The Global Bologna Policy Forum: a forum for the emerging global higher education and research space?

As our readers likely know, the Bologna Process was launched in 1999 with the objective of constructing the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010.  One increasingly important aspect of the evolution of the Bologna Process is its ‘external’ (aka ‘global’) dimension.  To cut a long story short, deliberations about the place of the EHEA within its global context have been underway since the Bologna Process was itself launched in 1999. But, as noted in one of our earlier 2007 entries (‘The ripple effects of the Bologna Process in the Asia-Pacific‘), the formalization of an external dimension to the Bologna Process was not spurred on until May 2005 when the Bergen Communiqué included the following statement:

The European Higher Education Area must be open and should be attractive to other parts of the world. Our contribution to achieving education for all should be based on the principle of sustainable development and be in accordance with the ongoing international work on developing guidelines for quality provision of crossborder higher education. We reiterate that in international academic cooperation, academic values should prevail.

We see the European Higher Education Area as a partner of higher education systems in other regions of the world, stimulating balanced student and staff exchange and cooperation between higher education institutions. We underline the importance of intercultural understanding and respect. We look forward to enhancing the understanding of the Bologna Process in other continents by sharing our experiences of reform processes with neighbouring regions. We stress the need for dialogue on issues of mutual interest. We see the need to identify partner regions and intensify the exchange of ideas and experiences with those regions.

eheaextcover.jpgThe Bergen Communiqué led to the development of a more formal 2007 strategy document titled Looking Out: The Bologna Process in Global Setting: On the External Dimension of the Bologna Process and this associated strategy document European Higher Education in a Global Setting. A Strategy for the External Dimension of the Bologna Process, which was approved by the ministers in 2007. It was this strategy document that led to the delineation of five “core policy areas”:

  • Improving information on the European Higher Education Area;
  • Promoting European Higher Education to enhance its world-wide attractiveness and competitiveness;
  • Strengthening cooperation based on partnership;
  • Intensifying policy dialogue;
  • Furthering recognition of qualifications.

Further background information, including all supporting documents, is available on this Bologna Process Follow-up Group website (European Higher Education in a Global Context) which the Bologna Secretariat sponsors.

Since 2007 we have seen a variety of activities come together to ensure that the fourth action item (“intensifying policy dialogue”) be implemented, though in a manner that cross-supports all of the other action items.  One key activity was the creation of a “policy forum” with select non-EHEA countries: see the figure below (with my emphasis) taken from the just issued EURYDICE report Focus on Higher Education in Europe 2010: The Impact of the Bologna Process to see where the inaugural 2009 forum, and its 2010 follow-up, fit within the overall Bologna Process timeline:

The First Bologna Policy Forum was held in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, on 29 April 2009, and brought together all 46 Bologna ministers in association with “Australia, Brazil, Canada, P.R. China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Tunisia, and the U.S., as well as the International Association of Universities.”

Representatives of the First Bologna forum sanctioned the following statement:

Statement by the Bologna Policy Forum 2009

Meeting, for the first time, at this Bologna Policy Forum held in Louvain-la-Neuve on April 29, 2009, we, the Ministers for Higher Education, heads of delegation from the 46 European countries participating in the Bologna Process and from Australia, Brazil, Canada, P.R. China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Tunisia, USA, along with the International Association of Universities and other international organizations and NGOs, have taken part in a constructive debate on world wide cooperation and partnership in higher education with a view to developing partnership between the 46 Bologna countries and countries from across the world.

We note, with satisfaction, that this Policy Forum has fostered mutual understanding and learning in the field of higher education, and has laid the ground for sustainable cooperation in the future.

We also note that there are shared values and principles underpinning higher education and a common understanding that it is fundamental to achieving human, social and economic development.

We consider that higher education constitutes an exceptionally rich and diverse cultural and scientific asset for both individuals and society.

We emphasize the key role that higher education plays in the development of our societies based on lifelong learning for all and equitable access at all levels of society to learning opportunities.

We underline the importance of public investment in higher education, and urge that this should remain a priority despite the current economic crisis, in order to support sustainable economic recovery and development.

We support the strategic role of higher education in the pursuit and advancement of knowledge and therefore advocate global sharing of knowledge through multi-national research and education projects and exchange programs for students and staff, in order to stimulate innovation and creativity.

We are convinced that fair recognition of studies and qualifications is a key element for promoting mobility and we will therefore establish dialogue on recognition policies and explore the implications of the various qualifications frameworks in order to further mutual recognition of qualifications.

We hold that transnational exchanges in higher education should be governed on the basis of academic values and we advocate a balanced exchange of teachers, researchers and students between our countries and promote fair and fruitful “brain circulation”.

We seek to establish concrete cooperation activities which should contribute to better understanding and long-term collaboration by organizing joint seminars on specific topics, like on quality assurance for example.

The next Bologna Policy Forum will be convened in Vienna on 12 March 2010.

Clearly the pros/benefits of sponsoring this rather complex event were perceived to be significant and the Second Bologna Policy Forum (sometimes deemed the Global Bologna Policy Forum) was held yesterday, on 12 March, at the end of the Bologna Ministerial Anniversary Conference 2010.

The Bologna Policy Forum has grown in size in that 73 countries attended the 12 March forum including the 46 EHEA countries as well as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan [invited to join the EHEA in 2010], Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand, Tunisia, and the United States of America. In addition the following organizations sent representatives to the second forum: BUSINESSEUROPE, Council of Europe, Education International Pan-European Structure (EI), European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA), European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE), European Commission, European Students’ Union (ESU), European University Association (EUA), International Association of Universities (IAU), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

It is interesting to compare the second official Forum Statement to the one above:

Bologna Policy Forum Statement, Vienna, March 12, 2010

1. Today, the European Higher Education Area has officially been launched. In this context, we note that the Bologna Process of creating and further developing this European Higher Education Area has helped redefine higher education in Europe. Countries outside the area will now be able to more effectively foster increased cooperation with Bologna countries.

2. We, the Ministers of Higher Education and heads of delegation of the countries, institutions and organisations participating in the Second Bologna Policy Forum, held a dialogue on systemic and institutional changes in higher education in the developing global knowledge society.

3. We focussed our debate on how higher education systems and institutions respond to growing demands and multiple expectations, discussed mobility of staff and students, including the challenges and opportunities of “brain circulation”, and the balance between cooperation and competition in international higher education.

4. To address the great societal challenges, we need more cooperation among the higher education and research systems of the different world regions. While respecting the autonomy of higher education institutions with their diverse missions, we will therefore continue our dialogue and engage in building a community of practice from which all may draw inspiration and to which all can contribute.

