Another winning QA idea: international standardisation

From the Chronicle

Quest for International Measures of Higher-Education Learning Results Raises Concerns

A fledgling international effort to develop comparable assessment standards for measuring how much students are learning at higher-education institutions throughout the world is provoking concern from several quarters, even though the project is still in its preliminary stages.

The project is being led by the OECD and it seems that at a meeting of education ministers they were a bit short of discussion topics over dinner:

the apparent dearth of available data on student-learning outcomes prompted discussion about how to fill that void. “It became evident that there are a lot of measurements about research outcomes at institutions of higher education, but what about the learning outcomes?” said Barbara Ischinger, director for education at the organization, which is known as the OECD.


“The notion of measuring students’ achievement within the United States has been very controversial,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. “The notion of developing a mechanism to do it across the world seems orders of magnitude more controversial.”

(which is putting it mildly)

The OECD has held two meetings of about a dozen experts this year, with a third scheduled for next month in Seoul, South Korea. “We’ve started to exchange information and views about existing assessment programs in some countries,” said Ms. Ischinger. “It is now shaping up more into a direction of what could be done in terms of assessing generic-skills competencies, such as analytical reasoning, critical thinking, and also discipline-related competencies — for instance, in the natural sciences and engineering.”

But this is hard enough to achieve within disciplines, it’s pretty challenging at the institutional level and next to impossible in any meaningful way in a national context. It is difficult to imagine quite how generic these things are going to be when articulated in a (literally) universal way.

No grounds for concern though, it will all be up to us to decide:

According to summaries of the minutes of the first two meetings, the OECD has decided to focus its approach, at least initially, on voluntary participation at the institutional level.