ELIG, JISC, and the Higher Education Academy – University of Europe, Who’s Making it Happen?

The current economic climate, and the subsequent rise in adult education, e-Learning, and the accessibility of being able to take an online degree is driving the technological advancement of, and investment in, computer-based distance learning. Because of this, many are speculating that very soon an open content University of Europe might be the next significant step for higher education. So, aside from the institutions that are expressing interest in the scheme, what other organisations are exploring the future of boundary-less e-Learning.

European Learning Industry Group. The ELIG was established in 2002 with the aim to explore e-Learning and to make Europe an ‘economic and social force on the global stage’. Today the organisation is endorsing the idea that open education will transform education to really meet the needs of the 21st Century. ELIG invites other organizations within the industry to become members to form a cohesive, all-inclusive group on an international level – and to push the education sector towards innovation and openness in Europe.

Joint Information Systems Committee. The JISC is a UK body that supports innovation and research in ICT to build knowledge, promote learning and research, and to become a more comprehensive medium for teaching. The JISC was established in 1993 under influence from the Secretary of State in order to promote and benefit the overall development of the higher education sector. Subsequently, the JISC funds three services: Advisory – to help institutions choose the best product or approach for them and their community, Production – to maximise value for money through correct institution-specific infrastructures, and Development – to test innovative or “novel” approaches in terms of their validity.

Higher Education Academy. Currently collaborating with the JISC in research on open content and its benefits, the Higher Education Academy is an independent body that aims to support higher education and improve the UK student learning experience. The Higher Education Academy not only assists research and supports institutions, but also has its own network of “discipline-specific” subject centres around the country that offer support on a subject, and individual level. With funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Higher Education Academy set up a programme (commencing in April 2009) to make a range of learning resources written by academics, easily available and re-usable by other tutors via the internet.

Governor Foster Furcolo and His Vision on Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

More than 2,000,000 students or almost 43% of the college level student population annually would never have the opportunity to attend public higher education in Massachusetts unless the Governor Foster Furcolo’s passionate and untiring struggle to set up 15 Community Colleges within the state was not successful in 1950s. As the Republicans’ Editorial correctly expressed in September 2009, his services were long forgotten by the politicians. In appreciation of his services Massachusetts general laws were amended, only two years back, to designate the 15 Community Colleges Collectively as the “Governor Foster Fucolo’s Community Colleges.” At a time when the private higher education was dominant, and had access mostly to the students from well to do families, Governor Furcolo opened the door for public higher education to those who could not afford to attend costly private educational institutes. He wanted the colleges to locate closer to communities, provide the education at a lower cost to the individuals as well as to the state, meet the demands of the rising manufacturing and service sectors, and to raise the income of families and the revenue of the state in the long run. The benefits of his intelligent foresight could be seen clearly in the Massachusetts economy and society today.

One of his aims was to provide opportunity for higher education for members from low income families who wanted to pursue their higher education. He wanted to reach immigrants, non- working adults, working men and women and disable people who wish to enhance their skills and engage in economic activities. The composition of student population at present shows how far the Governor Furcolo’s target groups reached and benefited from his community college movement. According to a recent economic impact report, the average household income of those students attended community colleges was less than US$ 36,000 per annum, and 60% of the financial aid recipients, particularly the Pell Grant recipients, were from families who earned less than US$ 18,600 per year.

Governor Furcolo saw the growing college age population in mid fifties, and the obstacles they had to get into higher education. His solution was to have a public higher education system to help this population, providing opportunity for them to engage in skill enhancing studies, on-part time, open enrollment basis, and if required with opportunity to enroll in remedial courses. Examination of the composition of student population in Community Colleges in Massachusetts shows that the majority belong to the part-time adult student groups. More than 61% of students in Community Colleges in Massachusetts are half time or quarter time students, and were over 25 years of age, Only 39% were full-time students and in the traditional college age group. Many of them required to have remedial courses such as Math and English, Writing and Reading prior to enrolling for college work. As to a recent study, based on 2005 high school students who entered the Community Colleges in Massachusetts, 37% in average, needed at least one remedial course prior to start work at the college level(Conaway 2008).

Achievement of Fucolo’s vision to make public college education affordable to poor families is evidenced from comparing cost for community college education with other college systems, even today. The national average for college tuition cost for public universities is $4,694 for in state residents. The tuition and fees in a private college is around $ 20,000 in the nation, while in a community college the cost is averaged to $ 2,076. The same pattern is observable in Massachusetts. The nature of the student population required higher education, as Furcolo viewed it, required a dispersed pattern of education facilities. Low distance to facilities save time, and reduce movement cost, reducing the overall cost to an individual, and also minimizing the disturbance to daily routines. Furcolo envisioned that the colleges are located at a commuting distance, so those who were busy with household as well as work place chores could attend them conveniently. Hence, his Public Higher Education Act in 1958 provided laws to set up state wide system of 15 Community Colleges throughout in Massachusetts. They have become the house for 46% of the college students in Massachusetts at present, and it is more than four times of the student enrollment in Higher education in 1950s (Burns 1995).

Fucolo understood the need of the skilled labor in the growing business and the manufacturing sectors at the time, and the responsibility of the public higher education to create a skilled labor pool, if Massachusetts was to be competitive and keep pace with the other states. The community Colleges, therefore, seen as the solution to the shortage of skilled manpower problem at the time. The skilled labor training is a core function of the community colleges even today. Comprehensive Regional Community Colleges in Massachusetts today offer an array of programs leading to associate degrees, certificates and vocational programs. They provide basic, continuing, and remedial courses for college age students and adults. They affiliate with schools, industries and work places and develop programs to improve the skills and the quality of labor helping to increase efficiency and productivity. Massachusetts Community colleges have pioneered an innovative, low- cost, state wide workforce training resource for business and industry called Mass* Net, and it helps to provide workforce training in 21 technological fields. According to a Community College information source more than 5000 work force development programs are yearly offered by Massachusetts Community Colleges. By providing, skilled manpower needs of the states industry, commercial as well as other service units, they have helped to increase income of the manufacturing units, individuals, and the State.

Governor Furcolo wanted to make the Community Colleges a “preparation ground” for higher education. One of the important missions of these colleges today is to facilitate their graduates to transfer to four year colleges which is also an important component of the most community college students’ educational aspirations. At present, Community Colleges have well designed programs and provisions to facilitate student transfers through transfer agreements, and bindings with four year colleges and universities. As a member of a Public Higher Education System, Quinsigamond Community College for example,maintains ties with all the Massachusetts four year colleges and universities and facilitate student transfers through Mass Transfer program introduced in 2008.This program helps for students through reduced tuition fees, and credit transfers, and make transfer process quick, smooth and affordable..

The economic impact of the Community Colleges on individuals, families, and business is clearly seen today in Massachusetts. A recent economic impact report estimated that the incremental annual income of the Community College graduates as US$ 21400 compared to non-graduates. Education also opens to opportunity for better jobs with better benefits.It has been estimated that 90% of the Massachusetts Community College graduates working in the state after their graduation in business, industry, or other services, and the income they generate hence spent mostly within the state. This means that the state is able to generate more revenues taxing the personal income of the community college graduates working in the state. Further, the expenditure in Community Colleges has created a multiplier effects and further regional growth as to various studies. These colleges help also the local economies to sustain their economic activities through spending of students and visitors, and workers. Thus the Community Colleges in Massachusetts have become a growth engine for the state according to the same economic impact report mentioned earlier.

Governor Foster Furcolo ‘s foresight on Public Higher Education as discussed in this essay have helped many poor, and low income young as well as adult students to enter into higher education. The personal income of those who educated these colleges has increased due to their higher education, and also the income of the state through income tax revenues. Those graduates have become the greatest source of skilled man power, for industries and business to thrive in Massachusetts. Governor Furcolo should be viewed as a great serviceman who served Massachusetts, and embrace his visions in the future as The Republican Editorial remarked in September 2009.