5. To facilitate policy debates and exchange of ideas and experience across the European Higher Education Area and between countries, institutions and organisations participating in the Second Bologna Policy Forum, we will each nominate a contact person and inform the Bologna Secretariat by May 31, 2010. These contact persons will also function as liaison points for a better flow of information and joint activities, including the preparation of the next Bologna Policy Forum at ministerial level.

6. We welcome the commitment of the European Bologna Follow-up Group to provide expertise on the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area.

7. We welcome the initiatives of the institutions and organisations participating in the Second Bologna Policy Forum to promote dialogue and cooperation among higher educations institutions, staff and students and other relevant stakeholders across the world. In this context, we especially acknowledge the need to foster global student dialogue.

8. In September 2010 the OECD will be hosting an international conference on how the crisis is affecting higher education and how governments, institutions and other stakeholders can work towards a sustainable future for the sector. In 2011, a seminar on quality assurance will be organised with the support of the European Union.

9. Cooperation based on partnership between governments, higher education institutions, staff, students and other stakeholders is at the core of the European Higher Education Area. This partnership approach should therefore also be reflected in the organisation of the next Bologna Policy Forum at ministerial level in 2012.

It is too early to determine how effective the [Global] Bologna Policy Forum will be, and some bugs (e.g., the uncertain role of national research sector actors; the uncertain role of sub-national actors in countries (e.g., Canada, Germany, the US) where provinces/states/regions have principal jurisdiction over higher education matters; the incredible diversity of agendas and capabilities of non-EHEA countries vis a vis the forum) will eventually have to be worked out.

This said, it is evident that this forum is serving some important purposes, especially given that there is a genuine longing to engage in supra-national dialogue about policy challenges regarding the globalization of higher education and research. The blossoming of ‘global’ fora sponsored by international organizations (e.g., the OECD, UNESCO), new ‘players (e.g., Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education), key associations of universities (e.g., the International Association of Universities, the European University Association), and universities themselves (e.g., via consortia like the Worldwide Universities Network or the Global Colloquium of University Presidents), are signs that something is up, and that a global higher education and research space is in the process of being constructed.

Over time, of course, the topography of this supra-national landscape of regional, interregional and global fora will evolve, as will the broader topography of the global higher education and research space.  In this context it is critically important to pay attention to how this space is being framed and constructed, for what purposes, and with what possible effects. Moreover, from an organizational perspective, there is no template to follow and much learning is underway. The organization of modernity, to use John Law’s phrase, is underway.

Kris Olds

Taking note of export earnings

Editor’s note: this is reprinted from the UK Higher Education International Unit‘s most recent newsletter (International Focus issue 48.25.11.09).

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Ahh – the end of the workday and time for a glass of wine: a fine New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps?

The first time we heard that education generates more ‘export earnings’ for the New Zealand economy than does wine, we were both knocked off of our seats, and not because we had too many glasses! We were surprised because New Zealand’s white wine industry is world-famous – indeed almost as famous as Australia’s tourism industry. But wait: here too, it is now clear that education exports (ie, the provision of education across a border, either physically or virtually) generate more revenue for the Australian economy than does tourism, and is pegged third after exports of coal and iron ore.

Recent data released by the governments of Canada, the UK and Australia all point to similarly striking figures. In Canada last month, for example, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade noted that international students generated 83,000 jobs, C$291m (£166m) in government revenue, and contributed C$6.5bn (£3.7bn) to the Canadian economy. The last figure is higher than Canada’s earnings for coniferous lumber ($5bn/£2.8) and coal ($6bn/£3.4bn).

In 2007, the British Council estimated the value of education and training exports to the UK economy at nearly £28bn, which is more than the automotive or financial services industries. And just a few days ago, NAFSA, the US-based Association of International Educators, noted that international students and their dependants contributed approximately $17.6bn (£10.5bn) to the US economy in the 2008-09 academic year.

It is increasingly common to hear about such numbers, and more often than not even experts within the higher education sphere are surprised by the significance of the impact of providing international students with an education. Given this, we would like to flag three key issues to think about when faced with these admittedly staggering numbers.

First, it is important to think about why these numbers are being sought at this point in history. We would argue that these numbers are being constituted, and debated about, in the context of an ideological transition – one that increasingly enables views to emerge of higher education as a driver of economic versus cultural-political change. For example, a decade or two ago, it would have been impossible to imagine creating tables such as the one profiled in Kate Geddie’s entry in GlobalHigherEd in which education is measured against ‘scrap plastics’ or ‘chemical woodpulp’. Thus, a new organising logic, to use Saskia Sassen’s phrase, is emerging: one that reframes higher education as an urban/national/global services industry, for good and for bad.

Second, it is worth thinking about the emerging capabilities to generate such analyses. Interestingly, almost all of the analyses have been generated by consultants working on behalf of ministries of education, or ministries of foreign affairs and trade. It is noteworthy that there is little capacity within the state to assess such impacts, so representatives of the state reply upon consultants with track records of studying an array of economic development impacts. Most noteworthy, though, is the increased involvement of ministries, other than education, in the sponsoring of such analyses. Thus, the reframing of education as a service industry is dependent upon a reconfiguration of the responsibilities of ministries for the education sphere, such that ministries of trade, as well as immigration and sometimes foreign affairs, are coming into the picture. This emerging trend has huge implications for the future of the governance of higher education.

Third, there is striking variation in the nature and quality of the analytical models adopted by ministries, and their consultants, in accounting for the economic impact of education exports. Despite our comment above about emerging capacity to assess such impacts, and of the role of more powerful ministries in this analytical exercise, the numbers are not yet comparable (nor, in some cases, trustworthy). For example, should all levels and forms of education be accounted for? Or, to what degree is national support (e.g., research assistantships, fellowships, associate instructors) for foreign students accounted for in the analytical models on offer? These are but two of dozens of questions that could be asked about the numbers that have emerged to date. International comparability is impossible at this point in time, and one has to wonder why this is the case if the sector is so seemingly significant in economic terms.

In closing, the globalisation of education, including higher education, is undeniably creating a diverse array of economic, social, cultural impacts. The export-earnings issue is starting to capture the attention of powerful stakeholders, public and private, for-profit and non-profit. Yet the quality of the analyses to date is patchy at best, and certainly not comparable internationally. Why might this be the case, and what could or should be done about it?

