SDG 4: Planning for Flexible learning pathways in Higher Education

21 June 2019


Participants of the seminar at IIEP from 17 to 19 June 2019.

Higher education is expanding rapidly worldwide. Global enrolment in higher education more than doubled in less than two decades, reaching 221 million students in 2017. This number is expected to surpass 590 million by 2040. 

This expansion has led to a diversified sector, reflected in not only a wider variety of higher education institutions, programmes of study and delivery modes, but also a diversity of learners entering the system, including non- traditional groups. As a result, higher education is increasingly expected to adapt to different learning requirements, which means offering well-articulated and flexible learning pathways that can facilitate good outcomes for all.

The need to adapt education systems to better support flexible learning pathways, with a view of strengthening equity and lifelong learning is well recognized in the international Education 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. The Agenda encourages countries to develop well-integrated education systems that provide flexible learning pathways for all students, in the form of entry points and re-entry points at all ages and all educational levels, strengthened links between formal and non-formal structures, and recognition, validation, and accreditation of the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired through non-formal and informal education.

However, ensuring that higher education systems provide multiple entry and progression pathways tailored to different types of learners is easier said than done. This process requires adequate policies and steering instruments to create an enabling environment for flexible learning pathways and well-designed implementation strategies to ensure that these pathways are reflected into the practices of higher education institutions and are truly used for the benefit of the learners.

New research project launches on planning for flexible learning pathways

In 2018, IIEP launched the research project, SDG4: Planning for flexible learning pathways in higher education. The overarching objective of this project is to produce knowledge and provide evidence-based policy advice to ministries of (higher) education in different development contexts that are considering building or strengthening flexible learning pathways as an area of reform.

The research comprises an international baseline survey and eight country case studies in different regions that are developing or have developed initiatives for flexible learning pathways. The case study approach envisages an in-depth analysis of how national policies are implemented and how they influence institutional practices. Furthermore, it also aims to capture more decentralized, institution-led measures for the development of flexible learning pathways in higher education.

8 countries come together

The selected countries and partner organizations for the project are the United KingdomChile (Consejo Nacional de Educación), Finland (Finnish Education Evaluation Centre and the Finnish Institute for Educational Research), India (Centre for Policy Research in Higher Education, National University of Educational Planning Administration), Jamaica (The University Council of Jamaica), Malaysia (National Higher Education Research Institute, University Sains Malaysia), Morocco (University Hassan II), and South Africa (South African Qualifications Authority).

From 17 to 19 June, research teams from these countries met at IIEP to discuss the research methodology. The teams will be responsible for collecting information, its analysis, and preparing the case studies. Under the guidance and supervision of IIEP, they will carry out the research plan and will draft the case study reports. The case studies will be discussed at an international conference to be organized during 2020.