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Higher education

The University of al-Qarawiyyin founded by Fatima al-Fihri in Fez, Morocco is the world's oldest existing, continually operating and the first degree awarding institution of higher learning in the world according to UNESCO and Guinness World Records.[1][2]
University of Bologna, located in Bologna, Italy, is the oldest institution of higher education in the Western world.[3][4][5]
The University of Pennsylvania considers itself the first institution in the United States of America to use the term "university" in its name.
The University of Cambridge is an institution of higher learning in Cambridge, United Kingdom.
McGill University is an institution of higher learning in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and one of two Canadian members of the Association of American Universities.
The Moscow State University is an institution of higher learning in Moscow, Russia.
The Jeffersonian architecture of Tsinghua University, an institution of higher learning in Beijing, China.
The University of Tokyo is an institution of higher learning in Tokyo, Japan.
The University of São Paulo is an institution of higher learning in São Paulo, Brazil.
Students of a U.S. university with their professor on extreme right, 2009

Higher education (also called post-secondary education, third-level or tertiary education) is an optional final stage of formal learning that occurs after completion of secondary education. Often delivered at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, conservatories, and institutes of technology, higher education is also available through certain college-level institutions, including vocational schools, trade schools, and other career colleges that award academic degrees or professional certifications. Tertiary education at non-degree level is sometimes referred to as further education or continuing education as distinct from higher education. The right of access to higher education is mentioned in a number of international human rights instruments. The UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 declares, in Article 13, that "higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education". In Europe, Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950, obliges all signatory parties to guarantee the right to education.

In the days when few pupils progressed beyond primary education or basic education, the term "higher education" was often used to refer to secondary education, which can create some confusion.[6] This is the origin of the term high school for various schools for children between the ages of 14 and 18 (United States) or 11 and 18 (UK and Australia).[7]

Higher education includes teaching, research, exacting applied work (e.g. in medical schools and dental schools), and social services activities of universities.[8] Within the realm of teaching, it includes both the undergraduate level, and beyond that, graduate-level (or postgraduate level). The latter level of education is often referred to as graduate school, especially in North America. In addition to the skills that are specific to any particular degree, potential employers in any profession are looking for evidence of critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, teamworking skills, information literacy, ethical judgment, decision-making skills, fluency in speaking and writing, problem solving skills, and a wide knowledge of liberal arts and sciences.[9]

Since World War II, developed and many developing countries have increased the participation of the age group who mostly studies higher education from the elite rate, of up to 15 per cent, to the mass rate of 16 to 50 per cent.[10][11][12] In many developed countries, participation in higher education has continued to increase towards universal or, what Trow later called, open access, where over half of the relevant age group participate in higher education.[13] Higher education is important to national economies, both as an industry, in its own right, and as a source of trained and educated personnel for the rest of the economy. College educated workers have commanded a measurable wage premium and are much less likely to become unemployed than less educated workers.[14][15] However, the admission of so many students of only average ability to higher education inevitably requires a decline in academic standards, facilitated by grade inflation.[16][17] Also, the supply of graduates in many fields of study is exceeding the demand for their skills, which aggravates graduate unemployment, underemployment, credentialism and educational inflation.[18][19]


The U.S. system of higher education was heavily influenced by the Humboldtian model of higher education. Wilhelm von Humboldt's educational model goes beyond vocational training. In a letter to the Prussian king, he wrote:

There are undeniably certain kinds of knowledge that must be of a general nature and, more importantly, a certain cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without. People obviously cannot be good craftworkers, merchants, soldiers or businessmen unless, regardless of their occupation, they are good, upstanding and – according to their condition – well-informed human beings and citizens. If this basis is laid through schooling, vocational skills are easily acquired later on, and a person is always free to move from one occupation to another, as so often happens in life.[20]

The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin criticized discrepancies between Humboldt's ideals and the contemporary European education policy, which narrowly understands education as a preparation for the labor market, and argued that we need to decide between McKinsey and Humboldt.[21]

Entrance standards: reading, mathematics, and writing

Demonstrated ability in reading, mathematics, and writing, as typically measured in the United States by the SAT or similar tests such as the ACT, have often replaced colleges' individual entrance exams, and is often required for admission to higher education.[22] There is some question as to whether advanced mathematical skills or talent are in fact necessary for fields such as history, English, philosophy, or art.[23]



The general higher education and training that takes place in a university, college, or Institute of technology usually includes significant theoretical and abstract elements, as well as applied aspects (although limited offerings of internships or SURF programs attempt to provide practical applications). In contrast, the vocational higher education and training that takes place at vocational universities and schools usually concentrates on practical applications, with very little theory.

