In most nations, higher education systems are designed and structured to achieve the general aims of increasing awareness and confidence and to develop students into good and responsible citizens. The benefits of a good higher education system among others include higher employment and earnings, increased productivity and innovation, greater social stability, more effective public administration, increased civic engagement, and better health outcomes. However, to offer higher education with general aims alone is insufficient to massify students from all walks of life to succeed.
Hence, higher education systems are paying more attention in recent times to its performance, and in particular, to produce more highly educated individuals to elevate the working class, with the idea that such efforts could eliminate poverty by providing opportunity for all students to succeed in moving up the social ladder. In order to achieve those aims, it has been recognised that a higher education system that provides equal opportunity for all students to succeed regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, ability, socioeconomic status, or intersectional background is crucial and necessary.
In most cases, a higher education system will face greater challenges to provide opportunity fo all students to succeed especially in the presence of a wide gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students. It is clear that solutions in the form of appropriate and adequate higher education policies, strategies, programs and activities as well as additional support leading to efficient and effective practices are necessitated to address the needs of disadvantaged students in order to benefit an equal treatment to succeed like the advantaged students.
During the pre-pandemic era, some countries have reported positive progress with respect to equity and success, these may have been negated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This a moot question that need to be answered for new policy direction, strategies and programs to be introduced during the post-COVID pandemic era.
Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equal opportunity to higher education should not be confused with equity. While Equality is the provision of equal treatment, access, and opportunity to resources and opportunities to all students, Equity is the provision of personalized resources needed for all individuals to reach common goals especially opportunity to succeed. In other words, the goals and expectations are the same for all students, but the supports needed to achieve those goals depends on the students’ needs. Equity means offering opportunities and support that acknowledge and address the disadvantages some students face.
Equity in higher education has progressively become an increasingly prominent concern of education policies of governments and of international organisations. OECD claims in its report that “the highest performing education systems are those that combine equity with quality. They give all students opportunities for good quality education.” Preserving and enhancing the accessibility of higher education – that is, the ability of people from all backgrounds to access higher education on a reasonably equal basis – is an issue that confronts governments and stakeholders all over the world.”
Efforts to work towards equity education has never been simple and straightforward but rather difficult and complicated especially when unexpected and unanticipated changes and uncertainty disrupts the education system and experience. Additional support system that is needed to work towards equity in higher education can be costly and conflicting even during normal times. So when disruptions to equity in higher education does occur, to recover the equity back to the status established earlier, the solutions and interventions require well informed support especially in the presence of a stubborn barrier.
An unprecedented pandemic like the Covid-19 had impacted the economic, health, social, tourism and education system in general and in particular impacted the higher education system severely that finding immediate solutions became a real and urgent challenge to retain and sustain equity largely because the solutions sought cause a review on the existing policies and practices with immediate intervention.
Research observations and findings suggest that Covid-19 affected higher educational institutions in 188 countries as of April 06, 2020 that required educational countermeasures to be taken to continue educating the students despite the COVID-19 predicaments. A recommendation that followed the observation is to produce studies to proliferate and document the impact of the pandemic to the higher educational system to raise awareness as well as understand the impact nationwide, in particular to strengthen the practices in the curriculum and make it more responsive to the learning needs of the students even beyond the conventional classrooms.
Equity in higher education, which is about acknowledging differences, then taking steps to bring all students to success, was already an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic and has stated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Policy Responses. However, several country reports suggested that the pandemic which had disrupted existing higher education system, policies and practices had further widened the access, quality and quantity, and employment gap. Though several nations managed to carry out strategic interventions to address the equity in higher education disruptions, many struggled to find solutions let alone carry them out.
Nations with the appropriate and adequate support to work towards equity will find more success compared to those with lack of or no support. The support may come in different forms but several major contributors have been identified and recognised. They include among others finance, technology, flexible higher education system, as well as good governance and management.
The Covid-19 pandemic and its disruptions should be a reminder to all higher education systems to expect unpredictable changes and uncertainty that require solutions for equity education sustainability and recovery in order to achieve the specific aim of providing opportunities for all students to succeed. Therefore, deliberating on the types and issues of disruptions in the higher education system is important, necessary and urgent. In addition, knowledge and information on success stories of nations that managed the disruptions and in particular to address the equity issue will be beneficial and helpful to address future disruptions.
The 8th Global Higher Education Forum 2023 (GHEF2023): “Equity Recovery - Higher Education In The Post-Pandemic Era” will serve as a platform for multi-stakeholders (such as academics, students, government agencies, policymakers, NGOs, and industries) to discuss issues confronting the higher education ecosystem for the equity recovery, as well as to promote discourses and share experiences for finding practical solutions.
GHEF2023 is an avenue to consider concepts, experiences, practices, and research findings on diverse issues in higher education from various countries' contexts and perspectives.
To serve as a platform for the stakeholders (academics, graduates, public and private universities, government agencies, industries, and NGOs) to discuss and share views on current global issues and trends related to the equity recovery of the post-pandemic era in the context of the higher education ecosystem.
To foster multi-perspective discussions on various higher education issues at institutional, national, regional, and international levels.
To facilitate collaborations and enhance networking at national, regional, and international levels in higher education development with Malaysia playing a pivotal role.
To recommend future policy and practice ideas and guidelines that should be prioritised in accelerating higher education development for sustainability in the era of disruptive technology intersection with the global outbreak, equity recovery of the post-pandemic era in the context of the higher education ecosystem.