The EHEA and ASEM: Creating Regions of Higher Education

Editor’s note: Que Anh Dang is a Marie Curie Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, UK. This guest entry is based on her direct observations at Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Education Process and European Higher Education Area (EHEA) ministerial meetings in April and May 2015. Her current research project ‘Shaping an ASEM Education Area: Regionalism and Higher Education Policy Travel between Europe and Asia’ is a part of the European joint project Universities in the Knowledge Economy – UNIKE. Contact:

Note: this entry is also available at Inside Higher Ed in a format more amenable for sharing & printing.


The EHEA and ASEM: Creating Regions of Higher Education

Que Anh Dang

The capital cities of Riga (Latvia) and Yerevan (Armenia) have marked milestones in the history of the Asia-Europe Meeting Education Process (ASEM Education Process) and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) respectively by hosting two significant regional ministerial meetings in April and May this year. Each meeting gathered around 50 national delegations and many regional organisations to develop and renew a vision for the future development of higher education. The most important policy documents publicised at these two events are the ASEM Chair’s Conclusions and the Yerevan Communiqué. The EHEA’s vision by 2020 is ‘to enhance the quality and relevance of learning and teaching; to foster the employability of graduates, to make the systems more inclusive; and to implement agreed structured reforms in all member countries’, whereas the ASEM’s vision is to create a ‘single higher education area linking Europe and Asia’ where ‘mobility of students, teachers, researchers, ideas and knowledge would be the core common goal’. Despite the differences in geographical boundaries, purposes and stages of cooperation, the two groupings share a common feature: creating regions of higher education. Over the years, these regional spaces have not only influenced policy making at the national level, but also reshaped the landscape of global higher education. This educational regionalism has changed the ways people organise places, spaces and institutions when thinking about higher education.

Economic Integration Heralds Educational Regionalisation

Regionalism has the capacity to shape patterns of human activities, such as trading and movement of people, including students and scholars. The process of economic regionalisation has become a trend in different parts of the world after the Second World War, noticeably in Europe, South East Asia, North and South America, and the Asia-Pacific Rim. Observations show that economic regionalisation often heralds educational regionalisation and the two processes become inextricably intertwined. These arguments are supported by the fact that most higher education regions which have recently been created around the world (e.g. ASEAN Community, UNILA – MERCOSUR´s Educational Sector (SEM), the Gulf Cooperation Council, Caribbean Community, etc.) are driven by the knowledge economy agenda. The Bologna Process, which gave way to the EHEA in 2010, is an excellent example of a region where higher education is seen as vital intellectual resource for economic recovery and expanding knowledge economy in Europe. Not only did the EU’s Lisbon Strategy spell out the concern for European competitiveness, which increased the concern for the competitiveness of its higher education systems. The Bologna Declaration, signed by the EU members and the then EU candidate countries in 1999, inter alia, referred to economic competition while setting out a vision for a ‘Europe of Knowledge’ by stating that we must in particular look at the objective of increasing the international competitiveness of the European system of higher education. Also at the national level, although joining the Bologna Process is voluntary, the motivation of countries is very diverse. In many cases it was highly political and rested on an assumption that joining one of the European ‘clubs’ was a step closer to gaining full membership in the European Union. In other cases, becoming a part of the EHEA is a branding exercise for publicity or for gaining access to a larger market for international students.

Higher Education and Region-Making Projects

The EHEA did not exist as a region by itself, it has been constructed by people’s ideas and it has been talked about for more than a decade. Since it has been talked about, it starts existing. The EHEA has been transformed from an abstract concept into an entity which has the capacity and power to act as a competent player in higher education. This is reflected in the common utterances, such as ‘the EHEA mobilises a change in teaching methods’, ‘the EHEA promotes improvement in the quality’, ‘the EHEA enabled many education professionals to adopt new teaching methodologies’. Furthermore, in the Yerevan Communiqué, we can see similar expressions, ‘the EHEA has a key role’, ‘the EHEA faces serious challenges’, ‘the EHEA has opened a dialogue with other regions’. Of course a region is a concept and it cannot actually say or do anything. Only people can speak and act, therefore a region does not exist without people. And certain people can act on behalf of the nation state and collectively they influence policy development for the entire region. For instance, an official document from Yerevan ‘The Bologna Process revisited: the future of the European higher education area’ describes the mission of the EHEA, such as the EHEA is expected to facilitate a student-centred learning approach, ensure higher education be a public good, respond to demographic changes, contribute to scientific research, make the best use of technological developments, even react to conflicts between countries and to political extremisms, and to turn the current economic crisis into new opportunities. The list of active verbs goes on further, but as it stands it already makes the job of the European education ministers more challenging than ever before. The Budapest-Vienna Communique 2010 assigned an extended responsibility to the ministers from being ‘responsible for higher education in the countries participating in the Bologna Process’ (§1) to become ‘the Ministers responsible for the European Higher Education Area’ (§12).

