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Symposium 2012

Solution for Redefining Universities

The Challenge

There are two big trends in higher education: "individualization" and "massification." The former is important mainly in developed countries whereas the latter takes places mainly in developing countr ...

There are two big trends in higher education: "individualization" and "massification." The former is important mainly in developed countries whereas the latter takes places mainly in developing countries. Yet distinctions between the systems of developed and developing countries cannot be sharply drawn: on the one hand, outstanding students from developing countries want individualized education; and on the other hand, aspiring students from developed countries want good value for money (which means massification).

Refocus institutional accreditation on criteria that really matter: efficient quality control and appropriate learning outcomes.

Governments have a strong lever in promoting change in higher education: they decide which institutions can award degrees. At present, accreditation is often focused on outmoded signals of institutional quality— floor area, number of library books and the like.

There is no doubt that governments should set lower limits on what counts as "higher education"—not least to protect students from "wrong" and unprofitable educational investments. But the core question in redefining universities is whether a higher education institution serves the essential purpose of a university: that it follows a consistent educational strategy with coherent curricula and appropriate quality assurance mechanisms to deliver successful predefined learning outcomes. Accreditation procedures should insist on this basic and quality-defining criterion—but do no more than this.

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