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

East Asia Summit calls for the revival of Nalanda University: thinking and acting beyond the nation?

The emergence of new supra-national movements with respect to higher education and research continue apace.  From the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), through to international consortia of universities, through to bits of universities embedded in others within distant territories (e.g., Georgia Tech’s unit within the National University of Singapore), the higher education landscape is in the process of being reconfigured and globalized. Yet, is it really that novel in an historical sense?

Today’s call at the East Asian Summit for the revival of Nalanda University (see below) draws upon development outcomes in higher education that took place well before the establishment of medieval universities like Oxford, Bologna, or Lund. As Sashi Tahroor notes:

Founded in 427 A.D. by Buddhist monks at the time of Kumaragupta I (415-455 A.D.), Nalanda was an extraordinary centre of learning for seven centuries. The name probably comes from a combination of nalam (lotus, the symbol of knowledge) and da, meaning “to give”, so Nalanda means “Giver of Knowledge”. And that is exactly what the university did, attracting prize students from all over India, as well as from China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Persia, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Turkey. At its peak, Nalanda played host to more than 10,000 students — not just Buddhists, but of various religious traditions — and its education, provided in its heyday by 2,000 world-renowned professors, was completely free.

The establishment of new types of universities in like Nalanda University, Øresund University, or the recently opened Universidade Federal da Integração Latino-Americana (UNILA), remind us that there is an emerging desire for novel spaces of knowledge production that think and act beyond the nation.  A related question, then, is how effective will these new configurations be, and can supporting stakeholders (including nation-states) really act beyond the nation?

NalandaUstmt

Kris Olds

Indian students in Australia: how did it come to this?

mbpc2fvp7mybEditor’s note: this contribution, by Christopher Ziguras examines the complex factors shaping ongoing debates, and recent crisis, about Indian students in Australia.  Christopher Ziguras (pictured to the right) is Associate Professor of International Studies in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT, Melbourne. His research focuses on international education policy, particularly related to higher education in the Asia Pacific region. Dr Ziguras teaches within the Global Studies discipline at RMIT University. He was a founding member of the Globalism Research Centre and has continued to be closely involved with the Centre since its establishment in 2002. He manages the Learning Cities program within RMIT’s Global Cities Research Institute, and established RMIT’s Research in International and Comparative Education (RICE) network in 2007.  Our thanks to Chris for his illuminating contribution.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Eventually something had to give. The number of Indian students coming to study in Australia had been growing for several years at extraordinary rates, and nobody expected the bubble to last. But it was difficult to predict what would trigger the collapse.

In 2002 there was just over 11,000 Indian students in Australia, and by 2005 this number had grown to over 27,000. Australia is accustomed to such sudden surges in demand from particular countries, and this number was still a very small proportion of the total international student population of around 400,000 in 2005. However, by last year enrolments had grown even more rapidly up to nearly 100,00 students, and most of the growth was in private vocational colleges where enrolments of Indian students increased at a startling rate, from 2,600 to 47,400 in three years.

Indian Students in Australia Chart

  • VET = Vocational Education and Training (postsecondary certificate and diploma programs from one to four semesters duration)
  • ELICOS = English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students
  • Higher Education = degree level and graduate programs
  • Other includes private higher education and public and private primary and secondary schools

(Data source: Australian Education International)

Up until around 2005 most Indian students seeking permanent residency in Australia undertook masters programs, usually in information technology and accounting. This was a perfectly rational response to the key planks of Australia’s skilled migration framework, which seeks to identify those occupations where graduates are in high demand in the  labour market, and prioritises applicants with Australian tertiary qualifications, who in the past have been shown to been more successful in the labour market than migrants with overseas qualifications. So Indian students quite rightly reasoned, “I would like to live in Australia and Australia wants accounting graduates so I will do an accounting degree and stay on in Australia”. Enrolments of international students in programs that enabled students to obtain residence (subject to various other conditions), grew very rapidly. In 2004-05 three quarters Indian students graduating from Australian university programs obtained permanent residency.[1]

The only problem with this had been that many international graduates in these areas of migration demand were not subsequently employed in the fields for which they had studied. Migration requirements were tightened to mandate higher levels of English proficiency and professional experience, and these had the effect of dampening demand somewhat for some university programs.

In 2005 the Australian government increased the number of points international graduates needed to obtain permanent residency, meaning that many international students had to undertake further studies in an area of migration demand that would provide extra points. A number of trades (including hairdressing) had been included on the occupations in demand list for some time, and soon after raising the number of points required cooking was added to the list of occupations for which extra points would be awarded. Private colleges responded quickly be developing new cooking and hairdressing programs that would give students enough points to get through. Some private colleges are very high quality institutions with a wide range of programs for local and international students, but there are low quality providers who cater almost exclusively to international students seeking fast and easy qualifications to support migration applications.[2] By last year, 14,400 Indian students were studying in private colleges in programs grouped under the ‘food, hospitality and personal services’ classification, accounting more than a quarter of all students in these programs.

For several years many in the Australian international education industry have been warning that the rapid growth of private colleges providers focused on migration pathway programs posed serious threats to vulnerable students, who were sometimes willing to pay hefty fees and tolerate poor facilities and teaching in return for a piece of paper that would assist them to gain residency. There was also a concern that the actions of these colleges could bring the entire Australian education system into disrepute internationally. The industry group representing private educational institutions, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, was the most outspoken voice calling for more active investigation and prosecution of substandard providers, recognising that the organisation’s members had most to lose from the actions of rogue providers.[3]

Enrolments in migration oriented programs in private colleges continued to grow, with no sign of slowing, however, the numbers of students in certain programs was beginning to far exceed Australia’s workforce requirements in those occupations. The head of the Professional Hairdressers Association complained last year that private colleges were “bastardising the industry”, by taking in large numbers of international students intending to apply for permanent residency, very few of whom intended to work in the industry.[4] This situation has been compounded by rising unemployment in Australia, as elsewhere. A significant tightening of the student migration policy appears inevitable, but would be devastating for tens of thousands of young people who had invested heavily in study in Australia only to return home with qualifications of very limited value in their home country after wasting much time and money chasing permanent residency.

Australia’s Indian student bubble appears now to have been popped, but by thugs rather than by government. After the terrible attacks on Indian international students, and the extensive media coverage in India, the number of Indian students coming to Australia is expected to drop dramatically.

