Going Global: Improving access to higher education

Many of the world’s leading universities joined with governments and global businesses at the British Council’s annual Going Global conference which took place in London in June.

The conference focused on the future of higher education and on the improvement of access to university for more people worldwide.Global messagesAung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Burmese opposition leader gave a video address to the conference in which she said that Burma has been left behind because of a weak education system, undemocratic politics and because the Burmese people have never been given a chance to realise their potential. “Now, when we are in a position to take a more active part in building up the future of our country, we want to equip our young people so they can make the best decisions. That to me seems the most important part of education – to help people make the best decisions,” she said.Jo Johnson, the new UK Minister for Universities and Science stated in an address to the conference that the UK aims to grow and improve its international education offerings. “We will roll out the red carpet to the brightest and best, to the talented workers and brilliant students that help Britain’s success,” he said. “There is no cap on the number of overseas students that come to study at our universities,” he added, but stressed a number of measures that are in place to ensure this applies to only genuine students.Researching success and changeAt the conference, the British Council announced the results of new research into the pathways to leadership of over 1,000 successful global leaders. The research identified that a degree in social sciences plus international experience are the two most common characteristics shared by today’s professional leaders around the world. Also during the conference, a manifesto for improving global access to higher education was launched by surveying delegates. Their three top choices for achieving equal access were:
  1. A funding model to remove wealth barriers to participation
  2. Addressing barriers that exist in countries or regions
  3. The development of pre-university programmes to aid transition to higher education.
Women in educationOpportunities for women in higher education were addressed throughout the conference.In her presentation, Fahima Aziz, Vice-Chancellor of Asian University for Women in Bangladesh said “it is assessed that poor quality education costs the world over $129bn a year. Women shoulder a disproportionate share of the illiteracy burden; more than two thirds of adult illiterates are female (UNESCO 2014). We need to change the structural and cyclical perpetrators of this crisis, a product of substandard teaching and inadequate investment in high quality education.”Professor Fanny Cheung, Pro-vice chancellor and Vice-President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong spoke of the fact that in Hong Kong women now outnumber male undergraduates by 53 per cent to 47 per cent. But then went on to say that only 35 per cent of the faculty and 4 per cent of the deans at the university are women.  This issue was also addressed by David Ruebain, Chief Executive of Equality Challenge Unit, UK who said that the chronic under-representation of women in higher education leadership in the UK is now a political imperative.The impact of demand for further and higher educationNearly a quarter of young people across the world now enrol in further or higher education courses according to a new international study which was debated in a session ‘Big, bold and brave’ during the conference.The study, conducted by the British Council in partnership with UNESCO and the World Bank titled Managing Large Systems states that the phenomenal growth of further and higher education has created super large education systems. According to the study, there are nine countries with such systems: Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, UK and the USA. Two thirds of all people in the world who are enrolled in further or higher education study in these nine countries.Growth in demand has brought both challenges and opportunities for these super large systems. They do better in global rankings and have greater opportunities for international collaboration, but they struggle with such problems as maintaining quality during times of fast growth.It was agreed at the conference that the management and future of these large systems is critical for the growth of global talent. It was also agreed that challenges can be best tackled by international knowledge sharing and the exchange of ideas and experiences; a common theme that resonated throughout the entire conference.Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of the British Council said “we acknowledge that all our futures are interwoven, that development and success come from mutual benefit and shared understanding. The best solutions to challenges are those created by pooling resources, finding the links between disciplines, and between different parts of the world sharing expertise and bringing a range of perspectives and experiences to bear on conventional ways of doing things.”

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