Realizing the Global University

What defines a global ‘superpower’? In the past, it was the size of national armies or possession of nuclear weapons. But now there is a more important (and peaceful) benchmark: the size and prestige of university systems. And, while the US is still the global higher education ‘superpower’, China will soon be knocking it off top spot if current trends continue.

…a dramatic insight into just how rapidly China is moving in the higher education race… anything anyone in the West can easily imagine… a wake-up call to universities and governments around the world…The UK is in danger of slipping back…

So states a report of BBC news, with the alarming title China’s bid for world domination. A bit over the top if you ask me. The rise of India and China as doom scenarios for the future competitiveness of developed nations: an image frequently used by current university leaders to appeal to their national governments and ask for additional funding. And by the media to spice up a story.

WUN_membersThat being said… the BBC report is based on presentations of a recent conference of the Worldwide Universities Network, a partnership of 17 research-led universities from Europe, North America, China and Australia. In my view, it’s one of the most active networks of its kind, with many activities in the field of research cooperation, research mobility, e-learning and the organisation of virtual seminars and many other events.

Also in the field of higher education there has been quite some cooperation. There have been initiatives like ‘Constructing Knowledge Spaces’, concerned with researching and theorising the globalisation of education, the ‘Ideas & Universities‘ project and the ‘Network Horizons Virtual Seminar Series‘ of 2006. Cooperation between Wisconsin and Bristol has even led to a new addition to the higher education blogosphere.

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English as a Lingua Franca

I ran into some interesting papers and essays on the issue of English as the lingua franca of contemporary higher education and science. They raise serious questions about the preservation of ‘scientific languages’, the ability to learn and teach in a non-native language, the homogenising tendencies of a lingua franca and even about flexible interpretation of plagiarism…

Some time ago, biophysicist Stefan Klein wrote an article for the Frankfurter Allgemeine about languages and science (Dümmer auf Englisch; English translation here: Dumber in English). Klein wants to ensure the future of German as a language of science and presents some good arguments for it. Roughly, his argument is that the move towards English as a lingua franca makes science elitist and (non native English speaking) scientists dumber. For the first issue Klein refers to a seminar he attended:

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La Résistance

French President Sarkozy’s plans for reforming the French economy and the French public sector appears to cause some resistance. From opera employees to fishermen, train drivers, civil servants and postmen, there is hardly a sector that does not complain of some ‘right’ being eroded. Transport workers are striking over government plans to do away with special retirement privileges; Civil servants will go on strike over a plan to streamline the bureaucracy; Judges and court clerks plan a protest against reforms to the court system; Air France cabin crew have threatened to resume a strike in time for the Christmas season…

sarkozy In this setting, it won’t be a surprise that the students are taking it to the streets as well, to protest against the French university reforms and the  new university law. The new law injects 1 billion euros into higher education, grants universities more freedom to choose their own students and opens the way for some private sector financing to boost the funding of universities. The reforms sparked the fear of privatisation and too much involvement of business in academic maters. Juliette Griffond of the French national student union explained why students are afraid of the reforms:

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THES Ranking 2007 by Country

Ok…I seriously had the intention not to pay too much attention to the THES ranking this year. So this will be the last post about it (of course not the last post about rankings in general and their dynamics). I played around a bit with the data in Excel and had a look at it from a country perspective.

I gave a score of 200 for the number one university (Harvard) and 1 for the number 200 (RMIT; U of Cape Town) etc., and than aggregated these scores for every country. The graph below shows that the United States (with 57 universities in the top 200) and the United Kingdom (with 32 universities) are clearly superior to all other countries:

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Eronomics 101

Isn’t economics wonderful? It gives answers to all important questions in life. It even provides the tools for ‘understanding the preferences underlying the search for a mate’. Or in other words, an economist goes to a bar and solves the mysteries of dating.

At a local bar just off the Columbia campus, Raymond Fisman ran a speed-dating experiment with two psychologists, Sheena Iyengar and Itamar Simonson, and fellow economist Emir Kamenica. Some of their findings confirm the well known clichés, stereotypes and prejudices, other findings are more surprising:

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THES University Ranking 2007

I have probably written more than I should about rankings, and especially the Times Higher Education Supplement list and its flaws and shortcomings, but I just couldn’t resist… Here is a preview of this years results [last year between brackets]:

1 [1] Harvard US
2 [2] Cambridge UK
2 [3] Oxford UK
2 [4] Yale US
5 [9] Imperial College UK
6 [10] Princeton US
7 [7] Caltech US
7 [11] University of Chicago US
9 [25] University College London UK
10 [4] MIT US
16 [16] Australian National University AU
27 [22] University of Melbourne AU
31 [35] University of Sydney AU

The full top 100 can be found here

For what it’s worth…

Update: Richard Holmes at the University Ranking Watch has plenty of coverage on the issue. See also University World News for a special issue on the THES ranking and rankings in general.

Related Posts:

International Rankings: a self-fulfilling nightmare?

Counting what is measured and measuring what counts

SJT World University Rankings 2008

Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2008

The Viability of Institutional Globalisation

Last month’s Far Eastern Economic Review included an article by Simon Montlake on Singapore’s Global School House strategy. The strategy has been formulated to contributes to Singapores development as a regional and global hub for research and development and – in Montlake’s words – to shed a reputation as a stodgy, scripted society, where creativity is dulled by overzealous government regulation.

The strategy targets a growth in foreign students from 80,000 now to 150,000 by 2015. This growth obviously cannot be solely absorbed by Singapore’s two major universities, NUS and NTU and therefore Singapore is creating linkages with foreign partners. Not just out of necessity, but – according to Montlake – also as a matter of prestige:

Singapore also wants to tap this growing market. While its homegrown universities have some appeal to other Asians, a far juicier prize is to partner with a prestigious Western school, essentially outsourcing world-class education to Singapore.

He states that, since 1998, around 16 universities have forged linkages with local institutions, typically in the form of joint graduate programs. In a recent article in the journal ‘World Development’, Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin and Global HigherEd) identifies 25 of such ventures (click picture to enlarge):

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