Higher education

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Higher education is tertiary education leading to award of an academic degree. Higher education, also called post-secondary education, third-level or tertiary education, is an optional final stage of formal learning that occurs after completion of secondary education. It represents levels 6, 7 and 8 of the 2011 version of the International Standard Classification of Education structure. Tertiary education at non-degree level is sometimes referred to as further education or continuing education as distinct from higher education.

An academic degree is a qualification awarded to students upon successful completion of a course of study in higher education, usually at a college or university. These institutions commonly offer degrees at various levels, usually including bachelor's, master’s and doctorates, often alongside other academic certificates and professional degrees. The most common undergraduate degree is the bachelor's degree, although in some countries lower qualifications are titled degrees while in others a higher-level first degree is more usual.

Tertiary education advanced level of education, usually for adults

Tertiary education, also referred to as third-level, third-stage or postsecondary education, is the educational level following the completion of a school providing a secondary education. The World Bank, for example, defines tertiary education as including universities as well as trade schools and colleges. Higher education is taken to include undergraduate and postgraduate education, while vocational education beyond secondary education is known as further education in the United Kingdom, or continuing education in the United States.

Formal learning is education normally delivered by trained teachers in a systematic intentional way within a school, higher education or university. It is one of three forms of learning as defined by the OECD, the others being informal learning, which typically takes place naturally as part of some other activity, and non-formal learning, which includes everything else, such as sports instruction provided by non-trained educators without a formal curriculum.


The right of access to higher education is mentioned in a number of international human rights instruments. The UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 declares, in Article 13, that "higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education". In Europe, Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950, obliges all signatory parties to guarantee the right to education

International human rights instruments are the treaties and other international texts that serve as legal sources for international human rights law and the protection of human rights in general. There are a large number of varying types, but most can be classified into two broad categories: declarations, adopted by bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly, which are by nature declaratory, so not legally-binding although they may be politically authoritative and very well-respected soft law;, and often express guiding principles; and conventions that are multi-party treaties that are designed to become legally binding, usually include prescriptive and very specific language, and usually are concluded by a long procedure that frequently requires ratification by each states' legislature. Lesser known are some "recommendations" which are similar to conventions in being multilaterally agreed, yet cannot be ratified, and serve to set common standards. There may also be administrative guidelines that are agreed multilaterally by states, as well as the statutes of tribunals or other institutions. A specific prescription or principle from any of these various international instruments can, over time, attain the status of customary international law whether it is specifically accepted by a state or not, just because it is well-recognized and followed over a sufficiently long time.

United Nations Intergovernmental organization

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization tasked with maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, achieving international co-operation, and being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It was established after World War II, with the aim of preventing future wars, and succeeded the ineffective League of Nations. Its headquarters, which are subject to extraterritoriality, are in Manhattan, New York City, and it has other main offices in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states. Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. The UN is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states; there are now 193.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights United Nations General Assembly resolution adopted in 1966

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966 through GA. Resolution 2200A (XXI), and came in force from 3 January 1976. It commits its parties to work toward the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR) to the Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories and individuals, including labour rights and the right to health, the right to education, and the right to an adequate standard of living. As of September 2018, the Covenant has 169 parties. A further four countries, including the United States, have signed but not ratified the Covenant.

Since World War II, developed and many developing countries have increased the participation of the age group who mostly studies higher education from the elite rate, of up to 15 per cent, to the mass rate of 16 to 50 per cent. [1] [2] [3] In many developed countries, participation in higher education has continued to increase towards universal or, what Trow later called, open access, where over half of the relevant age group participate in higher education. [4] Higher education is important to national economies, both as an industry, in its own right, and as a source of trained and educated personnel for the rest of the economy. College educated workers have commanded a measurable wage premium and are much less likely to become unemployed than less educated workers. [5] [6]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

An economy is an area of the production, distribution, or trade, and consumption of goods and services by different agents. Understood in its broadest sense, 'The economy is defined as a social domain that emphasize the practices, discourses, and material expressions associated with the production, use, and management of resources'. Economic agents can be individuals, businesses, organizations, or governments. Economic transactions occur when two parties agree to the value or price of the transacted good or service, commonly expressed in a certain currency. However, monetary transactions only account for a small part of the economic domain.


