Looking back at international higher eduction in 2013: The year of funding constraints, regulatory pressures and learning innovations

At the beginning of 2013, I projected that the three mega-trends influencing global higher education will be related to university budgets/funding, regulatory environment and technological innovations. I concluded that 2013 will be a year in which the higher education sector, will be under increasing pressure to justify its value, not only from financial and regulatory side pressures but due to emergence of competing technology-enabled learning models like MOOCs.

By the end of 2013, there have been several developments aligning with the  mega-trends forecast. Here are some of the key stories from 2013.

– Funding and university budgets: Given that higher education is tightly coupled with the economy, a sense of recovery is also reflecting a slight turnaround in university budgets in the US. However, optimism is not reflected in self-sufficiency through tuition revenue as the college enrollment in the US declines. In a recent survey,  about four in 10 public universities report that tuition revenue is not keeping pace with inflation and found negative trends including — inability to raise prices, declining enrollments and heightened regulatory and political pressure to keep down tuition. Likewise, private institutions are facing cost pressures and declining demand from traditional college going population. In the UK, the decline in funding from government council is compensated by significant growth in fee income from home and EU students. HEFCE funding for teaching will decline by £891 million in 2013-14 as compared to fee income from full-time home and EU undergraduates to increase by £1.4 billion. In Europe, the discourse of “efficient funding” is already picking momentum.

– Accreditation and quality assurance: Financial pressures and technological innovations are also changing the expectations for regulatory bodies and its relationship with funding. A recent report calls for reform and laments current system of regional accreditation in the US and recommends separating eligibility for federal education funding from the accreditation process and use of transparent performance metrics. Likewise, how accreditation agencies should adapt and respond to emerging models of learning remains a challenge. For example, the case of Ivy Bridge College raises questions about accreditation. Accrediting bodies also advised to let market forces decide innovations in online learning and MOOCs. In the UK, the policy direction supports universities to go abroad and engage “glocal students” through transnational education as compared to recruiting more students for the UK campuses. This in turn is raising the challenges and needs for quality assurance in transnational education.

– Technology-enabled learning innovations: In November 2012, The New York Times story “The Year of the MOOC” asked what does a student want to get from MOOCs experience. A year later, the question remains to be answered. MOOCs are still evolving, growing and adapting to make the “marketplace take-off“. Coursera added nearly 3 million students in one year and is now innovating to build a global network in partnership with US State Department. Although the barriers to the recognition of MOOCs as transferable academic credits still lingers, Europe is hoping to make credit transfers possible sooner than the US. At the same time, long standing institutions offering open and distance education are facing the competitive heat and responding by collaborating, competing or innovating. In this context, competency-based education seems to be higher education’s ‘next big thing’ which in turn can blend with MOOCs innovation to shaping the future of online higher education.

Overall, looking back at developments related to international higher education in 2013 indicate that the year was marked by funding constraints for universities, increasing regulatory pressures and technology-enabled learning innovations.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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