Many higher education systems across Europe, North America and Asia are approaching or already have reached the 50% level of “universal enrollment” (as defined by ) or “high participation” (). What changes in a society when a majority of the age group achieves higher education? In order to develop approaches to understanding the future role of higher education in high participation societies, this chapter reviews theories and concepts from two disciplinary traditions: social sciences (structural functionalism, neoinstitutionalism, conflict theories, cultural reproduction theories, and higher education specific approaches) and educational philosophy (Bildung and growth theory among others). Those two strands of scholarship respectively highlight two key dimensions in the relationship between higher education and society: (a) the social and occupational structure and (b) socialization as human/personal development, or self-formation. The chapter addresses potential changes in high participation societies along those lines. It concludes that the Bildung idea of the duality of human nature, as being both determined by the world and self-determining largely corresponds to the above two disciplinary approaches. This opens up an intellectual space for further cross-disciplinary, multi-dimensional research on the role of high participation higher education for individuals and society under conditions of increasing social stratification and growing inequalities.
This chapter, which acts as an introduction to the overriding themes of the book, points to the shifts in emphasis since the earlier, sister publication in 2007. The themes of the transformation of the academic profession, the social inequalities in both access to higher education and in completion, the role of higher education in social cohesion, the increase in international student mobility, the development of the global model of the research university, and the changing patterns in funding for higher education, all of which were discerned in 2007, still hold good. But particular issues now stand out: institutional stratification, in all areas and at all levels of higher education, has become much more marked; higher education, particularly in the market economies of the West, exhibits more managerial forms of governance; and the attitudes of national governments towards internationalisation has hardened. The new phenomenon of the pandemic is already bringing long-term consequences for higher education, in terms of employment prospects, loss of international student fees, and financial problems. At the same time, the higher education sector is developing new techniques in the delivery of teaching and learning, and in research; the nature of work is changing; and the concept of the common good in relation to higher education is being reexamined.