Can Canada Attract American Students?

Alex Usher posted a pithy entry this morning titled ‘The Latest Bandwagon – American Students‘ that is worth a read.  In fact, it is a short one so I’m going to reprint the whole thing below, and then reflect back on his discussion of the emerging view that Canadian universities could/should recruit more American undergraduate students. I’m basing my comments below via reflections of my Gr. 12 son’s experience this year applying to five Canadian and five US universities, as well as a discussion I coincidentally coordinated with approximately 140 UW-Madison students a few days ago in my summer version of Geog 340 (World Regions in Global Context). This discussion involved engendering comparative thinking about regional similarities and differences and centered on a hypothetical study abroad year split in half between l’Auberge Espagnole (in Barcelona) and l’Auberge Canadian (in the Canadian city of their choice). The exercise ended in a hypothetical forced decision about having to choose between a future life in Spain or Canada should they be forced out of the country of their citizenship.  The objective of this discussion was to get them to begin reflecting on how student mobility and placement in new contexts contributes to the transformation of personal identities and subjectivities.

Now I don’t want to embarrass my teenage son, so I’ll leave out the details of which specific universities he applied to, but let’s just say they were relatively strong universities and liberal arts colleges, some in the big cities and some in small-to-medium sized cities.  My son is a Canadian citizen and US Permanent Resident so is treated as Canadian when it comes to tuition in Canada (which puts them, I would estimate, 25-50% below the average tuition for a US public university). And my ~ 140 UW-Madison students are predominantly juniors and seniors from the Midwest, the US coasts, and then Malaysia, South Korea, and China.

So what does Alex Usher have to say:

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of talk about US students coming to Canada.  NBC ran a segment on Americans at McGill, and the Globe and Mail ran a piece on the same.  This seems to have led many institutions to start thinking “hot damn, another market! How can we grab us some of these Americans?”

But for most institutions, this would be the wrong reaction.  Before venturing into a market, every school needs to ask itself two questions.  Why would Americans want to go to your school?  And why does your school want Americans?

Before a school starts recruiting in the US (any new market, really), some self-reflection is in order.  What, exactly, does my school offer an American that they can’t get at home?  “Cheap” isn’t good enough; Mexican universities are cheap but you don’t see American undergraduates flocking there (they weren’t flocking over our border when the dollar was at 62 cents, either).  There has to be a value proposition.

In fact, there are maybe a dozen schools in Canada that offer a mix of price and quality that make them attractive to parts of the US student population.  Students wishing to go to out-of-state flagship schools – say, Illinois or Virginia – can get similar product at a lower price in a better venue by going to McGill, Toronto or UBC (Queen’s would have a shot here, too; at a stretch, so would Alberta).  Students with their hearts set on a liberal arts education but who can’t get into any of the Tier I Liberal Arts Colleges in the US would consider St. FX, Acadia, Mount Allison or Bishop’s.  Windsor has a shot due to proximity.  For everybody else, it’s going to be a much harder sell.

Which brings us to that second question about “why Americans”: to the extent that international students are revenue sources, it’s important that they be cheap to recruit, so as to maximize net revenue.  If you’re not one of the above-mentioned institutions with a clear-cut value proposition, chances are that American students will be difficult and expensive to recruit. So why spend money chasing after them instead of, say, Korean students, when they all bring in the same amount of revenue?  You might of course just want American students because of the mix of experiences they bring to campus.  That’s fine – but you need to put a price tag on what that’s worth and limit your recruitment efforts accordingly.

In recruitment, every dollar is precious.  Institutions need to know their strengths and value propositions, and not chase every new market just because it’s new.

I agree with the broad tenor of Alex’s argument, but have some things to add.

The first thing to add is that Canadian universities (and Canada more generally) are terra incognita institutions (apart from McGill University, and then sometimes the University of Toronto and University of British Columbia) in a terra incognita country from a US high schooler’s perspective. This awareness factor is in no way correlated to the quality of the undergraduate education a student will acquire – it relates, in my personal opinion (as an academic living in a college town in the US for 12 years) to word of mouth via educated parents, many of whom value cosmopolitan urban contexts. In other words, Alex’s “maybe a dozen schools” is very optimistic in my view. Knowledge (or lack thereof) about Canadian universities reflects the remarkable lack of knowledge about Canada. School curriculum ignores Canada, as does the US media.  A few blips occur — most recently about the Keystone Pipeline and Toronto’s Mayor (cough cough…further comments from me censored) — but Canada is hockey, fishing, and for the elites Whistler-Blackcomb and Montréal. I’m generalizing, of course, via my perch here dealing with university-fixated parents in College Town WI/USA, but I’ve facilitated discussions about Canada with 500-800 students over the last several years and am confident in stating that Canada is terra incognita no question about it. I am no longer shocked about what US students don’t know, and just pleasantly surprised if they know something, anything (and is not their fault; blame the education system here and Canada’s unwillingness or inability to beam the CBC down south).

OUACThe second thing to note is that the timelines for applying to universities in Canada are significantly out of alignment with those in the United States.  US high school students, bound for college, often take tours of campuses in Gr. 10 and Gr. 11 and have decided, by the summer before Gr. 12, where they will apply to in the early fall. University application deadlines (Early Decision, Early Action, Regular Decision) via the Common Application, are earlier than in Canada (especially Ontario).  Most importantly, decisions about admission are made much earlier in the U.S. than in Canadian universities. And on a related note, U.S. universities are much better at stipulating the date decisions will be made, and at providing feedback on how (e.g., email, or downloaded PDF of letter, or letter in the mail) the decision will be communicated. They stick to the exact stated dates so you feel a sense of enhanced certainty during uncertain times. Rejections come with clear and well written letters that provides data on application volumes and admissions percentages, often situated in historic context. [And don't forget these are not difficult to produce, or costly to disseminate - they are simple form letters made available, for the most part, via email or download sites. But they at least recognize that a student put a lot of effort into applying and was willing to alter life course to attend their university.] In contrast, many (not all) Canadian universities provided vague rolling windows about target decision deadlines. And I won’t start discussing how ineffective the Ontario Universities Application Center OUAC) website is – I mean, why imply decision outcomes will be communicated via it when they are not? The image above is a screenshot, taken today, of the OUAC page meant to communicate to my son about admissions decisions that were made by three Ontario universities some 1-1.5 months ago…perhaps the OUAC site is run by Mayor Ford’s office! [sorry]

The third reason Canada has an uphill climb to attract students is that the cost to attend a Canadian university is relatively high. Canadian universities have less scholarships to distribute unless you are a stellar student and once you add up the costs of international tuition fees and books, housing/food, and living (including air travel to and from Canadian cities), the costs are substantial, putting Canadian universities practically and psychologically (for parents) out of reach.  I’m not implying Canada needs to ramp up scholarship support for non-Canadians, but it is not as cheap as is often conveyed, especially with a broader, deeper, and more heterogeneous scholarship and tuition support (including via discounted rates) ecosystem in the US.

