Some startling statistics about universities, taken from the BBC.
At the beginning of the last century, the power of nations might have been measured in battleships and coal. In this century it’s as likely to be graduates.
In 1998, there were only about a million students in China. Within a decade, it had become the biggest university system in the world. Figures last month from China’s education ministry reported more than 34 million graduates in the past four years. By 2020 there will be 35.5 million students enrolled.
There are more universities operating in other countries, recruiting students from overseas, setting up partnerships, providing online degrees and teaching in other languages than ever before. In Qatar, the purpose-built Education City now has branches of eight overseas universities, with more to follow. Shanghai is set to be another magnet for international campuses.
Much like in the renaissance in Europe, when the talent class and the creative class travelled among the great idea capitals, so in the 21st century, the people who carry the ideas that will shape the future will travel among the capitals. But instead of old European names it will be names like Shanghai and Abu Dhabi and London and New York. Those universities will be populated by those high-talent people.
Universities are also being used as flag carriers for national economic ambitions – driving forward modernisation plans. “Universities are being seen as a key to the new economies, they’re trying to grow the knowledge economy by building a base in universities,” says Professor Altbach.
Technology, much of it hatched on university campuses, is also changing higher education and blurring national boundaries. Online services such as Apple’s iTunes U gives public access to lectures from more than 800 universities and more than 300 million have been downloaded. And where else would a chemistry lecture get to be a chart topper?
What are the expectations of this Facebook generation? They might have degrees and be able to see what is happening on the other side of the world, but will there be enough jobs to match their ambitions?
Who is going to pay for such an expanded university system? And what about those who will struggle to afford a place?
I work as Head of Global Communications for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), having previously worked with Compudava (now Endava) in Moldova, building web applications, and for Wesley Management, working with small businesses and charities. I have a passion to see intelligent application of digital technology to serve the Church and mission. Married to the lovely Ruth.