Two participants at Going Global conference 2023 animatedly looking at the programme booklet.

Key takeaways from day two of the conference

Dr Michael Fung, Executive Director of the Institute for the Future of Education at the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, in a Middle Plenary session chaired by Professor Sir Steve Smith, UK Government international Education Champion outlined five major paradigm shifts that are needed to transform higher education to adequately respond to challenges presented by emerging trends affecting the sector.

The way higher education and training collaborates with employers and addresses employability issues nationally and internationally was brought into focus in packed sessions exploring the role of TNE and employer engagement.

Champions for gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the higher education sector from six countries and three regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia, explored areas of progress and barriers still to be overcome, while representatives from the UK, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Peru and Malaysia considered ways to encourage better career progression for women in STEM subjects.

There were calls for a global change in mindset towards disability inclusion in higher education, a worldwide framework for helping to entrench it in the metrics for universities, and a systemic change programme to set standards for universities in this area.

A session on climate crisis explored the role that universities worldwide can play in identifying and developing competencies needed to address the climate change crisis.

Five major trends creating a paradigm shift in higher education 

Dr Michael Fung, Executive Director of the Institute for the Future of Education at the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, identified five major trends that are prompting a need for a paradigm shift in higher education: technological advancements, longer lifespans, shifting demographics, reconfiguration of global supply chains, and the impact of pandemics. Dr Fung said, that in order ‘to respond effectively to these changes, we must address the changing needs for knowledge, for skills and for attitudes of our populations throughout their lives.’

These changes are needed to transform the higher education sector and in order to respond to challenges presented by the major trends, Dr Fung added the sector must ‘move from traditionally limited academic pathways to a model where there is a large range of multiple modular pathways; moving from a front-loaded education model to one that is lifelong in nature; shifting from a classroom-centric educational model to one that's work based and blended; switching from emphasis on typical knowledge and skills to broader nurturing of transversal and adaptive skills; and moving from a model of education that is primarily provided by the public sector to one that engenders public-private partnership.

In a poll to delegates, they were asked to consider the major challenges their state/country is facing to implement the new educational paradigm outlined by Dr Fung, nearly a quarter voted for education and training funding, a fifth opted for alignment of government agencies, 16 percent said capabilities and mindsets of teachers/faculty, and 15 per cent voted for the mindsets of industry and companies.

Building skills for employability through TNE

Corrienne Peasgood, President of the Association of Colleges in the UK, in a packed session, commented on a World Economic Forum report on the Future of Jobs which forecasts that six out of ten workers will require further training before 2027, but only half of workers have access to those training opportunities. 'Given that that same report predicts that jobs in the education industry are expected to grow by 10 per cent by 2027 and this could lead to 3 million extra jobs for vocational education teachers and university and higher education teachers, we really do need to find new ways to tackle this challenge,' she said.

Outlining the challenges facing TVET and TNE in building skills for employability today, Yamal Matabudul, CEO Polytechnics Mauritius Ltd, suggested an Uber mnemonic: 'U' standing for 'unfreeze and unblock' opportunities and routes for students; 'b' for 'building' deep-deep partnerships that take account of local contexts, rather than just win-win partnerships; 'e' for 'elasticity' in skills qualifications frameworks giving equal weight to skills as well as degrees; while 'r' is for 'relationships', thinking about how collaborations with TNE partners could unlock a problem, 'a real issue of an emerging sector that we're trying to solve for the long term'.

Fiona Stewart-Knight, Assistant VP, Glasgow Caledonian University, described how her institution approached marrying teaching and learning with work-based education, to tackle middle management issues in any type of organisation whether technical, government, public, private, or third sector. Their approach involved efforts to empower employees to achieve their full potential by offering flexible entry and exit routes to training. It has been successfully applied in training delivered for Transnet Freight Rail in South Africa, the largest railway network owner in the continent of Africa, leading to 1,400 staff graduating in railway operations management qualifications over the past 11 years.

Closing the 21st century skills gap or skills deficit will not happen easily, warned Vijayendran Dharmananthen Naidoo, CEO Quality Council South Africa. ‘It requires a fundamental realignment of our education and training systems, as well as a concerted effort from policymakers, industry, education, and training institutions, trainers, and students,’ he said. ‘It must be from one end all the way to the other. This is where TNE can contribute as a great influencer. The entire value chain has to be involved.’

Additionally, commenting on a ‘mind-blowing’ statistic that one-tenth of the world's population by 2050 will be young people from Sub Sahara Africa, Tom Bewick, CEO of Ecctis UK, said: ‘That is a huge challenge for our politicians globally because it really makes you think about the fact that for all the issues around migration, we’ve got to get to grips with the demographics. We have got an ageing global north, we've got a young global south, we need to connect opportunity for every single citizen in this world of ours.’

