Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reimagining Higher Education: Making Global-Local Education

All Higher Education is local, because of its structure. Most of it is still delivered in attendance, which limits it to a locally resident community. Its funding is deeply anchored in alumni handouts or government grants, again with a mostly local orientation than not. However, the world of work has changed, and is changing further, and local comfort and global confidence have both become critical parts of skill set for most professions. I shall argue that most Higher Education do not address this need at all.

In fact, truth be told, Higher Education often does more harm than good as far as these global-local balance is concerned. College creates prejudices rather than dispelling them. Students are told to see their classroom as a microcosm, a reflection of the wider world, and often impose the stereotypes thereof. The liberal end of this view is a rich country backpackers' view of the world, benign but flawed; at its other extreme, it is bigoted and dangerous: The Higher Ed view of the world is often that the campus is the center of the universe.

The world is semi-globalized, indeed, as Pankaj Ghemawat and others show in the recent DHL Global Connectedness Index. And, indeed, in the recent years, most of the gains of the Nineties and early years of the millennium have been reversed, and the buzzword of our times have become 'localization' as if we were global at some stage. However, our experiences of the Great Depression, and the subsequent milder ones, show that reversing global connectedness is a common reaction to economic woes, but a giant mistake, which makes the economic contraction worse. At a time when we have given up on our politicians to get us out of trouble - indeed they seem to be part of the problem - and looking, in desperation, to other institutions, such as our universities and businesses, for rescue, the message of Higher Education must be counter-cyclical and steeped in global values. But this is a bigger challenge than it sounds.

Globalization of education, however, is happening at the margins and have challenges of its own. There are global networks of higher education emerging, very small and marginal at the time, but growing at a furious pace. These are mostly part of international chains funded by private capital. The challenges there are somewhat the opposite - the near-complete neglect, or even contempt, of the local. These sit uncomfortably beside the entrenched local, mostly despised, mostly marginal with their tiny population and narrow course offerings, and in the end, mostly irrelevant.

We, therefore, need a new paradigm, a system of balance between global and local, 'glocal' as some observers started calling it. It is not just a matter of curriculum but of values and of delivery, also of outcome. It is in sync with what's happening at work and careers, and indeed, lives. This education is what is needed to create global connectedness, the panacea of our economic woes and the resolution of our narrow-minded politics, the basis of our human future, which is the goal of modern higher ed. I shall argue that today, all education should be irreversibly global, as well as unmistakably local: The new Higher Education must live up to that ideal.

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