National Research University – Higher School of Economics
Moscow, 26 September 2013
Universal Higher Education in the
Global Era
Simon Marginson
Centre for the Study of Higher Education
University of Melbourne, Australia
After 28 October:
Institute of Education, University of London, UK
Some starting questions about High
Participation Systems (HPS)
• Trow (1973) was prescient. What has changed? How has tertiary
participation been affected by the communicative globalization
of the last two decades?
• What is a High Participation society? What are the social
implications of universal tertiary participation?
• As universalization of tertiary education advances, what are the
implications for education? What happens to universities,
including their roles in social integration and reproduction?
There is also the perennial question in higher education studies
• What is common/global about the trends to universal
participation, and what is system-specific?
The Californian utopia: Trow 1973
• “And in California and elsewhere, statewide master planning
seemed to have answered the nagging problem of how access
to the system could be ensured at the same time that the
unique characteristics and high standards of universities and
graduate and research centers were preserved. Not long ago
the multiversity and the junior college seemed twin
expressions of the American genius that had created first the
common school, then universal secondary education through
the comprehensive high school, and now mass education
moving inexorably towards universal exposure to postsecondary schooling.” (p. 65)
The Californian utopia: Trow 2000
• “In the United States, colleges and universities … give
substance to the idea that anything is possible to those with
talent, energy and motivation. The sense of society with
limitless possibilities for all, largely (though not exclusively)
through higher education, is what is usually meant by ‘the
American dream’. The end of the American dream is
continually proclaimed, usually by intellectuals who never
believed in it to begin with, and wished no one else would.
But this faith, fundamental to the American political system,
survives hostility and cynicism... Through its role in fostering
social mobility and the belief in a society open to talents,
American higher education legitimates the political system,
and thus is a central element in the society as it is nowhere
else.” (p. 6)
Assertion 1: Drivers of HPS
• In the last 30 years the overall trend to expansion of participation
in tertiary education (albeit in fits and starts) has been common
to all times and places—remarkably so
• Human capital theory and equality of opportunity are policy
rationales for the expansion of participation, they are not drivers
• While economic demand can foster expansion of student places
in particular fields short of labour (e.g. mining engineers in a
mining boom), there is no clear evidence economic demand
consistently drives participation growth. The relationship
between higher education and the economy is incoherent:
many graduates do not work in fields in which they are trained
much graduate labour is generic in character
phenomena such as crendentialism, signalling behaviour and graduates working in non-graduate jobs
seem at least as prominent as the expansion of high-skill work
there is no guarantee graduates generate higher productivity—that is a function of work organization
the perennial debate about over-education versus overall shortage of skills is never settled because
neither generalization can be true—the education/economy relationship is not direct or instrumental
• In contrast, evidence for growing social/ family demand for
higher education is clear and consistent. In the long run all states
tend to respond to this
• As participation grows the social and economic penalties of non
inclusion grow.
• The average graduate experiences falling absolute value of
credentials, but maintains relative advantage over non graduates
Assertion 2: Stratification of HPS
• As Trow noted, elite institutions and programs survive and
prosper in the mass–to-universal participation era
• Globalization fosters WCUs, while exacerbating stratification
within national systems
• Globalization also exacerbates stratification between systems
as only some nations can support WCUs
• The tendency to bifurcated systems—rising elite WCUs coupled
with mass institutions in throes of a worsening crisis of
quality—might be universal. If so middle institutions
everywhere are under pressure
• However, the extent of and mechanisms of stratification
(structural, financial, regulatory, etc.) vary by country, e.g. only
some systems use institutional classifications
Variations in forms of stratification
• Extent of inclusion of age cohort: universal HPS or not?
• Comprehensive versus binary (academic/vocational)
• Extensive use of online and other attenuated forms of
tertiary education?
• Use of classifications by institutional type / mission?
• Reliance on market mechanisms for system ordering?
High marketization
[No system does this]
Nordic model
German model
Largely public approach
Assertion 3: Marketization and HPS
• Marketization in the context of HPS is not primarily designed
to foster capitalist production
• It is a means of containing costs in HPS systems, especially in
low tax polities. In those countries social inclusion makes
marketization necessary
• Marketization and especially competition manage unequal
outcomes and legitimate stratification between institutions
• Marketization facilitates state retreat from direct economic
responsibility for social outcomes
• Marketization places downward pressure on public good
functions. Ironically, notion of common public good was
stronger in mass systems with partial participation, than in
universal systems (now undergoing marketization)
What changes have flowed from
communicative globalization?
