Skills beyond school

OECD Higher Education Stakeholder Forum: Past Events


OECD Higher Education Stakeholder Forum 2016

On 17 June 2016, the OECD welcomed over 100 higher education stakeholders and policymakers to the inaugural OECD Higher Education Stakeholder Forum, held at the Australian Embassy in Paris.

The focus of the day was the development of the two new Enhancing Higher Education System Performance projects which will commence in 2017:

  • Benchmarking higher education system performance
  • The in-depth analysis of the labour market relevance and outcomes of higher education systems

The feedback and suggestions from participants was incorporated into the design and development of these projects.

Stakeholders were also given the opportunity to let the OECD know more about the key challenges facing higher education today and what could be done to address these challenges.

The OECD would like to thank the Australian Department of Education and Training for its generosity and financial support for the forum and related events and His Excellency Brian Pontifex, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the OECD and staff for hosting the events at the Australian Embassy.



Opening remarks by Andreas Schleicher, Director, Education and Skills Directorate

The Director, Andreas Schleicher provided the opening address for the forum. 


Benchmarking higher education system performance


What we told you

  • The OECD will launch a benchmarking exercise in 2017 that will capture information on the three main functions of higher education systems: education, research and engagement with the wider world to:

-   identify strengths and weaknesses in higher education systems

-   enable comparisons across agreed dimensions

-   provide a basis for peer learning and improvement

  • The benchmarking exercise will cover not only key metrics, but will also benchmark policies and practices to give more nuanced and insightful information on higher education.
  • This will help build a better understanding of the reasons behind the performance of higher education systems and provide important peer learning opportunities as countries can share good practices and learn from each other.
  • The benchmarking exercise will draw on existing data related to education, research, engagement, governance and resources from a range of sources including:

-   OECD internationally comparable indicators

-   International data (e.g. Eurostat and Eurydice)

-   National data (not necessarily strictly comparable)

  • The benchmarking exercise is not a ranking tool and will not measure the performance of specific institutions.


What you told us

Benchmarking higher education system performance approach

Strengths and opportunities

Weaknesses and challenges

  • Ambitious project
  • Comprehensive and holistic approach
  • A different approach from league tables and rankings
  • Enable cross-country comparisons
  • Peer learning
  • Tool for developing higher education systems
  • Provide governments with evidence and data to strengthen policy making
  • Addresses strong demand for the comparative assessment of higher education systems
  • Good conceptual model
  • Consideration of tertiary education in its entirety
  • Consideration of the three functions of higher education, including engagement
  • Context awareness
  • Acknowledgement of the social and economic context to measure the tangible impact of higher education
  • Activity and policy benchmarking in addition to metric benchmarking
  • More knowledge on the ‘activities’ of higher education systems
  • Consideration of different perspectives, including the students'
  • Will identify data gaps and drive better data collection
  • Comparable measures will create a common language
  • Will help improve national data and institutional performance management systems
  • Evidence base will be very valuable for further work and stimulate research on higher education systems
  • Approach adaptable to emerging priorities
  • Connection to other OECD work and other inter-governmental organizations
  • Longitudinal approach allows for monitoring progress over time
  • Raises the visibility of the importance of higher education
  • Complexity/ Too ambitious/ Too much data/ Too broad
  • Attracting funding to sustain project and achieve long-term results
  • Diversity of systems/ Diversity of contexts
  • Difficulty of dealing with federal systems
  • Private sectors not directly under control of public policy
  • Addressing diversity of missions and types of higher education institutions
  • Differences in understanding and interpretation of terms in different countries/ systems
  • Link to previous education levels
  • Avoid homogenisation
  • Interpreted as ranking despite best intentions
  • Possibility of replication without due consideration of context
  • Adequate representation of different stakeholders (students, academics, institutions, etc.)
  • Academic buy-in and endorsement
  • Difficulty in selecting feasible and meaningful indicators
  • Expense of data collection
  • Recognition of applied research
  • Conceptualisation of engagement
  • Data for engagement will be difficult to obtain and compare
  • Data and indicators on activities will be a challenge
  • Reflecting what is hard to measure
  • Data lag and availability
  • Measure of value added for students
  • Comparability and quality of national data
  • Overload of indicators is a concern
  • Get a critical mass of countries/ systems for the exercise to make sense
  • Need for collaboration with other inter-governmental organisations
  • Peer learning leading to policy imitation

Stakeholders made the following suggestions:

  • Conduct regular data collections to ensure new information is incorporated and the project retains its dynamic nature
  • Prioritise the data collection and analysis
  • Take account of the different types of students
  • Pay attention to different funding systems (public/ private)
  • Identify benefits for students and other stakeholders
  • Connect with other longitudinal datasets (e.g. tax records, census, health, consumption, etc.)
  • Ensure that the project does not turn into a ranking of systems
  • Use data collections from private sources as well
  • Encourage wide ownership and stakeholder representation throughout the project
  • Promote peer learning
  • Clarify the role of stakeholders

In-depth analysis of the labour market relevance and outcomes of higher education systems


What we told you

  • OECD countries have asked for an in-depth analysis of the labour market relevance and outcomes of higher education systems.
  • While there are important benefits to attending higher education on average, the labour market outcomes for graduates can vary and a significant minority of students have weak returns to their investment in higher education.
  • Many higher education stakeholders, especially employers and students, are increasingly concerned about the skills being developed in higher education.
  • The OECD is developing an analytical framework to address the labour market relevance and outcomes of higher education. The framework explores three key questions:

-   What skills and knowledge do labour markets need?

-   How well does higher education generate these skills and knowledge and what practices can enhance its performance?

-   How can governments help ensure that higher education generates skills that are relevant to the labour market?

  • Research shows that people need a mix of professional and field-specific skills; generic cognitive skills; and social and emotional skills to succeed in the labour market.
  • The in-depth analysis will identify practices at higher education institutions that promote labour market relevance and strong outcomes.
  • It will also examine the different policy tools (funding, information, authority and convening power) that governments can use to encourage labour market relevance within the higher education system, and how these tools can be used effectively. 


What you told us

Stakeholders identified the following practices within higher education systems that promote labour market relevance and outcomes:

  • Work-integrated learning, such as co-operative education, internships, placements, practicums, apprenticeships, applied research, and volunteering help students put their theoretical learning into practice, develop real-world employability skills, and ultimately help graduates transition to the labour market.
  • Students require more information about the labour market outcomes of academic programs and higher education institutions require more information about the skills that are needed in the labour market. Governments play an important role in developing and coordinating this sort of information. Alumni associations could also play a role in collecting data about the outcomes of graduates.
  • Greater collaboration between employers and higher education institutions is needed. This could take many forms, including business-higher education fora, greater input into curriculum design, teaching and assessment.

Students need more support from higher education institutions to facilitate their transition to the labour market. This could include traditional job fairs and career offices but also online tools for matching graduates to jobs and e-portfolios that help students classify the skills that they have. Career guidance should be extended to students graduating with advanced degrees


Stakeholder views of key challenges for higher education


  • Stakeholders identified a wide array of challenges that they are facing in higher education. These were group under five broad themes:

-   Skills and the labour market

-   Quality

-   Equity and access

-   Funding

-   Governance

  • Working in groups, stakeholders told us a bit more about the challenges related to quality, equity and access and funding.
  • A more robust evaluation of higher education would give us a sense of what is working and what isn’t.
  • Funding needs to be better linked to outcomes.
  • Higher education needs to develop different approaches to supporting learning in the increasingly diverse student population.
  • We need more information about how various higher education activities support quality.
  • Learning analytics could support the development of high quality higher education but is under-utilised.
  • Higher education institutions shouldn’t all do the same thing. Quality improves when there is specialisation.
  • More money won’t necessarily help improve the quality of higher education systems, but that doesn’t mean that less funding will either.
  • Higher education has to compete with other policy areas such as health care (particularly in countries with an ageing population) and the security agenda for public resources.
  • Higher education institutions face a real challenge in some countries because they are receiving less public funding, but not permitted to increase tuition fees.
  • Higher education institutions need a diversity of funding streams.
  • Funding could be done differently. Some suggested that funding should be given directly to students; others suggested that higher education should be funded through a more progressive tax system.
  • Placing more financial burdens on students could affect access.
  • The sector requests more funding but there is very little examination of how the system could use resources more efficiently.
Equity and Access
  • Access to higher education is important, but ensuring all students are able to succeed in higher education is also critically important.
  • Access is fairly broad by historical standards, but many students are poorly prepared to succeed in higher education.
  • Migration is leading to new equity challenges.
  • Innovative teaching practices that use modern technologies could expand access to more learners.
  • Higher education could do better to ensure that students are in the right program for them.



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Benchmarking higher education systems performance

In-depth analysis of higher education topics

Stakeholder dialogue

Why we are doing this work now

OECD higher education team



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