London (cools), Dubai (spirals down), and the state of global higher ed

Apologies for the slow pace of posts to GlobalHigherEd, but we’ve been overloaded at work of late in Bristol and Madison.

My undergraduate ‘Intro to the City’ class today focused on the ideas of Saskia Sassen, the prolific scholar based at Columbia University. We focused on Sassen’s ideas in relationship to the nature of global cities, and the operation of global city networks. Today’s class corresponded with some articles in the Financial Times about London (‘London cooling‘, 11 February 2009) and Dubai (‘Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down‘, 12 February 2009), both of which help students ground what Sassen writes about so insightfully.

londoncoverIn preparing some class handouts of both newspaper articles, I followed the London links in the FT article through to an informative 2008 report regarding London’s changing labour markets, and its relative position in relationship to the rest of the UK.  The report is replete with direct and indirect information about the nature of London’s education sector, and about the implications (e.g., high housing costs) when a city/country (over)valorizes financial services and in doing so creates a dynamic where other important services sectors (including higher education) get overshadowed.  The relationship between higher education, research, and the global city formation process, has rarely been examined, and is one topic we will explore further in 2009.

The Dubai article (‘Laid-off foreigners flee as Dubai spirals down‘) in the New York Times is interesting as it examines what happens when a speculative ‘house of cards’ (a wanna-be global city) starts to crumble. I sent this article to a close friend who is CFO for a European TNC (with major investments in Dubai, amongst many other countries). His quick response via email: “a reminder that when something looks too good to be true, it is!  I never could understand how Dubai worked, and now we all know it’s because it didn’t work.” This article is approaching viral like status, and is one of the most blogged about articles this week (link here see we what Google’s blog search engine trawls up).

Now, if Dubai is collapsing, as it might be, what does this mean for all of the foreign and joint venture universities initiatives (e.g., Dubai Knowledge Village (which is hosting Boston University, Harvard University, London School of Business & Finance, Michigan State University, Rochester Institute of Technology), British University in Dubai, Duke University, University of Wollongong, American University in Dubai), tempted into Dubai via offers of subsidies and streams of grant income, potential student demand (including from expatriates based in the city and region), and the sheer glamour (and buzz) of operating in an ‘emerging market’ and fast developing global city? And what does it mean for the Indian migrant students profiled in Neha Vora’s 25 June 2008 entry ‘Globalized higher education in the United Arab Emirates – unexpected outcomes’?

While this is not something we are conducting research on, we would be happy to post guest entries (including entries from credible anonymous authors, if necessary) from people who have something insightful to say about the current situation in Dubai. Sadly we won’t be hearing much formal reporting or analysis from Dubai, despite its publicly stated desire to be a creative global knowledge hub, a hotspot of the knowledge economy.  As the New York Times reports:

No one knows how bad things have become, though it is clear that tens of thousands have left, real estate prices have crashed and scores of Dubai’s major construction projects have been suspended or canceled. But with the government unwilling to provide data, rumors are bound to flourish, damaging confidence and further undermining the economy.

Instead of moving toward greater transparency, the emirates seem to be moving in the other direction. A new draft media law would make it a crime to damage the country’s reputation or economy, punishable by fines of up to 1 million dirhams (about $272,000). Some say it is already having a chilling effect on reporting about the crisis.

Last month, local newspapers reported that Dubai was canceling 1,500 work visas every day, citing unnamed government officials. Asked about the number, Humaid bin Dimas, a spokesman for Dubai’s Labor Ministry, said he would not confirm or deny it and refused to comment further. Some say the true figure is much higher.

“At the moment there is a readiness to believe the worst,” said Simon Williams, HSBC bank’s chief economist in Dubai. “And the limits on data make it difficult to counter the rumors.”

Crises do have a funny tendency to highlight contradictions.

Kris Olds

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One thought on “London (cools), Dubai (spirals down), and the state of global higher ed

  1. This is just great work. I am writing a paper for my popular culture and literacy class at the University of Louisville on this blog. As an international graduate student interested in the issues that this blog deals with, I would love to write more on this comment but I’m so busy at this time in the semester (will write later). I will post my paper on my wiki http://shyamsharma.pbwiki.com when it’s done. Thanks for the great materials.

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