• Common movement towards World-class Universities (WCUs),
which all else equal enhances stratification
• MOOCs: transformative low value low cost mass education
• Some convergence between national systems in use of
marketization in system management
• Penalties for non-participants, locked out of primary (global)
labour circuits, increases social demand for inclusion
• Greater policy need for social inclusion via tertiary education
in face of fragmenting effects, drives supply of places
• Age-cohort participation as one policy signifier of k-economy
and economic competitiveness, also drives supply of places
High participation society:
What does it mean?
• Lift in threshold of social literacy. May be undermined by shift
to MOOCs and other attenuated forms of higher education
• Universal aspirations through education but many will be
disappointed (failed utopia). Later retreat from participation?
• Common tertiary-educated culture in which individual
capacities to negotiate with government and corporations,
and communicate socially, become normal
• Role of elite higher education institutions in national and
world society is enhanced
• With educational participation becoming universal, new
service industry emerges to handle job placements for middle
and lower ranked graduates
What will happen to tertiary
education, especially universities?
• Mass institutions will try to differentiate themselves from
each other via marketing
• Blurring of boundaries between higher education and other
social sectors as Trow predicted
• New service industry emerges to handle job placements for
middle and lower ranked graduates
• Deepening bifurcation between (1) elite research universities
and (2) mass higher education, shading into attenuated forms:
online, MOOCs, diploma mills, and corrupted non-learning.
A binary higher education sector?
• Role of elite higher education institutions in national and
world society is enhanced
• Is mass higher education entering a deepening crisis?
- status-forming function has long held higher education functions together but
degree value and status decline in universal systems
- especially given popular but attenuated forms like MOOCs, which are
consistent with self-formation but weak in status-formation
- emptying out of collective student experience (is this ‘participation’?)
- retreat from public funding
- MOOCs create downward pressure on costs, empty out faculty labour
- people will be reluctant to pay, but at this stage still need degrees
- in these circumstances how long can the credentialing role of mass education
be sustained?
- yet states continue to need social ordering role of higher education
Some implications for
social science and social policy
• For now, what happens at boundary of participation/ non
participation remains important
• But becoming more difficult to distinguish higher education
from other forms of learning (and credentialling?)
• Need to develop more sensitive measures of social demand
• Need to identify and measure forms of stratification and
trends in stratification
• Need to monitor what is happening to social mobility
• Future of public good function is an open question (and also
varies by nation)—this can modify extremes of
stratification/binarism and reassert integrating role of systems
Template for collecting comparative data on massification
Trends in participation
Structures and stratification
Political economy
Definition of ‘tertiary’ & ‘higher’
Mediation of entry to tertiary
How are the costs of expansion
Definition of participation
Diversity of tertiary sectors (&
Role of government funding
Current levels of participation
Role of private sector and
changes in that role
Student tuition fees and loan
Historical trends
Diversity of institutional missions
Student living support and loan
Periods of accelerated growth—
Diversity of patterns of
Impact of demographic factors
Distribution of research/graduate
education role of institutions
Economic drivers—evidence
Impact of WCU movement on
system design and development
Providing developmental
opportunities for all citizens
Social drivers—evidence
Non-traditional forms (MOOCs,
online, for-profit)
Maintaining a balanced
development between HEIs
Government policy response &
System coordination mechanisms
Academic heterogeneity and
responses to it
Credentialling and external
quality assurance
Marketization reform program/
impact of competition
Social purposes
Book plan
1 What is high participation? For societies, systems, students Aki, Anna
2 Comparative data on HPS participation
Patrick (Simon)
3 Forms of diversity, Models of HPS / system shape
Romulo, Glen
4 Drivers of participation / demographics
David, Marek, Simon
5 Vertical stratification / segmentation / competition
Simon, Brendan
6 HPS and social equity
Jussi, Anna, David, Simon
7 Policy, governance, consumer, stakeholder, institution
Brendan, Romulo
[other potential authors]
JC Shin, Huang Futao, Isak
Binarism: Are HPS being reshaped, pulled between elite
research sector and part commodified mass institutions?
• Cantwell—elite artisnal sector and commodity sector
• Marginson—WCUs and partly marketized mass institutions
with declining value
• Bourdieu—higher education divided between two poles, the
elite sector which is culturally defined, and the mass sector
which responds to markets and social demand
• What happens to middle institutions: there seem to be many
• Perhaps this picture applies in USA, Australia (maybe),
Russia… does not appear to describe Poland, Finland, Canada

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