4 June 2021
“It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time—for we are bound by that—but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.” - T. S. Eliot1
It is commonly accepted today that the education landscape is changing. There are more ways of learning than ever before, including conventional, part-time, full-time, distance and online approaches. Simultaneously, global developments necessitate the reorientation of existing educational structures and the creation of new ones to enable students to face new challenges. People want to learn in different ways that support their needs and preferences; it is important that we meet that demand and give learners what they want, when they want it.
In this context, the present article endeavours to introduce the formulation and development of a new educational structure and mode—the “Global Degree”—which was conceived to fill a gap in international higher education. This new norm would, by definition, create a new institutional model for higher education.
The Global Degree proposal is concise and innovative, blending conventional and distance learning without abolishing existing structures. If established, it would revolutionize international higher education.
The Global Degree mission statement—“one world, one degree, limitless capabilities”—stands at the core of the proposal.
The development of a Global Degree as a new educational structure and mode could address current inadequacies as countries and students confront new challenges. This new norm would help make learning more targeted, flexible, current and applicable. The Global Degree Project would also accommodate lifelong learning and continuing education programmes. It would work in parallel with conventional degrees offered by universities around the world but would not replace existing higher education structures.
Institutions participating in the Global Degree Project would sign an “International Academic Treaty” and adopt the “International Academic Credit” (IAC) as a parallel to systems already in use. Such institutions would then be able to award Global Degrees to successful candidates without affecting the awarding power associated with traditional degrees. Graduates holding a Global Degree would acquire the same academic and professional rights as those with a conventional degree in the country of the awarding institution and internationally, where possible. Global Degrees would carry a unique logo and watermark to distinguish them from conventional degrees.
More specifically, what is proposed is an “extensive hybrid” higher education methodology, whereby each student would build his or her own undergraduate or postgraduate degree regardless of the mode of attendance (full-time, part-time, distance learning), the method of study (through conventional class attendance, e-learning, virtual learning, “Second Life”, etc.), the physical location of the university or even the language used at the institution.
Students could be awarded a Global Degree by any of the Global Degree Consortium institutions. Additionally, students would be able to create new degree programmes and acquire new knowledge in the future based on the IACs they had already earned. A civil engineer, for instance, could receive a Global Degree, and 15 years later, she or he could return to university and study to be an architect using relevant IACs from past engineering studies plus those pertaining to architecture. In this way, continuing education is enhanced and the learning process never stops.
One of the most important developments in education, apart from the application of new technologies, has been the translation of qualifications into outcomes and competencies. It is now easier to measure educational values so that we can transfer knowledge more effectively.
In an article titled “The Future of Education Eliminates the Classroom, Because the World Is Your Class”, Marina Gorbis, Executive Director at the Institute for the Future, writes:
"We are moving away from the model in which learning is organized around stable, usually hierarchical institutions (schools, colleges, universities) that, for better and worse, have served as the main gateways to education and social mobility. Replacing that model is a new system in which learning is best conceived of as a flow, where learning resources are not scarce but widely available, opportunities for learning are abundant, and learners increasingly have the ability to autonomously dip into and out of continuous learning flows.
Instead of worrying about how to distribute scarce educational resources, the challenge we need to start grappling with in the era of socialstructed [sic] learning is how to attract people to dip into the rapidly growing flow of learning resources and how to do this equitably, in order to create more opportunities for a better life for more people."
Following this view, the core methodological instrument for the accreditation of the Global Degree is the IAC, which represents the academic workload required for higher education. Students would be able to accumulate IACs just as they would traditional credits or through the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). Similar to ECTS, IACs are measured as the relation between expected learning outcomes, based on selected teaching and learning methods and assessment approaches, and the time available in terms of student workload. To earn one IAC, a student must complete 25 hours of activity, which could be accrued through attending or viewing lectures, individual study, or practical and lab-based exercises. The distinctive difference would be that the location, time, mode of learning and educational institution would be considered at a different level. Such details would not constitute constraints but rather would enable opportunities for flexible learning and continuing education processes.
This methodology not only uses the current innovative technological educational tools, such as virtual learning via “Second Life”, but also the latest telematic applications for distance education and e-learning, whereby digital and satellite television and the Internet serve as educational platforms.
Above all, the student is at the centre of the Global Degree methodology and the IAC. The didactic model focuses on the following learning dynamics:
- The use of new technologies in higher education.
- The need for continuing education and lifelong learning.
- Active participation of students and self-learning process.
Following this model, a personal learning environment could be created that could include institutional support, a pedagogical/technological interface and resource support.
The “Global Degree didactic model” is built around an individual’s academic and professional aspirations. This new context could include, among other elements, the learning ecosystem, the student’s world view, information-reflective thinking, the work environment, social interactions, available technology and other experiences.
The methodology could be expanded to use certain contemporary, innovative and technological trends and instruments, such as open and interactive content; mobile learning; the sharing of teaching and educational material; and social networks and informal learning programmes, e.g. Twitter, personal learning environments, e-portfolios and educational e-learning platforms. For example, a virtual learning environment discussion forum, a Twitter account or a Skype session would prove ideal for global communication in answering questions or for class interaction.
As stated above, the Global Degree, if established, would create a new institutional model for higher education. It would utilize the latest innovative developments of technology and modern educational methodologies such as open learning, social media, mobile learning, blended learning, augmented reality, etc. The Global Degree initiative would also bring a new stream of positive thinking regarding the future of education.
Apart from the obvious benefits, graduates with a Global Degree would also be able to:
- Recognize and achieve goals and ambitions, especially in response to global challenges.
- Enhance their knowledge with a global perspective.
- Recognize that they belong to an international community and use this understanding effectively to understand multiculturalism.
- Practice their skills and creativity beyond their regional environments.
As Plato said: “...do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you'll then be better able to find out the natural bent.”2
In conclusion, the Global Degree would lead to better knowledge of the world around us and enable us to better cope with it. As Salman Khan said, "This is the information revolution. It's crazy that every other field is getting revolutionised except education".3
1T.S. Eliot, “On Teaching the Appreciation of Poetry”, in The Complete Prose of T.S. Eliot. The Critical Edition: Still and Still Moving, 1954-1965, Jewel Brooker and Ronald Schuchard, eds. (Baltimore, Maryland, John Hopkins University Press, 2019), 410.
2Plato, The Republic, trans. Benjamin Jowett (Minneapolis, Minnesota, First Avenue Editions, 2015), 186.
3David Gelles, “The man who knows everything: stories”, interview with Salman Khan, Financial Times (London, UK), 29 October 2011, 26.
The UN Chronicle is not an official record. It is privileged to host senior United Nations officials as well as distinguished contributors from outside the United Nations system whose views are not necessarily those of the United Nations. Similarly, the boundaries and names shown, and the designations used, in maps or articles do not necessarily imply endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.