Interactive Higher Education Policy [or HigherEd 2.0]

Both the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEST) of the Australian Commonwealth Government and the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) of the British Government are looking for news to organise and coordinate their higher education sector. For this, they have started a similar initiative. Both are relying heavily on input from the field and the broader society to get new ideas, and probably to receive more support for their future polices. Yet, there are some differences as well.

In its Review of Higher Education, the Australian government has asked a small expert panel to write a Higher Education Discussion Paper. This Discussion Paper (PDF, 4 MB) was released in June and addresses a wide range of questions structured around nine key challenges and issues for higher education in Australia over the coming decades.

· Meeting labour market and industry needs
· Opportunities to participate in higher education
· The student experience of higher education
· Connecting with other education and training sectors
· Higher education’s role in the national innovation system
· Australia’s higher education sector in the international arena
· HE’s contribution to Australia’s economic, social and cultural capital
· Resourcing the system
· Governance and regulation

After this release, the Expert Panel invited the community to react to this paper and send in their submissions before 31 July. This has led to 300 submissions responding to the discussion paper. Responses have been submitted by interested individuals, Vice Chancellors, Leaders of intermediary organisations, student unions, etc. There’s also a range of HE experts and researchers that submitted their reactions, and even some HE bloggers (who of course are also experts; for instance Andrew Nortonsubmission 91 and Steven SchwartzSubmission 66). The Review Panel will provide its report on priority action by the end of October 2008, and final report by the end of the year. I’ll keep an eye on it…

In the UK,  the Secretary of State for DIUS, John Denham, claimed that the UK needs to decide what a world-class HE system of the future should look like and what it should seek to achieve. And he also is asking the public to participate in this Higher Education Debate. Denham first asked eight experts to present their advise and opinions on eight different themes:

· Part-time studies in Higher Education
· Demographic challenge facing Higher Education
· Teaching and student experience
· International issues in Higher Education
· Intellectual property and research benefits
· Academia and public policy making
· Research careers
· Understanding institutional performance

These contributions will lead to a formal public consultation on a policy framework for HE in the autumn. They however also form the input for discussions on these eight topics with the wider public. And the discussions are conducted…yes on a blog. On the Future of Higher Education Blog readers have the opportunity to comment on the opinions of the experts.

The Australian example has shown that there are plenty of HE stakeholders and experts willing to spend some time in drafting future HE plans (I feel sorry for all the staff at DEST that has to go through them all). In some ways their process resembles the consultation process of the European Commission (for instance here, for the EIT).

What the input of the English public will be remains to be seen. Until now, comments on the blog are only few – and not always very constructive contributions. However, the  discussion opportunity has only been online since July. 

Even though the outcomes of these processes are not yet clear, I welcome these new ways of policy making. Even though these new initiatives would fit well in the (consensus oriented) Dutch political culture, – to my knowledge – the use of the Internet in the process of policy making and formulation is still rare. Maybe an idea for Dutch higher education…?

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