In addition, professional-level education is always included within Higher Education, and usually in graduate schools since many postgraduate academic disciplines are both vocationally, professionally, and theoretically/research oriented, such as in the law, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. A basic requirement for entry into these graduate-level programs is almost always a bachelor's degree, although alternative means of obtaining entry into such programs may be available at some universities. Requirements for admission to such high-level graduate programs is extremely competitive, and admitted students are expected to perform well.

Mean financial wealth of U.S. families by education of the head of household, 1989-2010
Mean income of U.S. families by education of the head of household, 1989-2010

When employers in any profession consider hiring a college graduate, they are looking for evidence of critical thinking, analytical reasoning skills, teamworking skills, information literacy, ethical judgment, decision-making skills, communication skills (using both text and speech), problem solving skills, and a wide knowledge of liberal arts and sciences. However, most employers consider the average graduate to be more or less deficient in all of these areas.[24]

In the United States, there are large differences in wages and employment associated with different degrees. Medical doctors and lawyers are generally the highest paid workers, and have among the lowest unemployment rates. Among undergraduate fields of study, science, technology, engineering, math, and business generally offer the highest wages and best chances of employment, while education, communication, and liberal arts degrees generally offer lower wages and a lower likelihood of employment.[14][25]

Liberal arts

Academic areas that are included within the liberal arts include environmental science, great books, history, languages including English, linguistics, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, political science, psychology, religious studies, science, sociology and theater.


Teaching engineering is teaching the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. It may encompass using insights to conceive, model and scale an appropriate solution to a problem or objective. The discipline of engineering is extremely broad, and encompasses a range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of technology and types of application. Engineering disciplines include aerospace, biological, civil, chemical, computer, electrical, industrial, and mechanical.

Performing arts

The performing arts differ from the plastic arts or visual arts, insofar as the former uses the artist's own body, face and presence as a medium; the latter uses materials such as clay, metal or paint, which can be molded or transformed to create a work of art.

Performing arts institutions include circus schools, dance schools, drama schools and music schools.

Plastic or visual arts

The plastic arts or visual arts are a class of art forms, that involve the use of materials, that can be moulded or modulated in some way, often in three dimensions. Examples are painting, sculpture, and drawing.

Higher educational institutions in these arts include film schools and art schools.


Higher vocational education and training takes place at the non-university tertiary level. Such education combines teaching of both practical skills and theoretical expertise. Higher education differs from other forms of post-secondary education such as that offered by institutions of vocational education, which are more colloquially known as trade schools. Higher vocational education might be contrasted with education in a usually broader scientific field, which might concentrate on theory and abstract conceptual knowledge.

Professional higher education

This describes a distinct form of higher education that offers a particularly intense integration with the world of work in all its aspects (including teaching, learning, research and governance) and at all levels of the overarching Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area. Its function is to diversify learning opportunities, enhance employability, offer qualifications and stimulate innovation, for the benefit of learners and society.

The intensity of integration with the world of work (which includes enterprise, civil society and the public sector) is manifested by a strong focus on application of learning. This approach involves combining phases of work and study, a concern for employability, cooperation with employers, the use of practice-relevant knowledge and use-inspired research.[26]

Examples of providers of professional higher education may include graduate colleges of architecture, business, journalism, law, library science, optometry, pharmacy, public policy, human medicine, professional engineering, podiatric medicine, scientific dentistry, K-12 education, and veterinary medicine.


A report titled 'Education at a Glance 2014' published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on 9 September 2014, revealed that by 2014, 84 percent of young people were completing upper secondary education over their lifetimes, in high-income countries. Tertiary-educated individuals were earning twice as much as median workers. In contrast to historical trends in education, young women were more likely to complete upper secondary education than young men. Additionally, access to education was expanding and growth in the number of people receiving university education was rising sharply. By 2014, close to 40 percent of people aged 25–34 (and around 25 percent of those aged 55–64), were being educated at university.[27]

Recognition of studies

The Lisbon Recognition Convention stipulates that degrees and periods of study must be recognised in all of the Signatory Parties of the Convention.[citation needed]

As employers

University governance generally involves input from the Faculty. Here James D. Kirylo, president of Southeastern Louisiana University's Faculty Senate confers with Kevin L. Cope, president of the LSU Faculty Senate and president of the Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates, during a 2015 panel presentation in Hammond on university funding issues for Fiscal Year 2016.

