Making Sense of Euro MOOCs

Note: please link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article should you with to print it or share it more broadly.

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Our European MOOCs in Global Context Workshop (19-20 June 2013 @ UW-Madison) went very well, in my biased opinion.  The event was kicked off by a provocative and well-crafted keynote lecture by George Siemens of Athabasca University. As I noted in the workshop webpage:

Siemens developed and taught (with Stephen Downes) the first ever ‘MOOC’ in 2008, and is one of the world’s leading experts on MOOCs. Siemens is an educator and researcher on learning, networks, analytics and visualization, openness, and organizational effectiveness in digital environments. He is the author of Knowing Knowledge, an exploration of how the context and characteristics of knowledge have changed and what it means to organizations today, and the Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning. Knowing Knowledge has been translated into Mandarin, Spanish, Persian, and Hungarian. Siemens is the Associate Director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University, leading the learning analytics research team. Previously, he was the Associate Director, Research and Development, with the Learning Technologies Centre at University of Manitoba. Siemens is also the co-founder of the newly established MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) which is being funded by the Gates Foundation.

An integrated slide/video (with captions) of Siemens’ keynote is available here for your viewing pleasure:

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See below for those of you interested in Siemens’ slides, minus the audio/video element:

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Siemens is a very informed analyst/practitioner/interlocutor regarding MOOCs, and it is a pleasure to engage with a person who clearly sees the pros and cons of the fast evolving MOOCs phenomenon, and especially the importance of viewing them from multiple perspectives (from the pedagogical through to the political-economic). I also recommend that you take a look at his reflections on his talk (‘Neoliberalism and MOOCs: Amplifying nonsense’) via the elearnspace blog, which includes this statement:

In recent presentations, I’ve been positioning MOOCs in terms of the complexification of higher education…. The argument is simple: Much of today’s economy is knowledge-based. In a knowledge economy, we need to be learning constantly. Universities have failed to recognize the pent-up demand for learning as the economy has diversified and society has become more complex and interconnected. As a consequence, the internet has contributed by creating a shadow education system where learners learn on their own and through social networks. MOOCs reflect society’s transition to a knowledge economy and reveal the inadequacy of existing university models to meet learner’s needs.

Following a perfectly timed (weather-wise) reception on the rooftop of our Education Building, we spent a full day engaging with the MOOCs phenomenon from a range of perspectives.  Michael Gaebel of the European University Association (EUA) and I laid some context for the day’s discussions. Michael’s slides are available here:

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It’s worth noting that Gaebel is in charge of the EUA’s task force on MOOCs.

We then heard from representatives of EdX (Howard Lurie) and Coursera (Pang Wei Koh) about the ‘Place of Europe’ in their emerging global strategies. While there was a lot of information conveyed in these two informative talks and Q&A sessions, it is clear that Europe plays a very important part in the global strategies of EdX and Coursera. European universities are increasingly interested in engaging with these two platforms, and in so engaging with the platforms European universities are simultaneously altering the DNA of said platforms.  European universities bring with them particular understandings and approaches to online education, lifelong learning, credit transfer, inter-institutional cooperation, outreach/public service, governance, and capacity building. The linguistic dimensions of the MOOCs on offer have helped these two platforms grapple with multiple language matters both in Europe, but also in the vast post-colonial worlds Europe has footprints in. Indeed there is a structural logic for engaging with European universities in the early phase of truly global platform development as US universities are unilingual.

DillenbourgJune2013We then dug deep into the Euro MOOCs theme via a fascinating talk by Pierre Dillenbourg who spoke about the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne Experience with MOOCs (Situated in the European Context). While we never recorded his talk, see below for his informative slides, as well as another of his presentations from an early June Euro MOOCs summit:

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Linda Jorn (UW-Madison) and Pang Wei Koh (Coursera) ably responded to Dillenbourg’s informative presentation. Dillenbourg and others at EPFL are active and critically engaged practitioners regarding MOOCs. Their work with MOOCs seems to be situated in historic perspective, and taken very seriously regarding course vetting and development and learning analytics. It is no surprise, then, that EPFL is an emerging centre of dialogue and debate regarding European MOOCs. As noted in the photo of Dillenbourg above, their philosophy regarding MOOCs is it is “Better be an actor than a spectator.