Thus, creating a region in the EHEA case is not only an aspiration, but a conscious act with concrete goals. However, whether or not such goals materialise is a complex process depending not only on the ability to achieve goals, but also on the existence of other regions that are willing to recognise a region as a region. Both the initiators of a region and those who acknowledge the region as such can be regarded as ‘region builders’. Therefore at the Berlin Ministerial Conference in 2003, the European Commissioner, Viviane Reding, supported the idea to “develop an active dialogue with other continents” because “the fact that the whole world is watching us increases our joint responsibility to make the Bologna reforms a success”. Later, this idea was developed into the Bologna Policy Forums and other projects that help construct other regions. At the recent meeting in Yerevan, a member of the Board of the Bologna Follow-up Group, Sjur Bergan, re-emphasised “the EHEA has so far rarely been ignored, and one of our tasks is to make sure it does not suffer this indignity in the future” and “if we want other regions to be inspired by the EHEA, we need to show that we take our own commitments seriously”. Keeping the commitments to implementing the agreed structural reforms puts financial pressure on many member countries, thus also creates business opportunities for the World Bank, whose representatives were invited to the Yerevan forum to offer policy solutions to their ‘customers’ and ‘partners’ on how to make regional cooperation permanent and ongoing.

ASEM – an Extension of the EHEA or a New Education Area?

Inspired by the success of the Bologna Process in creating convergence across (now 48) higher education systems, European and Asian ministers of education attempted to strengthen the connections between the two continents by forging high-level strategic partnerships and launching the ASEM education process in 2008. Although the ASEM education process is nine years younger than the Bologna Process, it has created a larger group involving 51 European and Asian countries, two international entities (the European Union and the ASEAN Secretariat). It also exemplifies an extensive region-making project in the higher education sector with its borders stretching eastward from the Atlantic coast of Europe to Oceania. ASEM represents half of the world’s GDP, more than 60% of the world’s population and around 60% of global trade, according to Eurostat figures in 2014.

Region in the ASEM case goes beyond the conventional concept of region that is based on geographical proximity. Rather it is an imagined community constructed in a political process in which different higher education discourses compete to construct social meanings and to make what is not natural appear natural. In other words, higher education is seen as a noble means to strengthen the ties that bind Asia and Europe together. The agenda of the ASEM education process, consisting of four priorities: quality assurance, balanced mobility, engaging business and industry in education, and lifelong learning including TVET, seems to resemble some of the action lines of the Bologna Process. This resemblance manifests the European soft power which Joseph Nye defines as “the ability to get others to want the outcomes that you want” and “the ability to shape the preferences of others through attraction and co-operation rather than coercion”. When other countries and regions look to the Bologna Process for good practices, values and ideas, soft power is taking root. Academic exchanges and student mobility are central to the soft power theory. The stories about the sons and daughters of Asian leaders as examples of foreign elites studying in Europe are not new, but creating a whole new education area for increasing two-way mobility among the ASEM countries is indeed a novel idea.

Nonetheless, this idea together with the overlapping membership of 33 EHEA members seems to make the ASEM education area an extension or replication of the Bologna Process. At the recent ASEM ministerial meeting in Riga, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, explicitly suggested “despite a wide variety of languages, cultures and specific structures in the different countries, Europe’s higher education systems are comparable and compatible. Why shouldn’t we be able to replicate a similar system across Europe and Asia, in particular with the support of Erasmus+ and our expertise?”. Ironically, in the first half of his keynote he emphasised the current situation in Europe, where “more than six million young people are unemployed in the EU with peaks of more than 50% in some member states. Even more alarmingly, 7.5 million young Europeans between 15 and 24 are neither in employment, nor in education or training”. This fact made the audience at the meeting, especially those from Asia, wonder why other regions are to replicate the Bologna model of higher education.