If Canada ever wants to attract more US students, I would agree with Alex Usher that institutions “need to know their strengths and value propositions.” But at the same time some not insignificant systemic changes need to be made regarding:

  • How US students (and their parents) are engaged with in Gr. 10-12.
  • How the application process is timed, structured and handled.
  • How communications with applicants (at the application stage, the review stage, and the admissions or waitlist or rejection stages) are structured and handled.
  • How college financing is structured and communicated (to students, and especially parents).

Alas there is not much Canada can do to improve how it is represented in the media down here, though I did note George Stroumboulopoulos (and CNN) flew the Canadian flag high last night…Strombo for Mayor?!

Kris Olds

Cities, MOOCs and Global Networks

The last several days of higher ed media coverage have been rich with discussions about the tangle of global networks being formed.  A case in point is this announcement, by Imperial College London and Zhejiang University, to collaborate on a new initiative in London’s White City. Much like the Amsterdam’s plans to establish a new university (‘On Amsterdam’s Plans to Establish a Third University‘), and the Cornell-Technion experiment in New York City, these global networks are quite tightly configured and very urban-centered: they are being harnessed to create new spaces of knowledge production to creatively unsettle and hopefully strengthen city-region innovation systems.

On the global/urban theme, today’s coverage also included news about the expansion of a Boston-based massive open online course (MOOC) platform – EdX – such that it will now double in size and serve universities from many more parts of the world. The EdX press release explains the nature of the expansion, while these two images from the EdX website – the first reflecting membership yesterday, and the second membership today – make it very clear EdX is now a much more global (if unevenly!) platform:

EdX (20 May 2013)

banner-edx copy

EdX (21 May 2013)

EdX 21 May 2013

See below for further information about the founding universities of the two big MOOC platforms – Coursera and EdX – as well as the non-US universities that have joined these platforms over time.  Please note that I have not included information about the inclusion of additional US universities after platform formation – this is only a list the non-US members that were added over time.

Coursera — Established Fall 2011 | Four founding US universities as of April 2012

  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Pennsylvania
EdX — Established May 2012 | Two founding US universities
  • Harvard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Coursera — Expansion on 17 July 2012 includes three non-US universities

  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
  • University of Edinburgh (UK)
  • University of Toronto (Canada)

Coursera — Expansion on 19 September 2012 includes five non-US universities

  • University of British Columbia (Canada)
  • Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel)
  • Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong SAR)
  • University of London (UK)
  • University of Melbourne (Australia)

EdX –  Expansion on 20 February 2013 includes five non-US universities

  • The Australian National University (Australia)
  • Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
  • McGill University (Canada)
  • University of Toronto (Canada)

Coursera — Expansion on 21 February 2013 includes 16 non-US universities

Latin America

  • Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Mexico)
  • Tecnológico de Monterrey (Mexico)


  • Ecole Polytechnique (France)
  • IE Business School (Spain)
  • Leiden University (Netherlands)
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Muenchen (Germany)
  • Sapienza, University of Rome (Italy)
  • Technical University Munich (Germany)
  • Technical University of Denmark (Denmark)
  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • University of Geneva (Switzerland)
  • Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain)


  • Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR)
  • National Taiwan University (Taiwan)
  • National University of Singapore (Singapore)
  • University of Tokyo (Japan)

EdX — Expansion on 21 May 2013 includes 10 non-US universities


  • University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR)
  • Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (Hong Kong SAR)
  • Kyoto University (Japan)
  • Peking University (China)
  • Seoul National University (South Korea)
  • Tsinghua University (China)


  • University of Queensland (Australia)


  • Karolinska Institutet (Sweden)
  • Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium)
  • Technische Universität München (Germany)

The expanding, albeit unevenly, global footprint of U.S. MOOC platforms is fascinating for a number of reasons.

First, debates about the governance of this phenomenon cannot help but become increasingly complicated.  It’s difficult enough governing higher education institutions within a single nation or sub-national region and yet here we have dynamics including accreditation, quality assurance, faculty and student rights and responsibilities, pedagogy, student confidentiality, intellectual property (IP), etc., becoming rapidly denationalized. What this development process does is profoundly unsettle all relevant discussions, debates and governance options. And while we see some fruitful debates in articles like ‘MOOC Professors Claim No Responsibility for How Courses Are Used‘ in today’s Chronicle, it is striking how underlain they are by what sociologists of education deem ‘methodological nationalism’ – the assumption that we’re still operating in, and thinking in, an era where the national is the key frame for debates, research, regulation, assumptions, and so on. A scan of the comments in the Chronicle article reflect a genuinely needed debate about relational responsibilities and ethics but it is as if the development process is primarily taking part in a container – a very US container. And yet MOOCs are open access and generate global footprints, by design — see this map posted today, for example, of the 45,000 students enrolled in Emory professor Steve Everett’s ‘Introduction to Digital Sound Design‘ MOOC if you want a sense of the reality of the student spread of many (not all) MOOCs.

Can we debate about MOOCs in post-national ways? If so, where should we be debating about MOOCs and the implications of their global expansion? Are MOOCs governable at a global scale? So many questions, so few answers.

Second, and on a related note, representatives of Coursera and EdX are becoming, for practical reasons, the most informed repositories of data and knowledge about inter-institutional and international patterns, processes, and politics, regarding MOOCs. As with the deterritorialization of academic freedom, which puts senior ministers and monarchs in the Gulf and Asia at the center of bilateral relations between state and university, the global expansion of MOOCs puts the leaders and senior officials of Coursera and EdX at the center of bilateral relations between platform and university. There is thus a power geometry to the MOOC development process that is strikingly similar to that universities also have with world university rankers. In short, there is no associational intermediary shaping how universities relate to the two big MOOC platforms – it is a bilateral one that is centered much like the London Eye dynamic I described here. Is this to be expected? Is this to be desired? What are associations of universities and disciplinary bodies (e.g., Geography, History, Computer Science, Physics) doing besides watching the development process unfold?

