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The Emerging Markets Symposium

Tertiary Education in Emerging Markets

What’s in a Name?

The terms tertiary, higher, post-secondary, elective and post-compulsory education are often used loosely, interchangeably, even ambiguously. This symposium focused on tertiary, or post-compulsory education - meaning education at public and private universities, colleges, technical institutes, executive education programmes, community colleges, research institutes, distance learning institutions and specialized institutions for professional training in law, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. The mix and configuration of these institutions varies widely from one emerging market to another.

The decision to focus on tertiary or post-compulsory education was taken partly because it would have been impossible to cover all aspects; partly because the tighter the focus the greater the likelihood of useful results; and partly because the skills and capabilities produced through tertiary education are critical to the development and management of emerging market economies and societies. While technical and other training in other forms of post-compulsory education including institutions for adult and life-long learning are critical the relative priority of tertiary institutions derives from the roles of highly educated leaders, managers, administrators and professionals without whom modern states cannot function effectively or compete efficiently.  

Shifting Priorities

In the last 65 years, development fashions have come and gone, development theories have been tempered by experience, and development priorities have reflected changing ideologies. In the latter part of the last century many emerging markets, having emphasised tertiary education in the 1950s and '60s shifted their priorities to primary and secondary education.

In the last decade many emerging markets have refocused their energies and resources on tertiary education having recognized that economic growth and social development crucially depend on increasing supplies of trained and educated entrepreneurs, managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, technicians and other men and women equipped to run governments, businesses and voluntary organizations and to deliver an expanding universe of public and private services.

In doing so emerging market governments and other actors have moved, some with surprising speed, to transform tertiary education landscapes and expand and reform tertiary institutions as instruments of human capital formation.

There is abundant evidence of rapid change: public and private institutions have been joined by the arrival of private for-profit, state supported, foreign owned and virtual (distance learning) institutions; there has been an intensified debate on whether tertiary education is a public or private good; distinctions between ‘academic' and 'vocational' education have been blurred by the advent of non-traditional institutions; tertiary education has become an increasingly visible and valuable component of international trade in services; and competition between elite universities and broader based institutions has intensified.

The impetus for change has been driven by exploding demand for higher level skills in the global knowledge economy; by the fact that while primary education continues to be perceived as a human right, a global public good and the foundation of secondary and tertiary education, policy attention in many emerging markets has shifted to the production of expert skills and nurturing the leadership talent on which economic progress and social, political and cultural change ultimately depend; and by the growing sense that many tertiary institutions in emerging markets now stand shoulder-to-shoulder with longer established and better known institutions in high income countries.

The last 30 years have seen unprecedented changes in the scope, scale and structure of tertiary education in emerging markets. Yet for all the evidence of more institutions, more students, more programmes, more graduates and more diplomas, there are many questions about its scope, content, implications and effectiveness.

Is more tertiary education in emerging markets being achieved at the expense of quality? Does it mean more equitable access by low and middle class students? Do the resources invested in tertiary education yield higher returns than they would yield if invested elsewhere? What are the lessons of recent experience and what good policy practices deserve dissemination? What has been the record of collaborative programmes with tertiary education establishments in high income countries? What are the implications of the growing dependence of high income countries on emerging market talent? How should high income countries interpret the fact that many of them are falling behind some emerging markets in the production of scientific, mathematicians, engineering and other skills?

The symposium on Tertiary Education in Emerging Market Countries was designed to address these and related questions in the contexts of national and international education systems and economic, social, cultural and demographic change and against the background of macro-economic and geo-political changes that have thrust emerging markets in to pivotal roles of the world stage.

Recognizing that emerging markets have common attributes but distinctive issues, priorities, constraints and education systems, the symposium set out to focus on three generic questions: How is demand for tertiary education likely to evolve; How can tertiary institutions manage structural, curricular and other challenges as they respond to future demand; And how can emerging markets and high income countries respond to issues arising from changes in the global marketplace for tertiary education?

To address these issues the symposium was divided in to blocks focussed respectively on demand, supply and global issues. The questions addressed are summarized below.

The Demand Side

Changing Patterns of Demand for Tertiary Education

What can emerging markets learn from each other and from wealthy countries about demand planning for tertiary education; how can tertiary education planners anticipate the volume and composition of future demand including the disaggregation of institutions and providers and home and foreign students; and how might patterns of demand vary from one emerging market to another in light of likely changes in (i) access to primary and secondary education; (ii) the numbers and types of students who could demand post-secondary education and training; (iii) the composition of national human resource needs; (iv) the proportions in which students might seek vocational, sub-degree, post-graduate and other qualifications; and (v) (where relevant) international demand?

