Higher Education’s Trillion Dollar Question- notes from OBHE’s 2018 Global Forum in Dubai

Last updated: 03/01/2019

Student success is the trillion-dollar question in higher education- but how best to define and measure it?

This was the theme of the 2018 Global Forum of The Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE) - titled “Mission possible? The international quest to define and improve student success”. The Observatory, part of Tribal’s i-graduate business, is a think tank devoted to the study of online learning, transnational education and new higher education providers. OBHE is supported by 150+ institutional and organizational members around the world.

OBHE convenes a Global Forum every year, and this year the event was held in Dubai. Global Forums are designed to attract 100-150 people offering diverse perspectives on higher education internationally. Our knowledge partner this year was KHDA- the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the government body that oversees international education providers in Dubai’s free zones.

Enrollment in higher education has grown dramatically over the past 20 years- in both developed and emerging economies- prompting a storm of questions about value for money, graduate employability and the very purpose of higher education. As degrees have become more commonplace, tensions have emerged around what counts as a graduate job, what skills and capabilities graduates should have, and return on investment. The stakes are high. Governments and institutions have invested more, but so have students and families.

The two days of the Global Forum featured a wide of speakers, from all over the world.

Richard Garrett, Director, OBHE, kicked off Day 1 of the forum with an overview of different national approaches to defining and reporting student success, and Phil Sanders of i-graduate reviewed some of the data amassed by the Student Barometer and hoe it can help institutions improve the student experience.

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director General at KHDA reflected on his organization’s efforts to evolve a quality assurance system that captures the similarities and differences among the 30+ international branch campuses in the free zones of Dubai.

Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor at the UK’s University of Buckingham, talked about the mindful university, calling on institutions to put in place stronger processes to address student issues before they become major problems. KHDA laid on mindfulness sessions for attendees.  

A panel of quality assurance agencies - including Karen Treloar, Director of the Engagement Group at TEQSA (Australia), Brandon Lee, Director-General (Private Education), SkillsFuture Singapore and Fabrizio Trifiro, Manager International, Quality Assurance Agency UK- debated how agencies can both ensure accountability and encourage innovation.

Leaders from international branch campuses in Dubai made up another panel, highlighting the challenges of serving mostly international students in an institutional setting one step removed from the parent university. Represented on the panel were University of Birmingham Dubai Campus, British University of Dubai, City - University of London (Dubai Centre), Curtin University Dubai, Heriot-Watt University Dubai, Institute of Management Technology Dubai, and SP Jain University.

A ten-strong student panel was fascinating, allowing the audience to hear directly from both Emirati and international students about studying in Dubai.

All around, this year’s Global Forum showcased OBHE’s ability to engage higher education thought leaders from institutions, governments and the private sector on a major topic that cuts across national concerns.

PIE News was our media partner for the event. You can see their video coverage here.

Many thanks to Carolyn Campbell and Rachael Merola of OBHE for their tireless work to organize this year’s Global Forum, and to i-graduate’s Filip Novak for marketing support. Thanks also to Jon Baldwin at Tribal, also in attendance, for his support.

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