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

Collaborating to create a global brand for Canada’s higher education system(s)

Note: our thanks to Jean-Philippe Tachdjian, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), Government of Canada, for permission to post his slideshow here. CMEC is the acronym for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. Kate Geddie’s earlier entry (‘Canada’s new branding effort: “Education in/au Canada”’), along with one by Nick Lewis on New Zealand (‘“New Zealand Educated”: rebranding New Zealand to attract foreign students‘) are worth reading in association with this slideshow.

New report on Canada’s R&D landscape

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada just released a detailed report titled Momentum: The 2008 report on university research and knowledge mobilization.

I will paste in the full press release below, and one of us is likely to return to select aspects of the report over the next few weeks. It is abundantly clear that Canada is framing university-related R&D at a global scale, albeit with an eye on select countries and regions. Pages 91-102 are particularly focused on international collaboration with respect to patterns, mechanisms, challenges, and opportunities. Concern with international competition is suffused throughout the report.

The additional point that stands out is the relative significance of universities as drivers of R&D as compared to the private sector, the federal and provincial levels of government, and the non-profit sector. See these two graphics from the report:

A cursory review of the report, and any knowledge of Canada, will also lead to the question of the geographical concentration of said R&D within this large and diverse country. No prizes for correct answers to the question of what is happening where, though the why and what to do about it of structural change in Canada’s geographies of R&D clearly needs some more attention.

Here is the press release:

Media release

AUCC report shows universities are major contributors to Canada’s economy and quality of life

Ottawa, October 21, 2008 — The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has launched a report on the state of Canadian research and development (R&D), with a particular emphasis on university research, at an event that included partners from government, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector.

The report, entitled Momentum: The 2008 report on university research and knowledge mobilization, shows universities are major players in R&D in Canada, performing more than one-third of the country’s research and contributing at least $60 billion to the economy in 2007. However, analysts agree that the world competition for talent, knowledge and innovation is fierce and Canada cannot be complacent with its accomplishments.

“The rest of the world is not standing still and the global race for research talent is becoming more and more intense,” says AUCC chair Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University. “We expect this report to stimulate public debate on the required level and mix of support for university research in Canada.”

“This is a time when we cannot afford to cut back on public investment, but should instead see the potential for stimulating economic growth at the local and the national level by investing in people and knowledge. Having a highly skilled labour force is undeniably a major asset for any country,” notes AUCC president and CEO Claire Morris. “In these uncertain economic times, Canada must continue to improve its innovative capacity to ensure long-term prosperity,” she adds.

Momentum 2008 focuses on the importance of partnerships in university research and looks at the variety of forms collaboration takes – from university partnerships with private companies to research projects with governments, communities, the not-for-profit sector and international partners. It provides a comprehensive account of Canadian R&D, particularly the activities of the university sector and the resulting progress achieved. It also presents detailed research and analysis of national and international trends that will drive changes in university research and the Canadian R&D landscape in the future.

Momentum 2008 documents the wide range of benefits to Canadians such as new products, services, processes, policies and new ways of understanding society.

This is the second edition of Momentum produced by AUCC. The first was produced in 2005 as a way of providing information to decision makers and policy-makers about the benefits from investments made in university research.

The Momentum report is available online. Download the report.

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For more information please contact:

Leslie Cole, Communications Officer,
AUCC, 613 563 3961 x 330

Kris Olds

Searching for KAUST: of salaries and future insights

Auriele Thiele loaded up an entry three days ago in her insightful blog (Thoughts on business, engineering and higher education) that reminded me how amazed I am when I see what search terms bring people to GlobalHigherEd.  As Auriele notes, people use a wide array of approaches to searching, primarily via Google, and not all of them make sense. This said something is happening, hence the traffic to our site. Google’s algorithms send people to us, though I have no idea how this formally works.

Now the search terms that people use are interesting in that they arguably identify key concerns, and emerging debates, in the world of global higher ed. “Global university rankings” is clearly an issue of concern, and while we do not have many entries on this theme, the hunger for material on this phenomenon is striking.

