Archive for the 'Globalisation' Category

The end of the university? Not likely

Posted by Eric on September 23rd, 2013

This article was first published in University World News.

This year has frequently seen apocalyptic headlines about the end of the university as we know it. Three main drivers have been and still are fuelling these predictions: the worldwide massification of higher education; the increasing use of information and communication technology in teaching and the delivery of education; and the ongoing globalisation of higher education. These developments will make the traditional university obsolete in 2038. At least, that’s what some want us to believe.

The massification of higher education worldwide – even more than the massification in Western Europe, the United States and Japan in the post-war period – demands new and more efficient types of delivery. The acceleration in the demand for higher education, especially in China and other parts of South and East Asia, has made it nearly impossible for governments to respond to this demand. The increase in demand, together with decreased funding due to the financial crisis, has put pressure on traditional modes of university education.

Innovations in ICT have expanded the possibilities for delivering education and have led to new teaching instruments. The advent of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, in 2012 combined new technologies in order to reach a massive audience. These developments are intensified through the ongoing globalisation of higher education.

Because of the globalisation process, opportunities with regard to where to study have increased, ranging from attending universities abroad to attending online courses.

The concept of ‘the university’ is gone

The conjunction of these developments has led many to believe that the centuries-old model of the contemporary university is coming to an end. If we believe them, the higher education landscape of 2038 will be completely different from the current one. I would argue that these predictions show both a lack of knowledge about the contemporary landscape of higher education and a lack of historical understanding of the development of universities.

The time when the concept of the ‘university’ was clear-cut, referring to a single organisational and educational model, has long been gone. Especially since the massification of higher education in the post-war period, this single model has been accompanied by a wide variety of other higher education institutions. More vocationally oriented institutions were established, such as community colleges. Very large distance-education institutions emerged in many Western countries and beyond. What’s more, when the organisational boundaries of the traditional university were reached, new activities and new organisations appeared. One thing is for sure: in not one country in the world is the traditional university model representative of the entire higher education system any more.

But even if the proclaimers of the end of the university are only referring to the traditional model (whatever that is), they will be proven wrong in 2038, and long after that. The traditional university has been one of the most enduring institutions in the modern world. Granted, university research and university teaching have adapted constantly to changes in the economy and society. This process of adaptation might be too slow, according to many, but it is a constant process in the university. Despite this continual change and adaptation, the model of the university as we know it has changed very little.

The organisation of faculties, schools and departments around disciplines, accountability in the form of peer review, comparable tenure and promotion systems, the connection between education and research, the responsibility of academic staff in both education and research and both graduate and undergraduate education, the primacy of face-to-face instruction etc – these are all characteristics that can be found in universities throughout the world and which have existed for many, many decades – if not centuries.

My bet is they will still be there in 2038. It would be rather naive to think that a financial crisis or even a new type of delivery, like MOOCs, will profoundly change these enduring structures and beliefs.

Universities’ DNA

In the words of Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring, authors ofThe Innovative University, we are talking about the ‘DNA’ of the university, and saying that this does not change easily. They argue that university DNA is not only similar across institutions but is also highly stable, having evolved over hundreds of years. Replication of that DNA occurs continually, as each retiring employee or graduating student is replaced by someone screened against the same criteria applied to his or her predecessor. The way things are done is determined not by individual preference but by institutional procedure, written into the ‘genetic code’.

New technologies will enable new forms of education and delivery. In the coming 25 years, we will see the emergence of new institutions focusing on specific target groups and we will witness traditional institutions employing these new technologies. But will this make the university as we know it obsolete? No, it will not, because the function of the university as we know it is much more comprehensive than ‘just’ the production and transfer of knowledge.

Students attend universities not simply to ‘consume’ knowledge in the form of a collection of courses. They go there for an academic experience; and they go there for a degree that will provide them with an entry ticket to the labour market and which will give them a certain status. Does the fact that I do not see any substantial changes in 2038 mean that there should be none? The fact that structures and beliefs endure does not always mean they still serve the functions they used to.

This is also the case with many of the traditional structures and beliefs in the university. Holding on to these practices is not an end in itself. At least, it should not be, yet in making policy and in making predictions, it is good to take into account the stabilising character of these structures and beliefs.

25 years from now

Because of the university DNA, there is rarely a revolution of the type so frequently predicted by politics, business and consultants. In addition to the major source of universities’ value to a fickle, fad-prone society, the university’s steadiness is also why one cannot make it more responsive to modern economic and social realities merely by regulating its behaviour. A university cannot be made more efficient by simply cutting its operating budget, nor can universities be made by legislative fiat to perform functions for which they are not expressly designed. Another argument why the university as we know it will still be there in 2038!

Many say that the best way to predict the situation in 25 years is to look back 25 years and see what has changed since then. I was first introduced to university life 25 years ago, in what you could call a traditional university. In the past 25 years I have studied and worked at four universities in and outside The Netherlands. At the time of writing, I work at Leiden University, another traditional university.

Comparing the university of 1988 with the university of 2013, it is remarkable how little these organisations have changed. Of course, the university has adapted to societal, political and economic changes, but at its core the traditional university has remained very much the same. I can safely say that the DNA of the traditional university has not changed in the past 25 years and I can safely predict that it will not change in the coming 25 years. And essentially, that is a good thing.

Regulating recruitment agencies

Posted by Eric on September 13th, 2010

Study abroad for a full degree has developed from an elite to a mass phenomenon. Parallel to this development, we have witnessed a commercialization of international higher education where many institutions have become financially dependent on full fee paying international students. To operate in this (global) market, institutions – and especially the lesser-known ones – now frequently turn to agents and recruiters in order to attract prospective students. Many point to the risks of these third party agents and plea for more regulation or even abolishment.

Abolish or regulate? In Inside Higher Ed, Philip Altbach, the Director of the Center for International Higher Education sheds his light on this issue. His viewpoint is clear and unambiguous: “Agents and recruiters are impairing academic standards and integrity — and it’s time for colleges and universities to stop using them.”

These agents recruit prospective students and provide general information, but – according to Altbach – in reality they are also making offers to students or actually admit students, often based on murky qualifications (even though the colleges that hire them say that they still control admissions).

Some initiatives have appeared in the United States with the objective to regulate this ‘new profession’ but these organisations lack powers to monitor compliance or discipline violators. The solution Altbach provides is simple: abolish them! After all, they have no legitimate role in higher education.

Dutch Self regulation

In the Netherlands, the institutions have chosen self-regulation as the prime instrument for managing (the excesses of) international recruitment. The sector-wide ‘code of conduct’ sets out standards for Dutch higher education institutions in their dealings with international students. One chapter in this code of conduct (pdf) deals with the use of agents. The provisions in this chapter stipulate that agents have to act in the spirit of the code and clarifies the responsibilities of the agents and those of the higher education institutions. One of the starting points is that admission remains the responsibility of the institutions and that institutions have to take action immediately in the case of unethical behavior.

This way of dealing with the risks of student recruitment (in an increasingly commercialized market) is somewhat comparable to the method of self-accreditation or ‘accreditation lite’ in the United States. Altbach criticized this method because of the lack of powers in the case of non-compliance.

Other solutions?

In some of the comments below the Inside Higher Ed article, Altbach’s view is portrayed as elitist. Prestigious American schools like Boston College might not need such recruiting agencies. But what about less prestigious universities? What about the ones that are not part of the Ivy League, the Russell Group or the Group of 8? Maybe, these institutions do need professional assistance in reaching prospective international students.

For these institutions, abolishment might not be acceptable. In addition, it remains the question whether all of these agents are rogue operators? Is Altbach’s opinion also valid for agents in other parts of the world? Or is this phenomenon only apparent in the more commercially higher education sectors (Altbach is mainly referring to the USA, Australia and the UK)?

Either way, even if the number of malicious operators would be small, some form of regulation might be necessary to protect the numerous international students who are about to invest a lot of money into their future. Should we let the market do its work or does this sector need government protection? Or is there enough trust in the higher education institutions (and in the majority of the agents) and should we apply soft instruments like codes of conduct and other forms of self-regulation?

On the use of rankings and league tables

Posted by Eric on July 1st, 2008

Just before going to a meeting on rankings I saw this. It is from the proposed new immigration policy: Blueprint for a modern migration policy (pdf; in Dutch). As in so many other immigration countries, it contains a chapter on skilled migration. Here is a translation of the passage that surprised me:

Anticipating the implementation of the new migration system, the government will at the latest in the first half of 2009 introduce a regulation for highly skilled immigrants. On the basis of the regulation, foreigners can stay in the country for a maximum of one year to find a job as a ‘knowledge migrant’ or to start an innovative company.

The objective of the regulation connects well to the ambition of the innovation platform to attract 1000 extra knowledge migrants. It is also in line with the advice on knowledge migrants of the Commission on Labour Participation in its report ‘towards a future that works‘.

The target group consists of foreigners that are relatively young and received their Bachelor, Master or PhD degree not longer than three years ago. Migrants are eligible if they received their degree from a university that is in the top 150 of two international league tables of universities. Because of the overlap, the lists consists of 189 universities…

And guess what the two league tables are. Yes, the Shanghai ranking and the Times Higher Education Ranking. Now…this will mean that firms like this have influence on who is eligible to come and work in the Netherlands. Something is not right here…

Global Classrooms in the Desert

Posted by Eric on February 11th, 2008

Both the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times bring an article by Tamar Lewin on universities rushing to set up outposts abroad. It presents an illustrative overview of the risks, benefits and the viability of institutional globalisation in higher education. If, after reading the article, you are left with any pressing questions, the NYT gives you the opportunity to pose them dirteclty to Charles E. Thorpe, the dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar (ht: globalhighered). To get you started, here are some interesting quotes that provide food for thought:

Howard Rollins, the former director of international programs at Georgia Tech, which has degree programs in France, Singapore, Italy, South Africa and China, and plans for India:

“Where universities are heading now is toward becoming global universities. We’ll have more and more universities competing internationally for resources, faculty and the best students.”

Susan Jeffords, vice provost for global affairs of the University of Washington, about the increase in demand for higher education from overseas students:

“It’s almost like spam”


W-E-B links for Today: Globalisation

Posted by Eric on January 12th, 2008

What did the internets bring me today? A lot of globalisation…

  • The World and globalisation – Globalisation is globalising. A site by Axel Dreher of the ETH Zurich containing lots of data on economic, social and political globalisation: the KOF index of globalisation.


  • Education & globalisation – There are many many definitions of globalisation and this is the one taught in French textbooks: "globalisation implies subjugation of the world to the market, which constitutes a real cultural danger". Stefan Theil in Foreign Policy on bias and indoctrination in German and French economics textbooks.
  • Blog post on globalisation – The brave men and women of the Australian Customs Service protect Australia from the dangers of globalisation. Mercurius over at Larvatus Prodeo praises the dedication of these fine officers and the hardships they have to endure.

Secrecy and Accountability in the UNSW Asia Aftermath

Posted by Eric on December 14th, 2007

I mentioned before that it has been difficult to find out the real reasons for the UNSW Asia closure in Singapore in May this year. The University of New South Wales has not exactly followed a transparent strategy in this issue (for my interpretation of the events, look at this post).

A similar level of secrecy seems to be applied to the further handling of the case. This week the Singapore Straits Times reported that the University of New South Wales has agreed to repay some 25 million Australian dollars to Singapore.

The Singapore Economic Development Board said that UNSW has signed a ‘settlement agreement in respect of all outstanding loans and grants payable to the Singapore Government’. Both parties (EDB and UNSW) however declined to comment since they ‘are bound by the terms of agreement which are confidential’.

This makes the issue that I put forward earlier even more pressing. How do we deal with the private ventures of public institutions? Shouldn’t a public university be held publicly accountable for its risky private operations overseas? Clearly, transparency and public accountability are not high on the priority list in the aftermath of the UNSW Asia debacle…

Realizing the Global University

Posted by Eric on November 17th, 2007

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.


The Viability of Institutional Globalisation

Posted by Eric on November 7th, 2007

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):


Money can’t buy me… Or can it?

Posted by Eric on October 1st, 2007

To what extent can you ‘build’ a high quality university from the ground up? Hard to say, but as long as you got plenty of oil money, why not try? The Saudi government is embarking on a very ambitious project and puts its billions behind Western-Style Higher Education. But Nature questions whether one of the fundamental principles of a ‘western style’ university (or in my opinion, any university) applies in Saudi Arabia and asks whether a Saudi university can think freely? Ziauddin Sardar, a UK-based writer, is skeptical:

“The bureaucratic police state will no doubt buy the best scientific equipment and personnel that money can buy. But it cannot provide the atmosphere of criticism and openness that scientific research needs to flourish.”

Saudi Arabia does not exactly have a long history of higher education. Even though oil production transformed the country into one of the richest in the world, the higher education system has not kept pace. In 1975 a Ministry of Higher Education was established, but it took until this century before serious investments were made in the creation of universities and colleges. Royal oil dollars are now pored into the system in order to create their own Yales and Harvards:


Higher Education in the 21st Century

Posted by Eric on September 25th, 2007

From this weeks Times Higher Education Supplement:

Nottingham owns a 37.5 per cent share in the Ningbo campus, a joint venture with the state-owned Wanli Education Group. Wanli provided the infrastructure, worth £14 million. Nottingham has spent a further £5.3 million in its Malaysia campus, in which it owns 29.1 per cent of the shares.

A spokesman for Nottingham said that the university’s current deficit of Pounds 8 million on a £345.9 million income was not tied directly to the China and Malaysia developments, as it had spent more than £200 million over the past decade on infrastructure in Nottingham as well as abroad.

“We confidently expect handsome surpluses from China and Malaysia within five years at most. We estimate that the campuses in Malaysia and China already have a combined value of £150 million. That’s a pretty phenomenal return on a £40 million investment – of which we contributed less than 25 per cent,” he said.

No comment…

International Rankings: A Self-fulfilling Nightmare?

Posted by Eric on August 1st, 2007

In the latest issue of the American Journal of Sociology, Wendy Nelson Espeland (Northwestern University) and Michael Sauder (University of Iowa) present an impressive paper on Rankings and Reactivity: How Public Measures Recreate Social Worlds. The paper shows how the rise of public measures change social behaviour by looking at the law school rankings of the US News and World Report (USNWR). It struck me how many of their findings and arguments can be applied to international rankings as well. In some cases, their arguments might even be stronger for international rankings and expose additional complications.

Through processes of what the authors call ‘reactivity’, the independence between the measures and the social world they target are threatened. Rankings thus not just measure the current situation; they define it as well by changing behaviour. They identify two mechanisms of reactivity that are important in this respect: ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ and ‘commensuration’. Here, I will discuss the self-fulfilling prophecy mechanism and make an attempt to ‘translate’ this to the level of global higher education and global rankings.


Malaysia as an Education Hub

Posted by Eric on May 28th, 2007

The UNSW debacle in Singapore and the exit of Johns Hopkins last year, have dealt a serious blow to the Global Schoolhouse strategy of the Singapore government. Singapore’s neighbor Malaysia announced a similar strategy last year. With this strategy, Malaysia becomes one of the most interesting examples of the way that higher education is globalizing nowadays. A major exporter as well as importer of higher education, with foreign universities within its borders and Malay universities establishing branches outside Malaysia.

First of all, Malaysia has long been sending many of their students and university staff abroad, especially for postgraduate studies, because their own system could not absorb the increase of students in the last decades. In addition, the racial quota for public universities to enroll Malay forced a lot of students from Chinese and Indian backgrounds to pursue their higher education abroad. The last decade has seen a sharp rise in private universities and colleges that have been able to absorb many of these students and the Malay that were not accepted in the public sector. Despite this, the flow of Malaysian students abroad – especially to the English speaking countries – has remained substantial (see table).

Malaysian students abroad 1999-2004

In addition to sending students abroad to pursue their education, the Malaysian government has also admitted higher education institutions into Malaysia in order to meet the increasing demand of higher education in the country. The establishment of such branch campuses has to fulfill a wide range of legal requirement (on ownership issues, but also on the content of education), but this has not kept universities from establishing these branches. The best known examples are Monash University, Curtin and Swinburne from Australia and Nottingham University from the UK. Although these partnerships were usually based on so-called sandwich programmes (where part was done in the home country of the university), they now also offer full degrees in Malaysia.

But in recent years, both the flows of students as well as the flows of institutions are no longer one way but now go both ways. Although public universities in Malaysia do not undertake activities abroad – and probably they are not allowed to – the private ones seem to become more and more active. You can now actually obtain a Malaysian degree in London, offered by the Lim Kok Wing University, well known in Malaysia for its IT and Design programmes. And this university is not just a little office somewhere in London but is established in a beautiful old English building. But Lim Kok Wing did not stop in London. It’s also the first Asian university to establish a branch campus in Africa, in Botswana to be precise. Recently, other education institutions are following and are also expanding abroad.

And now the Malaysian government wants to make Malaysia a true education hub for the region, more or less like its southern neighbor. The Ministry of Higher Education has set a target of 100,000 students for 2010. Growth will probably mainly be sought in the region and in the Middle East. Together with Singapore, Malaysia probably offers the best quality higher education in Southeast Asia, although Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia are catching up. Due to language (and cultural/religious) issues, Malaysia is popular for Indonesian students, especially for those that cannot get into the local public universities in Indonesia and cannot afford the top private ones or higher education abroad. For Chinese students Malaysia might be popular because of the widespread Chinese influences in Malay society, more apparent though in the private institutions than in the public ones. More recently, especially after 9-11, Malaysia has also become a popular destination for Middle Eastern students. Yesterday, the Star reported on an agreement between Higher Education Minister Datuk Mustapa Mohamed and his Saudi counterpart Dr Khaled Mohamed Al-Anqari on sending the Saudi students to Malaysian universities(*). In addition to the Middle East, students coming from Africa (especially Libya, Sudan and Kenya) are also on the rise (see table; click to enlarge).

Foreign Students in Malaysia 1999-2003

To reach the goal of 100,000 international students, the government will need to double the intake of foreign students. There are obviously pros and cons to a strategy like this. For many, a first reaction would be to ask why a government wants to increase the number of international students if it barely has the capacity to meet the demand of its own people? On the other hand, it can generate extra financial resources (if the fees for foreign students are profitable) by which the education of the Malaysian population can be supported. Obviously creating more multicultural campus will also have more intangible positive effects. And the quality of education can increase if these foreign students will be of such quality that they will positively influence the academic atmosphere and quality in the universities. And of course there are the economic effects through spending and consumption from the students and through the new jobs that are created for such an expanding higher education sector.

So…should the Singapore case make the Malaysian government nervous? Maybe not yet, but they better keep an eye on the developments in their neighboring city state. Malaysia’s plans are not as ambitious as Singapore’s ‘grand’ strategies and they are less dependent on foreign providers than is the case in Singapore. But I hope they will not become obsessed with the projected number of 100,000, and instead just focus on the overall quality of their higher education. Then the foreign students will follow automatically…

(*) A small footnote…not directly related but important enough to mention.

Saudi government officials have been traveling the world for the past months in order to find ‘a conducive environment’ for their students to study. Especially because it was getting harder for them to get visas in the UK and the US. I remember that one of their officials visited Australian campuses as well, in order to ‘ínspect’ the universities here. I have not heard anything about this issue since…maybe the Australian culture was not considered very conducive by these government leaders, that always know best what is good for ‘their’ citizens…

But even Malaysia was not perfect. Saudi female students had specific requirements: “They have to travel with their chaperone who are either their male family members or husbands, so visas can be a problem. Another issue is dressing – some female students want to keep their faces covered.” The Minister said he would look into these issues… Covering the faces is not allowed in Malaysian public universities. And I think universities shouldn’t change their values just to benefit more from the international higher education market. Believe me, I work in Australia, so I should know!

Questions on the UNSW ASIA debacle

Posted by Eric on May 24th, 2007

After three months in operation, the Singapore adventure of the University of New South Wales has come to an end. Another 22 million Singapore dollars down the drain. The decision to establish a branch campus in Singapore was taken in 2005 and already led to some commotion at that time (see this post). In 2005, UNSW from Australia and the University of Warwick from the UK were the only two foreign universities granted special status by the Singaporean Government (through its Economic Development Board, EDB) to set up a fully fledged independent teaching and research institution offering undergraduate degrees (the UNSW ASIA website has been taken down but click here for some info from the old website and here for some facts).

At that time, the senate of Warwick declined the offer of the Singapore government. The official reason for the Warwick senate to vote against the venture was the big financial risk. An additional reason however was the concern about the lack of academic freedom. UNSW had a different opinion, after all there was “no such thing as absolute freedom of speech in any country”.UNSW opened the doors of its Asia Campus at the beginning of the 2007 academic year, planning to reach a population of up to 15,000 students on the long term. But the campus will be closed down after only one semester:

Before making this decision, the University has explored an extensive range of options. However the enrollment numbers for 2007 did not meet our expectations, and this has caused us to revise our projections. The decision to close down is a difficult one but it is the prudent course of action to take.

UNSW Vice Chancellor, Professor Fred Hilmer inherited the situation when he became VC in 2006. In a press conference in the Straits Times video news he explains the UNSW decision to pull out (see the whole video here):

The economics of the campus, without significant support made it impossible to continue. While we had support for the initial concept from the EDB, as the enrollment played out and as the concept had to be changed, the risk of the venture increased.

The Economic Development Board stated that it regrets the decision of UNSW. Mr Ko Kheng Hwa, Managing Director, EDB said:

We regret that UNSW has decided to close the Singapore campus. EDB has been fully committed and has worked closely with UNSW from day one towards the establishment of its Singapore campus. EDB will push ahead with our efforts to realise Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse vision. We are fully committed to developing Singapore into a premier education hub comprising a rich diversity of high quality education institutions and programmes from all over the world.

UNSW Asia had only 140 students enrolled in its first semester, 100 of them being Singapore residents. The University had a target of 300 students for the first year. This all leaves me with two big questions:

1. What is the real reason? If the target was 300 and the enrollment was 140, would you stop an operation – that has been planned for two years and in which 17.5 million Australian dollars is invested – just after a few months? Of course not! This is just too abrupt. After investing this amount, you would at least try for a few years. Somehow I have the idea that there is more going on, but I can’t figure out what it is.

2. Public universities and their private ventures. I am sure that UNSW and UNSW Asia keep separate books. But somehow UNSW, an Australian public university, will be affected by the costs of the Singaporese adventure. This discussion has come up in relation to the South African branch campus of Monash university as well. It clearly shows the risk of letting public organizations operate privately overseas. Of course, UNSW will argue that their Australian activities will not suffer from the UNSW Asia debacle. But the money has to come from somewhere. The costs are even likely to rise because UNSW has been so decent to offer their UNSW Asia students a place at UNSW in Sydney and will make scholarships available.

Two pressing questions. Whether we will ever know the answer to the first one? I don’t know. But I hope the second one will be discussed because it addresses a fundamental issue.

UPDATE: look at this recent post for some explanations

World Class Universities

Posted by Eric on May 4th, 2007

Robert Birnbaum, professor of higher education at the University of Maryland and author of some very interesting books on higher education (How Colleges Work; Management Fads in Higher Education) has written an interesting (and amusing) article in International Higher Education (the Quarterly of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) in Boston College).

Birnbaum is worried about the World Class University ranking crisis. Universities around the world are either proclaiming that they have attained or try to achieve this mythical status. But actually, we have no clue what it means. Philip Altbach, leader of CIHE, has written before on the cost and benefits of the race towards world class:

Everyone wants a world-class university. No country feels it can do without one. The problem is that no one knows what a world-class university is, and no one has figured out how to get one. Everyone, however, refers to the concept. We are in an age of academic hype in which universities of different kinds in diverse countries claim this exalted status-often with little justification.

Birnbaum gives some suggestion on some alternative ways to identify world class universities:

  1. The Bentham System – this scheme, based on the 19th century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s principle of Utilitarianism, proposes that the best universities are those that bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number.
  2. Olympic System – In the Olympic System, teams of university faculty would compete every four years in head to head competitions combining athletic and intellectual prowess to determine their world rankings
  3. Borges System – our scholarly task is merely to identify the book of true ratings from among the infinite number of books that contain very similar, but false, ratings which also exist
  4. Sausage System – Throw U.S. News, the Gourman Report, the Times Hiigher Education Supplement, and other rankings created by systems of all kinds into the same bowl, add and average out the results and voila! Just as we do not know how a sausage is made (or, more to the point, we don’t want to know) the Sausage System makes it difficult to understand just what has gone into any particular set of ratings.
  5. Lake Wobegon System – in Lake Wobegon, you will remember, all the children are above average. This suggests the possibility of significantly expanding the number of institutions that can be ranked as world class merely by increasing the number of institutions in each category.

But he continues on a more serious note. Building on a metaphor by Daniel Dennett, he argues that such World Class Universities can only be built if they are firmly grounded in strong and indigenous educational and social foundations Trying to develop them by using imported rhetoric, imported models and large sums of money is destined to fail:

“Attempting to build World-Class Universities without attending first to the educational and social ground on which such institutions might stand is, as Ivan Illich once said, is “like trying to do urban renewal in New York City from the twelfth story up.” Rather than more World Class Universities, what we really need in countries everywhere are more world-class technical institutes, world-class community colleges, world class colleges of agriculture, world class teachers colleges, and world class regional state universities.”

