One of the features of the globalization of higher education and research is the bringing together of ministers of education from various countries to think beyond the nation at regional, inter-regional, and global scales, as well as in a comparative sense. Thus we are seeing the nation-state creating internal competencies for statecraft via extra-territorial fora.
This is, of course, nothing new in some ways: ministries of trade and industry, or ministries of immigration, have done this for decades. But this is really the first era when ministers of education have become much more involved in strategizing about how to adjust education systems, especially the higher education and research elements, so as to engage with broader shifts in economy and society.
Here are links to some recent meetings, with associated reports:
- APEC Education Ministerial Meeting (AEMM), 11-12 June 2008
- Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) Biennale on Education in Africa, 5-9 May 2008
- ASEM Conference of Ministers for Education, 5-6 May 2008
- Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Council Conference, 13-14 March 2008
- Meeting of Ministers of Education under the auspices of the Inter-American Council on Integral Development of the Organization of American States, 12–14 November 2007
- Bologna Process Ministerial Conference, 17-18 May 2007
- Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (CCEM), 11 to 14 December 2006
Let me know if you know of any more that I should include – I am happy to add them to the list above.
Scaling up need not only work at the regional or interregional scale. In Latin America, for example, five higher education ministers from Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Nicaragua, Venezuela signed the Cochabamba Declaration to further ALBA – the “Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of Our America”, a regional intergration initiative that is anti-capitalist in nature, for the most part.
Or in Canada, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada (CMEC), made up on all provincial ministers of education (as education, including higher education, is a provincial responsibility), frames its international activities along a variety of other regional, interregional, and multilateral axes:
CMEC’s international activities have traditionally involved three major international organizations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Commonwealth. While other partnerships have been formed with the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO), the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Education Forum, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Summit of the Americas process, both OECD and UNESCO, as well as the Commonwealth, continue to play a prominent role.
Assessments of the efficacy of such fora in facilitating new ways of thinking, innovative forms of statecraft, and extended networks of support, are lacking. Yet it is clear that some, such as the biannual Bologna Process summit (the London 2007 event is pictured to the left), are effective in facilitating action.
In conclusion, we are seeing, via the lens of such fora:
- Enhanced extra-territorial agendas and networks being built up by ministries that have not traditionally been so interested, nor obligated, in thinking beyond the nation, nor even beyond the province/state scale, in some countries.
- Meeting agendas and joint concluding statements that are framed around adjusting education systems to mediate and especially advance economic interdependence.
- Evidence of the enhanced intertwining of higher education with regional and interregional R&D strategies (especially with respect to science and technology).
- The desire to continue advancing longstanding social and cultural agendas (given the core nation-building function of higher education), though these socio-cultural agendas brush up against economic and international migration dynamics.
- The inclusion of some associated voices in the ministerial-centred deliberations, and the exclusion, by design or accident, of others that have clearly not started to think beyond the nation. On this point I see the voices of some students (e.g., the European Students’ Union) included, but faculty voices (via associations, unions, etc), are remarkably absent.
In the end, it is uncertain how far these initiatives will go. The addition of new mandates is perhaps to be expected in these globalizing times, but the challenges of thinking beyond the nation for the nation (and the region) is not a simple one to face, conceptually nor organizationally. This said, these are noteworthy events, and well worth engaging with on a number of levels.