Monday 01 June 2015

The phenomenal growth of further and higher education has created “super large systems” that share similar advantages and challenges, according to a British Council international study.

Large systems such as those in India and China do better in global rankings and have greater opportunities for international collaboration, but they struggle with similar problems - such as providing greater access for non-traditional students and maintaining quality during a period of fast growth.

The common characteristics of large systems are identified by the British Council study in partnership with UNESCO and the World Bank that looked at nine countries with very different political, social and economic conditions.  Its report on the findings, ‘Managing Large Systems’, is published as more than 1,200 leaders of higher education from 70 countries gather in London for Going Global 2015, the British Council’s annual higher education conference. The report identified commonalities and differences of large systems, and concludes by suggests six broad recommendations – that emerged from the analysis undertaken by the Institute of Education at University College London – of managing them.  

Nearly a quarter of young people across the world now enroll in further or higher education courses and two thirds of them study in the nine countries with large systems -Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, UK and the USA – which were studied in this report

The study of the big nine found expansion had typically come through private sector investment, raising tuition fees paid by ”consumer”  students, and the involvement of more vocationally-oriented institutions.

However, bigger is not always better unless standards can be maintained and opportunities are extended beyond the urban and social elites to reach students from the most disadvantaged regions and backgrounds, says the report.

The management and future of these systems is critical for the growth of global talent and the challenges can be best tackled by international knowledge sharing and the exchange of ideas and experiences, it says. 

But how relevant are policy approaches in one country relevant to another?  The report will be discussed on Monday 01 June at Going Global 2015.


The study finds most of the nine countries struggling to keep a balance between steering the system in the right direction while at the same time providing autonomy for institutions or regions.  The growth has usually been accompanied by a decline in government funding.

“While market mechanisms have fostered competition in certain areas between institutions and even between countries, a thriving global higher education sector is not a zer0-sum game.  All countries can make steps forward through collaborating effectively and sharing learning through experiences of policy innovation at national or institutional level,” the report concludes.

Rob Lynes, Director of British Council India said: ''Through this comparative process there has been much international knowledge sharing which in turn supports policy making that impacts on two thirds of all students worldwide. The future of these education systems and their management is critical for management of the global talent pipeline.”

Rebecca Hughes, the British Council’s Director of Education said: “The findings are a microcosm of the major issues facing all higher education systems - balancing access and affordability, public good and individual benefit, traditional delivery and innovation. I hope that by sharing data, approaches to solutions, and contrasting contexts of the challenges, and also discussing potential cultural barriers and common problems at system level, the British Council move forward these debates. “

Notes to Editor

For More Information please contact Tim Sowula 07771 718 135

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We create international opportunities for the people of the UK and other countries and build trust between them worldwide.

We work in more than 100 countries and our 8,000 staff – including 2,000 teachers – work with thousands of professionals and policy makers and millions of young people every year by teaching English, sharing the arts and delivering education and society programmes.

We are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter. A core publicly-funded grant provides less than 20 per cent of our turnover which last year was £864 million. The rest of our revenues are earned from services which customers around the world pay for, through education and development contracts and from partnerships with public and private organisations. All our work is in pursuit of our charitable purpose and supports prosperity and security for the UK and globally.

For more information, please visit: