Saturday, March 27, 2010

Imagining The Global University

The education leaders from across the world congregated in London to discuss the future of internationalization of education on Thursday, as The Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

We seem to be entering an era of consensus on globalization of higher education. This by itself denotes progress to the next, pervasive stage of globalization, where work, skills and ideas will be globally shared. This may have implications beyond the obvious: Higher education is intrinsically related to the ethos of a nation state [think Oxbridge and Britain, Ivy League and America and France and its Ecoles] and globalization of higher education will need more than offering a set of degrees in different campuses; this may need a fundamental rethinking of how education is delivered and what it is for.

The conference attendees seem to agree on the importance of globalizing education. Globalizing pull and push in Education will shape the post-recession world, and more, it will be critical to preserve the consensus around the current economic system and keep it going. Universities, despite being places of learning and research, are usually deeply political, where leaders are prone to remain within their respective silos and dated thinking. However, there seems to be an early indication that they are now ready to take on the responsibilities of leading globalization and play their rightful part finally.

That is not going to be easy. Despite the time-honoured tradition of studying abroad, and the recent expansion of activities and formation of global league-tables, the whole business of university life remains intensely local. NYU can possibly claim that the Abu Dhabi campus is a second door to the same university, but the underlying power structure of the organization can never allow it to be so; NYU can not be NYU without the NY part of it.

Besides, identification with the nation states has served the universities well, particularly in Europe. The state funding model, despite criticisms, has served the universities well and is not going to go away. Besides, in countries like Britain, if there is one redeeming feature in the overcrowded underfunded universities, it is their strong bonding with business and the government; one can say that these are their primary constituents. In contrast, in Asia, universities are primarily serving the students to help them make a career - a different paradigm altogether - and it may not be easy for an university to make the cross-border transition.

One would wholeheartedly agree with the central tenet coming out of the conference - it is easy to globalize badly. We all know many examples of that. I would argue that international campuses are not a true indicator of globalization; many international campuses suffer from the lack of investment funding, and offer uneven quality of teaching and research because they fail to integrate with the host country environments. On the other hand, the indicators of good globalization - a truly globalized undergraduate curricula, international students and teaching staff - are also easy to agree with. This is not about taking one university and transposing it to another country; the job is about building a global university from ground up, inside the existing campuses.

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