A large panel discussions was then held regarding Emerging European Institutional Perspectives on MOOCs. Minister Antonio de Lecea (European Union), Michael Gaebel (European University Association), and Fernando Galán Palomares (European Students’ Union) spoke about the MOOCs phenomenon from their particular standpoints, and then Roger Dale (University of Bristol), Susan Robertson (University of Bristol), and Barbara McFadden Allen (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) responded with insight from equally diverse perspectives.

The final session involved Revisiting ‘Disruptor, Saviour, or Distractor: MOOCs and their role in higher education.’ Some time to digest Siemens’ keynote talk the night before, to get to know each other a little more, and to learn along the way, generated a variety of fascinating (I’m biased, I know, but they were!) reflections on the theme of European MOOCs in Global Context.  Amongst the many important points raised, three stand out in my mind a few weeks later while writing this summary up.

The first is that there is genuine interest in the MOOCs phenomenon in Europe. MOOCs have captured the imaginations, for good and for bad, of key European higher education stakeholders. This interest is partly driven by the US-led MOOCs juggernaut which is generating some angst and concerns in Europe. So yes, there is some concern about an initial U.S. domination of the MOOCs landscape, and the discourse about MOOCs. This said, there are many other reasons the MOOCs juggernaut is generating interest in European quarters. There is, for example, a long history of online/distance education in Europe and the MOOCs phenomenon both supports and destabilizes this movement and these historic players. European institutions of higher education also have advanced digitalization (for lack of a better word) and open education resource agendas underway on a number of levels and the MOOCs agenda has potential to sync in well with these. And European HEIs are being asked to do more and more to enhance opportunities for lifelong learning, and to build ties with alumni, and MOOCs have some potential uses on these two fronts.

Second, the global dimensions of the MOOCs phenomenon articulates in fascinating ways with the both the intra- and extra-dimensions of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). MOOCs have some potential to encourage virtual mobility across European space, to build understandings of how different European universities approach teaching and learning, and to share research expertise and strengths via open online courses. MOOCs, be they offered via European or non-European platforms, also enable European universities to reach into other world regions, often in languages other than English. In other words, MOOCs have some untested potential to enhance the building of interregionalisms – an agenda that has been underway since the global dimensions of the formalization of an external dimension to the Bologna Process was spurred on, in May 2005, when the Bergen Communiqué was issued. The 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.

The Bergen Communiqué then 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, from which the above quote is taken. And while this statement was issued before George Siemens and Stephen Downes taught the first MOOC in 2008, a read of the Bergen Communiqué and Looking Out will help you see how and why MOOCs might matter to select European higher ed stakeholders. Indeed, just last week the European Commission released a Communication titled ‘European higher education in the world.‘ [For the non-European readers of this entry, a Communication is a paper produced by the European Commission (EC), most often to the key institutions (e.g., Council of the European Union or the European Parliament). It is generally the outcome of a series of initiatives that might follow this sequence: the production of (i) a staff working paper, (ii) the development of a consultation paper that asks for wider inputs and views, and then, if it keeps proceeding it is in the form of (iii) a Communication. The decision to move to this stage is generally if the EC thinks it can get some traction on an issue to be discussed by these other agencies. This is not the only pattern or route, but it does register that issue has wider internal EC backing (that is in the nerve centres of power), and a sense that it might get traction with the Member States.]

As the EUA put it in their summary of ‘European higher education in the world‘, the new Communication:

places emphasis on the broad range of issues that are important for the internationalisation of European higher education. The document, which references the EC’s recent Communications “Modernising Europe’s Higher Education Systems” and “Rethinking Education”, places specific emphasis on how member states and higher education institutions can develop strategic international partnerships to tackle global challenges more effectively.

Among the key priorities outlined is the development of comprehensive internationalisation strategies at national and institutional level. The Commission states that such strategies should cover the following areas:

  • The promotion of international mobility of students and staff (for example through enhanced services for mobility, tools for recognition of studies, better visa procedures for foreign students and emphasis on two-way mobility – into and out of Europe).
  • The promotion of “internationalisation at home” and digital learning (including language learning, using ICT to internationalise curricula).
  • The strengthening of strategic cooperation, partnerships and capacity building (with emphasis on joint and double degrees, partnerships with business and also international development cooperation partnerships).

The EC aims to contribute to the realisation of this strategy through stronger policy support and financial incentives for internationalisation strategies in particular through the future EU programme for education that will be called Erasmus+ (formerly called Erasmus for All). It said the programme, which still needs to be formally approved at the EU level, would integrate external funding instruments and put an end to the fragmentation of the various existing external higher education programmes. It would also link these closer to intra-European cooperation, as the EC said it would provide increased support for mobility to and from non-EU countries through Erasmus+ and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (under Horizon 2020). The Commission also outlines measures in the areas of quality/transparency, cooperation and policy dialogue.

It is worth taking note of what is stated on page 7 of ‘European higher education in the world:

While online courses and degrees are not a new phenomenon, the exponential increase in the supply of online education and digital material, as well as the increase in the provision of assessment, validation and academic credit by selected MOOCs (an emerging trend particularly with many HEIs in countries such as the US and Australia) has the potential of transforming higher education radically. New trends in digital education and the emergence of MOOCs should be an incentive for HEIs to rethink their cost structures and possibly also their missions, and engage in worldwide partnerships to increase the quality of content and of the learning experience through blended learning.

Europe must take the lead in the global efforts to exploit the potential of digital education – including the availability of ICT, the use of OER and the provision of MOOCs – and to overcome the systemic obstacles that still exist in quality assurance, student assessment and recognition, as well as funding. This potential and obstacles will be addressed in a future Commission initiative. [emphasis in original]

Third, it is clear that while in some ways MOOCs are a post-national phenomenon given their multiple identities and citizenships of their visionaries, albeit propelled by well resourced U.S. MOOC platforms, the institutionalization and governance dimensions of MOOCs in Europe are only just unfolding in a complex and different (in comparison to the U.S.) state-society-economy context.

For example, we were pleased that Antonio de Lecea, Minister and Principal Advisor for Economic and Financial Affairs Delegation of the European Union to the United States, was able to join us for the entire workshop. Minister de Lecea provided some fascinating insights on the EU’s emerging views regarding MOOCs and broader contextual factors regarding politics, regulatory systems, and debates about important issues like data privacy (a rather topical issue right now!). As de Lecea, Michael Gaebel, Mark Johnson, Fernando Galán Palomares, Roger Dale, and Susan Robertson all pointed out, Europe is inevitably going to take a broader and more strategic approach to MOOCs than what we see unfolding in the U.S. Given this it is important to critically deliberate about the nature of the MOOCs phenomenon so wise decisions can be made by key European institutions.

Indeed it is clear that the message that MOOCs are no silver bullet for revolutionizing higher education, and resolving all sorts of crises and tensions, is being recognized. In short, proselytizing and the hype factor is evident in Europe, as it is here in the U.S., but given what I witnessed with respect those representing the EU, the EUA, and the ESU, not to mention specific European universities (Bristol and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), the MOOCs phenomenon is being grappled with in a relatively informed and critically engaged manner. And in doing so, we here in North America, and at UW-Madison, are learning much about MOOCs, as well as Europe, at the same time.

My thanks to all of the participants for their many inputs, and to the many UW-Madison units (the European Union Center of Excellence with additional support via Education Innovation, Division of Continuing Studies, Division of Information Technology, L&S Learning Support Services, Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, Department of Geography) that made this Euro MOOCs event possible.

Kris Olds

Europe 2020: what are the implications of Europe’s new economic strategy for global higher ed & research?

This week marks the launch of the EU’s EUROPE 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. As noted in EurActiv (‘Brussels unveils 2020 economic roadmap for Europe‘) on 3 March:

The EU’s new strategy for sustainable growth and jobs, called ‘Europe 2020′, comes in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades. The new strategy replaces the Lisbon Agenda, adopted in 2000, which largely failed to turn the EU into “the world’s most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010″. The new agenda puts innovation and green growth at the heart of its blueprint for competitiveness and proposes tighter monitoring of national reform programmes, one of the greatest weaknesses of the Lisbon Strategy.

