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The University of Cambridge is a prestigious institute of higher learning in the U.K.

Higher education refers to a level of education that is provided at universities, vocational universities, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, institutes of technology and certain other collegiate-level institutions, such as vocational schools, trade schools, and career colleges, that award academic degrees or professional certifications.

Since 1950, Article 2 of the first Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights obligates all signatory parties to guarantee the right to education. At the world level, the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, guarantees this right under its Article 13, which states 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".

Tertiary education as a concept in the United Kingdom and some other countries (e.g. Ireland) includes also further education[1] as well as higher education. For information about further education look under that term. For most other countries, "tertiary education" is synonymous with "higher education".

Note that in North America, the word "college" is very often used as a synonym for "university", especially in efficient conversation, for the simple reason that "college" is a two-syllable word, whereas "university" is five syllables long. Thus, if a person says, "I will return to college next fall," that term also includes any university, or any Institute of Technology (eight syllables long), such as the California Institute of Technology.


Higher Education is an educational level that follows the completion of a school providing a secondary education, such as a high school, secondary school, or gymnasium. Tertiary education is normally taken to include undergraduate and postgraduate education, as well as vocational education and training. Colleges, universities, and Institutes of Technology are the main institutions that provide tertiary education (sometimes known collectively as tertiary institutions). Examples of institutions that provide post-secondary education are vocational schools, community colleges, independent colleges (e.g. St. Mary's College), Institutes of Technology, and universities in the United States, the institutes of Technical and Further Educations in Australia, CEGEPs in Quebec, and the IEKs in Greece. They are sometimes known collectively as tertiary institutions. Completion of tertiary education generally results in the awarding of certificates, diplomas, or academic degrees, but the students who do not receive these (by poor performance) outnumber those who do. High performance is expected of students in Higher Education, and those who cannot meet the standards must leave.


Rupert I founded the University of Heidelberg in 1386

Higher education includes teaching, research, exacting applied work (e.g. in medical schools and [dental school]]s), and social services activities of universities. Within the realm of teaching, it includes both the undergraduate level (sometimes referred to as tertiary education), and beyond that, graduate-level (or postgraduate level) for very highly-qualified students who wish to go further in their education and skills. This level of education is often referred to as graduate school, especially in North America.

In the United Kingdom and certain other counties (e.g. Ireland), post-secondary school education below the level of higher education is referred to as "further education". "Higher Education" in the U.K. generally involves work towards a college-degree-level or foundation degree education.

In many developed countries, a high proportion of the population (up to 50%), now enter higher education at some time in their lives. Higher education is therefore very important to national economies, both as a significant industry in its own right and as a source of trained and educated personnel for the rest of the economy.

There can be some disagreement about what precisely constitutes post-secondary, graduate-school, or tertiary education: "It is not always clear, though, what tertiary education includes. Is it only that which results in a formal qualification or might it include leisure classes? In the U.K., are A-levels tertiary education as they are post-compulsory, but taught in school settings, as well as colleges? Is professional updating or on-the-job training part of tertiary education, even if it does not follow successful completion of secondary education?"[2]

There are two types of higher education in the U.K.: higher academic education, and higher vocational education. Higher education in the United States and Canada specifically refers to post-secondary institutions that offer Associate's degrees, Bachelor's degrees, Master's degrees, Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees, or their equivalents, and also higher professional degrees in areas such as medicine, dentistry, the law, optometry, etc.

Such institutions may also offer non-degree certificates, which indicate completion of a set of courses comprising some body of knowledge, but the granting of such certificates is not the primary purpose of the institutions. Tertiary education is not a term used in reference to post-secondary institutions in the United States or Canada.




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. 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 medicine, the law, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. A basic requirement for entry into these graduate-level programs is almost always a bachelor's degree, and for many of the top-level medical schools (e.g. the University of Chicago), nearly all of the entering students already possess a Master's Degree or a Ph.D. in a relevant, supporting subject, such as chemistry, biology, physics, or chemical engineering. Requirements for admission to such high-level graduate programs is extremely competitive, and admitted students are expected to perform at a very high level.

Liberal arts

Main article: Liberal arts college

Academic areas that are included within the Liberal arts include:

Performing arts

Main article: Performing arts education

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.

Higher educational institutions include:

  • Circus schools
  • College or university school of music
  • Dance school
  • Drama school
  • Music education

Plastic or visual arts

Main article: Art education

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, etc.

Higher educational institutions in these arts are:

  • Film schools
  • List of art schools
  • List of art schools in Europe
  • List of international architecture schools


Main article: Vocational university

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.

The term "vocational university" is a self-contradictory non sequitur (an oxymoron) in most countries, but some wish to use it, anyway. It is a so-called institution of higher education and sometime research, which grants so-called professional degrees like so-called professional bachelor's degree, professional master's degree, and professional doctorates) in a variety of subjects.

Professional Education

Recognition of studies

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

As employers

Universities are fairly large employers. Depending on the funding, a university typically has a teacher per 3-20 students. According to the ideal of research-university, the university teaching staff is actively involved in the research of the institution. In addition, the university usually also has dedicated research staff and a considerable support staff. Typically to work in higher education as a member of the academic faculty, a candidate must first obtain a doctorate in an academic field, although some lower teaching positions require only master's degree. Member of the staff or administration usually have education that is necessary for the fulfilment of their duties. Depending on the university, the main administration is more or less centralized. Typically most of the administrative staff works in different administrative sections, such as Student Affairs. In addition, there may be central support units, such as a university library which have a dedicated staff.

The professional field involving the collection, analysis, and reporting of higher education data is called institutional research. Professionals in this field can be found, in addition to universities, in e.g. state educational departments.

See also


  1. Robertson, R. John (2006) Digital preservation in the Tertiary education sector: management implications. Library Review, 55 (3). pp. 173-178. ISSN 0024-2535. Available Online at: (visited 18/06/09)
  2. Harvey, L.. Tertiary education. Analytic Quality Glossary. Quality Research International. URL accessed on 25 November 2008.
Higher education in the United States
  • Davies, Antony and Thomas W. Cline (2005). The ROI on the MBA, BizEd.
  • El-Khawas, E. (1996). Campus trends. Washington, DC.: American Council on Education.
  • Ewell, P.T. (1999). Assessment of higher education and quality: Promise and politics. In S.J. Messick (Ed.), Assessment in higher education: Issues of access, quality, student development, and public policy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Finn, C. E. (1988, Jul.-Aug.). Judgment time for higher education: In the court of public opinion. Change, 20(4), 34-39.
  • Green, Madeleine, F., ed. 1988. Leaders for a New Era: Strategies for Higher Education. New York: Macmillan.
  • Snyder, Benson R. (1970). The Hidden Curriculum. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Veblen, Thorstein (1918). The Higher Learning in America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities by Businessmen. New York: Huebsch
  • Forest, James and Kevin Kinser (2002). Higher Education in the United States: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
  • Douglass, John A. and Todd Greenspan, eds. "The History of the California Master Plan for Higher Education."
  • Commission Reports: A National Dialogue: The Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, United States Department of Education, 2006. [1]
  • Spellings, Margaret, "A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education", A Report of the Commission Appointed by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, September 2006. (highlights of report)
  • Bakvis, Herman and David M. Cameron (2000), "Post-secondary education and the SUFA". IRPP.

External links