Three weeks later, at the Yerevan meeting, Sjur Bergan, said “the EHEA has largely been in the ideal situation [to be loved], at least if we believe that emulation is the most sincere form of flattery. Perhaps Mr Bergan did not mean the kind of ‘funded emulation’ in the name of capacity building projects which are heavily sponsored by the European Commission, such as EU SHARE for the ASEAN region and ‘Intra-ACP Academic Mobility Scheme’ for Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific regions. These projects, in essence, are a deliberate act to build and/or strengthen other higher education regions, and synchronize them with the EHEA.

In Lieu of a Conclusion

The Bologna Process has been perceived by many in both academic and policy communities as an internationalisation process of higher education. This article, however, sees the Bologna Process as a region-making project with the EHEA as a work-in-progress and an outcome. This pan-European project has impacted on other regional initiatives around the world, especially in Asia, through a very powerful discourse on the construction of a higher education space. Such abstract ‘space’ increasingly affects the ways in which other regions come to conceive, understand, plan and organise their higher education systems. Despite a strong influence from the European partners, the ASEM education area – though still in the making – manifests a hybrid form of regionalism combining Asian and European expertise and agendas. Many higher education regions are being constructed around the world. Let’s hope they are about advancing scholarship, connecting cultures and individuals, and about building a different future instead of reshuffling old ideas, pandering to economic concerns, or playing to the hegemon’s tune.

Will Periscope, a Mobile App, Open Up Academic Conferences?

Link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this entry which can more easily be shared & printed.


Nearly 9,000 people, myself included, attended the annual conference of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) in late April 2015. The size of the conference has been growing over the last several decades and it has become a de facto international gathering despite the ‘American’ moniker; a trading space of sorts to present papers, share ideas, formulate collaborative research proposals, source prospective faculty, share gossip, have good times, etc. Of the 8,950 people who flew/drove/trained it to Chicago this April, 5,716 came from the US, 726 came from Canada, 666 from the UK, 257 came from China, and nearly equivalent numbers (35 vs 37) came from Singapore vs Mexico. All told, attendees came from 84 countries in total and they’re mapped out below courtesy of my department’s Cartography Lab. Needless to say this map highlights a highly uneven pattern of attendance with curiosities such as why are there so few geographers from nearby Mexico at the event, or why are more Canada-based geographers attending the AAG versus than annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Geographers (nearly 400 will be attending that event in lovely Vancouver shortly).

AAG2015-01This year’s AAG conference received a lot of very positive feedback (e.g., see posts by Jeremy Crampton and Rachel Squire) in part because of the nature of how well the event was organized, the scale of the event (the largest ever, meaning people are finally accepting it for what it is versus wishing it were a smaller & easy-to-manage gathering), and the iconic setting of downtown Chicago.

Coincidentally, in the weeks after the AAG conference, some interesting debates emerged about academic conferences more broadly, stirred up by Christy Wampole’s ‘The conference manifesto’ (New York Times, 4 May 2015) – see here for two of these reactions:

Christy Wampole’s response, appropriately titled ‘Response to Responses to “The Conference Manifesto“‘ is worth a read too.

While the debate about Wampole’s opinion piece is fascinating, if a little humanities-centric, I was more struck by the similarly timed debate about the impact of a mobile app (Twitter’s Periscope) on the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Manny Pacquiao boxing match. See, for example:

IMG_4924Periscope is a “teleportation device” – a mobile app that allows anyone to broadcast what they’re experiencing, and anyone with a link to the stream to watch, for free.

