Travel report

Here, somewhere between Los Angeles and Sydney, I decided it’s time to resume posting again. I’m returning from a very long and interesting trip through Indonesia, Malaysia, India, the Netherlands, Portugal, Canada and the US. In three of the countries I have conducted interviews for my research: Indonesia (at Institut Teknologi Bandung and Universitas Gadjah Mada), Malaysia (Universiti Sains Malaysia and Universiti Malaya) and the Netherlands (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and Technische Universiteit Delft).

My research analyses the way in which nation states and universities respond to the increasing importance of knowledge for economic development and global competitiveness. One thing I’m particularly interested in is the extent to which a process of global policy convergence can be detected in these responses.

In later posts I will try to refer to some of the experiences I’ve had in these countries. For now, just a few short observations

Indonesia has come a long way, but is struggling. Indonesia’s elite universities are more and more relying on student fees and entrepreneurial ventures to sustain their operations. Just over 5 years ago, these universities were almost solely dependent on government funding and strictly directed by national regulations. It of course has also given them much more autonomy. I remember I had some interviews in Indonesia in 2001, just after some of its public elite institutions received the autonomy status. At that time they were clearly struggling with their newly gained autonomy. Compared with 2001, one now seems to be much more decisive on what directions to go.

I couldn’t have chosen a more interesting time to visit Malaysia. During my visits in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, the Times Higher Education Supplement issued its annual top 100 ranking of universities. One conclusion must be that the THES ranking is nowhere taken more seriously than in Malaysia. This however can be said for higher education as a whole. In politics as well as the mainstream media, higher education gets more attention in Malaysia than in any other country I know. But at the same time this has led to a remarkable progress in higher education and science. I’ve seen very interesting examples of cutting edge research, supported by impressive facilities. Also politically, Malaysia has proven to be fascinating. I won’t go into details here, but it has become clear to me that – due to its impressive economic and scientific progress – Malaysia’s tight political control seems to become less and less sustainable. If some of the governmental regulations won’t loosen up, Malaysia might become a typical example of the incompatibility between paternalistic politics and a creative knowledge society. Future will tell..

And than there’s the Netherlands. My visit coincided with the national elections, and if there is one word that best illustrates the result of the elections it is: conservatism. Dutch universities however, seem to become more and more innovative. My visits gave the impression that the traditionally rather rigid Dutch universities have become more flexible and are more open to change than they used to be.

But as I said: more posts to come on these issues…

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