How will demographic changes affect the future of higher education? Will countries have to face a difficult restructuring of their tertiary education system, because of a mounting budget pressure or of a shrinking student population?
Higher education in OECD countries faces new challenges, including from gender imbalances and social inequity to demographic changes resulting from migration.
A new report from OECD’s Centre for Education Research and Innovation, Higher Education to 2030 – Volume 1: Demography identifies four main areas for action:
These issues were discussed at an OECD conference in Paris organised in collaboration with France’s Ministry for Higher Education and Research on 8-9 December at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), Paris.
Many OECD countries fear that the ageing of their population will lead to a contraction of their higher education systems, with negative implications for their international competitiveness. However, should past trends continue, tertiary education enrolments would increase on average by 16% in an OECD country by 2025, with a significant decrease in only 2 countries: Poland and Korea.
If past trends continue, the proportion of graduates in the general population would also continue to increase. In 2025, higher education graduates in an OECD country may represent about 36% of the 25-64 age group, compared to an average of 26% in 2005. The preponderance of women among tertiary graduates is also likely to rise. In 2005, 57% of tertiary education degrees were awarded to women; if current trends continue, this ratio could rise to 63% by 2025 -- meaning almost two female tertiary graduates for every male graduate.
One new question is how the economic crisis will affect these trends. Students may study longer because of difficulties in finding employment, raising the level of enrolments. But ongoing changes in the financing of tertiary education may make tertiary education less affordable to some students and so reduce access.