Higher education, also called post-secondary education, third-level or tertiary education, is an optional final stage of formal learning that occurs after completion of secondary education. It is delivered at universities, academies, colleges, seminaries, conservatories, and institutes of technology, and through certain college-level institutions, including vocational schools, trade schools, and other career colleges that award. Tertiary education at non-degree level is sometimes referred to as further education or continuing education as distinct from higher education.

Secondary education education for most teenagers

Secondary education covers two phases on the International Standard Classification of Education scale. Level 2 or lower secondary education is considered the second and final phase of basic education, and level 3 (upper) secondary education is the stage before tertiary education. Every country aims to provide basic education, but the systems and terminology remain unique to them. Secondary education typically takes place after six years of primary education and is followed by higher education, vocational education or employment. Like primary education, in most countries secondary education is compulsory, at least until the age of 16. Children typically enter the lower secondary phase around age 11. Compulsory education sometimes extends to age 19.

University Academic institution for further education

A university is an institution of higher education and research which awards academic degrees in various academic disciplines. Universities typically provide undergraduate education and postgraduate education.

An academy is an institution of secondary education, higher learning, research, or honorary membership. Academia is the worldwide group composed of professors and researchers at institutes of higher learning.

The International Standard Classification of Education in 1997 initially classified all tertiary education together in 1997 version of its schema. They were referred to as level 5 and doctoral studies at level 6. In 2011, this was refined and expanded 2011 version of the structure. Higher education at undergraduate level, masters and doctoral level became levels 6, 7 and 8. Non-degree level Tertiary education, sometimes referred to as further education or continuing education was reordered ISCED 2011 level 4, with level 5 for some higher courses. [7]

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) is a statistical framework for organizing information on education maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is a member of the international family of economic and social classifications of the United Nations.

Further education in the United Kingdom and Ireland is education in addition to that received at secondary school, that is distinct from the higher education (HE) offered in universities and other academic institutions. It may be at any level in compulsory secondary education, from entry to higher level qualifications such as awards, certificates, diplomas and other vocational, competency-based qualifications through awarding organisations including City and Guilds, Edexcel (BTEC) and OCR. FE colleges may also offer HE qualifications such as HNC, HND, Foundation Degree or PGCE. The colleges are also a large provider of apprenticeships, where most of the training takes place in the apprentices' workplace with some day release into college.

Continuing education is an all-encompassing term within a broad list of post-secondary learning activities and programs. The term is used mainly in the United States and Canada.

In the days when few pupils progressed beyond primary education or basic education, the term "higher education" was often used to refer to secondary education, which can create some confusion. [8] This is the origin of the term high school for various schools for children between the ages of 14 and 18 (United States) or 11 and 18 (UK and Australia). [9]

Primary education first stage of compulsory education

Primary education also called an elementary education is typically the first stage of formal education, coming after preschool and before secondary education. Primary education usually takes place in a primary school or elementary school. In some countries, primary education is followed by middle school, an educational stage which exists in some countries, and takes place between primary school and high school. Primary Education in Australia consists of grades foundation to grade 6. In the United States, primary education is Grades 1 - 3 and elementary education usually consists of grades 1-6.

According to the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), basic education comprises the two stages primary education and lower secondary education.

High school is a term primarily used in the United States and Canada to describe the level of education students receive from approximately 13 to 18 years old, although there is some variation. Most comparable to secondary schools, high schools generally deliver phase three of the ISCED model of education. High schools have subject-based classes. The name high school is applied in other countries, but no universal generalization can be made as to the age range, financial status, or ability level of the pupils accepted. In North America, most high schools include grades nine through twelve and students attend them following junior high school.

Higher education includes teaching, research, exacting applied work (e.g. in medical schools and dental schools), and social services activities of universities. [10] Within the realm of teaching, it includes both the undergraduate level, and beyond that, graduate-level (or postgraduate level). The latter level of education is often referred to as graduate school, especially in North America. In addition to the skills that are specific to any particular degree, potential employers in any profession are looking for evidence of critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, teamworking skills, information literacy, ethical judgment, decision-making skills, fluency in speaking and writing, problem solving skills, and a wide knowledge of liberal arts and sciences. [11]


The U.S. system of higher education was heavily influenced by the Humboldtian model of higher education. Wilhelm von Humboldt's educational model goes beyond vocational training. In a letter to the Prussian king, he wrote:

There are undeniably certain kinds of knowledge that must be of a general nature and, more importantly, a certain cultivation of the mind and character that nobody can afford to be without. People obviously cannot be good craftworkers, merchants, soldiers or businessmen unless, regardless of their occupation, they are good, upstanding and – according to their condition – well-informed human beings and citizens. If this basis is laid through schooling, vocational skills are easily acquired later on, and a person is always free to move from one occupation to another, as so often happens in life. [12]

The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin criticized discrepancies between Humboldt's ideals and the contemporary European education policy, which narrowly understands education as a preparation for the labor market, and argued that we need to decide between McKinsey and Humboldt. [13]

Oldest universities

This is a disputed field



The general higher education and training that takes place in a university, college, or Institute of technology usually includes significant theoretical and abstract elements, as well as applied aspects (although limited offerings of internships or SURF programs attempt to provide practical applications). In contrast, the vocational higher education and training that takes place at vocational universities and schools usually concentrates on practical applications, with very little theory.

In addition, professional-level education is always included within Higher Education, and usually in graduate schools since many postgraduate academic disciplines are both vocationally, professionally, and theoretically/research oriented, such as in the law, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. A basic requirement for entry into these graduate-level programs is almost always a bachelor's degree, although alternative means of obtaining entry into such programs may be available at some universities. Requirements for admission to such high-level graduate programs is extremely competitive, and admitted students are expected to perform well.

Mean financial wealth of U.S. families by education of the head of household, 1989-2010 US household wealth by education.png
Mean financial wealth of U.S. families by education of the head of household, 1989-2010
Mean income of U.S. families by education of the head of household, 1989-2010 US household income by education.png
Mean income of U.S. families by education of the head of household, 1989-2010

When employers in any profession consider hiring a college graduate, they are looking for evidence of critical thinking, analytical reasoning skills, teamworking skills, information literacy, ethical judgment, decision-making skills, communication skills (using both text and speech), problem solving skills, and a wide knowledge of liberal arts and sciences. However, most employers consider the average graduate to be more or less deficient in all of these areas. [17]

In the United States, there are large differences in wages and employment associated with different degrees. Medical doctors and lawyers are generally the highest paid workers, and have among the lowest unemployment rates. Among undergraduate fields of study, science, technology, engineering, math, and business generally offer the highest wages and best chances of employment, while education, communication, and liberal arts degrees generally offer lower wages and a lower likelihood of employment. [5] [18]

Liberal arts

Academic areas that are included within the liberal arts include environmental science, great books, history, languages including English, linguistics, literature, mathematics, music, philosophy, political science, psychology, religious studies, science, sociology and theater.


Teaching engineering is teaching the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. It may encompass using insights to conceive, model and scale an appropriate solution to a problem or objective. The discipline of engineering is extremely broad, and encompasses a range of more specialized fields of engineering, each with a more specific emphasis on particular areas of technology and types of application. Engineering disciplines include aerospace, biological, civil, chemical, computer, electrical, industrial, and mechanical.

Performing arts

The performing arts differ from the plastic arts or visual arts, insofar as the former uses the artist's own body, face and presence as a medium; the latter uses materials such as clay, metal or paint, which can be molded or transformed to create a work of art.

Performing arts institutions include circus schools, dance schools, drama schools and music schools.

Plastic or visual arts

The plastic arts or visual arts are a class of art forms, that involve the use of materials, that can be moulded or modulated in some way, often in three dimensions. Examples are painting, sculpture, and drawing.

Higher educational institutions in these arts include film schools and art schools.


Higher vocational education and training takes place at the non-university tertiary level. Such education combines teaching of both practical skills and theoretical expertise. Higher education differs from other forms of post-secondary education such as that offered by institutions of vocational education, which are more colloquially known as trade schools. Higher vocational education might be contrasted with education in a usually broader scientific field, which might concentrate on theory and abstract conceptual knowledge.

Professional higher education

This describes a distinct form of higher education that offers a particularly intense integration with the world of work in all its aspects (including teaching, learning, research and governance) and at all levels of the overarching Qualifications Framework of the European Higher Education Area. Its function is to diversify learning opportunities, enhance employability, offer qualifications and stimulate innovation, for the benefit of learners and society.

The intensity of integration with the world of work (which includes enterprise, civil society and the public sector) is manifested by a strong focus on application of learning. This approach involves combining phases of work and study, a concern for employability, cooperation with employers, the use of practice-relevant knowledge and use-inspired research. [19]

Examples of providers of professional higher education may include graduate colleges of architecture, business, journalism, law, library science, optometry, pharmacy, public policy, human medicine, professional engineering, podiatric medicine, scientific dentistry, K-12 education, and veterinary medicine.