Last year there were several cases of violent attacks on Indian taxi drivers, which led to highly publicised street protests. At around 3:00 am on 29 April 2008 a 23 year-old Indian international student, Jalvinder Singh, working as a taxi driver in Melbourne was stabbed by a passenger. The following night Indian taxi drivers staged a 24-hour protest blocking one of the city’s most prominent intersections, calling for improved security for drivers, including security screens to be installed in all taxis, and for improved security around suburban railway stations.[5]

The state government agreed to phase in security screens and to fully investigate all attacks. A 45 year-old man was charged with attempted murder. On 18 May 2008 in Adelaide an Indian international student, Balraj Singh, driving a taxi was assaulted late at night by two 24 year-old men, who were subsequently charged with aggravated assault and robbery. Hundreds of taxi drivers staged protests in Adelaide, with similar demands to the Melbourne protests.

There has been a long history of violent attacks against taxi drivers in Australia, but what has changed is the ethnic composition of the workforce. A very large proportion of taxi drivers are now Indian, and the more experienced drivers, who are usually from more established migrant communities, tend to work day shifts while Indian students who study during the day and have less ability to pick and choose their shifts, are left to work night shifts, especially on weekends, which are notoriously dangerous. After the Adelaide attach the head of the Cab Drivers Association told local media, “We’ve got drivers out there that are not properly trained that the government refuses to recognise this – it’s a critical issue in inflaming these assaults. We are exploiting our immigrants by getting them to become cheap labour in the taxi industry…. I mean we should have the decency at least to train them properly, to skill them on what sort of situations they could face out there and we should have more interest in the work environment.”[6] These attacks led to discussions between the Indian consul general, South Australian government and police, as well as taxi industry, and drivers’ representatives.[7] However, while some branches of government were working hard to try to improve driver security, many international students driving taxis were in fear of immigration authorities who were carrying out inspections at taxi ranks to ensure that international students were not working more than the 20 hour limit imposed by student visas.[8]

Last year the attacks seemed confined to taxi drivers, but in 2009 a series of serious assaults against Indian students in a one-month period in Melbourne and Sydney resulted in street protests in both cities and a media storm in India, with serious political repercussions in both countries. On 9 May Sourabh Sharma, 21, a hospitality management student was beaten up on a train by a group of teenagers. He was returning home in the evening after a shift at KFC.[9] Four teenagers were charged over the assault. Security video footage of the attack, made public later in May, was broadcast extensively in Australia and India, showing a group of teenage boys who appeared to be of diverse racial backgrounds repeatedly punching and kicking Sourabh, who sustained a broken jaw and extensive bruising from the attack. On 25 May Baljinder Singh, 25, an Indian cookery student, was stabbed in the stomach in an attempted robbery while leaving a suburban railway station.[10] The following day four Indian students were attacked when a birthday party at their home was gatecrashed by two teenage boys. One of the students, Sravan Kumar Theerthala, 25, who studied automotive technology in a private college, was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by one of the intruders, putting him in a coma. A 17 year-old has been charged with attempted murder.

Photographs of Kumar and Singh, one unconscious in hospital with head bandaged and tubes protruding from his nose and mouth, the other on a hospital bed displaying a large bandaged stab wound, were shown prominently on Indian television and in newspapers. Television current affairs programs and newspaper editorials speculated about the root causes of this apparent “wave of racist attacks”.  Was this caused by Australian resentment at India’s growing status in the world and the newfound affluence of Indians abroad, some asked. As stories of previous assaults on Indians in Australia emerged others asked whether the Australian media had been covering up these racist attacks.

The political response in India was fast and furious. On 29 May Australia’s High Commissioner to India was summoned to a meeting with Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, who urged Australia to ensure the events were not repeated.[11] India’s High Commissioner to Australia travelled to Melbourne to convey her government’s concern to Victorian police, government and educational representatives. The Prime Ministers and the Foreign Ministers of the two countries discussed the issue with their counterparts, all expressing their abhorrence at the attacks. On 30 May Indian film star Amitabh Bachchan announced he would turn down an honorary doctorate from the Queensland University of Technology that he had previously agreed to accept.[12] On 6 June Bollywood’s largest union, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees called on its members to stop filming in Australia, its leader proclaiming, “We prefer to call it a non-cooperation movement because we feel what is happening in Australia is painful and shameful. The Australian government is just not taking adequate steps to find the culprits”.[13] This comes after a string of big-budget Bollywood films have been filmed and set in Australia in recent years.

In Australia, the response was quite different. Violent attacks by young men against other young men are not uncommon occurrences, and as around one in three people living in Melbourne and Sydney was born outside Australia it is very common for either the victim or perpetrator to be a foreigner. In Australia debate hinged on whether the attacks were racially motivated, that is whether some young men (of various ethnic backgrounds) were targeting Indian students, or whether Indian students were finding themselves in the wrong places at the wrong times. For example, one senior editor with the Australian newspaper criticized the Victorian government for downplaying the racist character of the attacks, while other articles in that newspaper have pointed to the diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds of the perpetrators of the attacks. While there are some young Anglo-Australian men who are xenophobic and who have mounted ugly demonstrations against the “invasion” of their suburbs by immigrants (most famously in Cronulla in Sydney), there has been little indication that these particular assaults were motivated by such white racist backlash, though some surely are. The “survival tips” put forward by an Indian graduate from an Adelaide university paint a frightening picture of the threat posed by violent white teenagers.[14] The student’s advice, titled ‘Adopt their culture without compromising on yours’, concludes that “Mostly all matured Australians are quite friendly with a great sense of humour. The whole Australian community should not be judged just because of the behaviour and the manners of some of the most ill bred Aussie teenagers.”

A major incident in early June in Sydney highlighted the complexity of the racial issues. On 8 and 9 June Indian students staged large protests in a low-income neighbourhood where in recent years Indians have surpassed Lebanese as the largest ethnic group. The protests were sparked by an attack on an Indian student by a group of young men of Middle Eastern background. Indian students claimed that the police were not doing enough to protect them from Lebanese gangs. Indian protesters attacked three uninvolved Lebanese men and police brought in the reinforcements to control the crowd.

