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Emmert attends Hong Kong
forum on higher education

The lowering of the British flag and the raising of China's at midnight on July 1 focused the eyes of the world on a new era for Hong Kong. With less hoopla yet considerable significance, an international forum on higher education timed to coincide with the transition of power brought together a select group of 50 leading educators from around the world to discuss the emergence of a new epoch in higher education.

Chancellor and Provost for University Affairs Mark Emmert represented UConn at Hong Kong's First International Forum for World Leaders in Higher Education. He joined presidents and other high-ranking officials from five U.S. universities, including the University of California-Berkeley and Iowa State, as well as McGill, Cambridge University, and other institutions in Europe, Australia, mainland China, and elsewhere in Asia.

The forum focused on the impact of technology and its implications for the future of higher education.

Emmert said colleges and universities worldwide are grappling with the same issues. "The commonality of problems and concerns expressed at the forum was stunning. Chancellors and presidents of universities in the United States, Europe, Australia, mainland China, and elsewhere in Asia, face almost identical issues, albeit with our own small nuances and local differences," he said.

Those issues include the need for life-long learning and the practical problem of providing education to the masses, especially to non-traditional students. "There is an inordinate hunger for higher education around the world," he said.

"The demand for education is increasing exponentially as the indispensable nature of education for a modern economy, even in developing countries, grows ever more apparent."

Distance learning technology has now begun to offer a solution by making it possible to deliver education to huge numbers of people, Emmert said. There are now 11 universities in the world with more than 100,000 students , all but one in developing countries. The eleventh, the UK's Open University, has 200,000 students, one tenth of whom live outside the United Kingdom.

"These numbers are a wake-up call for administrators at traditional colleges and universities around the world," Emmert said. "I could see from the expressions on the faces of my colleagues that they share my concern about the extraordinarily rapid pace of this educational transformation and the extent to which it is already happening."

Alternative providers such as the Western Governors' University, the Open University, and others are figuring out how to provide education from other states and indeed from other countries, Emmert said.

"Education is losing its boundaries, both nationally and internationally. Whereas during the second half of the 20th century, the United States has been unequivocally the dominant nation in higher education, these technologies raise the prospect of global competition that could force that to change," Emmert said.

He said higher education will need to explore alternative approaches to accreditation and quality control. "Though quality is a legitimate concern, the UK's Open University, for example, has already reached a high level of credibility."

Emmert said new technologies may also offer the opportunity to improve what we do, by directing our attention to content.

"There is a strong focus in American education on credit hours and minutes spent in class. Computer technology turns that equation upside-down," he said. "Technology offers students the opportunity to take as long as they need to complete the coursework on their own and pass the test when they're ready."

Emmert said the forum posed a challenge to educators and administrators. "Change is coming faster than we think and alternative providers of higher education are moving very aggressively to address the needs of the market."