Higher education systems and institutions are very different now compared to 20 or 40 years ago. Worldwide, higher education has experienced several changes that can be summed up as processes of internationalisation, globalisation, commodification and massification.
Consider for a moment the fact that the number of students enrolled in tertiary education now exceeds 200 million globally, compared to 47 million in 1980. Enrolments are projected to exceed 660 million by 2040. This would represent 10% of the world’s population aged 15–79 by 2040, compared to 4% in 2012.
Over the next few decades, higher education will continue on a path of unparalleled transformation, invariably at different speeds depending on the ecosystem in which it operates.
Governments’ spending on tertiary education (as a proportion of all spending in education) is declining. In turn, students’ financial contribution to their own education is rapidly increasing. Governments’ spending on research and development is shifting to more funding being directed to applied (as opposed to pure) research. In turn, ‘big science’ projects are progressively being funded by industry and subjected to the global objectives of enterprises.
Higher education participation rates will continue to rise, particularly in emerging and developing countries. By 2040, most countries will have a participation rate that will exceed 60%.
The appetite for study abroad is likely to continue, albeit at lower growth rates compared to the boom years (late 1990s to mid-2000s). Short-term exchanges (such as the Erasmus programme or the ASEAN) are likely to be strengthened. Depending on global dynamics, the projected rate of growth to the year 2040 in the number of internationally mobile students enrolled in higher education could be anywhere from 9.1 million (low growth) to 12.3 million (medium growth) to 15.7 million (high growth).
For institutions and governments, the key message is that having effective and well articulated strategic partnerships and established collaboration agreements across all areas, in addition to addressing national priorities and agreed-upon policy objectives, will be essential.
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