The European Commission’s plan includes a variety of agenda items (framed as thematic priorities and targets) that arguably have significant implications for European higher education and research. Furthermore several of the plan’s Flagship Initiatives (“Innovation Union”; “Youth on the Move”; “A Digital Agenda for Europe”; “An industrial policy for the globalisation era”; “An Agenda for new skills and jobs”) also have implications for how the EU frames and implements its agenda regarding the global dimensions of both the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). For example, Flagship initiative: “Youth on the move” (p. 11) includes the following statement:

The aim is to enhance the performance and international attractiveness of Europe’s higher education institutions and raise the overall quality of all levels of education and training in the EU, combining both excellence and equity, by promoting student mobility and trainees’ mobility, and improve the employment situation of young people.

At EU level, the Commission will work:
– To integrate and enhance the EU’s mobility, university and researchers’ programmes (such as Erasmus, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus and Marie Curie) and link them up with national programmes and resources;
– To step up the modernisation agenda of higher education (curricula, governance and financing) including by benchmarking university performance and educational outcomes in a global context.

Please see below for a summary of some of the key elements of EUROPE 2020: A European strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth as well as a YouTube video of José Manuel Barroso’s launch of the plan at a media event in Brussels:

See here for the EU’s Press pack: Europe 2020 – a new economic strategy. EurActiv also has a useful LinksDossier (‘Europe 2020′: Green growth and jobs?) for those of you seeking a concise summary of the build-up to the new 2020 plan.

It is also worth noting that EU member states, and as well as non-governmental organizations, are attempting to push their own innovation agendas in the light of the 2020 economic roadmap for Europe. Link here, for example, to a Lisbon Council e-brief (Wikinomics and the Era of Openness: European Innovation at a Crossroads) that is being released today in Brussels. European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn also spoke at the same event.

The ‘innovation’ agenda and discourse is deeply intertwined with higher education and research policy in Europe at the moment. While the outcome of this agenda has yet to be determined, supporters and critics alike are being forced to engage with this amorphous concept; a 21st century ‘keyword’ notably absent from Raymond Williams’ classic text Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society.

Kris Olds

Debate: Asia vs Europe: which region is more geopolitically incompetent?

LKYdebate

Can regions think and act strategically? In which ways are Europe and Asia geopolitically (in)competent? How does one speak for “Asia” and “Europe”? Why do Mahbubani and Emmott seek to speak for “Asia” and “Europe”? Link here for a National University of Singapore (NUS) webcast of this recent debate, and here for a lecture synopsis.

Global higher ed players, regional ambitions, and interregional fora

How do dominant national and regional players in global higher ed speak to, and engage with, other parts of the world, especially when these parts are viewed as ‘less developed’? This is a complicated question to start answering (not that it is possible, in fact!).

History matters, for it has laid a foundational path, including taken-for-granted assumptions that shape the tone, mechanisms, and power dynamics of bilateral and/or interregional relationships. Times change, of course, and the rationale and logics behind the relationship building cannot help but evolve. The end of the Cold War, for example, enabled the building of relationships (e.g., the 46 country European Higher Education Area) that were previously impossible to imagine, let alone create.

The structure of higher education systems matter too. How does a nation ‘speak’ (e.g., the USA) when there is no senior minister of higher education, and indeed no national system per se (such as that in Germany)? It is possible, though content and legitimacy are derived out of a relatively diverse array of stakeholders.

In this context we have seen new forms of engagement emerging between Europe and the Global South, and between the USA and the Global South. I am wary that the ‘Global South’ concept is a problematic one, but it is used enough to convey key aspects of the power/territory nexus that I’ll stick with it for the duration of this brief entry.

What are the driving forces underlying such new forms of global higher ed engagement?

Clearly the desire to engage in capacity building, for a myriad of reasons, is a driving force.

A second force is concern about what the other dominant players are doing; a form of global engagement inspired or spurred on by the competitive impulse.

A third and related driving force is the amorphous desire to project ‘soft power‘ – the externalization of values, the translation of agendas, the enhancement of the attraction dimension, and so on, such that transformations align with the objectives of the projecting peoples and systems.

All three driving forces are evident is a spate of events and initiatives underway in 2008, and especially this October.