Harmony Walk Ziguras 1

(Students at a Melbourne private college participate in the city’s ‘Harmony Walk’, held in response to attacks on Indian international students, photograph: Christopher Ziguras)

But why Indian students? Nearly half a million international students studied in Australia last year, but Indian students seem to be suffering the most from violent attacks. Some research has suggested that many of the Indian students who are attracted to vocational programs in private colleges are from less affluent backgrounds, and have lower levels of English language proficiency, compared with those who enrol in university programs. These students are able to obtain loans with which they can pass the financial means test to obtain a student visa to Australia, but they are understandably reluctant to draw down on those loans and instead seek to earn enough in Australia to pay their tuition fees and living expenses. Compared with other international students in Australia, students from India appear to be more dependent upon income from shift work, such as driving taxis, stacking supermarket shelves, and working in convenience stores and as security guards. They are more likely to be living in outer suburbs with cheaper housing, and therefore travelling late on trains more often, and in areas where street violence is more common. Gender is an issue too, as assaults against strangers on and around public transport are generally perpetrated by young men on other young men, the vast majority of Indian students are male whereas East and South East Asian students are evenly split by gender. As a result one would expect a greater rate of assaults against Indian students.

In a subsequent post I will discuss the responses of Australian federal and state governments, which have been diverse and ever-expanding. What started with a damage-control response to publicity about violence against students from India may well lead to significant changes in international education policy, with most attention being focused on some private colleges and their overseas agents, and many people asking how Australia’s major cities can better ensure the safety and security of the hundreds of thousands of young people from abroad who study in Australia each year.

Christopher Ziguras


[1] Birrell, B. (2006). Implications of Low English Standards Among Overseas Students at Australian Universities. People and Place, 14(4), 53-64.

[2] http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/schools-in-for-stayers/2007/07/03/1183351209855.html

[3] http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/canberra-failing-to-regulate-colleges-industry/2007/03/14/1173722558926.html

[4] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,,24373848-5013404,00.html

[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36c6NGZQM3c

[6] http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/taxi-drivers-protest-bashing-of-indian-cabbie-in-adelaide_10050257.html

[7] http://overseasindian.in/2008/may/news/20083005-124114.shtml

[8]

[9] http://www.theage.com.au/national/scarred-scared-and-wanting-to-go-home-20090515-b64p.html

[10] http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,25551722-661,00.html

[11] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25558985-25837,00.html

[12] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Amitabh-Bachchan-turns-down-Australian-doctorate-as-mark-of-protest/articleshow/4597284.cms

[13] http://www.digitalspy.co.uk/bollywood/a158572/bollywood-union-vetoes-australian-shoots.html

[14] http://getahead.rediff.com/report/2009/jun/01/adopt-their-culture-without-compromising-on-yours.htm

Making sense of the economic contribution of international students in Australia (up to 2008)

accesseconcover1The latest contribution to assessing the “economic contribution” of international students to Australia’s economy was released last week. The informative report, titled The Australian Education Sector and the Economic Contribution of International Students, was prepared by Access Economics on behalf of the Australian Council for Private Education and Training (ACPET).

The executive summary of the 35 page report notes, amongst other things, that:

  • Education services ranks as the third largest export category earner for the year 2007-08, behind coal and iron ore.
  • Each international student (including their friend and family visitors) contributes an average of $28,921 in value added to the Australian economy and generates 0.29 in full-time equivalent (FTE) workers. Overall, this sees international students, and the associated visitation from friends and family contribute $12.6 billion in value-added.
  • The share of education-related travel services has increased from around one per cent of total services exports in the early 1970’s to 27 per cent in 2007-08.
  • International student expenditure in Australia contributes to employment in the Australian economy. It is estimated to have generated just over 122,000 FTE positions in the Australian economy in 2007-08, with 33,482 of these being in the education sector. Total student related expenditure (spending by students and visiting friends and relatives) generates a total of 126,240 FTE positions.

I’ll paste in a sample of tables and graphs from the report below:

accessecontable51

accessecontablea

accesseconfig2-2

Please keep in mind, as noted in our 24 June 2008 entry ‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry‘, that higher (tertiary) education is one of several contributing ‘education’ activities to producing export earnings:

  • Higher Education
  • English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS)
  • Vocational Education and Training (VET)
  • Schools
  • Other Awards Sectors (e.g., “bridging courses and studies that do not lead to formal qualifications”)

The development of capacity to assess the economic impact of foreign students is part and parcel of the denationalization and commercialization process. Capacity to analyze and hence constitute this new services sector – a fast growing ‘industry’ in the views of many stakeholders – is strikingly variable.  In my view Australia and New Zealand have gone the furthest down this path, and it is therefore worth understanding how the Australasians approach this issue from an analytical (economic impact assessment) perspective.

It is also important to understand which institutions are emerging as key knowledge brokers regarding the economic contribution of international students.  As the New Zealand (see ‘Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand‘) and Australian cases suggest, private consulting firms made up of economists (some of whom used to work for federal/national governments) are key actors. There is, thus, a symbiotic relationship between the state and the private sector when it comes to analyzing the evolving nature of the services sector of the economy; one becoming increasingly associated with, in policy and analytical senses, education institutions and development agendas.

In addition, as in this case, we see an association of private sector providers contracting out to have this report developed.  The ACPET is “the national industry association for independent providers of post-compulsory education and training, for Australian and international students”, including:

  • Higher Education
  • Vocational Education and Training
  • English Language Courses
  • Senior Secondary Studies
  • Foundation Studies
  • The ACPET Mission is to:

    Enhance quality, choice, innovation and diversity in Australian education and training for individual, national and global development. Work pro-actively and co-operatively with government, education and training providers, industry and community organisations, in order to ensure that vocational and higher education and training services provide choice and diversity, and well-targeted, appropriately delivered courses which are widely accessible and of high quality.

One proxy measure of ACPET’s make-up is its broad of directors, highlighting how non-university “post-compulsory education and training” actors are also becoming dependent upon foreign students in countries like Australia; a structural position that leads them to institutionalize and create an International Education Committee, which then coordinates the production of reports such as this via the expertise of Access Economics.

Given the dependency dynamic, reports such as these are both analytical devices, but also tools for lobbying.  Reports such as The Australian Education Sector and the Economic Contribution of International Students are increasingly available for downloading in PDF format, which enables wide circulation via email.  Traditional releases to media sources continue, as well: see, for example, ‘Learning boom amid the economic gloom‘ in The Australian.

As noted in the introduction to a recent guest entry (‘Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand‘), we are in the early stages of seeking a series of national viewpoints on how countries approach the export earnings issue. We would be happy to entertain proposals for guest entries on this issue, regardless of how well formed your own country’s capacity is to make sense of the data that is (and is not) available.

Kris Olds

Update: nanopolitan (‘Coal, iron ore, and education‘) makes the noteworthy point that “adjusted for population, Australia (21.7 million) hosts five times as many students as the USA (306.2 million)”. It might be worth adding that, according The Australian (‘Indian students boost the export economy‘, 2 April 2009) “Indian students now make up almost 18 per cent of Australia’s total foreign student population, the second largest group after China, which represents 23.5 per cent of the total foreign student body”.

