Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution

Authors:  Philip G. Altbach, Liz Reisberg and Laura E. Rumbley

Excerpted from the Executive Summary:

An academic revolution has taken place in higher education in the past half century marked by transformations unprecedented in scope and diversity. Comprehending this ongoing and dynamic process while being in the midst of it is not an easy task. 

Arguably, the developments of the recent past are at least as dramatic as those in the 19th century when the research university evolved, first in Germany and then elsewhere, and fundamentally redesigned the nature of the university worldwide. The academic changes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are more extensive due to their global nature and the number of institutions and people they affect.

This report is especially devoted to examining the changes that have taken place since the 1998 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education. While many trends included in this report were discussed in 1998, they have intensified in the past decade. Here we examine the main engines of change and their impact on higher education.

Much of this report is concerned with the ways in which higher education has responded to the challenge of massification. The “logic” of massification is inevitable and includes greater social mobility for a growing segment of the population, new patterns of funding higher education, increasingly diversified higher education systems in most countries, generally an overall lowering of academic standards, and other tendencies. Like many of the trends addressed in this report, while massification is not a new phase, at this “deeper stage” of ongoing revolution in higher education it must be considered in different ways. At the first stage, higher education systems struggled just to cope with demand, the need for expanded infrastructure and a larger teaching corps. During the past decade systems have begun to wrestle with the implications of diversity and to consider which subgroups are still not being included and appropriately served.

In the early 21st century, higher education has become a competitive enterprise. In many countries students must compete for scarce places in universities and in all countries admission to the top institutions has become more difficult. Universities compete for status and ranking, and generally for funding from governmental or private sources. While competition has always been a force in academe and can help produce excellence, it can also contribute to a decline in a sense of academic community, mission and traditional values.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary



1. Introduction

2. Globalization and Internationalization

3. Access and Equity

4. Quality Assurance, Accountability, and Qualification Frameworks

5. Financing Higher Education

6. Private Higher Education and Privatization

7. The Centrality and Crisis of the Academic Profession

8. The Student Experience

9. Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

10. Information and Communications Technologies and Distance Education

11. Research

12. University-Industry Linkages

13. Future Trends


Appendix: Statistical Tables

About the Authors

About the Contributors

Executive Summary – 22 pp. (PDF, 674 kb)/Report – 278 pp.  (PDF, 1.59 mb)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s