Europe Engages Asia

For example, the logics of capacity building, the need to enhance ties to select regions (e.g., East, South, and Southeast Asia), and the projection of soft power, enticed Europe to forge new relations across space via the ASEM framework. The inaugural meeting of ASEM’s Ministries of Education, which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and titled ‘Education and Training for Tomorrow: Common Perspectives in Asia and Europe’, took place in Berlin from 5-6 May 2008. The three official ‘public’ documents associated with this event can be downloaded here, here, and here.

This initiative, as we noted earlier (‘Ministers of Education and fora for thinking beyond the nation‘), is part of an emerging move to have ministers of education/higher education/research play a role in thinking bilaterally, regionally, and indeed globally. One interesting aspect of this development is that ministries (and ministers) of education are starting, albeit very unevenly, to think beyond the nation within the institutional structure of the nation-state. In this case, though, a regional voice (the European Union) is very much present, as are other stakeholders (e.g., the European University Association).

A linked event – the 1st ASEM Rectors’ Conference: Asia-Europe Higher Education Leadership Dialogue “Between Tradition and Reform: Universities in Asia and Europe at the Crossroads” – will be held from 27-29 October in Berlin as well, while other related late-2008 schemes include:

More broadly, link here for information about the new (2008) EU-Asia Higher Education Platform (EAHEP).

The US Engages Asia

Moving across the Atlantic, to the USA, we have seen the logics of capacity building, the need to enhance ties to select regions (e.g., Asia and Africa), and the projection of soft power, guiding some new initiatives. The US Government, for example, sponsored the Asia Regional Higher Education Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between 6-9 October 2008.  As the official press release from the US Embassy in Dhaka puts it, the:

Asia Regional Higher Education Summit is sponsored by the United States Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and co-hosted by the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. This Summit is a follow-up to the Global Higher Education Summit recently held in Washington, DC. The Washington summit was convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and USAID Administrator and Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Henrietta Fore. The Summit’s objective was to expand the role and impact of U.S. and foreign higher education institutions in worldwide social and economic development.

It is worth noting that countries representing ‘Asia’ at the Summit include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United States and Vietnam.

The US Engages Africa

And this week we see the US Government sponsoring the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. This summit is also, like the US-linked Asia event noted above, a follow-on initiative of the Global Higher Education Summit (29–30 April 2008).

According to the official program, the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit is a three-day event:

that will address innovative approaches to meet the challenges of the higher education community in Africa; to learn from each other by sharing best practices in partnering; and to foster mutually beneficial partnerships initiated before and during the summit. In this regionally focused forum, speakers and participants will discuss how higher education influences human and institutional capacity development, and plays a role in preparing Africa for economic growth and global competitiveness.

The summit is designed to focus on developing partnerships between higher education institutions, foundations and the private sector at the national and regional levels, although consideration will also be given to international and cross-continental levels.

Summit participation will be limited to presidents, chancellors, and rectors representing African and American universities, and foundation and corporate leaders to ensure maximum interaction and sharing of perspectives between and among decision makers and authorized agents. The working sessions and organized breaks will be structured to maximize input and interactions between summit participants.

The summit aims to provide opportunities for participants to:

  • Reinforce the goals of the initial Higher Education Summit for Global Development within the context of the African continent for the purpose of moving to concrete actions;
  • Raise awareness about and generate interest in the objectives of the first World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Education Alliance (GEA) in Africa and the Global Development Commons (GDC);
  • Highlight the importance of higher education in African development;
  • Add to the body of knowledge and further the discussion about the link between higher education and development;
  • Share successes and generate actual partnerships and alliances with universities, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations participating in the summit;
  • Generate ideas and recommendations to share with universities, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations;
  • Generate a progress report on the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative and planning grants.

The open press events are outlined here, while the detailed program is here. See here too for an example of a recently announced EU-Africa higher ed initiative.

‘Soft Power’ and Global Higher Ed

The soft power dimension behind the formation of linkages with regions like Asia and Africa is not always made explicit by Europe nor the USA. Yet two aspects of soft power, as it is sought after, are worth noting in today’s entry.