Higher Education as Service Trade Exporter In South Africa

Introduction

Whilst it is recognized that South Africa is still in a process of transition regarding higher education to address the imbalances of the past, it should also be emphasized that Institutions of Higher Education in large are still underplaying the importance of higher education as commercialized commodity in the global world. This resulted in a low commercial higher education presence in the global world, a limited capability to attract quality students from foreign countries and a national oriented education approach. Even the school law that will soon be introduced in South Africa to address the imbalances of the past may have a negative effect of institutions of higher education to play a significant role in the commercialized educational world. The proposed new law emphasized adherence to the principles of equitability, rectification and representativeness above competence in the appointment of teachers. This may undermine the quality of education firstly, in schools and later in institutions of higher education in South Africa.

This is in sharp contrast with international trends signaling that the international higher education market is becoming more competitive as education competes as export and import commodity. Figures available indicate that higher education export represents on average around 6.6% of total student enrollments in 2000. This figure can still not be matched b South African Institutions 5 years later. In countries like Switzerland, Australia and Austria these figures were above 11% in 2000 making these countries the highest internationalized higher education countries in the world. Similarly, educational services in Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America respectively represent the third, fourth and fifth largest service export sectors. This clearly provides evidence that these countries realize the significance of higher education to transfer intellectual capital and enhance the economic competitiveness of nations.

Interventions required

It is important that Institutions of Higher Education in South Africa position themselves as nodes in an increasingly seamless knowledge base in the global world, which could have a greater interface with the knowledge-driven global economy. Therefore, Institutions of higher education in South Africa should given even more attention to integrate with influential international institutions that will enable them to internationalize higher education.

Currently, internationalization of higher education in South Africa happens more by incident rather than through thoroughly planned and organized approaches. If institutions of higher education in South Africa intend to consider higher education as a commercial trade commodity, serious emphasis should be place upon:

· Introducing purposeful policies and strategies that clearly indicate the road forward with regard to internationalization intentions and the specific areas that would need priority attention. However, this should not be developed as separate internationalization strategies, but should e seen as a natural element of the overall strategy of the institute.

· Implementing induction and course programmes that will attract quality foreign students to the institutions.

· Supporting academics to participate in conferences as well as in reputable academic journals to publish research results.

· Ensuring that all course offerings meet international accepted criteria as defined by the leading institutions of higher education in the developed world.

· Creating conducive learning environments equipped with the latest learning technologies.

Internationalization requires that institutions of higher education in South Africa should emphasize a somewhat loosening of the relationship with Government to create new transformational bodies to address the imbalances of the past, but also to broaden this mission to play a more active role in regional economic development. This can be achieved by establishing strong horizontal links with other universities research institutions and industry in the Southern African Development Community. If this can be achieved, the activities of institutions of higher education will no longer be isolated from the marketplace and its outputs could become merchandise products as well. Loosening the relationship with government will not only provide for more freedom to autonomously decide what educational and research outputs to create, but will also increase the pressure on institutions of higher education to perform better as they take up the responsibility to raise funds for projects and salaries.

It is imperative that higher education in South Africa can no longer take the disposition that placed research and development in contrast to one another. Rather, it should take the stand that the outputs of institutions should have a strong:

· Social development and application in which the simultaneous promotion and integration of education, scientific research and production occurs;

· Science and Technology Financial Management Support System in place in order to create a safe and secure research environment for academics; and

· Set of ” Key State Laboratories” where research and education of strategic importance to the development and well-being of the country can be carried out.

Conclusion

South Africa institutions of higher education currently rated only among the top 40 of the world’s host countries. An urgent need exist to rethink and reformulate the educational thinking models of institutions of higher education in South Africa. Because of the changing political situation accompanied by a changing global economy, many traditional ways in which institutions of higher education were previously governed will change. Unless institutions of higher education in South Africa succeed to internationalize successfully, huge opportunities to earn foreign currencies using higher education as a trade commodity will be lost.