In closing, cities are functioning as the basing points, and target spots, for the globalization of higher education.  There is a complicated relationship between the emergence of EdX and Coursera and their respective home city-regions. And now we’re seeing universities from around the world seeking and/or being invited to forge relations with these two platforms, and then using their technological prowess, marketing savvy, and fiscal resources to amplify and extend their extra-institutional reach, including at a regional and global scale.

But what are the implications of a development process unfolding further along these lines? Will regional initiatives, like Europe’s OpenupEd platform, or national initiatives like the UK’s Futurelearn or Australia’s Open2Study, enable more effective and diverse experimentation with MOOCs? Or are they setting themselves up for failure by locking in at a national and/or regional scale, thereby precluding the openness to membership that EdX and Coursera are displaying? Are EdX and Coursera acting like exclusive clubs, leaving national and regional agencies to create their own platforms for universities unable to break in (assuming they wish to)?

One way or another, the Boston and San Francisco Bay Area city-regions have blended ideas born elsewhere (including in Canada) with their own experiences, drawn in substantial resources, and powered up a global MOOCs juggernaut. And yes there is far too much hype (especially in the austerity-rattled U.S.) regarding MOOCs, but this is no time to back off on sustained engagement with such a fast changing phenomenon.

Kris Olds

On Amsterdam’s Plans to Establish a Third University

AMScoverEditor’s note: this guest entry in GlobalHigherEd has been kindly developed by Jurjen van Rees. His entry is a backgrounder to the development of a fascinating new initiative – Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions – slated to involve both Dutch and foreign universities. This development should be viewed in the context of recent initiatives to establish new applied sciences universities and research centers in New York (most notably Cornell Tech in New York City, which I profiled in February 2012 in ‘Unsettling the University-Territory Relationship via Applied Sciences NYC‘) and Singapore (via the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE)). For broader context on the Amsterdam city-region, see the OECD Territorial Reviews: Randstad Holland, Netherlands (2007) and OECD/IMHE Reviews of Higher Education in Regional and City Development: Amsterdam (2009).

Jurjen van Rees is co-founder of The ANT Works, an Amsterdam-based research and consultancy company that works with Fortune-500 companies and is specialized in innovation strategy and analysis of big data in intellectual property and research output through the use of bibliometrics and scientometrics. Jurjen is an expert regarding the organisation of the Dutch higher education landscape and the Amsterdam university landscape in particular. He holds a bachelor degree in History and a Master’s degree in Science and Technology Studies at the University of Amsterdam.  My thanks for his contribution today. ~ Kris Olds


On Amsterdam’s Plans to Establish a Third University

by Jurjen van Rees

For the Netherlands, and its capital Amsterdam in particular, 2013 is promised to be a momentous year. On April 13th the city celebrated the re-opening of its famous Rijksmuseum with the centre of attention pointed at the Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Jubilees in the city in 2013 include the Artis zoo, the Royal Concert Gebouw, its Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and 400 years of constructing the iconic canals of Amsterdam. Adding to the festivities is the inauguration of the new king Willem Alexander who is succeeding his abdicated mother queen Beatrix on April 30th. As if these weren’t enough reasons to plan a visit to the Venice of Northern Europe, the city government is hosting a competition to start a new research university with the alluring title Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions.

The establishment of a new university in Amsterdam should first and foremost be seen in the light of supra-national policy goals set by the European Union.

It all starts in 2000 in Lisbon with the European Commission determined to transform Europe into the top-region in the world for research, innovation and educational excellence through the Lisbon Strategy. When it comes to EU policy strategies, the Dutch have a strong tendency to act accordingly to their proclaimed status of being the bravest and smartest young child in the classroom. Together with their ‘big brother’ Germany, the Netherlands holds a comparable approach when it comes to the national deficit not exceeding 3% of the gross national income on which EU member states agreed upon in 1997. The European Union pours billions of euros – 50,5 to be precise – in fundamental research through their 7th Framework Programme up till 2013, followed by another subsidy programme Horizon 2020 with an estimated 80 billion Euros being invested in the European knowledge economy between 2014 and 2020. From a European perspective the Dutch feel they have a knowledge-intensive responsibility to live up to.

The Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions initiative is not unique in the world of higher education. Strong bastions of higher education and research have been seen incorporating increasing numbers of initiatives emphasizing their need to profile city-regions as bases for knowledge intensity and openness to innovative excellence. The Cornell-NYC initiative on Roosevelt Island in the East River is just one of many examples. Though the Amsterdam higher education landscape might be small as compared to other European peer-cities or world leaders such as New York City, the San-Francisco bay-area or Singapore, the initiative is comparable in terms of ambition and distinctive strategic goals related to the local knowledge economy.

Let’s take a look at Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions.

The initiative is designed to attract foreign universities interested in forming a consortium with Amsterdam headquarter-based and internationally operating businesses, as well as one or more Dutch research institutes or universities, all organized around a city-minded or urban research issue. This research should be executed on a PhD and Master-students level. This new research school will thus attract more students and PhD jobs to the city of Amsterdam (note that a PhD track is a paid research job in the Netherlands). The initiative originated at in city council and was adopted by the city government and its newly established Amsterdam Economic Board. The city government is determined to invest 20-50 million Euros in the winning consortium aiming for sustainable urban research solutions for 50 years to come.

Needless to say, the two existing universities in Amsterdam (the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), together with two academic hospitals, several national research institutes and two of the largest colleges (or Hogescholen) for applied sciences (a group that represents over 5.000 researchers and 108.000 students) have opinions on this development. As presented with the initial plan investigating this option by the Boston Consulting Group in April of 2012, the two universities where at the least to say not amused that the city government was planning to invest 20-50 million Euros at a time where student numbers are rising and government budgets for those same students are declining.

At the same time both city government and the two universities, together with representatives from major businesses in the Amsterdam region are represented in the formerly mentioned Amsterdam Economic Board, which acts as a senior executive discussion panel and advisory board to the city government on these and other regional economic issues. Since the 90’s the Dutch have been famous for their model of negotiating and discussing political, economic and societal issues within closed quarters thereby rarely resulting in heavy fought conflict and always bringing about pragmatic solutions where all parties can more or less agree to (the so-called “polder model”). The same holds true for this initiative, where pragmatism took over and where both city government and the two universities now see this initiative as complementary to the current stock of internationally renowned research areas.

In applying for the Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions initiative, every consortium should only hand in a proposal that is complementary to the existing research areas in the Amsterdam region. The Amsterdam Economic Board made sure that it is a minimum condition that the consortium seeks to collaborate and apply with a Dutch research institute, university or college and that they team up with large businesses in the region. This will probably result in several consortia where both universities in Amsterdam will take part in, thereby spreading the risk and at the same time keeping track of the disciplinary focus in which the initiative is heading.

What is next? On April 25th a conference was organized where interested partners from the Netherlands and abroad were informed about the opportunities in the initiative. All information and data is available and published online. The city government is expected to receive somewhere between 5-10 applications on the first deadline of June 3rd 2013 which then will be judged over the course of the coming summer. Up to five initiatives will be rewarded € 60.000 each in the second round to further investigate their plans and to hand in a sustainable business plan and project plan.

Eventually this “third university”, as it is dubbed in the Amsterdam higher education network, will become the first industry-academia-government initiative of its kind in The Netherlands to focus entirely on urbanization and metropolitan research issues. This is a needed area, and it builds links with long-standing areas of expertise and capacity in Amsterdam’s higher education institutions. This said, the larger question of whether or not Amsterdam Metropolitan Solutions will contribute in its own way to the EU goal of becoming the top-region in the world for research, innovation and education excellence remains to be answered.

On the Expanding Global Landscape of MOOC Platforms

In Brussels, yesterday, Androulla Vassiliou (European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth) announced that the “first pan-European” MOOC platform will be launched on 25 April 2013. As Commissioner Vassiliou put it:

This is an exciting development and I hope it will open up education to tens of thousands of students and trigger our schools and universities to adopt more innovative and flexible teaching methods. The MOOCs movement has already proved popular, especially in the US, but this pan-European launch takes the scheme to a new level. It reflects European values such as equity, quality and diversity and the partners involved are a guarantee for high-quality learning. We see this as a key part of the Opening up Education strategy which the Commission will launch this summer.

This multi-institutional European MOOC platform (available via is to be formally launched at the Open Universiteit in the Netherlands on Thursday 25 April (11:00-12:00 CET).

The global dimensions of the MOOC juggernaut is coming into view, and evolving, very quickly. As noted in these GlobalHigherEd entries:

as well as in numerous other media releases and media stories, select countries and regions are reacting to the fast paced growth of MOOC platforms like edX, and especially Coursera, with initiatives of their own. MOOCs (as currently envisioned) first emerged in Canada, and then were propelled by higher education institutions and firms located in the Bay Area and Boston city-regions of the United States in 2012. Additional MOOC platforms emerged in Milton Keynes in the UK (Futurelearn) in December 2012, Berlin (iversity) in Germany in March 2013Sydney in Australia (Open2Study) in March 2013, and now Europe’s OpenupEd as of this coming Thursday.

In the next week or so I’ll post a proper analysis of the various platforms and their associated developmental logics.  I’ll also update you about the European MOOCs in Global Context workshop (June 19-20) I am organizing here at UW-Madison. It’s also worth noting that Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is holding a European MOOC Summit in early June.
The global landscape of MOOC platforms is churning very fast, reinforcing the need to engage in some reflective dialogue about this phenomenon.
Kris Olds

Global Challenges and Op-Ed Militarism, American Style: What are the Rules of Engagement?

Jeremi Suri, a former colleague whom I have always respected, came out with an op-ed in the New York Times a few days ago. Suri’s piece, titled ‘Bomb North Korea, Before It’s Too Late,’ has generated a lot of discussion and debate, which was no doubt one of his objectives. While academics sometimes get criticized for being vague when writing titles of articles or chapters, it’s hard to miss Suri’s main point!

Now, before you get me wrong, I am all for the idea of public service, including via engagement with various publics through the use of traditional media outlets and emerging social media platforms. I also believe universities and funding agencies/councils need to do a much better job addressing global/grand challenges, something Suri and I spoke a lot about here at UW-Madison before he was poached by UT-Austin in 2011. Moreover, who can’t help but wonder about the twisted nature of the current North Korean leader and regime.

Despite all of the above, I’ve been perplexed all weekend about Suri’s willingness to write an op-ed like this, and about the New York Times’ willingness to publish it. I have two broad concerns regarding the creation and presence of Suri’s op-ed in this particular newspaper (and I am putting the New York Times on a pedestal here, rightly or wrongly).

First, I personally believe you need to understand much more about the specific country on the other side of the world before writing about it in such a high profile outlet, and even more so proposing that it be bombed. To be sure, Suri has significant knowledge about key East and Southeast Asian regional historical developments (e.g., the causes and consequences of American foreign interventions including WWII, the Korean War (1950-53), the Vietnam War), not to mention the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. He also has deep knowledge on issues of nuclear proliferation, human rights violations, and regional conflict. Yet in the North Korean case, the primary base of knowledge to assert the US should bomb North Korea is a meta-reading of texts, primarily in English. Is this sufficient to engender the production of an adequate base of knowledge before firming up such a proposal? Perhaps it is all that is possible with respect to a country like North Korea. Still, how should academics judge themselves, and be judged, when it comes to the knowledge base question before their views appear in an outlet and form like this particular op-ed. In short, how substantial does an author’s knowledge base need to be about the region and especially country in question before proposing such an action?

Second, what are the ethical dimensions of writing, as well as publishing, such an op-ed. As we know, despite endless pronouncements about the legitimacy of concerns and likely efficacy of military action, there is a long track record of things going horribly off course when such theoretically focused action is launched. Have bombings and all these wars really helped the US demonstrate enlightened ‘leadership’ in the world over the last four decades? Does it ever go as smoothly as all the politicians, planners and propagandists say it will? Would the US (and op-ed writers) be willing to propose this type of action closer to home where hundreds of thousands of Americans might be killed or maimed if war were to break out? Do the advocates for such action have a responsibility to concurrently ensure their sons and daughters are groomed to enlist in the military? Are such advocates also willing to also advocate for higher tax levels to pay for such military action?