A report titled 'Education at a Glance 2014' published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on 9 September 2014, revealed that by 2014, 84 percent of young people were completing upper secondary education over their lifetimes, in high-income countries. Tertiary-educated individuals were earning twice as much as median workers. In contrast to historical trends in education, young women were more likely to complete upper secondary education than young men. Additionally, access to education was expanding and growth in the number of people receiving university education was rising sharply. By 2014, close to 40 percent of people aged 25–34 (and around 25 percent of those aged 55–64), were being educated at university. [20]

Recognition of studies

The Lisbon Recognition Convention stipulates that degrees and periods of study must be recognised in all of the Signatory Parties of the Convention. [21]

See also


  1. Trow, Martin (1973) Problems in the transition from elite to mass higher education. Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, Berkeley, http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED091983&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=ED091983, accessed 1 August 2013
  2. Brennan, John (2004) The social role of the contemporary university: contradictions, boundaries and change, in Center for Higher Education Research and Information (ed.)
  3. Ten years on: changing education in a changing world (Buckingham: The Open University Press), https://www.open.ac.uk/cheri/documents/ten-years-on.pdf, accessed 9 February 2014
  4. Trow, Martin (2007) [2005] Reflections on the transition from elite to mass to universal access: forms and phases of higher education in modern societies since WWII, Springer International Handbooks of Education volume 18, 2007, 243-280
  5. 1 2 "Risk-Based Student Loans". 2011-09-05. SSRN   1941070 .
  6. OECD, Education at a Glance (2011)
  7. Revision of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED), retrieved 05-04-2012.
  8. For example, Higher Education: General and Technical, a 1933 National Union of Teachers pamphlet by Lord Eustace Percy, which is actually about secondary education and uses the two terms interchangeably.
  9. Pucciarelli F., Kaplan Andreas M. (2016) Competition and Strategy in Higher Education: Managing Complexity and Uncertainty, Business Horizons, Volume 59
  10. "Employers Judge Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today's Workplace, Endorse Broad and Project-Based Learning as Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success" (Press release). Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  11. Günther, Karl-Heinz (1988). "Profiles of educators: Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835)". Prospects. 18: 127–136. doi:10.1007/BF02192965.
  12. Nida-Rümelin, Julian (29 October 2009). "Bologna-Prozess: Die Chance zum Kompromiss ist da". Die Zeit (in German). Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  13. Top Universities World University Rankings Retrieved 2010-1-6
  14. Our History - Università di Bologna
  15. Paul L. Gaston (2010). The Challenge of Bologna . p. 18. ISBN   978-1-57922-366-3.External link in |title= (help)
  16. "Employers Judge Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today's Workplace, Endorse Broad and Project-Based Learning as Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success" (Press release). Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 20 January 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  17. "The Economic Value of College Majors" (Press release). Georgetown University. May 2015. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  18. "Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe". Harmonising Approaches to Professional Higher Education in Europe. EURASHE. 2013. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  19. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (September 2014). "Higher levels of education paying off for young, says OECD" . Retrieved September 11, 2014.
  20. "Lisbon Recognition Convention". coe.int. Retrieved 28 May 2019.

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Undergraduate education is education conducted after secondary education and prior to post-graduate education. It typically includes all the academic programs up to the level of a bachelor's degree. For example, in the United States, an entry level university student is known as an undergraduate, while students of higher degrees are known as graduates. In some other educational systems, undergraduate education is post-secondary education up to the level of a master's degree; this is the case for some science courses in Britain and some medicine courses in Europe.

A Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) is a graduate professional degree which prepares students for work as a teacher in schools, though in some countries additional work must be done in order for the student to be fully qualified to teach.

Cooperative education is a structured method of combining classroom-based education with practical work experience. A cooperative education experience, commonly known as a "co-op", provides academic credit for structured job experience. Cooperative education is taking on new importance in helping young people to make the school-to-work transition. Cooperative learning falls under the umbrella of work-integrated learning but is distinct as it alternates a school term with a work term in a structured manner, involves a partnership between the academic institution and the employer, and generally is both paid and intended to advance the education of the student.

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Preceded by
Grade 13
Higher education
age varies (usually 18-22)
Succeeded by
Graduate school