Access to education and knowledge remains very unequal throughout the world, despite notable progress from primary level through to higher education (percentages of children in or outside full-time education, illiteracy, education spending). There are fierce arguments between those who consider education to be a public good and those who see it as a commercial service. Higher education and research are experiencing rapid expansion in numbers of students, teachers and researchers, in a context of strong competition between universities and regions.
Despite notable progress over the last four decades, access to knowledge remains very uneven across the world and is affected by an individual’s wealth, place of residence, sex, mother tongue, disability, migrant status and situations of conflict.
While the great majority of children of primary school age attend school (91 % of children worldwide, 80 % in sub-Saharan Africa), over half of children do not have basic reading skills. In Africa, this figure rises to 87 %, particularly because local languages are used far less in teaching than the colonial languages. One in three of the world’s children does not complete basic secondary education and more than one in two does not finish high school. Fewer than one in five countries provides twelve years of free, compulsory schooling (one in two countries in Latin America), while the right to education is enforceable in only 55 % of countries.
Comment: To complement the preceding maps on the differences in school attendance according to level, this diagram shows evidence of a dual inequality of opportunity: in addition to the fact that the rate of attendance falls off the farther students advance in their school career, in many countries of the South those in school do not complete their studies. More than 4 children out of 5 do not finish secondary school in 22 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
Enrolment in higher education has risen strongly since 2000, particularly in East and South-East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, but have stagnated in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, after rising in the late twentieth century. But there are still major variations in the proportion of children in school. Less than a third of young people go into higher education in developing countries, as opposed to three-quarters in developed countries. There are also significant differences in illiteracy rates (14 % of adults and over 40 % in low-income countries).
Comment: UNESCO statistics show gaps in the many cases where the international organization has not obtained national data. The set of three maps shows an increase in the out-of-school rate throughout the school years, as well as persistent strong regional inequalities. At primary level, the out-of-school rate is generally high except in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa (especially the Sahel) and, more locally, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At upper secondary level, it is only in Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. that rates of school attendance are high. These rates are lowest in Africa and South and South East Asia.
Global public good or commercial service?
Across the world, education is being taken out of the public sector and undergoing institutional dismantling and changes in actors and scales. At a time when the globalized postindustrial economy depends on the knowledge and adaptiveness of a highly-skilled and mobile workforce, requiring major investment in both human beings and equipment, public expenditure on education has tended to stagnate since the 1990s and remains below 5 % of GDP. The proportion of education spending provided by households also varies (18 % in high income countries, 25 % in countries of intermediate income, 33 % in low income countries).
Debates rage between the proponents of modernization, who regard teaching as a service negotiable at the WTO (World Trade Organization), and those who want to see it preserved as a public good. The expansion of parental choice in primary and secondary schooling, reinforced by the expansion of private education, is supposed to improve the functioning of the education system and to foster the progress of students. However, it increases inequality without improving the average quality of education in schools, particularly given the proliferation of commercial companies charging fees that may be prohibitive fees (private support for schools, educational technologies, school catering, etc.).
The major universities are reforming their syllabuses, funding, outcomes and relations with local, national and regional authorities and business. New actors traditionally seen as external to the higher education sector (businesses, professional organizations, foundations) are becoming involved in the running of universities and developing an offer of profitable private courses, blurring the distinction between public and private. Universities are positioned within the global labor market by means of accreditation systems (quality marks) and grading (performance hierarchies) conducted by public and private bodies with varying levels of independence and transparency. Rankings published by universities (Shanghai, Leiden), commercial companies (QS), media organizations (Times Higher Education), regional organizations (U-Multirank funded by the European Union) and mobile, knowledge-based professions (jurists, financiers, IT specialists) are established using different criteria that are often subject to criticism, all of which indicate the current supremacy and attractiveness of universities in the United States.
A global knowledge-based society
The numbers of students going abroad to study has remained constant since the 1990s. In 2015, nearly 2 % of students around the world (some 3 million) and over 5 % of students from sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia studied abroad, usually in another country in their region, but also, and increasingly, outside their home region.
This readiness to travel among students, teaching staff and researchers is encouraged by the growth of partnerships between higher education institutions, the creation of networks and strategic alliances and the opening of campuses outside the university’s home country. Many institutions are developing courses in several languages, including English (the new lingua franca), and offer distance learning and qualifications, notably via the internet. UNESCO and regional organizations are encouraging regional harmonization (transferable credits, degree recognition). There is stiff competition between institutions at both the national and international level, resulting in international rankings and a presence at trade fairs.
Comment: The maps show the participation of those involved in higher education at three international shows held in 2017 and 2018. This practice reveals a lucrative market based partly on partnerships and student mobility. Apart from the constant and substantial participation of actors from the so-called early industrialized countries, a certain regionalization is evident: people from the region where the organization in question is holding its expo are regularly in the majority.