Update 2: thanks to Brett for the links (see Comments) to two new news stories re. ‘Australian immigration launches probe on 20 colleges teaching international students for supply of fake education and work certificates necessary for the obtainment of permanent residency’.

‘University Systems Ranking (USR)': an alternative ranking framework from EU think-tank

One of the hottest issues out there still continuing to attract world-wide attention is university rankings. The two highest profile ranking systems, of course, are the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the Times Higher rankings, both of which focus on what might constitute a world class university, and on the basis of that, who is ranked where. Rankings are also part of an emerging niche industry. All this of course generates a high level of institutional, national, and indeed supranational (if we count Europe in this) angst about who’s up, who’s down, and who’s managed to secure a holding position. And whilst everyone points to the flaws in these ranking systems, these two systems have nevertheless managed to capture the attention and imagination of the sector as a whole. In an earlier blog enty this year GlobalHigherEd mused over why European-level actors had not managed to produce an alternate system of university rankings which might counter the hegemony of the powerful Shanghai Jiao Tong (whose ranking system privileges the US universities) on the one hand, and act as a policy lever that Europe could pull to direct the emerging European higher education system, on the other.

Yesterday The Lisbon Council, an EU think-tank (see our entry here for a profile of this influential think-tank) released which might be considered a challenge to the Shanghai Jiao Tong and Times Higher ranking schemes – a University Systems Ranking (USR) in their report University Systems Ranking Citizens and Society in the Age of Knowledge. The difference between this ranking system and the Shanghai and Times is that it focuses on country-level data and change, and not  individual institutions.

The USR has been developed by the Human Capital Center at The Lisbon Council, Brussels (produced with support by the European Commission’s Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency) with advice from the OECD.

The report begins with the questions: why do we have university systems? What are these systems intended to do? And what do we expect them to deliver – to society, to individuals and to the world at large? The underlying message in the USR is that “a university system has a much broader mandate than producing hordes of Nobel laureates or cabals of tenure – and patent bearing professors” (p. 6).

So how is the USR different, and what might we make of this difference for the development of universities in the future? The USR is based on six criteria:

  1. Inclusiveness – number of students enrolled in the tertiary sector relative to the size of its population
  2. Access – ability of a country’s tertiary system to accept and help advance students with a low level of scholastic aptitude
  3. Effectiveness – ability of country’s education system to produce graduates with skills relevant to the country’s labour market (wage premia is the measure)
  4. Attractiveness – ability of a country’s system to attract a diverse range of foreign students (using the top 10 source countries)
  5. Age range – ability of a country’s tertiary system to function as a lifelong learning institution (share of 30-39 year olds enrolled)
  6. Responsiveness – ability of the system to reform and change – measured by speed and effectiveness with which Bologna Declaration accepted (15 of 17 countries surveyed have accepted the Bologna criteria.

These are then applied to 17 OECD countries (all but 2 signatories of the Bologna Process). A composite ranging is produced, as well as rankings on each of the criteria. So what were the outcomes for the higher education systems of these 17 countries?

Drawing upon all 6 criteria, a composite figure of USR is then produced. Australia is ranked 1st; the UK 2nd and Denmark 3rd, whilst Austria and Spain are ranked 16th and 17th respectively (see Table1 below). We can also see rankings based on specific criteria (Table 2 below).

thelisboncouncil1

thelisboncouncil2

There is much to be said for this intervention by The Lisbon Council – not the least being that it opens up debates about the role and purposes of universities. Over the past few months there have been numerous heated public interventions about this matter – from whether universities should be little more than giant patenting offices to whether they should be managers of social justice systems.

And though there are evident shortcomings (such as the lack of clarity about what might count as a university; the view that a university-based education is the most suitable form of education to produce a knowledge-based economy and society; what is the equity/access etc range within any one country, and so on), the USR does, at least, place issues like ‘lifelong learning’, ‘access’ and ‘inclusion’ on the reform agenda for universities across Europe. It also sends a message that it has a set of values that currently are not reflected in the two key ranking systems that it would like to advance.

However, the big question now is whether universities will see value in this kind of ranking system for its wider systemic, as opposed to institutional, possibilities, even if it is as a basis for discussing what are universities for and how might we produce more equitable knowledge societies and economies.

Susan Robertson and Roger Dale

Higher education policy-making, stake-holder democracy and the economics of attention

In August (2008), the Beerkens’ Blog carried an interesting report on a new format being mobilized by both the Australian and UK governments respectively; to enable the public to have a say on the future of higher education. The format – a blog – is a new departure for government departments, and it clearly is a promising tool for governments in gathering together new ideas, promoting debates, and opening up spaces for stakeholders to offer perspectives.

However, though the nature of their projects were similar—to generate a Higher Education Debate about where higher education should go over the next decade or so—Beerkens’ comparison suggests that each of the two departments involved, the Australian’ Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEST) and the UK’ Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), were experiencing rather different levels of engagement with their publics. 

The question of why this should be the case, when the topic is important and widely debated, bears reflecting upon more closely. Is it because DEST commissioned an initial paper from an Expert Panel, with the result that the wider Australian public had something to get their teeth into compared with DIUS’s invitation to articulate a perspective? Or, was it a result of the fact that DIUS, a relatively new Department constructed when Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair as UK Prime Minister in 2007, has yet to be picked up on wider public’s radar? Is the Australian public more used to having their say using new web-based interactive tools, and therefore not phased when invited to do so? Or is the wider public in UK less willing to participate in a public airing of views?

Put another way, how and why is it that the wider Australian public pay attention to, and act upon, an invitation to participate, when their UK counterparts do not?

Whatever the reasons for the differences, or the merits of each of the initiatives, what is clear is that the deployment of new technologies, in themselves, do not necessarily generate participation by a wider polity. Participation is the outcome of the various players being aware of, and prioritizing, interactions of this kind. In other words, new technologies operate within an ‘economy of attention’ – a point well made by Richard Latham in his influential 2006 book The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information.

Now the essential point Latham is making is that we live in an information economy, and information is not in short supply. In fact, argues Latham, we are “drowning in it”. What is in short supply is ‘attention’! To grab attention, we need stylistic devices and strategies so that what Latham calls ‘stuff’—like debating the future directions for higher education—moves from the periphery to the center of attention.

