Globalization and Higher Education:
Implications for North - South Dialogue

A conference to explore the challenges individual institutions and national higher education systems are facing in a global environment, in response to the pressures of an emerging knowledge society and economic growth is being organized by UNESCO and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research in Oslo, Norway from 26-27 May 2003.

This conference, entitled "Globalization and Higher Education: Implications for North - South Dialogue" is a follow up to the Global Forum on International Quality Assurance, Accreditation and the Recognition of Qualifications launched as part of UNESCO's mission to respond to the ethical and political challenges of globalization. This Conference will focus on how policy makers and higher education institutions can develop a common platform on policy guidelines, frameworks and instruments, and UNESCO's role in this context, with a special focus on sharing responsibilities between the North and the South.

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Globalization and Higher Education:
The Implications for North-South Dialogue

Education, including higher education, is vitally important to all nations, given the critical role of education in economic, cultural and social development. Therefore, education is considered to be a national responsibility.

This has been reasserted by the 1998 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education, in the Declaration adopted by its 5,000 participants from 182 states with 30 Ministers of Education which underlined that "public support for higher education and research remain essential to ensure a balanced achievement of educational and social missions" (Article 14).

While it is true that higher education has always been formally designed as a structure for the production, transfer and dissemination of advanced knowledge, the emergence of a knowledge-based society and economy has placed new pressures on it. The need for a flexible and versatile workforce, one that is constantly learning and upgrading its skills, has led to a continual demand for courses in which employees are re-trained and updated on a lifelong basis. Students now have to be prepared for a labour market in which they can be expected to change jobs many times, and they need to acquire appropriate skills that are transferable and portable across sectors, countries and cultures.

In some countries, higher education has already changed from elite to mass or even universal education. In other countries, the demand for higher education is increasing much faster than the growth in educational capacity. Crossing national borders to obtain a degree has been part of higher education for a long time. Recently, private higher education institutions have been set up in many countries to meet the demand, some are branches of foreign institutions or private companies, and some are transnational operations. They may or may not co-operate with the educational authorities in the country.

Higher education institutions have to take account of the strategies and activities of new highly competitive suppliers, both nationally and internationally. In addition, new forms of information and communication technology are eroding the national borders of higher education systems with important consequences for quality assurance, the protection of consumer and intellectual property rights, cultural maintenance and national identity.

Services in higher education are a growing activity which is branching out into: (1) the new providers of higher education (2) new modes of delivery, such as distance learning via the Internet, radio, and television; and (3) new activities, such as educational support services and educational testing services. Other changes in the domestic and international structure of higher education markets have promoted the development of "other" higher education services that support educational processes or systems, such as educational testing services, student exchange program services, and study-abroad facilitation services. In 1999, the international market for global higher education was estimated at U.S. $30 billion. Currently, more than 1.5 million students study abroad and this number is growing.

Until recently higher education was largely neglected in the debates on the consequences of trade liberalisation and the establishment of regional trade agreements. Initially this was also the case in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations on services. However, more and more higher education stakeholders have become aware of the possible effects of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). A main emphasis in the debates has been on the consequences of WTO/GATS for individual institutions. However, in addition to the institutional interests also the national or public interests should be discussed publicly.

What are the challenges for individual institutions and national higher education systems in this global environment? How can the role of education in economic, cultural and social development be secured in both the industrialised and the developing nations? How can the pressures from an emerging knowledge-based society and economy be met? How do trade agreements, global as well as regional ones, affect the control of national governments on their higher education system? How should quality assurance and accreditation issues be addressed at the national, regional, supranational and global levels? How can policy makers and higher education institutions develop a common platform on policy guidelines, frameworks and instruments, and what should be UNESCO's role?

The discussions will be based on the Action Plan proposed by the Global Forum on International Quality Assurance, Accreditation and the recognition of Qualifications (Paris, 17-18 October 2002) and within the overarching theme of the Conference " Higher Education and Globalization " will focus on the North-South dialogue.

The Conference participants will represent a wide range of stakeholders in higher education; governments, higher education institutions, researchers, students and teacher associations as well as new transborder providers of higher education.

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