- Movement of people leaving their country of origin permanently (emigration) to relocate to another country (immigration), which might be voluntary or forced (war, poverty, unemployment, human rights violations, climate factors, etc.), and which often involves temporary stays of varying duration in several transit countries. Migratory flows, which are an integral component of humanity’s history, give rise to a range of public policy measures linked to specific political, economic and cultural contexts and understandings of nationality. Host states seek to organize immigration, sometimes to attract it (need for labor, exploitation of specific territories, naturalizations, etc.), and most often to restrict it (border controls, quotas, residence permits, etc.). In most cases the states of origin seek to maintain relations with their nationals and diaspora communities living abroad.
- developed countries
- At point 4 of his Inaugural Address of 1949, American President Harry S. Truman outlined a program of aid for “underdeveloped areas. This phrase refers to all the countries regarded as “lagging behind” in progress toward what thus becomes the model set by the developed, industrialized countries, which at that time had stronger growth and higher standards of living. The evolution of the terminology from underdeveloped to developing and developed countries has not altered the linear, evolutionist aspect of the overall vision. Nor has it in any way nuanced the homogenization and reification of the groups so described.
- institutional dismantling
- Institutionalization refers to the process by which society’s workings are organized on a long-term basis. It includes the creation and implementation of systems of rules, standards, routines, roles and beliefs shared by a social group. This process concretizes generally held values in the form of enduring institutions, generally formal and codified (law, courts, parliament, currency, church, marriage, etc.). The term is also used of the creation of organizations charged with implementing a political decision. Conversely the permanence of institutionalized practices can be challenged by a process of institutional dismantling in which the codified system is transformed, replaced or abandoned.
- An individual, group, or organization whose actions affect the distribution of assets and resources on a global scale. The state has long been considered as the main actor on the international scene, but the number of non-state actors has increased and diversified (businesses, non-governmental organizations, special interest groups, mafias, religious actors, etc.) over the past few decades. Contemporary globalization has made the relationships between these actors more complex.
- Term with multiple meanings designating the size of a phenomenon or the level at which it is being analyzed. Spatial scale: a few kilometers at local scale, tens of thousands at global scale. Level of analysis: scale – defined in relation to a level of government – can be local (a specific area), regional (area within a country), national (the country itself) and supranational (from regional entities to world and universal scale). Multiscale analysis, an established practice among geographers, is also a useful tool for contemporary social scientists tackling the density and complexity of connections within and between societies. The adjective “glocal,” a contraction of “global” and “local, emphasizes the local embeddedness of productive systems and the interactions between different levels of scale, refuting the popular misconception of the “end of geography.”
- public good
- These are material and symbolic goods which are under the guardianship of each one of us for the survival of all. Their functions are threatened by shared sovereignty (ozone layer, biological diversity, the cultural heritage of humanity, cultural diversity, scientific knowledge, health, food, financial security, and so on). This concept was set out in the report of the 1999 United Nations Development Program and has since been widely adopted by many international organizations. The term “club goods” is used when administering and consuming these goods is limited to a small number of participants.
- Unequal distribution of goods, material and/or non-material, regarded as necessary or desirable. Beyond income inequality (national, international and global), cumulative inequalities can also be measured with respect to accessing public services (healthcare, education, employment, housing, justice, effective security, etc.) and accessing property and natural resources more generally, and also relative to political expression or the capacity to respond to ecological risks. When these inequalities are based on criteria prohibited by law, they constitute discrimination.
- Classical geography tended to place too much importance on surface areas, territories, countries and soil, but network analysis has now become central to its approach. Networks are defined as spaces in which distance is discontinuous and consists of nodes linked by lines. Some are physical (networks for the transportation of people, goods and energy, IT cables and information super highways), others not. When they are partly virtual (such as the internet), they also involve individuals and organizations. Philosophers (Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari), sociologists (Manuel Castells), political scientists (James Rosenau), and economists use this concept to analyze the interconnected functioning of individuals.
- Global interconnection of local IT networks facilitating the exchange of texts, images, sound and video by means of a standard protocol (TCP/IP). Invented by researchers and the military in the US in the 1960s, the network has been steadily growing, spreading and innovating ever since. At the start of the 1990s, browsers made the internet accessible to the general public. High-speed connections have permitted increasingly large data transfers, driving a proliferation of online activities and the transition from an information storage approach to a logic of continuous flows. The community-based and interactive Web 2.0 stimulates interactions between users, changes social behaviors and alters forms of engagement by giving them instant visibility. Internet censorship is regularly practiced by non-democratic states. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection between this network and connected objects of various kinds.