Universities may employ a number of people. Depending on the funding, a university typically hires one teacher per 3–25 students. According to the ideal of research-university, the university teaching staff is actively involved in the research of the institution. In addition, the university usually also has dedicated research staff and a considerable support staff. Typically to work in higher education as a member of the academic faculty, a candidate must first obtain a doctorate in an academic field, although some lower teaching positions require only a master's degree.[citation needed]

Most of the administrative staff works in different administrative sections, such as Student Affairs.[citation needed] In addition, there may be central support units, such as a university library which have a dedicated staff.[28]

The professional field involving the collection, analysis, and reporting of higher education data is called institutional research. Professionals in this field can be found at locations in addition to universities, e.g. state educational departments.[citation needed]

Post-secondary institutions also employ graduate students in various assistantship roles. In the US, close to 50% of graduate students are employed as graduate assistants at some point. These apprenticeship-like positions provide opportunities for students to gain experience in, and exposure to, professional roles in exchange for funding of their academic programs.[29]

Recent controversy

From the early 1950s to the present, more and more people in the United States have gone on to pursue degrees or certificates of higher education. However this has sparked some debate[citation needed] in recent years as some advocates[who?] say that a degree is not what it was once worth to employers. To clarify some advocates[who?] say that the financial costs that universities require from their students has gone up so dramatically that it is leaving many students in debt of loans of an average of $37,172[30] compared to 2000, where the average debt students graduated with was $16,928.[31] In the United States there is an estimated 44 million Americans with a combined $1.3 trillion student loan debt.[32] Advocates advise parents to not send their children to college unless these children are committed to pursuing their future education. An increasing number of freshman every year drop out of their perspective programs or do not possess the maturity to have a balanced life away from home.[33] Higher education has faced more challenges than ever before. It is often accused of such high fees that many students from poor families can’t afford the courses without loans. Some people also criticize that educational resources and fund are distributed unequally between college students and vocational school students. Moreover, advocates, including Charles Murray, claim that people have different experiences, intelligence level and abilities, and therefore going to college is not the best choice for everyone. Even for those who do have some kind of academic abilities, higher education may not be an appropriate choice, because not all the people are qualified enough for the challenging college work and life. Moreover, since their capacity is limited, it is very likely that they would not enjoy their higher education experience. Charles Murray believes that many of these people are not well prepared for college life, but simply follow the mainstream of the society, or are forced to make the choice of receiving higher education under the pressure of their parents and the society.[34]

More and more critics also appear regarding the weaknesses of liberal education in the form of a brick-and-mortar campus. Charles Murray, for example, pointed out that with the development of the internet, the scholarship that flourishes through colleagueships no longer exists, because the scholars could now be informed with the most up-to-date publications in a specific field, and use other scholars’ ideas for reference now. According to these scholars, the four-year brick-and-mortar residential college fail to teach the students to make a living. Colleges should be a place for people to learn how to make a living instead of a place that simply offers 32 semester-long courses. The classrooms in these colleges are inefficient, and people could learn more quickly by themselves. In order to become skillful and professional in a certain area, 32 course are too many. Moreover, work experiences are more important than course work for some of the occupations including high-school teacher and journalist. Next, most academic sources such as technical journals and books are available and searchable online for a price or for free now. Therefore, libraries in the colleges only provide a pleasant surrounding for students to study nowadays. The system of colleagueships, which is the basic for colleges, is fading. With the development of science and technology, the scholars could now contact and communicate with each other using emails and the internet. Moreover, they could get updated with the latest academic news and information in every field. Therefore, the physical proximity is no longer an advantage of a brick-and-mortar college. Additionally, the technology of distance learning now enables students to communicate with the teachers online. Students could purchase online courses or videotape in order to learn something. As a result, colleges lost its advantage to some extent. [35]

However, the interaction between teachers and students are not easy in distant learning. Moreover, statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the college educated are employed at a rate nearly twice that of the national average when compared to high school graduates.[36] The type of degree one pursues will determine how safe and prosperous his/her career path is. A study published by the Pew Charitable Trusts, shows that among Americans ages 21 to 24, the drop in employment and income was much steeper among people who lacked a college degree. "Among those whose highest degree was a high school diploma, only 55% had jobs even before the downturn, and that fell to 47% after it. For young people with an associates degree, the employment rate fell from 64 to 57. Bachelor's degree slipped from 69 to 65."[37] Professor Lisa Kahn of Yale stated that people who graduated from college in the most recent recession were in a position to gain better security than others.

