Welcome to my world. Won’t you come on in?

by Valérie Lafon
Analyst – Institutional Management in Higher Education

As a young mother, in relation to my children’s age, and being the ripe old age of 40, I am discovering the daily ritual of education.

Education, we believe, will make our children’s dreams real, open the door to knowledge and experiences, help them grow, and ultimately give them the tools to live a happy, well-rounded life with a fulfilling career.

Filled with goodwill, well-informed thanks to working at the OECD and steeped in the notion that higher education will provide my children with the best and most appropriate skills, I found myself, like many other parents, lost in this new environment.

Looking at all of these issues, different worlds having different rules with goals at times at odds with each other and difficult to reconcile. Five separate worlds…

The world of learning

A plethora of various stakeholders are saturating the media and students are fighting to be heard. Perhaps so many different players makes it difficult to figure out who wants what.

  • How do these students see their future? What do they expect? What do they want?
  • How to bring their aspirations into the debate?

The world of knowledge 

Mass higher education affects all countries and academic systems. Participation, role, impact, and responsability of higher education institutions have taken on greater significance and will continue to do so.

  • How can institutions maintain and improve quality despite limited resources?
  • Which institutional strategies are more effective to improve students’ learning experience and keep them engaged and motivated?
  • How to help students, parents and governments make informed choices based on information that has been certified, verified and accepted internationally?

The world of public goods

Developed economies rely on skilled labour to drive productivity and economic growth as well as to support social cohesion. Besides, the economic benefit of higher education is good for individuals as well as society.

  • How can governments, or should governments, steer higher education?
  • How to hold on to the public good while faced with the commodification of higher education?
  • How to reconcile individual aspirations, the public good and the economic reality?

The world of economics

As skills are a country’s future, each and every government should be thinking about how to manage these skills strategically. Erasing the “bright red dividing line” between education and work will require, among many other things, greater collaboration between education systems and industry.

  • How to recreate the link between higher education and the job market?
  • What skills does the knowledge economy need most and how to strike the balance between specific skills and generic skills?

Planet Earth

Lastly comes globalisation, the planet, English as the dominant language, the internet, facebook, twitter, McDonalds, the financial crisis and, within the higher education market, we can add rankings and student mobility. To be free to make the right choices, we need to understand the balance of power, and then the landscape becomes even more complex!

Sometimes at night, after the children have gone to bed, I think about the different colours of all these different worlds. How do we bring these worlds together and build bridges rather than remain in silos? The OECD is organising a conference in Paris from 17 to 19 September that will examine the issues around mass higher education. Governments, universities, students and the private sector will discuss the present and the future of higher education

I will be wearing two hats: that of a parent, and that of an OECD analyst. Will you join me?

Follow the Conference live on twitter @OECD_Edu and @OECDLive (#OECDIMHE)

General Conference 2012: “Attaining and Sustaining Mass Higher Education”
OECD Skills Strategy
Education at a Glance: www.oecd.org/edu/eag2012
Visit our interactive portal on skills: http://skills.oecd.org
Photo credit: World globes / Shutterstock

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