Jeremi Suri is a very bright, knowledgeable and committed scholar and citizen. Yet he has volunteered to play a role in advocating for military action. There are also patterns to this form of engagement; one that academics have played a key role in. As Micah Zenko put it in Politics, Power, and Preventive Action in 2012 (and I quote in length):

There is no body of civilians that more consistently makes unrealistic demands for the use of military force than editorial boards and opinion-page writers of major American news outlets. These appeals range from full-blown cockamamie schemes to semi-practical, tactical uses of force to resolve complex and enduring political problems of debatable relevance to U.S. national interests. This practice is a bipartisan exercise, ranging from the quixotic militarist, Nicholas Kristof, to the military-planning staff embedded inside the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Most of these editorials or op-eds follow the same format: characterize the current U.S. strategy toward the foreign policy problem as inadequate or (better yet) “weak;” highlight that the “international community” has allowed the issue to go on for far too long; describe the president as aloof or disinterested; and obliquely refer to one or two military tactics (no fly/drive/kill zones are particularly hot commodities these days) or objectives purportedly requiring minimal effort (often noting the size of the U.S. military) that might resolve the problem—and have the added benefit of demonstrating presidential “backbone” or American “will.”

There are also improbable psychological benefits ascribed to the U.S. military by these authors. For example, today, the Wall Street Journal claimed, “A show of preparation for intervention might prod Syria’s officer corps to solve the Assad problem on their own.” Last week, three members of Freedom House wrote: “Merely planning for serious military options would have an important psychological effect on the regime and its military forces, possibly prodding more defections.” Last year, the former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force contended that discussing a no-fly zone in Libya would “change [the Qaddafi regime’s] calculation of who might come out on top. Just the mere announcement of this might have an impact.”

Having read hundreds of these “tactics-first” proposals for using the U.S. military over the past fifteen years, two underlying themes is that the authors are impatient and the current nonmilitary strategy is not having a demonstrable impact. There is a cognitive bias called hyperbolic discounting, which is defined as “the tendency for people to increasingly choose a smaller-sooner reward over a larger-later reward as the delay occurs sooner rather than later in time.” I suspect that the desire to resolve an enduring problem in the near term explains many of these tough-guy (or girl) proposals. Given that it costs nothing to propose sending someone else to bomb or occupy another country, it’s the least tough and most thoughtless thing for someone to write. Why should we take these proposals seriously?

I pointed this argument out to Suri today (14 April) and we had the following exchange via Facebook:

  • Jeremi Suri: Fair point, but the counter-bias also exists in the public and policy worlds: the assumption that you can always out-wait your enemy, that “history is on your side,” that it is better to put off the hard stuff for later. There are indeed contradictory biases to act fast for success and act slow to avoid risk. Every policy-maker and citizen chooses his/her comfort level. That is what this debate is all about.
  • Kris Olds: Put off the hard stuff for later? It’s a search for an ostensibly easy answer that rarely ever turns out to be easy, or quick, and often includes major costs, and usually not costs felt by the type of people floating the solutions. And easy answers, including about distant parts of the world one has never been to (nor has studied, including in relevant languages such as Korean and Chinese in this case), are always easier when spotted from the comfort of a nice office after a meta-read of texts. This is the humanities exposed, but not in a good way IMHO. And I say this as someone who really respects your work as an academic.
  • Jeremi Suri: Again, very fair points, Kris. I have thought about all of this and I have mixed feelings, honestly. These are difficult issues and we are all subject to serious limitations. I just wonder if you would object in the same way if I were advocating, say, a targeted intervention in Syria on humanitarian grounds – also from the “distance” of my office and my “meta-reading of texts.” If we were replaying the Rwanda tragedy, wouldn’t you advocate quick and decisive action by the US, in spite of your own “distance” and “meta-reading of texts.” Our political biases – like our cognitive biases that we discussed above – obviously color our analysis, eh?

Suri makes a good point about the latitude of freedom I did not allow him regarding North Korea, but that I and many others might were he to write about Syria, another unfolding global challenge.

In the end, it is worth situating this more focused debate in the context of a broader debate about the role of academics in the public sphere and especially with respect to addressing global challenges. Universities and funding councils are pushing for more and more public engagement, and ‘impact,’ in countries around the world. The UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF), for example, is prioritizing ‘impact’ in the public sphere (broadly defined) and has developed a case study methodology to assess how impact was generated.

This is a positive development trend on multiple levels and we need to encourage scholars like Suri to conduct research and speak out about global challenges and potential solutions. But what this case also points out is there are opportunities and constraints, pros and cons, and variable formats, regarding such engagement. I doubt we’ll agree on how to deal with the North Korean risk issue, but I do know that we both agree academics need to provide more public service on ‘global challenges’ and reach out on a broader multilevel basis.

But how should we ideally do this? What are the formal and informal rules guiding such engagement, and are these optimally configured? What type of background information should be provided to help people understand the relevant networks and affiliations of the person making such a significant case for intervention? And how do different disciplinary norms and conventions, not to mention epistemologies and ontologies, shape the willingness and ability of scholars to publicly engage about global, regional, and national challenges, especially those outside of home base?

Interesting times, indeed.

Kris Olds

The International Initiatives of Universities – A Taxonomy of Modes of Engagement and Institutional Logics

Editor’s note:  the guest entry below was kindly developed by Richard J. Edelstein and John Aubrey Douglass, Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) – University of California, Berkeley. Richard Edelstein is a Research Associate at CSHE and Principal at Global University Concepts. John Douglass is Senior Research Fellow at CSHE.  Their entry is based upon a longer paper recently published in CSHE’s Research and Occasional Paper Series (ROPS), which is available here. Please refer to the original working paper for all associated references. This ROPS contribution is part of the Center’s Research Universities Going Global research project.

Today’s entry should be situated in the context of other informative attempts to develop an understanding of the modes and logics of internationalization — see, in particular, Gabriel Hawawini’s 2011 working paper ‘The Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions: A Critical Review and a Radical Proposal,’ NAFSA’s work on ‘comprehensive internationalization,’ and the Cornell-specific (but very useful) ‘Report from the Task Force on Internationalization’ (Oct 2012).  Kris Olds

ps: link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article, which is more easily formatted for printing.


Like entrepreneurs in other sectors of our modern economy, many universities are in a rush to fill a relatively new and expanding market. Despite the significant increase in the number and type of international activities—from branch campuses, to MOOCs, and aggressive international student recruitment—many efforts appear to be launched without a clear idea of best practices or how specific activities might be productive and meaningful for a particular institution.