Another topic we get a lot of traffic on is KAUST (also known as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), pictured to the right in June 2008 (courtesy of KAUST). We’ve developed a few entries on the new knowledge spaces emerging in the Middle East, including KAUST in Saudi Arabia, as have other higher ed media outlets like the Chronicle, Insider Higher Ed, and the Times Higher.

Let’s unpack the nature of the KAUST search terms bringing traffic to us, though, for this is what is most fascinating.

Over time the terms have shifted from “KAUST”, and “King Abdullah University of Science and Technology”, to a significant concern with KAUST + salaries, and now, most recently, KAUST + criticism. I might be over interpreting things, but KAUST’s development strategy seems to have been an enormous success on a number of levels, with the recent KAUST-IBM supercomputer announcement but the latest release stirring up attention in the global higher ed world. In other words KAUST has become a presence before it has become a real university (in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia).

The contrast with places like Quest University – Canada’s first secular private university (and pictured to the left) – is breathtaking, for Quest’s backers, while well connected, have had to incrementally push their new initiative forward, maneuver through several funding-related twists in the development path, and be ultra-efficient and effective to survive. There is no King Colombie-Britannique to secure this new university’s existence.

Now, is the volume of searches regarding salaries at KAUST a worrisome indicator regarding the base priorities of academics who seem to be in search of mammon, much like Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood (2007)?

Or is this a sign of the challenging reality of constructing new knowledge spaces that generate an impact, and fast. The corollary here is if Canada, or British Columbia, were as serious as the Saudis and the Singaporeans (e.g., see Singapore Management University) about diversifying the higher education system, they would have seriously endowed Quest University from Day 1 to propel it into action even though it is ‘private’.

A third view is that this a sign of what is needed to draw globally mobile faculty and staff to places like Saudi Arabia where rigid social rules cannot help but guide academic life, limits on freedoms (including freedom of female faculty to drive, or fly out of the country to conferences without first receiving the approval of their husbands) will exist, and machine guns will never be far from sight on the protective borders of the KAUST campus. As with the National University of Singapore (where KAUST’s current president, Shih Choon Fong, used to be based), high salaries are a recognized mechanism to tempt ‘quality’ faculty to become more mobile, and transplant, if only temporarily.

But I do wonder what the fixation with salaries will lead to, on the ground, when all of the faculty and some of their families start arriving and living in the Seahaven of Saudi Arabia.  These people will be surfing on top of the oil-fueled development boom, yet never far from the surface, including in the compound being built, a different reality will emerge; a more complex reality of happiness and/or angst about international schooling, relative salary positioning, social cleavages (on the basis of race, ethnicity, and pedigree), leave of absence strategizing (for the tenured), contract renewal uncertainties (for the untenured), transnational family strategizing (inevitably many will leave spouses and children back ‘home’), dual career challenges, competitive pressures to perform, gripes about the time it takes to fly back to city X or city Y, what to do on the one day off per week, the bubble effect, the maid (domestic help) dynamic, teenagers (not) running amok, and so on.

KAUST will continue thrusting ahead given that it is a defacto sovereign wealth fund, prospective faculty will continue sniffing around GlobalHigherEd for salary details (sorry, this is the wrong place to check!), and a new manufactured world will unfold over the next decade. Yet I hope some of the faculty and their families get active weblogs going from the land of KAUST, for we need far more than official representations to really understand what is needed to construct these type of knowledge spaces. It would be a shame if KAUST micro-managed the production of reflective insights on the development process, for this is an experiment worth not only promoting (as they clearly must do), but also rigorously analyzing.

And at another level, is it not time for agencies like the ESF and the NSF to get more strategic, and bring together research teams, to assess the KAUST development process? The pace of change is too fast with respect to this type of initiative – more of a global assemblage than a national university – to merely stand by and wait for proposals from faculty.  The cranes are up, but not for much longer…

Kris Olds

OECD’s Education at a Glance 2008: a ‘problem/solution toolkit’ with problems?

Last week, or to be precise – on the 9th September at 11.00 Paris time, the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD), launched its ‘annual snapshot’ of the sector, Education at a Glance 2008. Within hours, the wheels of the media industry around the globe were pouring out stories of shame, fame, defeat and victory, whilst politicians in their respective countries were galvanized into action – either defending their own decisions or blaming a previous regime.