First, the intertwining of both soft and ‘hard’ power agendas and players is more evident in the case of the USA.  For example Henrietta H. Fore (Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator, USAID, and pictured below) is speaking at the higher education summit in Africa, as well as at the Pentagon about the establishment of the AFRICOM initiative:

Secretary Gates has spoken powerfully and eloquently on many occasions about the need for the United States to enhance its non-military as well as military instruments of national power in service of our foreign policy objectives. The Department of State and USAID are proud to play their respective primary roles in diplomacy and development.

Thus AFRICOM, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, effectively has an Africa-focused global higher ed initiative associated with it (under the control of AFRICOM partner USAID).

Source and photo caption from AFRICOM:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Left to right, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Admiral Mike Mullen; Henrietta H. Fore, administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development and director of U.S. Foreign Assistance; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; flag bearer; General William E. Ward, Commander of U.S. Africa Command; and U.S. Africa Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka stand together after the unfolding of the flag during the U.S. Africa Command Unified Command Activation ceremony in the Pentagon, October 1, 2008. (DoD photo by U.S. Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess)

AFRICOM Photo ID 20081003133444

Clearly the USA and Europe have adopted very different approaches to global higher ed in strategic ‘less developed’ regions vis a vis the links being made to hard power agendas.

Second, many of the US-led initiatives with USAID support are associated with political appointees (e.g., U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings), or leaders of more autonomous stakeholder organizations (e.g., Peter McPherson, President, NASULGC) who are publicly associated with particular political regimes.  In McPherson’s case, it is the Bush/Cheney regime, as profiled in Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran. But what happens when elections occur?  Is it a coincidence that the rush of US events is happening a month before the US federal election?  Will these key players regarding Africa (and Asia) be as supported by the new regime that comes to power in early 2009?

Another perspective is that such US initiatives don’t really matter in the end, for the real projectors of soft power are hundreds of autonomous, highly ranked, active, and well-resourced US universities. Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, highlighted the latest stage of Cornell’s work in South Asia, while the rush of US universities to establish campuses and programs in the Middle East was done irrespective of people like Spellings, and institutions like USAID (and the US Government more generally). In other words these universities don’t need ministerial talk shops in places like Berlin or DC to open doors and do their stuff. Of course many European universities are just as active as a Cornell, but the structure of European higher education systems is vastly different, and it cannot help but generate a centralizing impulse in the projection of soft power.

As a phenomenon, the actions of key players in global higher ed regarding in developing regional initiatives are well worth illuminating, including by the sponsors and participants themselves. Regions, systems, and international relations are being constructed in a conceptual and programmatic sense. As we know from any history of bilateral and interregional relations, frameworks that help generate a myriad of tangible outcomes are being constructed, and in doing so future development paths, from all perspectives, are being lain down.

Yet it is also important not to read too much into this fora-intensive agenda. We need to reflect upon how geo-strategic visions and agendas are connected to and transformative of the practices of day-to-day life in the targeted regions. How do these visions and agendas make their mark in lecture halls, hiring procedures, curricula, and course content? This is not a development process that unfolds, in a seamless and uni-directional way, and it is important to think about global higher ed players, regional ambitions, and interregional fora at a series of interrelated scales to even begin understanding what is going on.

Kris Olds

Scholarship tourism – a devil in the detail of the EU

While the European Commission works towards a funding paradigm for student support in HIgher Education (fees, income contingent loans and grants might sound more familiar in some national contexts than in others), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is about to do its bit to address the im/possibility of specific national models.

As the euobserver reported last week (01.07.2008), EU Member States are closely monitoring a forthcoming ECJ judgement. In 2000 a German student, Jaqueline Foerster, went to study in the Netherlands. She met the criteria for receiving a Dutch grant but was deemed to no longer to meet them in 2005 and was told to repay part of the grant. The problem though was that Dutch students in her position in 2005 would not have been asked for repayments. The difference was due solely to nationality. She challenged the decision and the ECJ will deliver its judgement on the 10th of July.

This is not the first case in this area but the ECJ ruling will develop from its decision on the Bidar case in 2005. Dany Bidar, a French student, had been refused a UK scholarship but in the end the Court ruled that because he could demonstrate integration in the UK, he should have been treated in the same way as a UK national.