Moreover, in recent years, with the rapid development of the science and technology, there has been an increasing demand for higher education. People receive systematic training through higher education, which means that they not only acquire knowledge, but also improve their research ability and learning skills in college. Higher education does not only benefit individuals, but also play an important role in the current skilled labor market, as education level has become one of the recruiting requirements. Andrew Delbanco, for example, has mentioned in his article that college degrees had already replaced high school diplomas and become the minimum requirement in the job market. Many employers believe that employees with higher educational levels tend to be more effective and efficient at work, because they have acquired specialized knowledge in a certain area as well as the ability to do research and solve problems independently. Since the college degree reflects a person’s education level, it is not surprising that one with a higher education would earn more[38]. As a result, people benefit from higher education and are able to maintain and improve competitiveness in a highly competitive society. Accordingly, the world would develop faster with a workforce of higher skill levels.

Current Situation

Higher education has been taken various measures to provide students with more equal chances and resources. Many colleges have developed and constantly improved the financial aid system for the students with financial issues or even unforeseen financial difficulties in order to provide them with an equal opportunity to receive education. Some colleges choose to reduce or even waive the tuition fees for students who have an excellent academic performance. Some have set many awards and scholarships to help those who are in need or who perform well in all kinds of activities. Others offer on-campus job opportunities to students in the form of teaching assistant, research assistant, or tutor. This is an ideal strategy in my viewpoint because it not only solves the financial problem for students with poor background, but also allows students to practice university teaching in a professional manner. For example, Georgia State University supports students from poor families in all aspects to complete their studies. Originally, the university was regarded as a night school that was unremarkable. However, in order to help those who dropped out due to financial issues, the school has developed a series of linked programs in regard to the financial difficulties faced by those poor students who possessed less resources. It is obvious that the strategies are quite effective. For example, from 2011 on, the school has offered an one time reward of a few hundred dollars to student who cannot afford their tuitions. As Georgia State was working on retaining these low-income students, rather than just enrolling them, the graduation rate of the university has increased by 22 percent from 2003 to 2017.[39] As more students were graduating with fewer financial concerns, the university has increased its reputation, attracted more students, and received more state fund in return. In short, higher education has made an effort to achieve the real equal education in the financial aspect, and it is a virtuous circle to provide the financial aid to students. Colleges have also worked on providing students with resources that were once only accessible or available to those wealthy students. Many colleges provide students with paid software for free.

Also some colleges have introduced the concept of online library with e-books available to enrolled students for free. Moreover, colleges have provided all kinds of resources such as career planning courses and advisors to students who have problems with their future plan. Traditionally wealthy students would get more information in terms of careers and occupations. However, with the measures taken by higher education in order to provide more useful resources, now all the students have a more equal chance in the face of career choices. Additionally, many colleges have provided students with counseling and psychological resources so that they can better cope with stress and relieve the pressure they get in study and daily life. Research study has indicated that there is a close relationship between counseling experience and student retention. In other words, students who receive the psychological counseling services provided in higher education are more likely to stay enrolled in school[40]. Therefore, the measures taken by higher education of providing various resources prove to be effective and efficient in helping students getting an equal chance of education.

Additionally, in order to benefit a wider population and provide an opportunity to those who are restricted by time and financial conditions but are willing to learn by themselves, many elite universities, such as Yale, Stanford and MIT, have offered massive open online courses, generally known as MOOCs, to make the resources of higher education available to an increasing number of students. In the article “They Year of The MOOC” on New York Times, Aaura Pappano mentioned that back in early 2000s, MOOCs had already been used as teaching aids. However, in 2012, MOOC experienced an explosive development, and a great number of elite universities participate in such events.[41]The majority of these open courses are available on the internet, providing more opportunities to students who want to learn what they are interested in. Literally everyone with internet access could enroll in these courses. Although the interaction between the faculty and students may be limited, the courses are usually well designed to make sure that all the knowledge points are explained in detail. Also students who come from the same cities have formed study groups with the help of internet. By this way, the remarkable achievements of higher education benefit a wider population and save many resources such as facilities, time and energy. To some extent, higher education today is not restricted by time and space anymore with the development of MOOCs and other online courses.