As previous entries in GlobalHigherEd (see here and here and here, as examples) argue, global indicators increasingly matter, not because they are always able to tell us much that is useful, but they work as a powerful disciplinary tool on nations. This, in turn, provides the issuing agent, in this case the OECD – ostensibly a ‘collective learning machinery’ – with an important mechanism for influencing the form and scope of education policies and programs around the globe. This is the tangible stuff of globalization – but this problem/solution toolkit is not without its own epistemological problems. Let’s take a look at two countries reported on this week – which headlined the OECD’s Report in the following way.

In the UK, the BBC and the Telegraph focused on the graduate league table, and the fact that the UK has not fared particularly well. The evidence? In 2000, the UK ranked 4th in the world in the number of school-leavers going to university. By 2006, this had plummeted to 12th.

Graeme Paton of the Telegraph reported on an interview with Andreas Schliecher, the OECD’s architect of Education at a Glance. According to Dr. Schliecher, the UK has major problems in producing school leavers with sufficient quality of credentials, whilst other countries have managed to sort out these problems and were already in the fast lane, leaving the UK behind.

Ministers canvassed by the Telegraph, however, insist that they were tackling the shortfall by encouraging more pupils to go to university and by pointing out the OECD good news story for the UK, that university graduates in the UK aged 25-64 earned 59 per cent more than other people – well above the national average.

In Canada, the influential Macleans magazine reported that in the OECD Education at a Glance comparisons, Canada was one of the few countries with the highest percentage of its population having completed post-secondary education. However, we are also given another statistic, and that is that the earnings advantage gained from completing post-secondary education in Canada had decreased in recent years and was quite low compared to other OECD countries. This is reflected in the lower average private rate-of-return on investment in post-secondary education relative to other nations in the OECD.

Let’s dwell, and not just ‘glance’, at these figures for a moment, and ask what is being reported here by the OECD:

  • competitive economies need a more highly educated workplace to perform more demanding work;
  • all countries need to encourage their young people to go to university and complete a degree; and
  • the incentives for this expenditure (which is increasingly being paid by families) are that there will be a higher rate-of-return to the student than if the student had not gone to university.

However, as we can see from our example above, countries with high levels of graduation (which the OECD says is good) report increasingly lower returns to graduates (ah…and is this not bad?).

Now, this is where the underlying human capital/homo-economicus rationale underpinning the OECD’s Education at a Glance begins to falter – for it cannot explain why it is that following the OECD’s prescriptions – of a high level of enrolment in higher education – reduces the overall earnings to the individual rather than increasing it.

While not one that is acknowledged in the repertoire of the OECD’s ‘problem/solution toolkit’ approach, this is where a sociological analysis is particularly helpful. As sociologists of education (see Phil Brown and Simon Marginson) have shown using Fred Hirsch’s insights on ‘positional goods’ tied to social status in his book The Social Limits to Growth, an advantage will only have economic value when no-one else has it. That is, its value depends on its scarcity. In other words, if we all have a graduate degree, then its value is diminished in the marketplace compared with when only half of us have one. This is part of the dynamic, for example, underlying degree inflation.

There’s also another issue, and this is the assumption that jobs in the ‘new knowledge economy’ will require us all to have graduate qualifications. However, the Confederation of British Industries (reported in the UK Guardian newspaper on the 17th Sept), disagrees, arguing that universities were producing far too many graduates leaving more than a million people in jobs for which they were overqualified. They argue that there are currently 10.1 million graduates in the UK, but only 9 million graduate jobs.

The deeper, and more tricky, question for policymakers now becomes: do we encourage everyone to hop onto the same credential treadmill with fewer and fewer returns and potentially higher levels of indebtedness? To be sure, there are important outcomes for individuals of a university education. However this experience is becoming more and more expensive, and the promised lifetime earnings are likely to be less and less. And who will shoulder the cost? Families? Employers? The State? And, how might the state and interrnational organizations, like the OECD, legitimate more and more credential inflation when the current ‘knowledge economy’ discourse is showing it to be somewhat hollow?

Or, ought we not think through what a range of trajectories might be that distributes talent/skills/training and investments over a wider portfolio of education/training/career options than is currently being presented to us?

