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Current trends in global higher education

We teach and learn in an increasingly global space. This means both increased competition and increased opportunities for collaboration across national boundaries. Global competition is epitomised by global university rankings and the attention paid to such rankings by governments and potential students. Collaboration is perhaps most clearly evident in international joint degree programmes and international communities of practice in various areas of teaching and learning. The global space also means increased mobility of both students and staff, both physically through migration and virtually through digital engagement.

The combination of competition, collaboration and mobility links to greater convergence in higher education policy and practice in some respects (e.g. convergence regarding principles of “good” teaching, recognition of the need to develop competences/skills as well as knowledge, widening access to higher education in most countries), and greater diversity in others (e.g. increasingly diverse staff and student populations in many places and the concomitant need to differentiate teaching and learning).

The interplay of all these factors - global competition, global collaboration, global mobility, global convergence and global diversity - means that global trends in higher education play out differently in different places and contexts, but the underlying trends affect all of us who teach and learn in higher education.

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Selected books on trends in global higher education 

Altbach, P. (2013). The international imperative in higher education. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense.

Global University Network for Innovation. (2017). Higher education in the world 6: Towards a socially responsible university: Balancing the global with the local. Retrieved from

Hazelkorn, E. (2015). Rankings and the reshaping of higher education: The battle for world-class excellence. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.

Münch, R. (2014). Academic capitalism: Universities in the global struggle for excellence. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rizvi, F. & Lingard, B. (2010). Globalizing education policy. Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Rumbley, L., Helms, R., Peterson, P., & Altbach, P. (2014). Global opportunities and challenges for higher education leaders. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense.

Yudkevich, M., Altbach, P. & Rumbley, M. (2016). The global academic rankings game: Changing institutional policy, practice and academic life. London, England: Routledge.

Yudkevich, M., Altbach, P. & Rumbley, L. (2017). International faculty in higher education: Comparative perspectives on recruitment, integration and impact. London, England: Routledge.

Ziguras, C., & McBurnie, G. (2015). Governing cross-border higher education. London, England: Routledge.

Selected recent articles on trends in global higher education

Bayne, S., Gallagher, M., & Lamb, J. (2014). Being ‘at’ university: The social topologies of distance students, Higher Education, 67(5), 569-583.

Blanco-Ramírez, G., & B. Berger, J. (2014). Rankings, accreditation, and the international quest for quality: Organizing an approach to value in higher education. Quality Assurance in Education, 22(1), 88-104.

Gunn, A., & Mintrom, M. (2013). Global university alliances and the creation of collaborative advantage. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 35(2), 179-192.

Kim, T. (2017). Academic mobility, transnational identity capital, and stratification under conditions of academic capitalism. Higher Education, 73(6), 981-997.

Kinser, K., & Lane, J. E. (2014). Managing the oversight of international branch campuses in higher education. Higher Education Management and Policy, 24(3), 161-176.

McCowan, T. (2016). Universities and the post-2015 development agenda: an analytical framework. Higher Education, 72(4), 505-523.

Ramirez, F., & Tiplic, D. (2014). In pursuit of excellence? Discursive patterns in European higher education research. Higher Education, 67(4), 439-455.

Robertson, S. L. (2012). World-class higher education (for whom?). Prospects, 42(3), 237–245.

Rodriguez-Pomeda, J., & Casani, F. (2016). Legitimating the world-class university concept through the discourse of elite universities’ presidents. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(6), 1269-1283.

Websites related to current trends

  • University World News - website of global higher education news, updated daily
  • International Higher Education - quarterly publication of the Boston College Center for Higher Education, available in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French, Vietnamese and Portuguese