How can emerging markets that are strongly committed to serving both domestic and international students balance their commitments to each constituency? How can they resolve conflicts arising from the facts that (i) there are distinct criteria for excellence and success in each sphere; (ii) global rankings add to already burdensome pressures; (iii) neither market can be abandoned; (iv) the simultaneous search for excellence has created numerous challenges and pressures; (v) there is a risk that in trying to satisfy both constituencies they may satisfy neither?

Determinants of Demand for Tertiary Education

What might be the relative importance of factors that could determine future demand for tertiary education in emerging markets (e.g. reputation, status, institutional history, aspirational versus realistic goals and personal versus social rates of return) and how might they vary from one emerging market to another?

How will demand be influenced by the economic positions and prospects of emerging market countries? How can governments and tertiary institutions in emerging markets build working relationships with potential employers to improve their understanding of future demand for graduates? Are the recruitment and human development policies of multinational corporations (that now account for a substantial share of global economic output) aligned with those of national governments; how are their demands likely to affect global and national demands for talents and competencies; and how should policy makers respond to them?

How should education policies in emerging markets be aligned with policies for other sectors and with macro-economic policies? How are emerging markets managing the interface between tertiary education and national labour market needs given knowledge intensive shifts in demand for skills and innovation?

Broadening Access to Tertiary Education

How can governments and other actors (business, civil society) broaden access to tertiary education in emerging markets, empower disadvantaged students, capitalize intellectual resources as national assets and advantage the disadvantaged without disadvantaging the already advantaged? Can access to tertiary education for economically disadvantaged students be facilitated by reducing its costs? Can public-private partnerships play a role in broadening access to tertiary education by funding or subsidizing its costs? Can initiatives to broaden access for disadvantaged students that have been pioneered elsewhere be adapted to and adopted in emerging markets?  How should emerging markets address issues of access to tertiary education by women; how are issues of gender equality in access to tertiary education related to gender equality in society and the workplace; what can be learned from emerging markets that have developed policies to address these issues?

The Roles, Values and Functions of Tertiary Institutions

Should tertiary institutions be expected to promote ethical standards in public and corporate life and how might they do so? What are the formal and revealed values (e.g. competence, social justice and liberty) of tertiary institutions in emerging markets and how do they vary between countries? How might the future roles, values and functions of tertiary institutions in emerging markets vary by comparison with those of the past and present and with those in wealthier countries? What might local and national communities in emerging markets expect of tertiary institutions and how might those expectations be reflected in relationships between tertiary institutions and civil society? Should tertiary institutions see themselves or be seen (explicitly or implicitly) as custodians of national and or local cultural and intellectual assets? Should they be expected to teach academic values (e.g. individualism, responsibility and loyalty) and promote independent thought, social networks and extracurricular activities?

The Supply Side

Structural Issues in Tertiary Education

Recognizing distinctions between system wide issues, government policies and actions and reforms for which tertiary institutions are directly responsible and assuming that demand for tertiary education in emerging markets will evolve and diversify (i) should emerging markets adopt more differentiated approaches to tertiary education; (ii) what will be the respective roles of private, transnational, virtual and vocational institutions, (iii) how can each type of institution respond to different types of demand; (iv) should there be distinctions between academic and vocational institutions and between teaching and research institutions and (v) how should emerging markets address issues of segregation, the role of the state, privatization and academic independence?


How should tertiary institutions in emerging markets manage distinctions between 'academic' and 'vocational' training and resolve the 'binary dilemma' between 'academic' and 'vocational' streams; should 'academic' institutions be segregated from 'vocational' institutions; how can emerging markets manage pressures to shift resources to commercially relevant fields?

The Role of the State

What is the role of the state in developing integrated national strategies for primary, secondary and tertiary education? What is the role of the state in such areas as quality, equity, value for monetary and economic and social responsiveness in diversified systems of tertiary education in emerging markets? What is the role of the state in influencing tertiary institutions to focus on national priorities? How can/should the state regulate different providers of tertiary education? How should the state allocate fiscal and other public resources for education between alternative uses?

