As access to primary and secondary education has increased for children and youth globally they are now knocking on the door to higher education. Many countries struggle to keep up with this growing demand. Enrolment in private higher education institutions is growing rapidly in low and middle income countries to meet this development.
Lack of access to quality higher education
States are incapable of or lack political will to finance the expansion of higher education. This has resulted in an opening for private actors to expand. Many states have also reformed public education institutions by increasing student fees, overfilling lecture halls and reducing research activities in favor of teaching and thereby compromised quality. Increased student fees is also a policy embraced by international policy-makers, like Gordon Brown’s Education Commission.
Lack of quality assurance
The increased trend of enrolment in private higher education institutions also relates to the important issue of quality assurance. An UNESCO-led process planned to finish in 2019 aims at creating a global framework for quality assurance and student mobility.
We acknowledge the dilemmas
From a redistributive perspective, some might say that public spending on higher education is riddled with dilemmas. Generally, youth from middle and upper-class backgrounds qualify to attend higher education, while youth from poorer backgrounds are generally barred from accessing higher education because of lack of economic means, and/or lack of quality primary and secondary schooling. Should states provide cheap or free higher education to privileged youth? By both investing in quality primary and secondary education for all, in addition to expanding access to higher education we believe countries make a sound investment in our common future.
How do we define and interpret private higher education?
Private higher education institutions are diverse and can be divided into elite-institutions (typically found in the U.S.), religious or ideal (non-profit) institutions and for profit institutions. It is the latest category where we have seen the biggest expansion the latest years because governments don’t cater for the growing number of students graduating from secondary education, and where quality is often low. In Colombia and other Latin-American countries, for-profit, low-quality higher education institutions are often referred to as “Garage Universities” and become the only option for students not accessing grants.
What is happening to research in a commercialized higher education setting?
Research without immediate economic benefits are less prioritized, and states struggle to fund research that can lead to new knowledge and innovation. Universities turn to the private sector to fund research and education. It is difficult to assess how and when research paid by private actors is skewed in any way. We know it is happening. At the same time, in some countries, ties between state and state-funded universities are too tight in a way that makes it difficult to assess whether state priorities also affect research priorities. In any of these circumstances, lack of tenure for scholars, and legislation promoting academic freedom further threaten their ability to challenge conventional knowledge and dogmas.