Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century - EDU00067M

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  • Department: Education
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Sally Hancock
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Module summary

To introduce students to key issues and debates within contemporary higher education. The course will explore the role of higher education in society, the changing nature of the university, and trends in who participates in higher education. Students will develop an understanding of contemporary international trends in higher education, within a historical context. The relationship between higher education and social justice will represent a theme throughout the module. Students will draw from a range of disciplinary perspectives and engage with current theoretical and empirical research. Disciplines drawn from will include: sociology; political science; philosophy; history of education; higher education studies; and, economics.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2019-20

Module aims

The module is intended to introduce students to key issues and debates within contemporary higher education. This will include considering the role of higher education in society, the changing nature of the university and trends in who studies in higher education, when, where and why. The relationship between higher education and social justice will represent a theme throughout the module. The focus will be on understanding contemporary international trends but within a historical context. Students will draw on a range of disciplinary perspectives and make use of the latest theoretical and empirical research. Disciplines drawn on will include, but not be limited to, sociology, political science, history of education, higher education studies and economics. Students will be encouraged to develop skills in critical evaluation of scholarly and political arguments in connection with higher education, and in comparative/international studies.

Module learning outcomes

Subject content

Students should be appraised of a range of trends and developments in contemporary higher education internationally. This will include, inter alia, higher education’s role and impact in societies and economies; approaches to teaching and research within university-level institutions; the growth of higher education; and how higher education is financed.


Academic and graduate skills

  • Ability to compare and contrast systems of higher education and trends across different countries/regions.
  • Ability to critically analyse and evaluate higher education policies and trends.
  • Ability to source, synthesise, apply and evaluate theories and empirical research on higher education in relation to a given topic.
  • Competence in demonstrating these skills orally (formative) and in writing (summative).

Module content

Course Structure (week by week):

Week 2: The global rise of the university: from elite to mass to universal.

Week 3: The idea of the university for the 21st century.

Week 4: Globalisation, internationalisation or colonisation in higher education?

Week 5: Higher education and economic growth: cause or consequence?

Week 6: Who pays? Is higher education privatising?

Week 7: "The 97th best university in the world": the roots of rankings and league tables and their implications for higher education

Week 8: Plus ca change? Higher education and inequality

Week 9: Student mobilities: who, where and why?

Week 10: "The future is online": will there be a technological revolution in higher education?


Course details

Week 2 - The global rise of the university: from elite to mass to universal (Pep Mateos-González and Sally Hancock).

There are more universities today than at any other point in history, with more students than ever before participating in higher education. This session will explore the shift from higher education as an elite to mass to universal system, and identify the key ideas and justifications associated with this trajectory. We will consider how scholars have characterised and debated the evolving university.

Week 3 - The idea of the university for the 21st century (Sally Hancock).

In this session we will consider a central paradox of global higher education: universities are more numerous than ever before, and yet there is greater contestation over the purpose and value of contemporary higher education. As the stakeholders of higher education have increased and diversified, so too have the range of expectations placed upon the university. As traditional ideals are challenged by new political, economic and social agendas, we will explore the tensions facing universities.

Week 4 - Globalisation, internationalisation or colonisation in higher education? (Sally Hancock).

This session will draw from political science literature to examine the distinctions between globalisation, internationalisation and colonisation. Students will explore the implications of these phenomena in relation to contemporary higher education. We will focus in detail on the opportunities and challenges that these phenomena present for institutional identity and management (e.g. the meeting of Western and post-Confucian ideals), and, the creation and application of knowledge (considering the shift from modernity to post-modernity).

Week 5 - Higher education and economic growth: cause or consequence? (Sally Hancock)

Universities are increasingly framed as drivers of economic development, and are expected by governments internationally to demonstrate their contribution to economic growth. Drawing from international research and policy, students will critically examine the assumptions of the ‘knowledge economy’ vision, and consider the role anticipated of the university in terms of developing a highly skilled workforce and producing economically valuable knowledge. Students will be invited to reflect on the impact of such policies on the institutional character of the university.

