The director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College charted trends in university systems across the globe during a talk Tuesday at Harvard.
In particular, Director Philip G. Altbach said poor people around the world continue to see growing access to higher education. He used the United States as an example: “From the 1960s up to today, we see a tendency of higher education in the United States moving from being only accessible to elites, to including general masses of people, and ultimately towards the direction of being universally accessible.”
Altbach, a professor at Boston College who focuses on educational leadership and higher education, also said that students are increasingly going abroad for their educations—opting for semester-long study abroad programs or full-time enrollment outside their home countries.
While students are becoming more mobile globally, large numbers are especially flocking from Asia to English-speaking countries.
Altbach said that, among other reasons for students’ newfound mobility, they often can’t find the education they are looking for in their home countries.
Meanwhile, some countries are shaping their university systems to attract the best and the brightest from around the world.
“Germany had for a long time treated all its universities equally. The end result is that most German universities lagged behind in global rankings,” Altbach said. “In response to this problem, Germany began to adopt the differentiating system which focuses resources on certain distinguished universities. This strategy has indeed increased the positions of a number of German universities on global rankings,” he said.
In response to one question about the need for universal higher education, Altbach said there have been arguments from both sides.
“I can’t really say whether it’s necessary,” Altbach said. “But I can say that the higher education nowadays is indeed moving towards that direction.”
The lecture was hosted by Harvard Graduate School of Education Comparative Higher Education, a student-run organization that plans to hold seminars and discussion panels throughout the year.