See also


  1. ^ Oldest University
  2. ^ Verger, Jacques: "Patterns", in: Ridder-Symoens, Hilde de (ed.): A History of the University in Europe. Vol. I: Universities in the Middle Ages, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 978-0-521-54113-8, pp. 35–76 (35)
  3. ^ Top Universities World University Rankings Retrieved 2010-1-6
  4. ^ Our History - Università di Bologna
  5. ^ Paul L. Gaston (2010). The Challenge of Bologna. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-57922-366-3. External link in |title= (help)
  6. ^ For example, Higher Education: General and Technical, a 1933 National Union of Teachers pamphlet by Lord Eustace Percy, which is actually about secondary education and uses the two terms interchangeably.
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Pucciarelli F., Kaplan Andreas M. (2016) Competition and Strategy in Higher Education: Managing Complexity and Uncertainty, Business Horizons, Volume 59
  9. ^ "Employers Judge Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today's Workplace, Endorse Broad and Project-Based Learning as Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success" (Press release). Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  10. ^ Trow, Martin (1973) Problems in the transition from elite to mass higher education. Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, Berkeley, [], accessed 1 August 2013
  11. ^ Brennan, John (2004) The social role of the contemporary university: contradictions, boundaries and change, in Center for Higher Education Research and Information (ed.)
  12. ^ Ten years on: changing education in a changing world (Buckingham: The Open University Press), [], accessed 9 February 2014
  13. ^ Trow, Martin (2007) [2005] Reflections on the transition from elite to mass to universal access: forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WWII, Springer International Handbooks of Education volume 18, 2007, 243-280
  14. ^ a b "Risk-Based Student Loans". 2011-09-05. SSRN 1941070.
  15. ^ OECD, Education at a Glance (2011)
  16. ^ Cote, James; Allahar, Anton (2007), Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis, University of Toronto Press, p. 256, ISBN 978-0802091819
  17. ^ Arum, Richard; Roska, Josipa (2011), Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, University of Chicago Press, p. 272, ISBN 978-0226028569
  18. ^ Barshay, Jill (4 August 2014). "Reflections on the underemployment of college graduates". Hechniger Report. Teachers College at Columbia University. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  19. ^ Coates, Ken; Morrison, Bill (2016), Dream Factories: Why Universities Won't Solve the Youth Jobs Crisis, Toronto: Dundurn Press, p. 232, ISBN 978-1459733770
  20. ^ Günther, Karl-Heinz (1988). "Profiles of educators: Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835)". Prospects. 18: 127–136. doi:10.1007/BF02192965.
  21. ^ Nida-Rümelin, Julian (29 October 2009). "Bologna-Prozess: Die Chance zum Kompromiss ist da". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  22. ^ O'Shaughnessy, Lynn (26 July 2009). "The Other Side of 'Test Optional'". The New York Times. p. 6. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  23. ^ Andrew Hacker (July 28, 2012). "Is Algebra Necessary?". The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  24. ^ "Employers Judge Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today's Workplace, Endorse Broad and Project-Based Learning as Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success" (Press release). Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  25. ^ "The Economic Value of College Majors" (Press release). Georgetown University. May 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  26. ^ "Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe". Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe. EURASHE. 2013. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  27. ^ Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (September 2014). "Higher levels of education paying off for young, says OECD". Retrieved September 11, 2014.
  28. ^ "Cornell University Library Staff Web". Retrieved 8 January 2013.
  29. ^ Haley, K., Hephner LaBanc, B., & Koutas, P. (2011). New school, new job, new life: Transitions of graduate assistants in student affairs. Journal of College Orientation and Transition, 18(2), 5 - 19.
  30. ^ "U.S. Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2017 | Student Loan Hero". Student Loan Hero. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  31. ^ "Student debt increasingly unmanagable - Mar. 8, 2002". Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  32. ^ Friedman, Zack. "Student Loan Debt In 2017: A $1.3 Trillion Crisis". Forbes. Retrieved 2017-12-09.
  33. ^ "Some Career Pathways Require a Four-Year Degree, Many Don't - US News". US News & World Report. Retrieved 2015-10-11.
  34. ^ "Are Too Many People Going to College?". AEI. 2008-09-08. Retrieved 2019-04-27.
  35. ^ "Are Too Many People Going to College?". AEI. 2008-09-08. Retrieved 2019-04-27.
  36. ^ "U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics". Retrieved 2015-10-11.
  37. ^ Pérez-peña, Richard (2013-01-09). "Study Shows College Degree's Value During Economic Downturn". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-11.
  38. ^ "3 reasons college still matters - The Boston Globe". Retrieved 2019-04-27.
  39. ^ Fausset, Richard (2018-05-15). "Georgia State, Leading U.S. in Black Graduates, Is Engine of Social Mobility". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-27.
  40. ^ Lee, Donghyuck; Olson, Elizabeth A.; Locke, Ben; Michelson, Sandra Testa; Odes, Eleonora (2009). "The Effects of College Counseling Services on Academic Performance and Retention". Journal of College Student Development. 50 (3): 305–319. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0071. ISSN 1543-3382.
  41. ^ Pappano, Laura (2012-11-02). "Massive Open Online Courses Are Multiplying at a Rapid Pace". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-27.


External links

Preceded by
Grade 13
Higher education
age varies (usually 18-22)
Succeeded by
Graduate school