Now mobile phones were abundant at this year’s AAG – I’ve never seen so many people wandering around like zombies, staring at their screens while almost tumbling down Hyatt Regency escalators. And the emergence of new apps like Periscope means that anyone at the next AAG annual conference (or any other conference for that matter, including the forthcoming #CAG2015 & the #RGSIBG2015) can stream keynotes, panel discussions, individual presentations, post session squabbles/debates, etc. Comments and color-coded hearts can be posted on streams, recordings and/or replays are possible, and so on. Are we all ready for this? I’m not so sure…

So, my preliminary read of things is this:

1) Most disciplinary associations are already behind the ball with respect to live streaming conference sessions, even keynote/plenary sessions, on platforms such as YouTube. Some keynotes or prominent panels are recorded and posted, though in highly variable patterns. In short, most academic associations lack the capabilities to strategically think through and adjust to the demand for live and on-demand video and audio (e.g., via SoundCloud).

2) Given (1), most disciplinary associations have limited capability to cope with what happened in the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Manny Pacquiao boxing match – individualized live-streaming, via mobile apps, of performances.

3) Faculty, postdocs and graduate students may, for good and/or bad, be increasingly live streamed in their sessions. Who knows, for example, who’s just taking a photograph of a session or else live-streaming an entire talk. How will speakers message out their desire not to be recorded? Do associations need to “ask speakers to explicitly label if they don’t want content tweeted” (or periscoped) or put symbols on slides “with data not for dissemination“? Will specialty groups, like the Economic Geography Specialty Group (EGSG) that I recently chaired, coordinate streaming of select sessions? Will/can/should these recordings be archived and assembled into a disciplinary-specific content repository, effectively morphing conference sessions into open educational resources (OERs) for use in courses?

4) The broader implications of mobile app-based streaming has yet to be thought through. If this phenomenon takes off will this open up access to conferences and better serve members of associations? Will this enhance or reduce prospective national and global demand to attend conferences once people see talks, dialogues, etc., including some like the sessions/conference practices critiqued by Christy Wampole in ‘The conference manifesto’? Will streaming enhance access to sessions for those with limited resources to travel all the way to an expensive city like Chicago, and/or will it enhance anxiety re. missing out (assuming the streamed sessions are indeed high quality)? And will this phenomenon ramp up the use of Twitter in academia?

These are but a few preliminary thoughts on the potential implications of video streaming mobile apps for academic conferences. We’re unlikely to see the same types of debates about video piracy as those associated with high profile boxing and other sporting events, but academics and our associations are not immune from the potentially unsettling/exciting dynamics of a sea of free ‘teleporting technologies,’ downloaded in mobile phones, digitizing our bodies, voices, and ideas, for anyone who has access to the associated feed.

 Kris Olds

Why no MOOCs on Gaza?

Note: the Inside Higher Ed version of this entry is available here.


I don’t know about you, but my sense is global politics seems to be on the up this summer regarding turmoil and debate. And, consequently, there is a lot of debate about conflicts in places like the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and so on.

In this context I watched some fascinating, if depressing, documentaries last night on PBS’ Frontline. They focused on Syria and Iraq and were relatively well done, helping me to learn more about these complex countries and their associated conflicts.

While I’m lucky enough to get PBS on TV, many people are not, both here in the US and abroad. Moreover, even though the Frontline shows were longish documentaries, the one on Iraq (‘Losing Iraq‘) was only 84 minutes; a length of time requiring focus and exclusion, especially regarding material on historical context, as well as the differing standpoints on the same issue or debate.

Now I know there are some fantastic courses and deeply knowledgeable experts in research universities regarding these ongoing conflicts and complex places.  And MOOC platforms are, as we now know, structurally biased in favor of partnering with highly ranked research universities. Aha, I thought, what a perfect role for MOOCS — 3 or 5 or 8 weeks worth of rigorous analysis and facilitated deep learning via free and easily accessible MOOCs! The perfect complement to quickfire media coverage, often uncontexualized and implicitly biased in one direction or another.

My search, though, for MOOCs on Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Gaza came up with…nothing. Zip.

Admittedly I was held back by the absence of effective content search functions on the majority of MOOC platform sites.  There is virtually no capacity to search through content by keyword, at least as far as I can see. Here is how select MOOC platforms deal with curious prospective students:

  • Coursera: you can only search by course title, broad topics (e.g., social psychology), and partner university names
  • EdX: you are only provided with a drop-down menu on topics (e.g., Computer Science, Law, Social Sciences)
  • FutureLearn: you can only browse by course title
  • iversity: you browse or search by course title

Only Udacity allows keyword searching in a very easy to use way. But Udacity is not the type of platform to serve up social science or humanities MOOCs that are most likely to deal with these places and their associated conflicts.

