Globally, higher education is expanding at an unprecedented pace. But two competing forces seem to be at work. The first is globalization: higher education systems are globalizing, especially through international research networks and global rankings which fuel competition on a global scale. Internationally comparable qualification frameworks, credit transfer, internationalization policies and quality assurance and accreditation arrangements work towards globally exchangeable qualifications. But the second force, driving institutions to deliver skills which are relevant for the national and regional economies, works against convergence. The skills equivalents of national qualifications remain very different across countries. The skills agendas, driven by countries’ position in global value chains, drive unequal outcomes. The consequence is that the global higher education system will remain characterized by huge inequalities, which are perceived as quality differences. Higher education policies need to find a balance between integration in the global higher education order and serving the domestic skills needs.