As part of a larger project based at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, we have dubbed Research Universities Going Global (or RUGG), we offer a starting point for an analytical look at why and how, and at what cost, universities are engaging in an ever expanding variety of international ventures.

Here we briefly describe and categorize a range of actions and logics that are associated with efforts to respond to globalization and to develop the international dimensions of universities – a taxonomy of institutional actions that we hope to use and compliment by a series of case studies.  What are the reasons and methods universities have chosen to become more globally active; how might we assess success or failure? What are the actual outcomes for nation-states that invite partnerships, and often provide significant initial financial support, on the quality and output of their higher education systems, on their labor markets, on their long-term economic development plans.

These are big and difficult questions that, thus far, have not been adequately studied. We hope to explore the answers to these questions and, via this taxonomy, promote others to study.

The Importance of Context

Three salient contextual variables help guide, inform, and condition the taxonomy of international engagement outlined in this article:

  • The Academic Discipline
  • The Level of Academic Study (e.g. 1st/undergraduate degree versus post-graduate degree)
  • Institutional Prestige Hierarchy

Almost irrespective of the problem or issue under consideration, there is significant variability in the effects or outcomes when we consider the results in the particular context of individual disciplines or fields. The scholarly work, research methods, and organizational culture of the physics department are quite distinct from what is found in the economics department, the law school or the department of classics (Belcher 1989).

Level of study, course, or program also conditions how different problems are addressed. For example, study abroad and various mobility and exchange initiatives take on very different forms, durations, and pedagogies in an undergraduate/first-degree engineering program when compared with the same level of program in a foreign language or psychology department. Graduate students and faculty often have entirely different approaches to mobility issues because of greater individualization of instruction and research imperatives.

A final contextual variable worthy of attention is the prestige hierarchy. Not all colleges and universities are created equal and, like most social institutions, they compete with each other to achieve a high status or social value in society. More prestigious institutions, large or small, public or private, have certain advantages when it comes to advancing their mission and objectives. This appears to be true for international endeavors as well where some of the most active and successful institutions are prestigious and highly visible on global scale.

Historical Patterns and Contemporary Tensions

We have taken a distinctly sociological perspective that views the university as a social organization with distinct histories, structures, values, norms, traditions, and symbols embedded in the culture and that condition organizational behavior over time.

The research and writings of Burton Clark continues to shed light on what it is about the university that makes it distinct and exceptional in many respects. One of the key “truths” that Clark continually stressed in his work is that universities are inherently more decentralized and “bottom heavy” than other organizations such as business firms and most government bureaucracies (Clark 1983). Significant authority, both formal and informal, rests with individual faculty members and with departments, schools, and colleges. Institutional change is, to a large extent, dependent on the capacity of leadership to muster support from the ranks of faculty who are, in the end, the final arbiters of how teaching and learning occur and are the source of scholarship and scientific research, the two primordial functions of universities in society.

More recent research and publications by Georg Krücken also suggest that historically embedded patterns of organization and governance resist fundamental change and often marginally adapt themselves to evolving conditions of the larger environment and international trends and norms. Krucken shows, for example, how professors in Germany have largely retained their authority over academic policies in spite of the emergence of a larger administrative class and hierarchy (Krücken 2011, 2013 forthcoming).

John Aubrey Douglass has considered recent changes in research university organization that appear to take on forms of university devolution with increased fragmentation of the structure and the values that have historically held the university community together (Douglass 2012). Trends toward treating various schools, centers, and departments as profit centers with greater managerial autonomy or privatization options (often linked to neo-liberal and market-oriented management philosophies) suggest that changes in university organization and governance will make it increasingly difficult for university leaders to shape institution-wide strategies and policies that depend upon a robust set of shared values, beliefs and institutional loyalty. International strategies and initiatives become even more challenging should these trends prove to be persistent over time.

While there may have been some significant changes driven by technology, political demands, and the nature of teaching and research that have made inroads into the all-encompassing authority of faculty, it is difficult to imagine significant institutional change in universities that does not come with the advice and consent of individual faculty members.

Calls for a more entrepreneurial and economically relevant university and increasing tendencies toward adopting management practices and decision criteria from business are too significant and numerous to ignore. Nonetheless, efforts to embark on projects of substantial change often fail when they are implemented in a top-down and centralized decision structure.

In the end, most meaningful and successful change in the university occurs when the decentralized nature of the organization and the significant formal and informal authority of faculty is recognized and incorporated into the decision process in real and meaningful ways.

This essay and its presentation of clusters of activities, modes of engagement and institutional logics focuses wholly on the perspective of the individual institution and offers an alternative set of concepts and categories to describe and analyze institutional behavior and change. The purpose is to build on previous efforts and contribute a meaningful and relevant approach to thinking about issues and problems faced by university leaders as they make strategic choices about which international and global policies, programs, and relationships they pursue.

Clusters and Modes of Engagement

Figure 1The taxonomy of actions and logics is conceptualized as a list of modes of engagement that can be organized into seven clusters of activity – see Figure 1. Clusters include individual faculty initiatives; the management of institutional demography; mobility initiatives; curricular and pedagogical change; transnational institutional engagements; network building; and campus culture, ethos, and leadership. Within our larger paper, we describe these various clusters and modes. Here is an example of how we portray Strategic Alliances:

Alliances can be thought of as partnerships that evolve into more strategic and intensive collaborations across a numerous activities or functions. Shared faculty, student mobility, shared alumni bases, joint courses and degrees, joint research, and a common branding or marketing strategy are common elements of a strategic alliance.

There are few examples of successful strategic alliances. This is probably due to the challenges of developing partnerships where the benefits of greater collaboration or integration outweigh the costs or risks of potential problems. Concerns about a weakening of institutional identity, legal issues such as intellectual property rights, financial regulations, liability problems and governance systems, alumni relations issues, faculty and staff compensation and benefits issues, etc. must be resolved. Differences in institutional traditions and culture are often the most difficult to overcome. For all of the allusions to the “global university” and emergence of a global market for higher education, universities are still firmly embedded in nation states, national cultures, and institutional traditions that retain significant influence over how and under what circumstances they can change and engage in relationships with institutions and nations outside their home base.

