Transforming higher education: Flexibility is a must to promote equity and employability

18 October 2022

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New research from the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO) charts a path forward for higher education in a changing world. It presents strong policy options for implementing Flexible Learning Pathways (FLPs), an approach to making higher education more accessible, easier to navigate, and more relevant for today’s world.

Globally, higher education continues to undergo major changes. In recent decades, the number of students in higher education has grown immensely, and by 2040, enrollment is expected to reach 590 million students. Within this context of growth, notably in the Global South, higher education needs to become more flexible to respond to the changing needs of its more diverse students. The evolution of FLPs over the next years will be critical to how these students reach higher education and leave prepared for the future.

This is where Flexible Learning Pathways (FLPs) enter as a relevant option for the future of higher education. This approach to policy and planning puts the focus on the student journey and emphasizes the need for diverse entry, re-entry, and exit points for post-secondary qualifications through a facilitated recognition of all types of learning. By giving students – whether they be first time university students, a refugee in a new country, or a returning adult learner – more options to enter and progress in higher education, this level of the education ladder becomes more equitable, just, and aligned with the demands of today’s world.

A new book from IIEP-UNESCO which brings to close a major international and multi-year research project, is now available to support the decision-makers, planners, and higher education institutions in designing policies for FLPs. The book, SDG-4: Flexible Learning Pathways in Higher Education – from Policy to Practice, presents both a comparative analysis of effective policy options and country examples of strong implementation. It is designed to inspire national policy-makers and planners, institutional leaders, and the broader academic community at an international level to reimagine the higher education landscape.

“This book can support countries in reforming higher education systems so they are less fragmented, easier to navigate, and accessible and supportive for the diverse learners in higher education today. Flexible learning pathways are a path towards greater equity and employability for young people, who face a myriad of global challenges.”

Michaela Martin, Assistant Director a.i., IIEP-UNESCO

A holistic approach to benefit all learners

To benefit all learners and systems, the book argues for a holistic approach to implementing FLPs. They should be accessible across the whole higher education system and encompass all stages of the student journey – from entry to higher education, progression, to completion. The IIEP research also shows how countries use alternative entry pathways, such as contextual admission and compensatory entry criteria, to benefit disadvantaged students. To further build on this, authors Michaela Martin and Uliana Furiv argue for a clearer linkage between equity policies and policies in support of FLPs for getting in and through higher education.

Drawing on case studies from Chile, Finland, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, it synthesizes real-world examples on implementing FLPs and what they mean for education systems and all the students they cater to. For example, it illustrates strong policy options on how to include single mothers enrolling in higher education in Malaysia and refugee learners in Finland who need to have their prior learning experience recognized. 

Additionally, IIEP has published a short one-pager of the main recommendations to support different actors with moving from policy to practice. This includes the steps to create a conducive policy framework for FLPs, how to construct FLPs at different stages, and how to support them with appropriate governance tools.

Book launch at the 2022 ADEA Triennale

SDG-4: Flexible Learning Pathways in Higher Education – from Policy to Practice is launching at the ADEA Triennale on Education, one of Africa’s seminal high-level forums for political dialogue and sharing of knowledge and fruitful experiences.

The book launch will take place on 19 October 2022 to disseminate the research findings from the stocktaking, international survey, and eight national in-depth case studies, including ones from South Africa and Morocco.

The event will contribute to ADEA’s focus on critical themes that transform Africa’s education systems for sustainable social and economic development and objective of fostering continental, regional and cross-country interactions and peer learning and exchange.

Learn more and register for the event if you will be attending ADEA Triennale 2022!

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