Meeting global student demand: what’s the higher education supply solution?

Jay Halfond
18.07.2019·5 min read

The worldwide demand for higher education is outstripping supply. Dr Jay Halfond shares his insights into addressing a critical global need

There is an undeniable, and ever-growing need for high-quality, accessible higher education (HE).

Between 2000 and 2014, the number of students in HE globally more than doubled to 207 million, according to a UNESCO paper. And, it was estimated that by 2025, the global number of students in HE would double to 262 million, propelled by demand from students across India, China and sub-Saharan Africa. To meet those projections, we’d need to open four new universities a week for the next 15 years. Yet the number of students in 2019 is already closer to 200 million.

And unless we can find a way to meet this increasing demand, global businesses will suffer as an enormous talent pool remains untapped, while they lack career-ready graduates with necessary job skills.

Traditional HE – brick and mortar campuses – may be here to stay. But residential campuses cannot keep up with this growing level of demand. And global relocation, or taking valuable time away from work to study, simply isn’t an option for every potential learner.

Dr Jay Halfond, a strategy advisor and member of Nexford’s global advisory board, is Professor of the Practice, at Boston University, where he’s worked since 1997, primarily as Dean of BU’s Metropolitan College. He’s also held various administrative posts at Harvard University.

“There’s a real capacity problem throughout the world,” states Dr Halfond about the state of HE today. “The revolution in higher education is on the demand side, and the supply side can’t keep up with it.”

“There needs to be high quality, easily deliverable, and credible higher education, that’s distributed globally. And the answer has got to involve technology in some way; the world can’t build enough residential campuses to keep up with the demand.”

Supply and demand: the hard facts

International student mobility data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) name the top two destinations with the highest value international education markets as the US followed by the UK.

And those markets know that they’re facing a demand they cannot meet. Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States, a report by Seaman, Allen and Seaman, finds that demand for online learning in the US has risen for the 14th year running. UK thinktank the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), forecast student figures in its report Demand For Higher Education to 2030, putting its predictions at an increase in demand of over 300,000 by the end of the next decade as “the most likely outcome.”

And, of course, it’s not just the US and UK that are struggling to keep up with learner demand.

“There is a void,” says Dr Halfond. “And Nexford is going to help fill that void. “Nexford addresses the ever-growing need for high quality, accessible, higher education. It’s not going to supplant existing HE options, but it will address a critical global need. It will add to the HE ecosystem in a way that current options cannot do.”

Meeting you where you are

Meeting the demand is not just about providing the places for learners seeking HE opportunities. Dr Halfond says that those international students who meet high financial costs to attend a top level residential US or UK university represent just 1 or 2% of their country’s learners. What about the others?

Regardless of grades, talent and drive, the cost of global relocation, in addition to the viability of taking time away from work, is simply not an option for many learners. And when entrepreneurs stay where they are, it has positive knock-on effects on their local economy.

The Global Entrepreneurship Index, 2018, for example, estimates that the 3% GEI score improvement on 2017’s scores could have added USD$7 trillion to global GDP because institutions that support entrepreneurs also positively impact the economy as a whole. Sub-Saharan Africa’s score improved on last year’s GEI score by 1.5%, with Botswana leading the field in the region. The report draws a clear link between access to HE and improved outcomes for entrepreneurs, naming lack of access to education and skills that support careers in entrepreneurship as the region’s main challenge. It recommends a boost in startup skills as the fastest way to positively impact the region’s scores.

“Traditional HE requires relocation, it requires credible resources, and it requires abandoning your country in a sense, which means family, your friends and your occupational opportunities in that country,” says Dr Halfond. “Distance learning has gained acceptance in the United States – where one out of every six students is pursuing a degree exclusively online. And this acceptance is likely to spread throughout the world as well, as learners and employers appreciate that learning online can be an effective alternative to relocating to a residential university.”

“Online learning allows students to stay put, and still be part of what is considered the mecca of higher education: America.”

Changing the status quo

“Sameness will be the enemy of survival,” writes Dr Halfond, in an article for The Evolllution.

He describes the premier competitive advantage of US HE, and the major ingredient in its secret sauce as “its vast array of institutions and their freedom to differentiate and compete among themselves.”

“Despite an inevitable march to conformity, our schools have managed to retain some semblance of distinct identity through which they express their unique missions and strengths,” he writes.

“The ability to avoid a homogenized, one-size-fits-all assembly line for learning had sustained a relatively free and competitive market for individual schools to express their personalities and distinguishing qualities.”

There are currently 200 million people between the ages of 15-24 across Africa. This number is set to double by 2045.

Source: The United Nations

The number of post-secondary education institutes across the continent? Around 2,500.

The ever-growing clamour for places in HE is not in question. How we manage the demand is. Nexford University has made it its mission to address this critical global need by offering quality, flexible and affordable HE to some of the world’s fastest-growing markets.

Dr Jay Halfond forms part of Nexford’s advisory board. Read more about our team

About the Author

Jay Halfond

Dr Halfond has worked at Boston University since 1997, was dean of Metropolitan College from 2001 to 2012, and now serves as a full Professor of the Practice at Boston University. He is a member of Nexford University’s global advisory board.

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