Globalisation & Higher Education in *****

I found a recent post in one of my favourite blogs (or is it an online magazine?) on the demands that globalisation makes on higher education systems around the world. After reading it I noticed how global this debate has become and how it is so similar in very different parts of the world. Here are some summarising sections of the article:

The four challenges of globalization – the flight of talent, benchmarking to global standards, the possibility of education as a business opportunity, and the mismatch between supply and demand – have a common thread running through them. Inflexible and overtly regulated education systems are unlikely to respond to these challenges. Rigid academic systems all over world struggle to reposition themselves to respond to the challenges posed by globalization.

The ***** education system is one of the most tightly controlled in the world. The government regulates who you can teach, what you can teach them and what you can charge them. It also has huge regulatory bottlenecks. There are considerable entry barriers: Universities can be set up only through acts of legislation, approval procedures for starting new courses are cumbersome, syllabi revision is slow, and accreditation systems are extremely weak and arbitrary. The regulators permit relatively little autonomy for institutions and variation amongst them.

Globalization requires two contradictory transformations in the state: On the one hand, successful globalization requires that the state invest heavily in increasing access to education. But in higher education, globalization also requires the state to respect the autonomy of institutions so that a diversity of experiments can find expression, so that institutions have the flexibility to do what it takes to retain talent in a globalized world and, above all, respond quickly to growing demand. Globalization demands a paradigm shift in the regulation of higher education. In ***** the debate has only just begun.

You can fill in the *****. I think it could be Germany as well as France. China as well as Pakistan. Australia as well as Thailand. Uganda as well as South Africa. Greece as well as Italy…etc…etc. The solution can be found here.

Scarcity in China

A few interesting articles appeared recently on the availability of talent to support China’s economic growth. Even though China has a vast pool of human resources, the Asia Times warns about China’s impending talent shortage. Firms in the south now complain that they cannot recruit enough cheap factory and manual workers. The market is even tighter for skilled workers. As the economy grows and moves into higher-value-added work, the challenge of attracting and retaining staff is rising with the skill level, as demand outstrips supply.

Only a few of China’s vast number of university graduates are capable of working for a multinational company, and the fast-growing domestic economy absorbs most of those who could. Indeed, China is facing a looming shortage of home-grown talent, with serious implications not only for multinationals now in China, but also for the growing number of Chinese companies with global ambitions.

Despite the apparently vast supply, multinational companies are finding that few graduates have the necessary skills for service occupations. According to the Asia Times this can be related to China’s history, which has left it with some peculiar deficits.

They point to China’s Confucian heritage as one explanation. This heritage which emphasizes rote learning and hierarchy, may partly explain why many graduates, despite good paper qualifications and English-language skills, are often cautious about taking the initiative. Another interesting explanation was given by China’s one-child policy: “Some firms complain that China’s one-child policy has made it harder for them to find natural team players”

The Far Eastern Economic Review has an item on the same topic (subscription required) but this focuses mainly on the role of returning overseas graduates in tackling this problem. The author of the article, David Zweig (a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), claims that if China hopes to make up for its brain deficit by wooing overseas-educated Chinese, then it is in for an unpleasant surprise.

He provides the data that show that the return of overseas workers and students is growing. This is partly because of various (national and local) government programmes which financially stimulate the return of Chinese professionals. But it is also partly due to the improved political and economic environment in the country.

Zweig then asks: “but what about the quality of the returnees? Has China been successful in attracting the return of its best and brightest?” He states that data do not support this. Rather, the theory is that those returning to China tend to have first been unsuccessful overseas:

“The Director of a CAS research institute in Northeast China has said that while the people he attracts usually fall into the top 50% to 80% of overseas scholars, the top 20% still remain abroad. Rao Yi, a neurologist at Northwestern University in Illinois claims that, in terms of international reputation and prestige, few returning scholars are of comparable quality to those who stay abroad. He believes that there are between 800 to 1,000 scientists of Chinese origin running independent labs in the U.S., and that these people are unlikely to return.”

Zweig’s own research confirms this:

“In fact, surveys have shown that only a few scholars returning to China had to sacrifice high salaries or stable, tenured positions, and even fewer were returning with patents for innovative research. What’s more, getting the very talented to return is just the first step; getting them to stay is another matter altogether.”

The Asia Times article is based on a recent article in the McKinsey Quarterly (free registration required) on the looming talent shortage in China. This article again was based on the report ‘The Emerging Global Labor Market’ of the McKinsey Global Institute. Last Year, the McKinsey Quarterly also wrote about India’s looming talent shortage.

Still Bowling Alone

While staying in the US last month, I heard an interview on the radio with Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociology professor at Duke. The interview was about a study she co-authored: Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.

The study of 1,467 adults showed that one-fourth of all Americans report that they have nobody to talk to about personal matters. Another quarter reports they are just one person away from nobody. It seems that, in addition to bowling alone, more and more Americans now also have to cope alone with their personal problems.

My first thought was that this would especially be the case for the higher educated part of society since they in general spend more time on work and also tend to be more mobile. I was therefore surprised to hear that non-whites and people with less education tend to have smaller networks than white Americans and those with higher educational levels.

It also made me wonder about the ‘American-ness’ of this isolation problem. Is it a trend that can mainly be seen in the US, or would other countries and regions show similar outcomes (do welfare states lead to more social cohesion and less isolation or not; is this problem also apparent in developing countries)? Does anyone know about a comparative study on this issue?

The full article, published in the American Sociological Review, can be found here.

Blog reanimated

BeerkensBlog  After being in a cyber-coma for 3 weeks, my blog and site are finally up and running again. Somehow it became inaccessible some weeks ago. My domain hosting company had a lot of excuses and of course they claimed it was not their fault either (it was something with their .info registrar…). If this happens again, I’ll move to another company!

On the other hand, I did not have a lot of time to post anyway. First of all I was working hard on my paper for the annual conference of the International Sociological Association in Durban, South Africa later this month. After that was finished, I had a great visit to the Grand Canyon and a weekend in Washington DC, including a great baseballgame of the Washington Nationals versus the New York Yankees. And of course I had to keep an eye on the World Championships soccer (or is it football?) in Germany. Obviously, this became a lot less fun after the Dutch and the Socceroos were eliminated.

Today I returned from my 6 week stay in North Carolina. Again, it was an exhausting trip: RDU-ORD-SFO-SYD starting Sunday July 2nd, 7.45 AM (EST) and arriving Tuesday July 4th, 6.40 AM (Sydney time). The good thing was that I had a long stopover in ORD, which gave me the time to take a train downtown and explore Chicago. The ‘bad’ thing is that there’s no energy left today for a serious higher education/science/globalisation post. Maybe tomorrow, …or the day after.