There are a few examples of successful partnerships that have grown in intensity and breadth and have sustained themselves over time sufficiently to be considered alliances. These alliances, however, are limited to one major field or to a set of mostly natural sciences and engineering disciplines:

  • INSEAD-Wharton Alliance – Launched in 2001, the Alliance between the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and INSEAD Business School in France and Singapore combines the resources of two world leaders in management education to deliver top-quality company-specific and open-enrolment programs to executives across four dedicated campuses: Inseam’s in Fontainebleau (France), and Singapore and Wharton’s US campuses in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Renewed for a further four years in 2008, the Alliance is an opportunity for MBA and PhD students to study across three continents. It also brings together the large and active alumni communities of both schools. The INSEAD-Wharton Centre for Global Research & Education fosters deep collaborative relationships across the two schools and encourages exchange of faculty and doctoral students. See

  • Singapore-MIT Alliance (Agreement between MIT and the government of Singapore) –
    MIT and its faculty have been engaged with Singapore for decades. The first large-scale institutional collaboration, the Singapore-MIT Alliance, was launched in 1997. Since then MIT and Singapore have engaged in on-going collaborations in research, education and innovation. The relationship has yielded hundreds of joint research publications, scores of joint research collaborations and curricular and research innovation at MIT and in Singapore. The following outlines a number of the joint projects that have come out of this alliance:

-      Singapore-MIT Alliance. Founded in 1998, the Singapore-MIT Alliance is an innovative engineering and life science educational and research collaboration among three leading research universities in the world: the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

-      Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the government of Singapore, was created to explore new directions for the development of games as a medium. GAMBIT sets itself apart by emphasizing the creation of video game prototypes to demonstrate our research as a complement to traditional academic publishing.

-      Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre. The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Centre is a major new research enterprise established by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in partnership with the National Research Foundation of Singapore (NRF). The SMART Centre serves as an intellectual hub for research interactions between MIT and Singapore at the frontiers of science and technology.

-      Singapore University of Technology and Design Partnership. On January 25, 2010, MIT signed a formal agreement to help launch Singapore’s new publicly funded university, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). MIT faculty will help develop new curricula and conduct major joint research projects, as well as assist with early deployment, mentoring, and career development programs. MIT President Susan Hockfield said of the collaboration, “It will give MIT new opportunities to push the boundaries of design research. MIT is fully committed to helping SUTD achieve its distinctive vision.” See

Institutional Logics

Figure 2Why do universities embark on new projects and activities that engage the institution outside of its national boundaries? What motivates individuals and their institutions to include transnational relations among their core strategic interests and concerns when considering the future path for success? Why are more foreign students and faculty recruited and why are curricula and research agendas more international and global in scope? These trends undoubtedly have multiple and complex causes. We outline a set of nine Institutional Logics outlined in Figure 2.

Again, in our attempt at brevity, we offer here our discussion of only one of the Logics: Market Access and Regional Integration Logics.

Recently, the Dean of Yale School of Management announced a new international strategy to create a network of partner business schools in countries with rapid economic growth and new business investments. These relationships, it is hoped, will provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage with their international counterparts to create professional networks that provide learning and research experiences as well as potential business opportunities in the future (Korn 2012).

The global economy is increasingly linked to emergent economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China (sometimes referred to as the “BRICs” in the US). It is not surprising that numerous universities in Europe and North America appear to have targeted these countries as high-priority locations for the development of relationships, activities, and programs. The logic seems to be that these countries will increasingly be influential in world affairs and, thus, establishing relations with local institutions and professional peers will create long-term benefits for attracting students and faculty as well as pursuing research agendas and fund raising opportunities.

In Europe, the Bologna reforms, and other initiatives that encourage greater integration of educational and research systems, stimulated the creation of numerous partnerships, alliances, consortia, and networks of universities between and among European institutions. Bologna’s creation of common degree structures and common academic credit and records systems go a long way towards the creation of a region-wide education space that can contribute to the construction of the regional economy as well as political and social networks that cross national boundaries. Recent efforts to develop common quality, accreditation, qualification and professional licensing standards are also linked to a desire for further integration of national systems and the creation of greater mobility in labor markets. The logic of regional and transnational integration coming out of Bologna appears to underpin many of the international projects and initiatives of European universities across a broad range of countries.

Recent European Union investments and policies in support of the Erasmus Mundus Program recognize that relationships with nations in other world regions (especially those that are emerging as key potential trade partners in Asia, Latin America, and Africa) remain important as well. The complex global economy requires the parallel construction of regional and global networks and European institutions thus have multiple logics that can justify greater international engagements.

One can also observe regional and market access logics in other areas of the world. The Southeast Asian region has numerous regional cooperation regimes and associations that encourage varying degrees of collaboration and integration. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) created in 1967 has encouraged regional cooperation in the economic and political spheres, but has also encouraged a range of initiatives in the social and educational sectors. The ASEAN University Network (AUN) functions as a vehicle for inter-university collaboration and regional higher education integration. In addition to regular meetings of rectors of member universities, AUN has activities related to credit transfer regimes, quality assurance processes, and academic programs in Southeast Asian Studies. It also serves as coordinating body for mobility agreements and scholarships with countries and regions outside Southeast Asia (e.g., the Erasmus Mundus Program of the European Union and a Chinese government scholarship program). See

East Asia has significant student mobility in the region driven by geographic and cultural proximity. Increasingly, large numbers of students from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are attending universities in China and vice versa.

Australian universities are among the most active in recruiting international students from Asia and in establishing partnerships and satellite operations in the region. A regional and market access logic appears to underpin many Australian initiatives in the Asian Pacific region.

A Gaping Void in Research

As international engagement has become more central to the life and success of the university, we must expand our knowledge on the range and variety of these engagements, how and why institutions make the choices they do, and determine the patterns of success and failure. While universities have long been active internationally, many recent initiatives are relatively untried and extremely entrepreneurial. As discussed here, internationalization intersects with many strategic and core issues faced by higher education institutions everywhere.

Using the concepts of cluster of activity, mode of engagement, and institutional logic, we attempted to provide a useful analytical tool for describing the range of actions and behaviors related to international initiatives undertaken by universities and other higher education institutions. Hopefully, it will stimulate debate and discussion about how we can better observe, describe, and analyze the institutional behavior of universities in ways that are meaningful for scholars as well as practitioners.

It is important to look at the broader literature on higher education as well as the social sciences and the humanities for inspiration on how to conceptualize our research and to recognize that international and global realities have become a core strategic concern of the university. Rather than being a social movement that exists at the margins of the institution, international engagement, transnational systems, and global perspectives are now seen as crucial to institutional survival and future success. Connecting our research on the international dimension to broader institutional issues and a less narrowly defined scholarly domain will make it more relevant, intellectually rich, and insightful.

