Higher Education and Global Changes: a reflection on the role of technologies

by Nadia Paola Mireles Torres, General Coordinator of Cooperation and Internationalization, University of Guadalajara, México (nadia@cgci.udg.mx)

There is no doubt that education is critical to poverty reduction, wealth creation and developing the knowledge economy. Neither is there a doubt that education should be a development priority. Education should be seen as a continuum going from primary, secondary to higher levels of learning. However, it appears that in the past decade Higher Education (HE) has come to be seen as a key factor and policy priority for national governments seeking to promote economic and social development. More students than ever before are enrolled in some type of tertiary education indeed there are now around 200 million tertiary education students worldwide, in comparison with only 89 million in 1998. An increase of 124% in 15 years (Marmolejo, 2013).


However, even though access to higher education has increased in the past decades, it must be said that access alone is not enough. Quality, intercultural and ICT skills, and employability are key elements to national development. Emerging economies are increasingly investing in research and development, especially with regards to the generation of technology and training of professionals in this field. Notable national examples are East Asia: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, countries that already invest as much in HE as the whole of the EU.


The investment in HE is marked by a shift in educational national priorities such as internationalization of education and the focus on Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) fields. To give one example, the Brazilian government’s Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP www. cienciasemfronteiras.gov.br/web/csf/home), government´s larger initiative, launched in 2011, aims to send 100,000 Brazilian college students to study in STEM fields around the world, in order that they then return as experts to contribute as scholars and practitioners to Brazil’s growing economy. As well, countries such as the United States, Canada, China and India, are training people in STEM fields as a priority in order to promote innovation, competitiveness and job creation in their countries, and to drive forward future development.


Moreover, HE has a key role to play in delivering the practical and intellectual skills and competencies required to ensure the social development needed in the 21st century. Today, there is agreement on the need to know more about other cultures and other society’s interconnections, in order to be well prepared for work, for life and for the future in a highly globalized world. Knowledge about culture, religion and the economy are now assumed as essential. Thus, it is expected that HE institutions also foster intercultural competences such as tolerance, sensitivity, empathy and intercultural communication, amongst its students and the wider community.


On the other hand, in the knowledge-based society, the acquisition of ICT (e-literacy) skills has become another key element to succeed in the global labor market. Indeed, higher education has a key role in enabling and diversifying lifelong learning opportunities through different modes of learning, both formal and non-formal, which will therefore help to reduce the knowledge divide.


The increasing use of ICTs worldwide also indicates the significant changes taking place in education such as the increasing use of social media and the inclusion of models of online, blended and collaborative learning. Also, data collected and generated in online environments are now being used to improve educational services, and the role of students is transforming from consumers and receivers of education to senders and content creators. And finally, although these changes will take longer time than previously imagined, it is expected that online learning will soon be seen as a viable alternative to current forms of face to face learning (Johnson, Adams Becker, Estrada, & Freeman, 2014).


In this regard, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are seen by many as one of the most significant catalysts of innovation in HE and possible game-changers if students start taking them on a regular basis and colleges and universities start offering course credits to those who do*14. We are witnessing a redefinition of the models of teaching and learning through the MOOCs and other Internet-based innovations. The MOOCs can democratize and encourage open access to learning materials and non-discriminatory education opportunities (Ali, 2014). By 2013, more than nine million students from 220 countries had participated in MOOCs courses developed by 62 universities (Vázquez & López, 2014).


Yet, the delivery and general offer of online courses is still minimal. Even in countries with widespread use of ICT´s such as USA, only 16% of institutions offer some kind of online education.


Another challenge that education faces today is the linkage between tertiary education and employability. The correlation between graduates and their insertion into the workforce highlights the way in which universities are able to train their students to compete in a global market where creativity, entrepreneurship and problem solving ability are seen as key elements to succeed. In this sense, startup businesses such as Uber, Airbnb and Duolingo, show how creative industries have emerged to respond to global market demand. They emerged and continue to grow mostly in developed countries. A rapid and strong response from universities to a more rapid-changing labor market is an urgent matter for the post-2015 development agenda. These are exiting times in which technologies are, will, and must be in the front line of the development agenda of education in a rapidly changing knowledge society.

*14. Note from the editor of the magazine: IAU Horizons vol.20, No1 & 2, June 2014, focuses on ICTs in education – revolution or evolution and to a large extent on MOOCs. IAU Horizons is available online.




Ali, A. (2014, June). OER, Open and Distance Learning and MOOCs – Charting Higher Education’s Digital Future. IAU Horizons, 20, 39–40. Retrieved from http://www.iau-aiu.net/sites/all/files/IAU%20Horizons%20Vol.20.1%20[EN_web].pdf


Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, B., & Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. The New Media Consortium.


Marmolejo, F. (2013, July 23). Tertiary Education at a Crossroads: Tales from Different Parts of the World [Text]. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from http://blogs.worldbank.org/education/tertiary-education-crossroads-tales-differentparts-world


Vázquez, E., & López, E. (2014). Los MOOCs y la educación superior: la expansión del conocimiento. Profesorado. Revista de Currículum Y Formación de Profesorado, 18, 3–12. Retrieved from http://www.redalyc.org/pdf/567/56730662001.pdf


Nadia Paola Mireles Torres “Why open education matters” video “Why is it important to share content” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NH7vLzt9jY




Fuente: IAU Horizons, vol. 20, no.3 pages 36-37: http://www.iau-aiu.net/sites/all/files/IAU%20Horizons%20Vol%2020%203%20web%20version_ENG.pdf