The Role of Higher Education in Human Development

Current literature has vastly recognized that the lack of accessibility to higher education promote segregation and the deterioration of human capabilities. However, one may wonder if current educational trends, specially within the higher education context, are actually emphasizing the elements that contribute to student’s empowerment and therefore to human development.

Higher education is intended to foster broad-based development of human development, talent and potentials. Empowerment is an essential part of human development. Consequently, current education systems may be interpreting empowerment from both the economic-growth approach and/or the capabilities approach. Those educational systems positioning empowerment as an essential part of development to the extent that it uses economic means to promote growth and economic proficiency exclusively, may be overseeing the potential of education as a process of expansion of the substantive freedom people enjoy in all the different spheres of life such as employment, family, health, academy, among others.

Those higher education institutions that understand empowerment from the economic growth perspective exclusively, may lead to efforts to prioritize job acquisitions and economic stability only. While higher education institutions that understand empowerment from the capabilities approach could broadly lead to efforts that envision students not only as owners of their economic activities but also as owners and managers of all the different spheres of life. A holistic education system which positions empowerment as understood by the capabilities approach, will be a system that includes concepts of justice, diversity and inclusiveness as a core element of education. Incorporating these concepts within the diverse academic programs will promote a broader understanding of the world, a safer but challenging learning environment, and ultimately empower students.

A broader understanding of empowerment is what allows individuals to identify existing un-freedoms and social negative constructions, and to work towards their removal and the expansion of individuals own capabilities set by altering institutionalized attitudes and practices. Which is why, if we want to change the world through education, a holistic understanding and promotion of empowerment is essential when designing academic programs within higher education institutions.

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