Susan Robertson

Sweetening Canada’s offer in the race for global talent: a new immigration class eases the route to permanent residency for foreign students

International students are the focus of front-page news in Canada this week with the launch of the long-anticipated new immigration scheme, the “Canadian Experience Class.”

Intended to fast-track foreign students and skilled workers currently in Canada from temporary migrant to permanent resident status (and potentially to Canadian citizens), this new program continues a series of recent changes implemented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) seeking to enhance Canada’s economic competitiveness through the attraction and retention of highly educated migrants. Details of the program are outlined here in the Canada Gazette.

Like the existing immigration points-based system, this new program evaluates applicants on a range of criteria. However unlike the traditional economic class route, this stream makes work or study experience in Canada a key factor in gaining admission. Now international students, along with workers in select skilled occupations and professions that have studied or worked for two years in Canada, may apply to become landed immigrants from within the country, no longer needing to leave to join the (backlogged) overseas queues after their studies.

As quoted in the Globe and Mail (Aug 13, 2008: a1), a CIC spokeswoman explained the change is part of revamping Canada’s immigration approach to compete with “rival destinations such as Australia and the United Kingdom.” This framing is significant for several reasons.

First, CIC’s language acknowledges a shift in immigration policy logic from one based on broad nation building to one based on keeping pace with other countries competing to gain advantage in their ability to attract migrants for the knowledge economy. As political scientist Ayelet Shachar (2006) has argued, the policy framework of many immigrant-receiving countries is no longer driven primarily to meet domestic needs, but to keep up with the offer on hand from other countries also trying to become the next “IQ magnet” in the ever-spiralling global race for ‘talent’. The rationale is that if international students can become permanent residents immediately after their studies, then this may have the desired effect of increasing the likelihood that many will remain post-graduation and contribute to the Canadian economy, as well as making Canada a more appealing educational destination for young migrants at the outset.

Second, from a national perspective, international student mobility has historically served a multifaceted role as both an element of international political relations (think of programs such as the Fulbright and Commonwealth Scholarships), and as an increasingly lucrative industry.

In recent years, however, many governments have also begun to place greater emphasis on the innovation and labour market potential inherent in mobile students and researchers. Canada’s new scheme – along with the recent announcement that post-graduation work permits for students would be extended to a three-year duration – indicate the heightened interest placed by the Canadian government on the potential longer-term economic contributions that foreign students can make.

So what to make of these developments?

On one hand, they certainly fit with contemporary theories in economic development planning that emphasize the importance of developing a diverse, educated and skilled labour force as a necessary context for sustained economic vitality, and the ability for universities to feed into this process at a local scale. International graduates can make particularly valued contributions to such strategies through their different academic and cultural traditions as well as transnational research and social networks. Advocates of international students will likely also laud this new initiative for enabling those already in Canada who have established ties and made intellectual, economic, and social contributions to remain with greater security, if they so choose.

On the other hand, however, there are several concerns and potential consequences worth considering.

First, this new class does not address – and may further exacerbate – existing problems of excessively long waiting lists for overseas immigration applicants.

Second, and even more disquieting, this new ‘class’ promotes unequal access to the protection and rights attributed to Canadian permanent residents by excluding lower-skilled labourers who also make important contributions to the Canadian economy and society and who comprise the majority of temporary permit holders.  It is important to ask whether Canada wants to advance a system with differential paths to citizenship based largely on the fluctuating economic valuation of certain types of knowledge.

Lastly, it also seems probable that this new fast-track scheme will become an admissions strategy for young migrants able to afford the expense of studying as an international student in Canada. While the financial picture for international students is complex, varying from high tuition fees for most undergraduate studies to receiving scholarships for funded graduate students, the financial accessibility to this potential route to citizenship complicates the already unclear picture wherein international students are desired for their future ambassadorial roles, for their financial contributions to individual institutions, and/or for their potential economic input as desired young researchers and future ‘knowledge workers’.

Time will tell if these various objectives can succeed in co-mingling or if tensions and contradictions in the diverse strategies involving the spheres of higher education, research, immigration, and economic development will emerge.

Reference

Shachar, A. 2006. The race for talent: Highly skilled migrants and competitive immigration regimes. New York University Law Review, 8(April): 148-206.

Kate Geddie