Disability inclusion in higher education

Carol Evans, Honorary Visiting Professor, Cardiff University, in her opening, said there are massive differences globally in experiences that people have of higher education as a person with disabilities. For example, in the Netherlands, 30 per cent of students with disabilities go to university, while in Zambia, it's just 0.1 per cent. There are also huge variations within countries that have average higher rates of access, such as the UK, where it varies between institutions from 1.4 per cent to 20 per cent.

Shamail Abdallah, Programme Manager, British Council UK Alumni Programme, said there needed to be a campaign to bring about a change in mindset across higher education so that everyone understood the benefits of inclusion. Her research found that students with disabilities often had a negative experience over the kind of support they were provided with. She now aims to start a social enterprise in a pilot university to create a digital platform to connect support service providers worldwide.

Angkie Yudistia, Special Advisor to the President of the Republic of Indonesia, Social and Disabilities Inclusivity Sector, outlined the efforts her country's government was making to achieve its commitment to fulfilling the rights of persons with disabilities. It faces many challenges, including relatively low levels of ICT skills among young people with disabilities, meaning they were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Transition from education to employment also needs greater attention as participation in the labour force is still significantly lower for people with disabilities.

Bernard Chiira, Director Innovate Now, and Country Representative, Global Disability Innovation, Kenya, suggested that to bring about change in disability inclusion, there needs to be a global framework for helping HE to entrench disability inclusion in the success metrics of every university. "I feel like this is the one issue around the world where we have a real opportunity for collaboration and where we could build solutions that work for all of us," he said.

Professor David Ruebain, PVC for Culture, Equality and Inclusion, at the University of Sussex, said there is a disconnect between the practice to support disabled staff and disabled students. "From an operational point of view, if the approaches and procedures for staff and students were better aligned, then I think the experience of both disabled staff and students would improve," he said. He called for a systemic change programme - a charter, a structure, a national initiative or a higher education initiative - which sets standards for universities in this area.

Gender equality, diversity and inclusion: global partnerships for a sustainable future

Champions for gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in the higher education sector from six countries and three regions of Europe, Africa, and Asia agreed that the imbalance of men and women in higher education was being addressed but that there is a long way to go. Research more widely suggests that even where there is gender parity there is not yet gender equality in many parts of the world, said Dr Maria Tsouroufli, Professor of Education at Brunel University UK, ‘There is scope for further work. We have to remain optimistic but at the same time we have to be very realistic about the challenges.’

Dr Tsouroufli is working on a British Council-funded mixed-method study to promote gender equality conducted with colleagues at 10 institutions across five states in India, looking at wider aspects such as caste, class, and disability in order to raise a more nuanced understanding.  Anne Moore, Assistant Director General of Advance Higher education in the UK agreed raising how ‘women are more than just one thing and recognising the plethora of identities we all have is very important in this discussion.’

Dr Beatrice Muganda Inyangala described how the Kenyan government was taking the issue very seriously at a national level with a minister of gender and a national gender and equality commission. Stressing the importance of not just increasing the participation of women but also improving their performance and preparing them for employment and leadership roles. Dr Inyangala, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Education, State Department of Higher Education and Training, in Kenya added how as an ‘example we need to draw out their voice and get them to speak out by putting them in small groups’.

After 10 years in term at Malawi University of Science and Technology, the first woman vice chancellor of a public university in Malawi, Professor Address Mauakowa Malata, is about to retire but what of the future? She explains ‘the gap between men and women in senior positions is so huge that after me there are six men waiting to take over’, and ‘we must grow the pipeline of women leaders to come up behind us.’

Harmonising higher education frameworks for equitable partnerships

According to a panel of experts from South East Asia, South Africa, India and Europe, the harmonisation of higher education regulatory frameworks to facilitate the mutual recognition of qualifications between countries and credit transfer is difficult but important to the building of successful and equitable partnerships.

For universities, students, academics and employers recognition of each other’s qualifications between different countries builds trust and transparency, lack of understanding of another institution’s qualifications and systems leads to loss of recognition, impacting student mobility and international education partnerships’, said Dr Fabrizio Trifiro, International Quality Review, Ecctis that provides information and analysis on national systems.

Countries such as India have taken steps to facilitate harmonisation through its new national credit framework and bank of credit. It shows the level of education and skills embedded in different qualifications and students can ‘bank’ transferable credits said Dr Manju Singh, Adviser (Accreditation and Regulatory), Ashoka University, India.

