Optimizing Talent - Day Two - Equity in Education - Treating All Differences Equally

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Oct 04, 2012
by Gerben van Lent
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Optimizing Talent - Day Two - Equity in Education - Treating All Differences Equally

It isn't wrong to be different - It is wrong to be treated differently if you are Panellists Cecile Hoareau, Anthony Carnevale and Jamil Salmi discuss equity in higher education

The basic idea underpinning the concept of triangulation (in social studies) is that the phenomena under study can be understood best when approached with a variety or a combination of research methods.

So in alignment with this principle the second day kicked off with three presentations intended to better understand the phenomena of equity and higher education. On the implicit assumption that the key issues related to equity and higher education are not too different across countries some initial statements for consideration were provided including:

•  Higher education remains largely elitist, with strong disparities in access and success
•  Inequality in higher education is, to a large extent, an extension of inequality at lower levels of education
•  Additional barriers can be financial but also non-financial such as inadequate information, motivation, academic preparation and social capital

The situation that underprivileged in a wide sense are faced with was characterized as "It is not wrong to be different, It is wrong to be treated differently if you are."

From a moral perspective it is relatively easy to support statements related to promoting social mobility and decreasing achievement gaps, but the environment in which this has to take effect is at best indifferent but more often not interested or even hostile.

Some macro societal aspects were presented that looked at the key issues from an external perspective. In this view education in general is seen as caught between capitalism and democracy. Whereas these huge concepts contradict one another in the sense that the first drives inequality whereas the second fosters equality they had a common cause against the (past) powers of the Church and nobility. Education in this view is one tool with which governments can address inequalities by redistribution of funds i.e. capitalism is the banker for democracy. The pressure on post-secondary education starts when education becomes human capital because of the connection to higher income potential.

One of many observations to this analysis was that governments could choose to address inequalities through taxes and providing services like low tuition fees.

Whether you subscribe to this analysis or not, it underlines the necessity that the real advocacy for optimizing talent is not only within the educational community but towards the external decision makers. Last year already the statement was made "If you believe education is too expensive, try ignorance," which was sharpened this year by highlighting an Occupy Movement slogan: "One day the poor will have nothing left than to eat the rich". An alternative to this horror ‘scenario’ came from research done by the Empower European University projects that demonstrated the link between Equity in higher education and economic growth. Some ideas were shared about funding and cost sharing against the background that ‘each EU government could fully fund each student with less than 0.1% of the European budget used to rescue banks!

The concept of triangulation is also used as survey technique for accurate large-scale land surveying. Working groups kicked off their activities ‘to survey’ the immense ‘landscape’ related to optimizing talent in a Global perspective. Returning elements in the debrief were the need for data, are we too different to identify communalities, can we learn and or transfer solutions from one situation to another, what is the role of technology, we might need a ‘marketing plan’ for equity, can private education be a great solution for non-traditional learners or is asking money for tuition by default promoting inequality?

It is easy to say that solutions cannot work because we are different from one another or that situations are so different that you cannot treat them in the same way. However understanding one another’s solutions first can already make a big difference and in the end the key question is who and how do we need to convince that we have to Close Educational and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide.