Higher education: Quality, equity and efficiency

OECD Education Ministers’ Meeting, 27-28 June 2006, Athens

Marietta Giannakou with Angel Gurría - Photo © OECD

Higher education cannot escape major and sometimes difficult change, and OECD governments were determined to lead those changes, rather than be driven by them. This was how Marietta Giannakou, minister of national education and religious affairs of Greece, wrapped up her conclusions as chair of the 2006 Education Ministers’ Meeting.

Reforms are needed in six areas, the minister pointed out. First, funding: some European countries in particular need to invest more in higher education, and new sources of funding may be needed. While some countries opposed fees for students, others now accept the OECD view that they can be effective if balanced by measures to support students from poorer backgrounds. This backs the second reform on the list towards more equitable education, and wider access to higher education to benefit all social groups.

A clearer focus on what students learn is the aim of the third reform. “We need to develop better evidence of learning outcomes”, the chair’s conclusions state, and note the OECD secretary-general’s offer to assist in developing new measures. Also, institutions should promote responsiveness and diversity, while incentives to make institutions more accountable for quality and outcomes should be improved.

Research and innovation is the fifth area, with ministers recognising both its capacity to drive growth and the twin challenges facing higher education systems of supporting world-class research and delivering benefits both locally and nationally.

Finally, migration and internationalisation affect education, as students, teachers and researchers increasingly study and work abroad. Countries need to look at immigration policies, as well as higher education policy itself, to develop coherent responses.

For the full Chair’s conclusions, see www.oecd.org/edumin2006.

New mindsets

Improving quality, governance, equity and funding in higher education were the main issues discussed at the 2006 education ministerial meeting in Athens. A challenge, as Angel Gurría suggests in his opening remarks to this, his first ministerial meeting as secretary-general of the OECD, is to “shift our focus from making systems of higher education bigger to making them better”. The presence at the two-day meeting of non-OECD countries Chile, Estonia, Israel, Russia, Slovenia and South Africa underlined the global dimension of education. Mr Gurría’s full remarks can be read at www.oecd.org/edumin2006.

Also available on the website are position papers on higher education by business and labour representatives. One OECD CERI paper sets out “Four Futures Scenarios for Higher Education”: Open Networking; Serving Local Communities; New Public Management; and Higher Education Inc. There are links to two articles from recent OECD Observers: first, “Higher education for a changing world”, a curtain raiser to the 2006 meeting by Barbara Ischinger, head of the OECD’s Education Directorate (No 255, May 2006); and second, “Europe’s university challenge”, by OECD expert Andreas Schleicher (No 254, March 2006).

©OECD Observer No. 256, July 2006



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