Centre for Global Higher Education 2024-2029

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Education


Across the planet, ever more people attend university. UNESCO estimates that in 2022, 254.3 million people were enrolled in tertiary education, a number that has doubled in 20 years. Yet the global enrolment ratio of 42% of young people disguises - and even generates - stark divides. Levels of access, progression, learning gain and employability range hugely within and between countries. For those unable to access tertiary education, the sense of being left behind is acute. Unsustainable student debt, inadequate university financing, and questions about graduate employability all dominate the news. The growth of higher education and science, while providing opportunities to many, also exacerbates social, political and economic divisions. The financial viability of many HE systems is increasingly in question, and the policy challenge is balancing equity, quality and affordability.

Even since 2015, much has changed within global higher education. Further sector growth has reinforced institutional hierarchies, research inequalities and social divides. The global science system marginalises and excludes other forms of knowing. The climate emergency has deepened. UK universities are financially reliant on international student fees, whilst these students and their families are vulnerable to sudden shifts in immigration policy. Politicians have weaponised the divide between those who have benefitted from higher education, and those unable to participate. Universities have become entangled in polarised political debates, attacked from all sides over decisions about who to admit, what to teach, and how to protect freedom of speech.

For almost a decade, the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) has carried out research on tertiary systems, student learning and research, and how higher education shapes people and societies. An active and engaged network of 30 researchers from 16 different universities on five continents have produced hundreds of working papers, articles and books. This work has generated evidence and shaped debates on topics ranging from graduate skills to tertiary system design, from the 'public good' of universities to the impact of Brexit. CGHE has championed the interdisciplinary and comparative study of an evolving global higher education landscape, through international research collaborations. Its research projects have focused on conceptual questions as well as the 'big issues' that dominate the news. The complex policy challenges facing tertiary education need interdisciplinary, comparative and sometimes global study.

In the next five years CGHE will amplify its policy focus on the relationship between equity, quality and affordability. Benefitting from the policy expertise of colleagues in its partnership of universities, including Lancaster, Birmingham, UCL and Lingnan university in Hong Kong, CGHE will launch a new CGHE Policy Hub. Addressing policy challenges in both the UK (such as student debt, disparities in regional funding, access to university and the sustainability of academic careers) and internationally (eg aid flows to HE, European university integration, and inequalities in global science) this Policy Hub will maximise the impact of existing and future research. Making the most of its global visibility and communications profile, CGHE will also help its Early Career Researcher community develop their policy literacy, extend their policy networks and build their knowledge exchange skills. The long-term aim is to support the next generation of higher education researchers from across the world to carry out innovative, impact-focused research.


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