Week 6 - Who pays? Is higher education privatising? (Sally Hancock)

In this session students will explore the complex financial challenges of sustaining a system of mass higher education. Students will critically discuss whether tuition fees are an inevitable feature of contemporary higher education, and will compare the current UK system with those in place in other countries across the world. We will consider other trends in the financing of the sector more generally, such as the growth of private universities, the prevalence of corporate values in the academy, and the move towards a ‘market’ of higher education.

Week 7 - "The 97th best university in the world": the roots of rankings and league tables and their implications for higher education (Sally Hancock).

Domestic and international university league tables and rankings are now a key feature of the higher education landscape. University administrators, politicians, funders and students pay careful attention to them and they are thought to influence policy and student behaviour. In this session we will trace the rapid emergence of league tables and consider arguments that the reason for their rise can be linked to the growth of higher education and its social and economic uses. We will also consider criticisms of rankings in principle and practice.

Week 8 - Plus ca change? Higher education and inequality (Pep Mateos-González).

Expanding and widening enrolment in higher education is seen as a means of securing greater equity in social and economic outcomes, especially for historically disadvantaged groups. We will look at the evidence on patterns of inequality in access to higher education and consider whether these have changed over time or had any impact on social mobility. In doing so we will consider theories in the sociology of education concerning education and social inequality.

Week 9 - Student mobilities: who, where and why? (Pep Mateos-González).

Although the ‘wandering scholar’ has been a feature of higher education since the first universities were founded, recent years have seen a large growth in student mobility, especially internationally. Many students now study outside of their home country for all or part of their degree. Building on the material covered in Week 4, we will look at the patterns of student geographical mobility between and within countries and consider some of the explanations put forward for these patterns. We will draw on students’ own experiences in considering this topic.

Week 10 - "The future is online": will there be a technological revolution in higher education? (Pep Mateos-González).

During the past few years there has been no shortage of predictions of the demise of the traditional university model in the face of an online revolution. It has been suggested that universities will not be able to sustain their current mode of operation when students can potentially have access to very high quality material at any time and for very low cost via the internet. The most recent version of this prediction involves ‘Massively Online Open Courses’ or MOOCs. We will review the arguments for and against these predictions. We will conclude the module by considering the future prospects for higher education in the remainder of the 21st century.

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
Essay 3,500 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules

None

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark
Essay/coursework
Essay 3,500 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive feedback in a range of ways throughout this module. This will include oral feedback in class, responses to posts on the VLE discussion board and written comments on work. You will have the chance to obtain feedback on your writing during the module, and you will have a short one-to-one meeting with a module tutor to discuss assessments.

You will be provided physical written feedback on assignment report sheets as well as them being readily available on the VLE. The feedback is returned to students in line with university policy. Please check the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback for more information

Indicative reading

Baker, D. P. (2014) The Schooled Society: the Educational Transformation of Global Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Barnett, R. (2013) (ed) The Future University: Ideas and Possibilities. London: Routledge.

Brown, R. and Carasso, H. (2013) Everything for Sale? The Marketisation of UK Higher Education. London: Routledge.

Colini, S. (2012) What Are Universities For? London: Penguin.

David, M. and Naidoo, R. (2013) (eds.) The Sociology of Higher Education: Reproduction, Transformation and Change in a Global Era. London: Routledge.

Gumport, P. (2007) (ed.) Sociology of Higher Education: Contributions and Their Contexts. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

King, R., Marginson, S. and Naidoo, R. (2013) Handbook on Globalization and Higher Education.

Marginson, S., and Van der Wende, M. (2007) To rank or be ranked: the impact of global rankings on higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 11 (3-4): 306 – 329.

Trow, M. and Burrage, M. (2010) Twentieth Century Higher Education: Elite to Mass to Universal. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.



The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.