Privatization, Commercialization and Corporatization

What is the role of profit-making organizations in tertiary education in emerging markets; what issues may be generated by these organizations; how should governments address them; and what guidance may be obtained from the experience of wealthier countries? What is the role of non-profit private institutions, what issues may arise in these institutions and how should governments address them? What are the implications of commercialization and privatization in public tertiary institutions (including the development of profit making subsidiary organizations) in emerging markets; what issues may arise and how might emerging markets benefit from the experience of wealthier countries in managing these issues?

Academic Independence

Is the academic independence of public and private non-profit institutions and private profit making organizations in emerging markets compromised by financial dependency? Are there inverse relationships between financial dependency and academic independence and if there are, what are the implications? How can emerging market institutions manage relationships between critical intellectualism and autonomous science in universities and civic and government cultures; and how can they manage issues of freedom in tertiary education including the dynamics of creativity and innovation in society and economy?

Curriculum Issues in Tertiary Education

How should emerging markets address issues associated with breadth and specialization in tertiary education, the performance of tertiary institutions and the application of information and communications technologies in tertiary education?

Breadth and Specialization

What criteria should guide the balance between specialized and broad based tertiary education? What criteria might guide institutions that wish to become more specialized? How might transitions between specialized and broad based institutions be supported by government and other actors? Should tertiary curricula be aligned with market forces and economic pressures to achieve balanced outcomes (and if so how)?

How will emerging markets that are emphasizing science, engineering, business management, medicine and technology (i) meet emerging national needs for professional expertise in social sciences, humanities, and related fields; (ii) address social and human development issues (e.g. gender, minority and indigenous issues) and (iii) develop capabilities in public administration, governance, occupational and environmental health and conflict management? Are emerging markets developing sustainable policies to support life-long and practical learning?


What conditions must be satisfied to enable tertiary institutions in emerging markets to achieve superior performance? Insofar as some tertiary institutions in emerging markets have set/are setting very high standards of excellence how are they doing it, what are the systemic implications and what can be learned from them?  What distinctions exist between institutions with world class aspirations that are competing on a global level and institutions that are dedicated to national and local priorities? How could explicit and tacit knowledge about innovative pedagogical approaches and practises in tertiary institutions in emerging markets be shared and adapted in other emerging markets?


How can emerging markets use information and communications technologies to (i) meet expanding demand for tertiary education; (ii) increase access to tertiary education; (iii) improve the quality of tertiary education; and (iv) reduce the costs of tertiary education? What are the potential roles of national and international distance learning institutions in emerging markets? Are there opportunities for corporate or other sponsorship in this field? Are there opportunities to adapt models developed elsewhere to emerging markets?

Global Issues

Global Competition

Are there significant contrasts in the economic impact of tertiary education in emerging markets; to what extent are they determined by cultural differences between emerging markets and insofar as they exist how do these contrasts affect the global competitiveness of emerging market economies?

How should emerging market governments address issues arising from global competition for scarce skills including the international migration of emerging market professionals? How should they manage the risk that graduates trained in emerging  markets migrate abroad and do not return? Should receiving countries offset consequent skill deficits in emerging markets and or compensate countries of origin; what are the implications for other sectors of the 2010 WHO Global Code of Practise on The International Recruitment of Health Personnel? How do/should graduate migration issues affect immigration policies in wealthy countries?

Should emerging markets seek to attract students from wealthier countries and if so on what terms and conditions? What are the financial implications of this practise and what are the implications for home-country students? What is the value of short term student exchanges between emerging market and other countries?

Global Partnerships

What is the role of partnerships and other forms of collaboration in tertiary education in emerging markets? What are the potential benefits of such collaborations for institutions in emerging markets and wealthy countries? Should emerging market governments encourage, prohibit or adopt neutral positions on 'offshore' and 'satellite campus' initiatives by institutions based in wealthy countries and/or distinguish between initiatives involving public and non-profit institutions and for-profit organizations? What are the driving forces behind such initiatives? What, if anything, can be learned from experience with 'offshoring' in other sectors?

Portability, Transfers and Equivalences

How should emerging market governments and institutions address issues associated with international differences in criteria, standards, and curricula in tertiary education and the international portability of professional qualifications obtained in emerging market countries? Should emerging market governments require tertiary institutions (including foreign institutions) to obtain quality assurance certification or accreditation from recognized national or international authorities? Can emerging markets learn about these processes from the experience of other emerging markets or wealthier countries?

Green Templeton College

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