This raises the interesting question of what stylistic devices and strategies government departments might use to ensure that they grab attention. In our GlobalHigherEd experience, simply ‘being a blog’ out there in the sea of information is not sufficient to generate attention? Moving ‘stuff’ from the periphery to the center takes thought and time; of how to catch and perhaps ride currents of interest. It means paying attention to the unique economy of attention and attempting to direct it in some way. Tags, categories, inter-textual links, networks and search engines all make up this complex terrain of attention getting/attention receiving. In this way, GlobalHigherEd (as well as the Beerkens’ Blog) has managed to contribute, to a degree, to structuring the field of attention – at least in the field of global higher education debates. This point is exemplified in Eric’s pump priming entry, loaded up today, regarding the Times Higher Education World University Ranking of 2008 that will be released tomorrow, and covered in the Beerkens’ Blog amongst several other outlets.

So, to all of you out there who really do have something to add to DIUS’s invitation to participate in wider public debates about the future of Higher Education in the UK on themes that range from part-time studies, demographic challenges, teaching and student experiences, internationalizing higher education, intellectual property, research careers and institutional performance – the soapbox is yours! DIUS really does want to hear from you.

References

Latham, R. (2006) The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Susan Robertson

Update on ‘Will shifting currency exchange rate differentials (2005-2007) redirect flows of foreign students?’

This 11 October 2007 entry (‘Will shifting currency exchange rate differentials (2005-2007) redirect flows of foreign students?’) has always attracted a lot regular visits, perhaps from university students considering international options for their education, and from university and ministry officials.

In response to a reader’s request for an update, I got curious so quickly updated the currency exchange rate differential graph and have inserted it underneath the original, so you can see what has happened since 11 October.

I’ll place both graphs below too.

As you can see the most notable diverging currency in 2008, at least with respect to the US$, is the AUS$. Also see this recent entry (‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry’) for more information on the Australian scene.

I am curious how long the strong inflow numbers to Australia can continue given the rising strength of the AUS$ against that of the US, the world’s No. 1 foreign student destination, and location of most of the world’s highly ranked universities. But then again students and parents think about much more than exchange rates.

For example, the trends evident in ‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry’ should be related to these figures on tremendous increase in the number of Asian students, a social and demographic transition that Australia has managed to hook into, such that many students are angling for landed immigrant status above all. Thus, despite some critiques of the level of quality of higher education services on offer (partly spurred on by structural changes profiled in graphs like these), and the currency exchange rate differentials noted above, Australia’s export promotion machine appears to be chugging along.

Kris Olds

New foreign student and export income geographies in the UK and Australia

I’ve been visiting the University of Warwick for the last two days and have noticed a serious level of international accent diversity at various campus sites, far more than was the case when I was a PhD student in Bristol in the mid-1990s. Not surprising, perhaps, given Warwick’s position as the third largest recipient of foreign students in the UK, as the Guardian coincidentally noted yesterday:

The universities with the largest numbers of international students.

2006-07 (latest figures)

1. Manchester University 8345
2. Nottingham University 7710
3. Warwick University 7435
4. Oxford University 6555
5. City University 6380
6. Cambridge University 6340
7. University College London 6135
8. London School of Economics 5980
9. Westminster University 5735
10. Birmingham University 5505

Grand total of international students in all years (ie not just in their first year) at all universities in the UK and including undergraduates and postgraduates was 351,470

A related graphic on the regional “hotspots” in the Guardian is here. Recall that the UK is the second largest recipient of foreign students in the world.

Meanwhile in Australia, the 5th largest recipient of foreign students in the world, Australian Education International just released an interesting Research Snapshot (May 2008) that captures some of the economic effects of receiving foreign students [note: if you click on the table a clear full screen version will pop up]:

This is a significant economic impact. The same snapshot notes:

Of the total export income generated by education services in 2007, $12.2 billion was from spending on fees and goods and services by onshore students, and a further $370 million was from other education services such as offshore students’ fees and education consultancy services3. Education services remains Australia’s 3rd largest export, behind coal and iron ore ($20.8 billion and $16.1 billion respectively), and the largest services export industry ahead of personal travel (tourism) services ($11.8 billion).

This said, there is a distinctive geography to the impact:

Thus, while aggregate data tables (e.g., from the OECD’s valuable Education at a Glance 2007) are important to assess, there is huge institutional and geographic variation regarding the integration of foreign students into any one nation, highlighting, again, the importance of breaking free of methodological nationalism.

Kris Olds

A Malaysian critique of Australian branch campus operations

Further to the debates about institutional mobility we have been profiling in GlobalHigherEd, malaysiankini recently posted this story:

Foreign universities giving it to us real good

The general public is not aware that a certain Australian university which has a campus here has little interest in developing the nation’s intellectual capital. Over the last year, it’s hidden agenda is to steal Malaysia’s wealth and brain power, contributing very little to the nation while delegating distinguished locals to insignificant supporting roles while harvesting their intellectual work for the benefit of Australia.

Keep reading here, though do be warned it was written by a “disgruntled former staff” member (with all that that brings with it, for good and for bad).

Thanks to Education Malaysia for spotting this one.

Kris Olds

International students in the UK: interesting facts

Promoting and responding to the globalisation of the higher education sector are a myriad array of newer actors/agencies on the scene, including the UK Higher Education International Unit. Set up in 2007, the UK HE International Unit aims to provide:

credible, timely and relevant analysis to those managers engaged in internationalisation across the UK HE sector, namely – Heads of institutions, pro-Vice Chancellors for research and international activities; Heads of research/business development offices and International student recruitment & welfare officers.

The UK International Unit both publishes and profiles (with download options) useful analytical reports, as well as providing synoptic comparative pictures on international student recruitment and staff recruitment on UK higher education institutions and their competitors. Their newsletter is well worth subscribing to.

