Keynote speech by Chris Brink


Keynote speech:  Chris Brink, Vice-Chancellor, Newcastle University, UK

“Standards will Drop” -  and Other Fears About Widening Participation


Professor Brink will discuss, on the basis of experience in South Africa, the UK and Australia, some common fears and negative opinions about widening participation (increasing the ratio of participation of societal groups under-represented in higher education). These include:

  • “Standards will drop.” 
  • “Our reputation will suffer.” 
  • “It’s not our problem.”
  • “It’s unfair.”
  • “It’s a waste of time.” 


Respondent: Bruno Carapinha, Member of the Executive Committee of ESU – European Students’ Union

Relevance of higher education: achieving quality and equity

The recent period of transformation in higher education witnessed an increase of the students’ expectations regarding the quality and the relevance of the education provided. The student body continues also to promote the need to increase the level of access to higher education, enlarging the qualified basis for a knowledge-based society, and the level of participative equity within the higher education sector and our societies. Such an undertaking can only be achieved with the combined efforts of institutions (taking this responsibility as an element of their mission) and governments (taking action and supporting the institutions’ strategies).
In the vision developed by the students, higher education must therefore be built upon two pillars of equal relevance: the pursuit of quality of education and equity of our societies. Quality assurance is a particularly important element, providing the tools for continuous institutional development and quality enhancement as for the building up of the necessary trust, eliminating diploma mills and enabling the diversity and progress inside national systems and universities. However, even if quality assurance as we know it is quite recent in a significant number of countries and has not got the time to mature, the emergence of the phenomena of rankings introduces an ingredient of distrust within the systems and impacts in governments, institutions and students’ attitudes. The institutional competition in the areas looked upon by rankings brings in also an agenda of conformity and jeopardize the institutional capacity to set its own path and mission.



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