Skills beyond school

CERI - University Futures: Thematic analysis - Globalisation - higher education landscape


How do global flows of students, academics and capital affect higher education systems? How does the global higher education landscape look today and how will it look tomorrow? Will we see the emergence of new research poles in the world?

Globalisation in higher education embodies parallel trends of increased collaboration and competition between countries and institutions. International team composition and financing as well as the use of information and communication technologies reflect increased international collaboration especially in research. At the same time, institutional rankings and pressure on financing have boosted the global competition for international scholars and students, feeding also cross-border mobility of institutions. English speaking countries are the most attractive destinations for international students. Regarding research talent, mobility to the United States is particularly strong, also from the other OECD countries. Worldwide salary differences in the academic sector reflect these tendencies. Mobility of top researchers could be expected to increase in the future with high benefit and infrastructure support as an important driver.

Research performance is essential for a country’s adaptability and innovativeness in a global environment, while attracting talent and funding to institutions. The OECD area produces today more than 80% of the worlds output of scientific literature, with the lead of the Unites States. Roughly a third of OECD countries show superior research performance relative to their economic capacity, if one compares the top performance to national wealth and weight of the economy. Within the OECD area, main past trends in academic research are characterised by a growth in research funding and output, a large proportion of basic research and government funding. However, should the emerging trends continue, the research may become increasingly privately funded with greater user involvement in the future. Concentration of academic research across higher education systems will be an outstanding question for the future debates on higher education – to what extent should academic research be concentrated and, if the concentration would be desirable, what would be the best means to achieve it?

At the same time, new poles are gradually emerging in the world. The growth in number of scientific articles was faster especially in Asia and in Europe than in the North America over the past two decades, even if from lower starting points. There have been significant increases both in higher education enrolment and research output in China that represents half of the R&D expenditures of non-OECD countries. For smaller countries, specialising to knowledge-intensive industries and cross-border higher education services could serve as strategic options for future. Against the global competition, European countries have increased regional coordination in higher education within the frameworks of the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy. While notable achievements towards convergence of the systems have taken place in Europe, the complexity of the parallel trends of this convergence and the diversity among institutions continues to be a significant challenge for the future.


Related project documentation

Related events

Related OECD work on Education

Go to