In the final analysis, the international initiatives of higher education institutions are best understood as part of a larger process of institutional change driven by multiple pressures and tensions to adapt to the changing economic, political, and social conditions affecting them. Much of the research on internationalization and comparative education analyzes regional and national policies and problems. Analysis at the institutional level is less common and perhaps more challenging given problems related to access to data and issues of confidentiality. Nonetheless, it is at the institutional level that we can obtain some of the most powerful insights into the organizational impacts, governance issues, and effects on teaching and research inherent in the growth of these activities.

Richard J. Edelstein and John Aubrey Douglass

Globalizing MOOCs

Link here for an Inside Higher Ed version of the same article.


After nearly 12 years living in the United States, I continue to be perplexed by this country. As I noted when acting as a respondent to Anya Kamenetz at ED Talks Wisconsin last Friday night, the US is an amazing place when it it comes to unleashing and scaling up a multiplicity of innovations related to higher education. Kamenetz’s recent books capture many of these innovations; a veritable cacophony of experiments, some successful, some still with us, and some quickly dated (is anyone still talking about Second Life?!). This said, the US has a troubling history of seeking easy ‘silver bullet’ solutions to complex higher ed challenges that can only be addressed by the state and other stakeholders (including universities) in a strategic, systemic, and sustained way.

Back on the ed innovation topic, as an economic geographer it is mandatory of me to point out that all innovations are placed; they’re dreamt up, variably fueled, and then scaled up such that they can potentially leave their mark on multiple locales and/or larger numbers of people. The unruly process of innovation, being what it is, means that innovations are translated – the take-up/utilization process, the interpretation process, and the impact generation process, vary across space and time via the translation process.

A case in point is the phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). While we can argue about important histories and practices, we do know that the first online MOOC was dreamt up and run in Canada (see ‘What is a MOOC? 100k people want to know‘ and ‘All about MOOCs‘) courtesy of some innovative scholars, state-run funding councils (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National Research Council), and the facilitative work of two universities (the University of Manitoba and the University of Prince Edward Island).

It’s also worth noting that three of these scholars (Dave Cormier, George Siemens, and Bonnie Stewart) are co-authoring a book length manuscript about MOOCs. I’m thrilled that some reflective practitioners are crafting a book that uses MOOCs as a lens through which to make sense of the transformation of higher education. The narration of the early history of MOOCs is also an important activity as the scale of hype needs to be matched by quality analyses that factor in a wide array of developmental dynamics. See, for example, this informative talk in February 2013 by George Siemens:

Link here for a copy of his slides.

Keep an eye on the websites and Twitter feeds below, too, for insights and a range of reactions as the formative thinkers behind the MOOC phenomenon react with a mix of fascination and horror to what is unfolding right now.


Dave Cormier

Stephen Downes

George Siemens

Bonnie Stewart

While there is a lot of attention to the role of key disciplines (especially computer science), universities (Stanford, MIT, Harvard) and key city-regions (Silicon Valley, Boston) in the subsequent creation of the MOOC juggernaut we’re so intensively debating, it is also worth reflecting upon the way the idea of the MOOC has been taken up and interpreted outside of North America.

As noted in an earlier entry (‘Are MOOCs becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher ed?‘), MOOCs are generating some serious attention and concern in other parts of the world. This has led an increasingly large number of non-US universities to tie up with platforms like Coursera and edX as was evident when they expanded a few weeks ago (see ‘Twice as Many MOOCs‘). Meanwhile, the UK has launched its own MOOC (Futurelearn), the University of Amsterdam is experimenting with its own MOOC, and a Berlin-based platform known as iversity has “relaunched” as a MOOC platform with an eye to “becoming the Coursera Of Europe.” Thus while we see the UK’s Futurelearn driven by the state (and public universities), this nascent ‘European’ platform is being driven ideas and capital associated with a German think tank and investors including “BFB Frühphasenfonds Brandenburg, bmp media investors AG and the Business Angel Masoud Kamali.”

On the other side of the world, the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade), though largely via its Washington DC-based office, has been tracking this phenomenon and recently published a report (‘More than MOOCS: Opportunities arising from disruptive technologies in education’) on MOOCs from an Australian perspective. Unfortunately the Austrade report cannot be publicly circulated which is unfortunate given the ostensibly ‘open’ nature of the phenomenon. In contrast the European University Association (EUA) has been happy to encourage the circulation of its early views on MOOCs via this February 2013 report. It is is worth noting that the EUA has launched a taskforce to consider this phenomenon in a more strategic sense.

All of the above, and many things I have not flagged, act as food for fodder for the MOOC I am just starting to develop with my colleague and GlobalHigherEd co-editor, Susan Robertson. The course is titled Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’ and it starts in January 2014. As we note on the course site:

Universities, and higher education systems worldwide, are being transformed by new or changing practices, programs, policies, and agendas. From notions of ‘global competency’ and the ‘global engineer,’ through to ever more common perceptions that international collaborative research is a desirable objective, through to the phenomena of bibliometrics, rankings and benchmarking that work at a global scale, contexts are changing.

This course is designed to help students better understand the complex and rapidly changing nature of higher education and research in a globalizing era. A complementary objective is to experiment with the MOOC platform and assess how well it works to support international collaborative teaching and service.

While we have not yet developed a detailed syllabus, it is clear that we we’ll be including one class on the long history of distance education, in which we’ll assessing MOOCs and their developmental dynamics. With some effort, and creative thinking, we hope to stretch the Coursera platform along the way so that it incorporates some of the more connectivist agendas built into the first MOOCs. Indeed this already happened in small but important way. To cut a long story short, the launch process involved providing a variety of forms of information about the course and the instructors to the CA-based firm. Coursera, however, signs contracts with individual universities and courses are listed by university name or subject. On launch day (20 February 2013) the platform implied Susan was a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor. After several hours of work Coursera’s engineers were eventually able to reconfigure the platform to recognize multi-institutional affiliations: this was not a surface edit of their website for an element of the entire platform had to be redesigned. While our course is still badged as a UW-Madison one (the University of Bristol is not affiliated with Coursera), this is, perhaps, a tiny step on the path to creating more effective and open international collaborative platforms for teaching, advising, and public service.

Kris Olds