Higher education is changing because governments are changing. The benefit from higher education, for the individual and the country, where the qualification is put to work, is invaluable. Building toward a brighter future for oneself, whilst growing an economy, makes higher education the main vehicle that drives up the potential of a country and its people.
Evolving governments need to secure the employment of professionals produced by higher education institutions to ensure their countries do not experience a brain drain, otherwise known as education immigration.
Graduates, who have acquired internationally recognized skills with internationally recognized qualifications, will naturally weigh up their options. Losing this expertise is a great concern to governments around the world.
President-elect Donald Trump’s education agenda remains to be seen, but he has chosen his Secretary of Education; a woman named Betsy DeVos. DeVos is allegedly a “billionaire philanthropist” with questionable experience in the education industry. With some power in the newly Republican Congress, education could become something quite new and compared to the system that has existed for the last eight years.
In the United Kingdom there is also some uncertainty. Prime Minister Theresa May has warned the United Kingdom that “Brexit means Brexit.” Experts have cautioned the changes to higher education will be irrevocable as the country gets closer to leaving the European Union. There is nervousness about the changing immigration laws following a Brexit.
The Guardian asked Sally Hunt, the general secretary of University and College Union, what she predicts will happen in the next twelve months. She said: “Sadly, I predict the Brexit related brain-drain of academics will gather further pace unless the government acts quickly to guarantee the rights of current EU staff and students to remain, and secures continued access to EU research programmes.”
This is what the former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, lamented in 2015, “The number of skilled people and professionals our continent has lost over the decades is truly frightening.” He went on to say: “It is estimated that more African scientists and engineers live and work in the USA and the UK than anywhere else in the world.”
There are other issues which threaten the stability of higher education and the commitment of bright learners to study in their own countries. Students in the UK, for instance, have indicated that they might take part in fresh strikes to protest accommodation rent prices.
Similarly, South Africa could be facing another bout of protests in 2017. The top-tier higher education institutions in the country have opted to hike their fees by 8%. It was just such a threat which sent South African universities into an uproar in 2016, after which students began to demand free higher education.
The grade 12 class of 2016 in South Africa has said they expect the first year of their career-building tertiary education to be turbulent. Some experts fear that prospective students have already investigated studying abroad; a situation which will further exacerbate the country’s skills gaps in key STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries.
More alarmingly, and another concern for students in African nations, is that many universities are not meeting higher education standards. Phillip L Clay, a professor of city planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology writes: While many African institutions have made recent strides and are well regarded, only four African universities outside of South Africa are among the world’s top 500 universities.
What does remain clear is that higher education institutions and governments need to remain on their toes, wherever they are. To be serious about securing and growing their countries’ economies they need to aim to provide excellence in education and ensure they retain the products of this education.
Furthermore, to succeed in this regard they will also need to make a concerted effort to embrace, as Joseph Aoun mentions in his article, Beyond the Limits of Traditional Learning, “……new teaching and learning innovations…….because they make higher education more customer-centric, have the potential to increase student retention, graduation rates and overall attainment.
"Higher Education Network." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.
"Model for the Transformation of Higher Education in Africa - University World News." RSS. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.
"The Extent of Africa's Brain Drain Is 'frightening': Mbeki." The Extent of Africa's Brain Drain Is 'frightening': Mbeki. Web. 06 Jan. 2017.