A Tectonic Shift in Global Higher Education

John Daniel, Asha Kanwar, Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic, Change, Aug 16, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

It would be tempting but wrong to swiftly dismiss this article. The heart of the argument is this: "Undoubtedly, tens of millions of young adults in the third world will be seeking postsecondary education in the coming years... By necessity, those nations are likely to seek a much greater role for private, for-profit institutions than is the case in the developed world. We predict that, seeing a massive market opening, for-profit institutions in the developed world will expand their cross-border provision of educational services, especially distance and e-learning. Establishing quality assurance mechanisms for such rapid expansion thus will be a major challenge for governments."

Leave aside the fact that this crisis was caused by the very people who will now purport to fix it - the World Bank, for example, actively discouraged investments in higher education. The solution being proposed is that governments charge tuition fees, thus "leveling the playing field" for private institutions, who can then attract grants to create scholarhips, thus creating the premise of the argument, a more equitable access than via a free tuition policy.

"The net result will be that within a decade or two, private, for-profit provision, already estimated at $350 billion worldwide, is likely to account for a larger proportion of higher education in the developing countries than it now does in the industrialized world." Maybe so. Keeping the flim-flam artists out will require a major effort, which explains the emphasis on quality. And that's where WTO and OECD are putting their efforts. For those interested in learning, however, open educational resources and internet access to communities of practice - a methodology barely discussed by the authors - will serve the genuine need. So long, that is, as we can ensure that these same trade regulations do not make open access - and freedom - illegal.
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