International Policy Forum on flexible learning pathways in higher education

6 July 2021 to 8 July 2021

From 6-8 July 2021, policy-makers from across the globe can join an engaging virtual event on how to respond to pressing questions in higher education with findings from a major research project on flexible learning pathways.

Adapting and responding to societal changes has been a challenge for higher education systems throughout their history. However, no event has had such a rapid and transformative impact on higher education as the current COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis is showing that more flexible higher education systems are better placed to respond to crisis and maintain learning while also supporting equity and lifelong learning.

In addition, the Industrial Revolution 4.0 is also expected to disrupt existing higher education learning and working environments in an increasingly connected, but also diverse world. Higher education systems have to cater to an increasingly varied student population, including learners from lower socio-economic backgrounds, minority populations, part-time or older adults returning to education. How to respond to these challenges – in a sustainable and equitable way – is the key question that national and institutional policy-makers have to address today.

Higher education systems that provide flexible learning pathways (FLPs) for all students offer a solution to these challenges. The urgent need to develop FLPs is also emphasized in the 2030 Education Agenda and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.

In line with these trends and global commitments, UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) is convening a three-day online International Policy Forum to disseminate the results of its global project SDG 4: Planning for flexible learning pathways in higher education.

Read the Policy Forum’s concept note

The event will be organized as a series of engaging panel sessions to discuss ways to improve policy implementation on FLPs and ensure their effectiveness. The findings of the panel sessions will be further debated in four interactive workshops in which policy-makers from around the world will discuss existing policies on FLPs in their countries and share best practices and challenges in their implementation.

Read the Policy Forum's programme

This initiative is a collaborative effort between IIEP-UNESCO, the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Facility, the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education, the Department of Higher Education (JPT), the Universiti Sains Malaysia, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency, and the Malaysian National Commission for UNESCO.

Download all presentations and video messages

Day 1, International Policy Forum on Flexible Learning Pathways in Higher Education

Day 2, International Policy Forum on flexible learning pathways in higher education

Day 3, International Policy Forum on flexible learning pathways in higher education


What are flexible learning pathways?

Flexible learning pathways are an umbrella concept that involves multiple well-designed learning pathways that meet the needs of diverse students. IIEP’s global research articulates FLPs as:

  • Pathways for getting into higher education: alternative admission policies and practices (e.g., preparatory programmes, open access policies, recognition of prior learning).
  • Pathways for getting through higher education: study transfer, credit accumulation and transfer, flexible delivery modes (e.g., open and distance learning, flexibility in the pace of study, flexibility in curriculum).
  • Pathways for getting out of higher education: completion and transition to the labour market (e.g., combining work and study, flexible degree structures, continuous learning).

IIEP's research on flexible learning pathways  

Launched in 2018, the rationale behind this international research project is to identify policies and practices at both the national and institutional levels that promote flexible entry, progression, and access to the labour market. In particular, the study examines how FLPs support disadvantaged groups.

The International Policy Forum marks the final year of the four-year research, which comprises a stocktaking exercise of good practices, an international survey among higher education authorities on national policies and practices, and eight in-depth country case studies from Chile, Finland, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, South Africa, and the UK. The country case studies have looked at the intersection of national policies and institutional practices regarding FLPs in general, and the impact of FLPs on disadvantaged groups, in particular. These case studies will be in the spotlight in the upcoming Policy Forum.