A similar conclusion was drawn by Altbach. He concluded that as universities around the world seem to be orienting themselves to this single academic ideal, institutions and nations need to assess carefully their needs, resources, and long-term interests before launching into a campaign to build world-class institutions:

“Universities operate in both national and global contexts. The world-class idea falls into the global sphere. It assumes that the university is competing with the best academic institutions in the world and is aspiring to the pinnacle of excellence and recognition. National and even regional realities may differ. They relate to the need of the immediate society and economy and imply responsiveness to local communities. In these contexts, the nature of academic performance and roles may differ from what is expected at institutions competing in the global realm. To label one sphere world class while relegating the others to the nether regions of the academic hierarchy is perhaps inevitable, but nonetheless unfortunate.”

I wholeheartedly agree with both conclusions. Universities are one of the oldest institutions and are clearly embedded in a nations’ cultural, political and social context. This is not just the case for the Oxbridge-like universities, but also for the more recently established universities. However, this should not be a reason to avoid learning from each others experiences or models. Even copying models from other parts of the world does not necessarily lead to failure. It’s just a matter of adaptation. And it is this process of local adaptation that is made difficult by the pressures on universities to adhere to so-called global world class standards.

Debunking EU Myths?

Posted by Eric on March 19th, 2007

Andrew Moravcsik, Professor of Politics at Princeton University comes to the defence of Europe. Moravcsik is probably one of the most influential contemporary writers on European Politics and introduced a liberal inter-governmentalist approach to the study of European Integration (see for instance this book). On the occasion of the EU’s 50th birthday he writes an article in Newsweek – The Golden Moment – debunking the myths of Europe’s allegedly sclerotic economies, labour markets and politics. Europe is not a continental-size museum dropping into the dustbin of history…on the contrary.

Economically, Europe is doing a lot better than is often claimed by ‘the pundits’. Even though Italy and France may be lagging a bit, Britain is booming and so are the Nordic countries. Central and Eastern European countries are showing even higher growth rates than the US. Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia are even growing at 10 percent or more annually. And this can even be done with a stable welfare state:

Despite nearly 50 percent tax rates and cradle-to-grave welfare benefits, Northern European social democracies like Denmark, Sweden and Finland grab half of the top slots in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of the world’s most competitive economies. “Nordic social democracy remains robust,” says Anthony Giddens, former head of the London School of Economics—”not because it has resisted reform, but because it embraced it.” (…) Remember those six to eight weeks of vacation every European is assured? Most Americans say they would make the same trade-off—if only their employers would permit it.

He also addresses Europe’s demographic challenges and explains why immigration can be a feasible solution for this, despite the recent problems with Muslim integration/assimilation in some countries. He argues that the greater diversity of future immigrant groups (because of the current selective policies) will solve those problems:

In the end, the specter of restive immigrant populations unsettling Europe, let alone undermining its culture, is overblown to the point of unreality.

Final point is Europe’s role in global politics. He is very clear here: the world is bipolar, and the other pole is Europe.

Consider how the EU began, 50 years ago, as a parochial Franco-German entente. Today, it’s the model for a continent. The EU expansion, subsuming a dozen former communist states, has been the surest exercise in democracy promotion since the end of the cold war.(…) It has extended the reach of democracy and free markets within and beyond its borders—in a way that American neocons can only dream about—and is becoming a model to the developing world. It is the “quiet superpower.”

Europe’s tools go well beyond EU enlargement. The EU is the largest trading and investment partner of every nation in the Middle East. The EU provides 70 percent of the foreign aid and humanitarian assistance in the world today. Almost all the world’s peacekeeping and policing forces, outside of Iraq, are staffed or funded primarily by Europeans—Lebanon, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan.

True or not, it’s significant that 50 years after the EU’s march to unity began, it is now Europe, not the United States, that’s held up as a new lamp unto nations.

I too think that the European Union has achieved a lot in its 50 years, possibly more than optimists held possible at the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. I also think that a 50 year old sometimes needs some innovative ideas and a good overhaul in order to face the future. Yes…many arguments can be brought forward against the optimism of Moravcsik. But why would you do that to someone that just turned 50 years old?

Update: I guess I was right about the arguments against Moravcsik’s optimism. Here are a few, with a rejoinder of Moravcsik. And here on is an interesting discussion about the article (and the EU in general) between Henry Farrell and Daniel Drezner.

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