The climate crisis: a collaborative global endeavour

Doogie Black, the Director of Climate Sense, UK, chaired the session and asked several key questions, how can we work together on climate change issues? What are the different competencies that are needed to deliver climate resilience and, how do we work together to achieve those competencies and what role will the universities play?

Dr Refilwe Mofokeng, ACU Scholar, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, a marine biologist, said three words came to mind – empathy, factual and inclusivity. It is very important to meet people where they are on climate change and it must be factual and inclusive - everyone needs to have a seat at the table and be heard throughout the programme.

Odir Dellagostin, President National Confederation of Funding State Agencies, CONFAP, Brazil, a microbiologist, said there is a lot of knowledge in universities and research institutes that could be translated into new technologies and techniques. Climate change and sustainability need to be integrated in the education curricula to educate the whole population.

Engaging employers with students and the curriculum

In a packed session, panellists discussed the measures that were being taken in their countries to empower students to think entrepreneurially and to build strong partnerships between academia and industry. Speakers included representatives from England, Scotland, Saudi Arabia, India, and Egypt.

Professor Einas Al-Eisa, Rector of Princess Nourah bint Adbulrahman University, talked about programmes in Saudi Arabia that were ‘tailored to the demands of the job market’. These included programmes such as the E-Innovation Hub, a platform where students could examine real-world challenges and data, and work with industry to develop solutions. Students were also offered programmes with ‘early-exit points’. For example, a student might leave a programme after a year with an associate diploma, or stay on to achieve a bachelor's degree.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, VC and Principal of Strathclyde University, noted that it was time for universities to move away from the idea of having a ‘transactional relationship between academia and industry’ and realise the importance of a partnership based on ‘mutual respect, coordination, investment and - occasionally - co-location’. He added that it was vital for countries to ‘accelerate their focus’ to make sure enough technically skilled people graduate into the job market, or they would run the risk of inhibiting growth.

Dr Shashank Shah, Director of Higher Education, Niti Aayog, Government of India, told the room that India has seen huge growth in Higher Education. Between 1950 and 2020, the number of universities in India has grown from 20 to 1,200, while the number of students has increased from 200,000 to 40 million. He added that in India, industry is often taking a very ‘hands-on’ role in education, with initiatives such as joint R&D projects, industry-funded incubator centres, and industry experts participating as mentors and lecturers. There is also a strong focus on encouraging students to be entrepreneurial and create their own job opportunities.

Pathways to gender equality in science research

How can we encourage better career progression for women in STEM subjects across the world? This session brought together representatives from the UK, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Peru, and Malaysia to discuss their own experiences and suggest ways to address the challenges facing women.

Professor Nilanthi de Silva, Vice Chancellor of the University of Kelaniya said that access was one of the issues facing women in Sri Lanka. Of the 10,000 schools in the country, 3,000 might prepare students for university, while only 1,000 would do so for science subjects.

Dr Yamina Silva, of the National Council of Science Technology and Innovation in Peru, said that a large drop in university enrolment had occurred following the pandemic. But she added that stereotypes around women were also an obstacle, which limited their ability to participate in scientific programmes or lead research teams.

Shaimaa El Banna, Director Education of the British Council in Egypt, noted that - while women made up 57 per cent of graduates in Higher Education and 48 per cent of STEM degrees - there was a drop to 35 per cent representation at PhD level, 18 per cent in the workforce, and 3 per cent in the private sector. She said that women shouldered the expectation of looking after their families and their parents and that many women have turned down PhD opportunities abroad as they were responsible for their parents’ care, even if they had brothers in the same city.

Embracing integration: advancing higher and further education systems

Introducing a session on Embracing Integration: Advancing Higher and Further Education Systems, David Sweeney, Deputy Chair of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research in Wales, said that, traditionally, there was a focus on structures and institutions in education. But increasingly, there has been a move away from focusing on credentials and the prestige of qualifications, towards the skills and experience that will benefit learners throughout their lives.

Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, Department of Higher Education and Training, Government of South Africa, highlighted that - across the world - there are many young people who are unemployed, and not in any form of education or training. He said that those in education institutions should not forget their responsibility to these people by simply focusing on the people who benefit from their education.

Professor Ellen Hazelkorn, Professor Emerita of the Technological University Dublin in Ireland, expressed that in previous decades, there was a drive to expand university participation. Now, there is a need for a more ‘open and flexible’ approach.

Alasdair Macdonald, Deputy Director - Policy, of the Scottish Funding Council, noted that going to university will not be the best option for everyone and that it needs to be ‘targeted, proportionate and appropriate’. But he added that 8,600 students were able to move from a college to university qualification in Scotland last year and that this was a ‘powerful engine’ for university access, particularly for people from poorer backgrounds. He urged universities to continue to invest to make this possible.