Demographic change presents risks, opportunities for higher education
Miami, 29 April 2014: The British Council’s Going Global conference in Miami opened today with an urgent call to action from statistics guru Hans Rosling, one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People 2012.
During an electrifying presentation at the opening plenary, the Swedish ‘data visionary’ said that by the end of the century, 80 per cent of the world’s population would live in Africa and Asia. Professor Rosling warned that higher education faced a stark challenge today, as the global population hits a pivotal point. “The world has reached peak child”, he said, adding that the proportion of young people making up the world’s population – who need education - is the highest it has ever been.
India’s Secretary of Higher Education Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ashok Thakur, responded that India must create 40 million university places to meet demand. But rapid expansion will pose risks, he said. “We can’t afford to miss out on India’s demographic dividend. But it’s not just about numbers, it’s about quality.”
Universities in the developing world are not the only ones to face big challenges. Digital innovation is changing the way that long-established institutions reach and teach students, said Molly Corbett Broad, President of the American Council on Education, who described an “avalanche of transformational innovation” in the US, on a scale not seen since the 1944 GI Bill.
In a speech that set the tone for the conference, which brings together more than 1,000 higher education leaders from 70 countries, the British Council’s Chief Executive, Sir Martin Davidson, described the new landscape. “Urbanisation plus digital communications plus education is a combination that is as revolutionary as railways and the new industrial manufacturing techniques of the 19th century. Suddenly your hard-won skills have value because you are within reach of jobs and potential customers on the other side of the world. But you are also in competition with the best talent in the world. The excellence of your local degree and your top-ranked local university will not be enough unless it is also connects you to that global market.”
Over the next three days, delegates will discuss pressure points in international higher education at the event, which takes place at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Nine new pieces of research will be launched at the conference, across the themes of impact, inclusion, and innovation.