Readers of GlobalHigherEd might find the following UK HE International Unit compiled facts interesting:

  • In 2004, 2.7 million students were enrolled in HEIs outside their countries of citizenship. In 2005-06, six countries hosted 67% of these students (23% in the US, 12% in the UK, 11% in Germany, 10% in France, 7% in Australia, and 5% in Japan). (UNESCO, 2006)
  • New Zealand’s share of the global market for international students increased more than fourfold between 2000 and 2006. Australia’s increased by 58% and the UK’s by 35%. (OECD, 2006)
  • There were 223,850 international students (excluding EU) enrolled at UK HEIs in 2005-06, an increase of 64% in just five years. There were a further 106,000 EU students in 2005-06. (HESA, 2006)
  • International students make up 13% of all HE students in the UK, third in proportion only to New Zealand and Australia. For those undertaking advanced research programmes, the figure is 40%, second only to Switzerland. The OECD averages are 6% and 16%, respectively. (OECD, 2006)
  • UK HEIs continue to attract new full-time undergraduates from abroad. The number of new international applicants for entry in 2007 was 68,500, an increase of 7.8% on the previous year. The number of EU applicants rose by 33%. (UCAS, 2007)
  • Students from China make up almost one-quarter of all international students in the UK. The fastest increase is from India: in 2007 there were more than 23,000 Indian students in the UK, a five-fold increase in less than a decade. (British Council, 2007)
  • The number of students in England participating in the Erasmus programme declined by 40% between 1995-96 and 2004-05 – from 9,500 to 5,500. Participation from other EU countries increased during this period. However, North American and Australian students have a lower mobility level than their UK counterparts. (CIHE, 2007).

Susan Robertson

Australia, be careful what you wish for

Editor’s note: this is the second contribution to GlobalHigherEd by Ellen Hazelkorn, Director, Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland. Ellen is also Dean of the Faculty of Applied Arts, and Director, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU) at DIT. She also works with the OECD’s Programme for Institutional Management of Higher Education (IMHE), including on the impact of rankings on higher education. Ellen’s first, and related, entry for GlobalHigherEd is titled ‘Has higher education become a victim of its own propaganda?‘.
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When Julie Gillard, MP, the new Australian Labour Party Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Employment, Workplace Relations and Social Inclusion, opened the recent AFR HE conference, her speech was praised as being the “most positive in 12 years”. Gillard’s speech combined a rousing attack on the conservative Howard government’s policies towards higher education, and society generally, with the promise to usher in “a new era of cooperation…For the first time in many years, Australian universities will have a Federal government that trusts and respects them”. But, are the universities reading the tea-leaves correctly?

Because attention is focused on higher education as a vital indicator of a country’s economic super-power status, universities are regarded as ‘ideal talent-catching machines’ with linkages to the national innovation system. Australia, a big country with a small population, is realising that its global ambitions are constrained by accelerating competition and the vast sums which other countries and regions, e.g., Europe and the US, seem able to invest.

Its dependence on international students, which comprise 17.3% of the student population exceeds the OECD average of 6.7%, but Australia lags behind in the vital postgraduate/PhD student market. Here, international students comprise only 17.8% of the total student population while universities elsewhere have up to 50%. Thus, there is concern that, on a simple country comparison, only 2 Australian universities are included in the top 100 on the Shanghai Jiao Tong ARWU or 8 in the ‘less-considered’ Times QS Ranking of World Universities – albeit if the data were recalibrated for population or GDP, Australia is fourth on both measures sharing this top four ranking with Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland and New Zealand. According to Simon Marginson, Australia lacks “truly stellar research universities, now seen as vital attractors of human, intellectual and financial capital in a knowledge economy”

anu.jpgIn response, Ian Chubb, Vice Chancellor, Australia National University (pictured to the left), says the government should abandon its egalitarian policies and preferentially fund a select number of internationally competitive universities while Margaret Gardner, Vice Chancellor, RMIT University, says Australia needs a top university system.

Australia may be able to reconcile these competing and divergent views through more competitive and targeted funding linked to mission (see below on compacts) or, perhaps more controversially, by using the forthcoming HE review (see below) to reaffirm the principles of educational equity while using the complementary innovation review to build-up critical mass in designated fields in select universities. Whichever direction it chooses, it needs to ensure pursuit of its slice of the global knowledge society doesn’t simply become advantageous for the south-east corner of its vast landscape.

Indeed, those who argue that government should fund institutions on the basis of their contribution to the economy and society may find that the metrics used are less kind to them than they think. Not only does research suggest some universities over-inflate their claims, (see Siegfried et al, ‘The Economic Impact of Colleges and Universities’) but better value-for-money and social return on investment may be achievable from improving pre-school or primary education, job chances for 16-19 year olds, building a hospital, or other large-scale facility in the vicinity. Another possibility, in a country which ostensibly values egalitarianism and is committed to balanced regional growth, is that universities ranked lower may become preferred beneficiaries at the expense of more highly ranked institutions. This is exactly the argument that underpinned the first Shanghai Jiao Tong ranking; in other words, the team was anxious to show how poorly Chinese universities were doing vis-à-vis other countries. While Australia’s Go8 universities may seek to use this argument to their advantage, they should also be mindful that poor rankings could incentivize a government to spend more financial resources on weaker institutions (see Zhe Jin and Whalley, 2007). Or, rather than using citations – which it could be argued refers to articles read only by other academics – as a measure or metric of output, impact measurements – including community/regional engagement – could be used to measure contribution to the economy and society. This format may favor a different set of institutions.

heausreview.jpgThe Australian government has begun a review of its HE system. One likely outcome will be the use of negotiated ‘compacts’ between universities and the government which will, in turn, become the basis for determining funding linked to mission and targets. The concept was initially presented in the Australian Labour Party white paper Australia’s Universities: Building our Future in the World (2006):

The mission-based compacts will facilitate diversification of the higher education system, wider student choice and the continuation of university functions of wider community benefit that would otherwise be lost in a purely market-driven system.

Broadly welcomed, these ‘compacts’ are being wildly interpreted as a method of institutional self-definition, on the one hand, or a recipe for micro-management, on the other. They appear to share some characteristics of the Danish system of performance contracts, mentioned in the University Act of 2003 (see section 10.8), and are in line with a trend away from government regulation to steerage by planning. The actual result will probably be somewhere in-between.However, given the time and resources required on both sides to ‘negotiate’, it seems clear this may not be the panacea many universities believe it to be. How much institutional autonomy or self-declaration is realistically possible? At what stage in the negotiations does the government announce the ‘end of talking’?

Another reality-check may be in store as Australian universities celebrate replacement of the Research Quality Framework with the new Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) initiative which combines metrics with peer evaluation. Whatever arguments against the previous system, several HE leaders claim they had reached a point of near-satisfaction about how research was to be measured, including measuring not just output but also outcome and impact. These issues may need to be re-negotiated under the new system. Another unknown is the extent to which the ‘outcome’ of the ERA itself is linked to ‘compacts’ and research prioritization and concentration – with implications not just for existing fields but new fields of discovery and new research teams.

The challenges for institutions and governments are huge, and the stakes are high and getting higher. To succeed, institutions need to employ the same critical rigorous approach to their arguments that they would expect from their students. Universities everywhere should take note.

Ellen Hazelkorn