Both of these cases involve foreign nationals who can demonstrate some degree of assimilation but there are other ECJ rulings which raise other questions. Austria has been judged in breach of EU law by setting restrictions on German medical students who would qualify in Austria but go on to practice in Germany thereby creating conditions of Austrian state support for the German health care system. In Belgium, the French Community adopted quotas for nine areas including medicine for fear of an influx of French students undermining the long term viability of its health care provision.

As the euobserver says, the ECJ rulings on grounds of non-discrimination and freedom of movement effectively trump the lack of an EU treaty mandate to determine the content or organisation of education systems. National arrangements have to be legitimated as necessary and proportionate although it is the ECJ which will decide whether they have successfully done this or not.

What is happening then is two things. Firstly that incrementally, the viability of separate national arrangements for student support (and of health and welfare systems too) comes into question. It is the difference in the arrangements between member states which encourage a degree of scholarship tourism. Secondly, the lack of arrangements for ensuring that the payback from investments in student support can be captured produces a pressure to develop common EU arrangements. A Commission paradigm of fees, grants and loans is not just a discourse then, it gets material and institutional support from the tensions and contradictions of the bigger EU mobility, non-discrimination, ‘necessary’ and ‘proportionate’ legal principles. The devil is in the detail and EU Member States are following the case closely because of its implications for some high stakes policy domains including Higher Education.

Peter Jones

Interregionalism and the globalization of higher education: new Euro-Asia initiatives

One of the interesting aspects of change in higher education systems is how they are being denationalized; reshaped, as it were, by forces and actors that are thinking at, and operating at, scales other than the national. In social science terms (e.g., see the work of Neil Brenner) this is often deemed the “relativization of scale”; the process whereby actors operating at the global scale, the inter-regional (e.g., Europe-Asia) scale, the supranational regional (e.g., European, Asian) scale, the national scale (e.g., Germany), the subnational regional (e.g., Silicon Valley) scale, and the urban scale, all come to play increasingly important roles in shaping a “multiscalar” development process. See, for example, these two recent reports by the European University Association (EUA) and the OECD on higher education for regional development in a globalizing era:

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In this case we have a regional stakeholder organization (the EUA), and a multilateral organization (the OECD), both framing development processes simultaneously at the urban, regional, and global scales, with the national scale present, though clearly not dominant. Don’t forget, as well, that the OECD is a creation of member states, and its global thinking is therefore animated by, and mediated by, the nation-state. This is a point Saskia Sassen has insightfully driven home, most recently in Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages (Princeton University Press, 2006).

On the higher education and research policy front one emerging phenomenon worth taking note of is interregional dialogue. For example there is a now a decade long series of formal Transatlantic Dialogues, anchored by the American Council on Education (ACE), the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), and the European University Association (EUA). These meetings are always framed by ‘global’ thinking, but focus on achieving interregional objectives and enhanced understandings of what is going on on both sides of the Atlantic.

In this context the EUA announced, on 21 February, that it is partnering with the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), and the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education (Nuffic), to “establish an EU-Asia Higher Education Platform for European and Asian academics and policy makers”. This initiative is being facilitated by the European Commission’s Asia Link programme. As the EUA puts it, the purpose of the two-year project is to:

  • Provide a means for enhancing information exchange, dialogue, and cooperation in higher education and research between the two regions;
  • Develop best practices for institutional development and cooperation, and foster mobility of students and academics between the two regions;
  • Draw attention to the role and situation of universities in developing countries.

Throughout the course of 2008-9, a series of workshops and round tables in Asia and Europe will be organised, targeting institutional development and cooperation issues. Amongst the themes that are expected to be covered will be higher education governance and management, decentralisation, cooperation in graduate education, and interregional and inter-institutional cooperation in quality assurance.

While this is a complement to other forms of engagement also underway, and it is only targeted at parts of Asia, it is a noteworthy one.

First, and most importantly, there is much to learn in Asia about European developments over the last ten years given that Europe is grappling with the ‘modernization’ of its higher education system at a regional scale, though in a manner that blurs scales of action and intent, and takes into account national sensitivities and differential capacities for statecraft.

