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Beijing Forum 2009: Panel Session on Higher Education

Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Beijing, Nov 6, 2009: On Nov 6th, 2009, professors from different countries around the world had a heated discussion focused on higher education under the financial crisis on the panel on higher education of Beijing Forum 2009. Ten professors from US, China, UK, Netherlands and India delivered speeches about their research about higher education and their strategies for the development of universities, and exchanged constructive ideas with each other.

 

As was mentioned in most of the speeches, the global economic crises had been has unevenly affecting colleges and universities in most countries. Government had cut funding to public colleges and universities, and many institutions are implementing cost saving measures such as hiring freezes. Private donations and entrepreneurial activities on higher education were also far from satisfactory. Since the recession had hit many families, tuition fees had became a burden for some students, which made it difficult for universities, especially private institutions to set tuition low enough to compete for students. Moreover college students were facing the big challenge that they were more likely than before to fail to find jobs.

 

Facing the tough situation and the economic challenges, all the professors stressed the importance of innovations made by universities. As Prof. David J. Skorton pointed out, “The increasing cost of higher education is such a substantial problem, however, particularly given the effect of the recession on students, families and contributors, that budget shortfalls cannot be addressed simply by increasing revenues. Universities in the 21st century will have to think much more carefully about priority setting and strategic planning in order to live within their means while maintaining excellence and allowing room and flexibility for innovation.”

 

Some practical and creative solutions were proposed in the session. In terms of the improvement of teaching facilities and technologies, Prof. Marshall S. Smith introduced the integration of technology into classrooms, which means to create new online and open-source courses in community colleges so that more classes can be offered without increasing construction costs or hiring new faculty. When asked about the effect of this measure, He said, “Studies have shown that online educational software have the potential to help students learn as much or more in than they would with only classroom instruction and there are indications that some students can learn more faster.”

 

More than the proper changes on the hardware of universities, the professors discussed about the goals of higher education in today’s situation. Prof. Christine T. Ennew raised an enlightening question at the end of her speech, “We should try to think about whether there is a goal in common that all kinds of higher education should pursue.” Prof. William John Morgan delivered a point that lifelong learning is important to everyone, and higher education should play the role of providing opportunities for people’s lifelong learning. Lifelong learning must be made more accessible and attractive to all kinds of students, including adults, if lifelong learning is to make its full contribution to economic development and social inclusion. For most of the universities, a future strategy for lifelong learning must reflect the needs of a variety of learner population.

 

When the problem of students’ pressure of finding jobs was being discussed, Prof. David J. Skorton noted that it was essentially important for the students to develop their ability of intercultural communication, and universities should pay attention to liberal arts education as well as science education. Therefore, the students could adapt to more occupation and the difficulty in finding jobs could be reduced.

 

Edited by: Xiang Yunke