Indianapolis, Indiana - 1995

Global Issues in Higher Education and Lifelong Learning

presented by
Nancy C. Sprotte, President
1995 AACRAO Annual Meeting

This year, I had the opportunity to represent AACRAO at three international conferences. Our association has enjoyed a long-standing exchange relationship with the Association of University Administrators (AUA) in the United Kingdom. This year, we initiated an exchange program with the European Association for International Education (EAIE). Because of the timing of the conferences last fall, I was also able to participate in the First Global Conference on Lifelong Learning, where AACRAO was one of the sponsors. International education issues and those of distance and lifelong learning are strategies identified for two of the Goals contained in AACRAO's Strategic Plan.

I would like to share with you some of the impressions I gathered from those conferences. I'm not sure that I would categorize them as 'universal themes' or common problems we are all facing, but I did find some similarities between discussions at those conferences and many of the issues we have been discussing this week. Through continued discussions and cooperative efforts, I hope that we can learn from each other's experiences and develop the best solutions possible.

At the EAIE and AUA conferences, many sessions discussed quality assurance, both in academic programs and student services areas. This continues to be an important function throughout Europe, and there are a number of agencies involved in assessment processes. On the other hand, our plenary speaker at the AUA conference in Bristol predicted that the United Kingdom would move more toward an accreditation model than governmental quality assessment. Of course, he had just admitted to having missed on several of his predictions of ten years ago about where they would be today.

Student mobility and exchange programs continue to be encouraged within the European community. We should encourage our own students and campuses to become involved in these activities. It is a wonderfully enriching experience that will become increasingly valuable as the world continues to shrink for the next generation. It is important for us to understand the educational systems of the rest of the world, and to spend time explaining ours to them. Without an understanding of each other's systems, it will be difficult to appropriately place students as they move between countries and institutions. This will continue to be an activity that AACRAO considers an important part of our strategic plan.

There have been a number of changes in the educational system of Great Britain, and more are predicted. Three years ago their universities and polytechnic institutions merged, and there was an effort to greatly expand access to higher education. The UK believes a highly educated population is important for it's continued growth and development the in the global community. This rapid expansion resulted in a number of challenges that sounded very familiar. The government has experienced difficulty in funding the tremendous growth that occurred, and they've had to reduce the rate of increase; they are also discussing the possibility of means testing for full-time enrollment fees. In the future, they may look at mergers, amalgamations and alliances to reduce unnecessary redundancy in academic programs. Our plenary speaker suggested that technology rather than policies will drive change in the future, and that may have serious impact on some subjects; he asked the question- how much of teaching is information delivery vs. human interchange.

At the Lifelong Learning conference, I heard some of these same issues raised. There were discussions about the many activities that are happening around the globe, for that conference was attended by 500 people from 50 countries. According to UNESCO, Lifelong Learning is central to development; it is critical for us:

  • to reach the un-reached; and
  • to include the excluded

The European Community is actively promoting 'Socrates,' a student exchange program. They are also introducing 'Leonardo,' a vocational exchange program.

In the Netherlands, Lifelong Learning is critical to them. Their unions have negotiated the right for workers to go to university with a paid day off, for 5 days a year. This agreement was made in exchange for decreases in wages. In fact, some employers even pay the cost of education. There is a similar agreement in Sao Paolo, Brazil, which gives workers 2 weeks.

Many of the plenary sessions discussed 'learning societies' and possible roles for organizations, business, individuals, technology and resources, in promoting the 'learning society.' Following a great deal of discussion, the higher education group began to separate some of the issues, as they tried to consider the role of higher education in Lifelong Learning.

  • Learning and "certification" of learning may be separate issues. Learning is attached to the person, not to the institution.
  • There needs to be a shift in emphasis from teaching to learning.
  • When discussing learning, we should consider different aspects of the issue:
  • forms of learning
  • assessment of learning
  • documentation of learning
  • We must redefine the role of the university in lifelong learning, both formal and informal learning. Within Higher education, we should use our capacity to change cultural attitudes for learning so that Lifelong Learning becomes the norm.
  • Are we really looking at a situation of competition for students or excess demand? We must beware of the "Not invented here" syndrome.
  • Quality of material and of students may be different as we consider different aspects of lifelong learning.

A number of principles seemed to emerge in the discussion:

  • there are two audiences - young and adult
  • we must deregulate time-cycle models of education
  • partnerships should be explored as much as possible - public, private, and individual partnerships
  • we must engage in a permanent search for a new production function for learning/teaching

The conference strand for those of us in higher education developed a summary report, following a number of plenary speakers and several roundtable discussions:

  1. Higher Education is not context-free, and there is no one model to look to. The country, circumstances, and stages of development are all different; there are formal and informal systems for teaching and learning; and there are social, economic and political differences. The conclusion of the group is that those of us in higher education are facilitators of learning, not the sole dispensers of knowledge.
  2. Do others' experiences suit our cases? We should compare experiences, adopt successful approaches and develop cooperative programs where appropriate. As an example, school-to-work transition programs don't work where there is high, structural unemployment, so such models may not be totally transferable.
  3. Access to learning is socially, economically, and politically mediated. This may affect how programs are developed and delivered. For example, how will teaching- the imparting knowledge or information- be delivered in a society where currently there is a high degree of control over information?
  4. What strategy should we use to stimulate demand? What is the place of the collectivity in Lifelong Learning?
  5. How should Lifelong Learning be funded? What is the basic social ethic behind the services we are offering?
  6. Increasingly, there is an international dimension to Lifelong Learning-
    • Are learning systems transcending national borders?
    • Intellectual copyright and tariff issues must be addressed.

In the global context, an African delegate raised the question of equity - will technology separate the have's from the have not's? He called on us to consider diversity and access issues as we seek solutions. While this is a critical question for developing countries, it is also something that we must consider within our own country, as we reach out to potential students who traditionally have been underrepresented in higher education.

There are many challenges facing higher education, no matter what country you are in or what conference you are attending. Each of us has something to contribute toward meeting them. AACRAO has come a long way in the years I have been involved with it. Our Association will continue to provide leadership in these and many other areas; that will help us to better serve our institutions and our students as we become active partners in the global community, as well as the work we have to do here at home. I encourage each one of you to become actively involved in this Association and the fine work it does.