Second, it differs from the nature of North America-Asia and Australasia-Asia engagement, both of which tend to be relatively more person to person (e.g., the Australian Scholarships, the Fulbright awards) or event-oriented (e.g., student recruitment fairs, the US University Presidents’ Delegation to Southeast Asia).

In contrast, the EU-Asia Higher Education Platform is a truly post-national/interregional initiative, of a programmatic nature, and with an associated development agenda that focuses on systemic change.

In addition, and tying back to the start of this entry, note the presence of the nation-state in enabling EU-Asia relations to be forged, both directly and indirectly. This initiative is one that will also inevitably be forced to grapple with huge national variations in Asian higher education systems, and the lack of institutional capacity to operate at a regional scale in Asia, with respect to higher education. Yet while nation-states in Asia have not (yet) prioritized the construction of a regional higher education imaginary, it is only a matter of time given the structural forces that are reshaping Asian societies and economies. The complexion of the changes that will eventually emerge, and the nature of the intra-Asia and Asia-Other dialogue(s) facilitating them, have really yet to be determined.

Kris Olds

Statecraft for transferring business knowledge from Europe to China

While we are on the topic of Europe-China higher education linkages this week, the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai announced, on 30 November, that it was receiving €10.1 million from the European Union (EU) to support a “Europe-China Business Management Training Project”. The Shanghai Municipal Government is also providing “substantial funding in support of this project”. In its broadest sense the initiative “will bring a number of new developments to CEIBS, focusing on the central goal of transferring high level, practically-oriented business knowledge from the EU to China”.

CEIBS was established in 1994 at the height of the rapid changes in Shanghai’s economic landscape, and concurrent changes in the development of the EU’s relations with East Asia, especially China. CEIBS is now regarded as one of ‘Asia’s’ leading business schools, though it is actually a not-for-profit joint venture established by the European Commission and the PRC Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC), with funding and other forms of contributions from the Shanghai Municipal Government, the EU, Shanghai Jiaotong University, and the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD). Further details on CEIBS are available here.

euasia.jpgThis funding announcement has to be viewed in the context of the European Commission’s Asia Regional Strategy (2007-2013), which focuses on three “priority areas:

1) Support to Regional Integration, the key dialogue partners for the EU being Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Association of South-East Asia Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN regional forum (ARF) and South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC).

2) Policy and Know-How based Cooperation in:
(i) Environment, Energy and Climate Change, through Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP-Asia) and the Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) programme;
(ii) Higher Education and Support to Research Institutes;
(iii) Cross-border Cooperation in Animal and Human Health;

3) Support to Uprooted People.

The EU notes that €5.187 billion has been dedicated to fund this strategy for the 2007-2013 period.

A country-specific strategy (EU-China: Closer partners, growing responsibilities) for China is even more relevant with respect to this particular funding announcement. As the November 2006 strategy document puts it:

  • Education has been an area of particular success, with 170 000 Chinese students studying in the EU in 2005. We should continue to build on existing co-operation through programmes run by individual Member States and through the China-specific strand of the Erasmus Mundus programme. There have been positive examples of work to set up joint degree courses and joint campuses. We should also implement specific projects such as a European Law School. Both sides will continue to encourage EU students to study in China. To strengthen language capability, the Commission will support a specific programme to train Chinese language teachers to teach in Europe.
  • Academic expertise in the EU on China needs to be improved and co-ordinated more effectively. Action is needed by both sides to support effective interaction between European and Chinese academia. The Commission should continue to support an academic network on China, drawing together academic expertise to inform EU policy and coordinating information-sharing within the academic community; and there should be a small number of prestigious professorships on Chinese studies created and made available to European universities. There should be a permanent regular dialogue between European and Chinese think tanks.

This strategy then needs to be linked to key events such as the 10th China-EU Summit (held on 28 November 2007).

This is yet another example of the articulation of state agendas regarding higher education as ‘soft power’, ‘capacity builder’, and development mechanism. Through initiatives like this inter-regional networks are being built with the aim of propelling multi-scalar development processes. One can detect, however, that it is the amorphous regional (in Europe) and the more specific skilled labour/Shanghai/national (in China) scales that are being differentially prioritized.

Kris Olds