Session highlights

One thing that binds Higher Education institutions around the world together is the inequity around who participates.” Dr Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network and Head of the Centre for Levelling Up at University of West London 

  • In a session on inequity in the global HE system, the Lumina Foundation’s Courtney Brown argued that HE needed to “re-think, re-imagine and quickly adapt” to meet the needs of students. She said that today’s students are more racially and ethnically diverse, more likely to work full-time alongside classes, and more likely to experience poverty and food insecurity. She added that a degree is more vital than ever, since only 7,000 of the 916,000 jobs added in the US economy in March were filled by someone with just a secondary education.
  • Francesc Pedró, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, said that access rates to HE in Latin America had “exploded” in the last decade. But on average, the likelihood of entering HE is seven times higher if you come from the highest socioeconomic background. He said that governments had increased support available to students during the pandemic, but he expressed concern about whether that might diminish in future fiscal years.
  • What can be done to reduce inequity? Leonie Nagarajan of the Asia-Europe Foundation said 51 countries in the EU and ASEAN were collaborating to achieve more inclusive and balanced international exchange, inclusive and flexible lifelong learning opportunities, transversal skills development, and transparency and mutual understanding on recognition, validation and quality assurance. Following a breakout session, delegates also discussed having more support for students throughout their university experience, not just at the enrolment phase.

Session summary

This session combines four short presentations with participatory breakout discussions. The goal is to sketch out a practical roadmap for higher education sectors to redress the entrenched inequalities in access to higher education. The reality is that access to higher education is unequal by social background in every country in the world for which evidence exists (more than 90% of them).

Panellists will present new research and ask whether the 2020s are fated to be a lost decade in efforts to make higher education participation more equal. Is a permanent pivot to online learning the road to equal access, or does the digital divide promise only new inequalities? Or does the disruption from the pandemic – which itself has heightened the impacts of inequality on social and economic outcomes – open the space for a genuine shift in approach on who benefits from higher education?

The panel is moderated by Dr Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Education Opportunities Network and Head of the Centre for Levelling Up at University of West London, and comprises the following international experts:

  • Roberta Malee Bassett, Global Lead for Tertiary Education, World Bank, USA
  • Courtney Brown, VP of Impact and Planning, Lumina Foundation, USA
  • Francesc Pedró, Director of UNESCO Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, Venezuela
  • Leonie Nagarajan, Director of Education Department, Asia-Europe Foundation, Singapore

Panellists will briefly present their organisations’ work on equity and access to higher education, covering the importance of equity targets, how equity and access are shaped by national and regional values on the purpose of higher education, the role of higher education in economic recovery through the 2020s, and the need and opportunities for international collaboration in realising equity and access.

Participants will be given a preview of new research from the Asia Europe Foundation and World Access to Higher Education Day (WAHED). This will outline existing policies for HE equity and access in some 50 countries.

After these presentations, each panellist will lead an interactive breakout discussion to identify three actions relevant to the presentation that lead us to greater equity and access to higher education.

Participants will be offered the opportunity to realise the roadmap by joining one of four WAHED working groups. Groups are in the areas of Advocacy and Policy, Online and digital learning, Innovations in equity and Building new Partnerships for Equity.