But I digress so back to my main point in this entry: where are the MOOCs on Gaza? Where are the MOOCs on Iraq? Etc., etc.

These are not insignificant places and conflicts. And to be sure handling vigorous student participation would require great planning and focus. But there is, arguably, a real need for public service to enhance deep learning on complex events versus generic or broad disciplinary takes (e.g., international relations). I suspect a lot of people (alumni included!) would benefit from engaging with a well planned and executed MOOC on the history and politics of Gaza & Israel right now.

Are universities with MOOC initiatives just searching for low-hanging fruit (i.e. existing broad undergraduate courses that can be morphed into MOOCs)? Are universities and professors just risk averse regarding potentially controversial ‘open online’ course topics? Are MOOCs the equivalent of taste-testers (at food festivals) for university courses and programs, a charge I’ve often heard directed at one MOOC platform. Perhaps the international collaborative potential of MOOC platforms has not been recognized, yet, and relevant professors and researchers in various countries/universities/think tanks have not yet worked together to create the ideal MOOCs on these places and associated conflicts?

Or maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree and I should just be satisfied with quality non-fiction books, TV stations like PBS, and some periodically good coverage in select media outlets?

Kris Olds



How Open is Finnish Higher Education?

Editor’s note: While the globalization of higher education and research is a process associated with the enhanced mobility of faculty, staff, and students, the frictions shaping the process are many. They include not just regulations related to skilled migration, but also a myriad of less tangible frictions, including the unwritten taken-for-granted assumptions about how job search processes operate.  I remember applying for two jobs in Sweden in the late 1990s and was surprised to learn that the jobs would be offered with no expectation of a visit to give a talk, meet colleagues, or check out the local housing market. In the end, the entire Swedish faculty search process was conducted via courier and email; not even a telephone call was in the books. Everyone knew everyone else, so it seemed, with the search procedure built upon assumptions of a very small national labour market and dense local networks to draw upon. In contrast, the US & UK academic labour markets, at least in the discipline of Geography, were and are remarkably open, with the expectation (in the US) of a 48 hour visit, complete with a talk, meetings with faculty, meetings with staff, meetings with graduate students, and offers of a tour of the host city. And we do this for all short-listed candidates, regardless of nationality. As a department chair here in Madison, I have to coordinate these and while they are exhausting for all parties involved, they help us assess each other, and are built on an assumption we need to court candidates and do our best to communicate what we have on offer. Coordinating searches this way also signifies that a faculty search is indeed a search, an open event where, yes, only one person will be hired, but also that everyone who applies will be fairly considered.

It is in such a context that we’re pleased to post this guest entry by Dr. Gareth Rice. Dr. Rice is a freelance journalist at various magazines and newspapers, including National Geographic Traveler, Monocle, Times Higher Education, Runway, Wonderland, The Skinny, Counterpunch, Global Politics, Helsingin Sanomat, and Helsinki Times. He is also a lecturer in Geography at Helsinki University and Open University, Finland/Avoinyliopisto. His Twitter feed is located at @belfastnomad. Our thanks to Dr. Rice for his insights and interest in engendering discussion and debate on this important topic.

Kris Olds

ps: Please link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this entry.



How Open is Finnish Higher Education?

By Dr. Gareth Rice

I had been sufficiently impressed by the work of some Finnish geographers, though I knew little about the Nordic country’s higher education system before I accepted the position of postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki in December 2007.

I had been bent on visiting Finland for as long as I can remember. The country, its people and their culture intrigued me. Before 2008 the closest I had been to Finland was reading a school geography atlas. I spent hours studying the figures and photographs thinking that if I stared at them for long enough and longingly enough I would, by some means of teleportation, be transported into their beauty and silence.

I eventually relocated from the UK to Helsinki in April 2008. I appreciated the space I was given in the Department of Geosciences and Geography: a big corner desk in a shared office with three other Finnish researchers. I had time to work on my publications and I also received helpful tips on where to apply for more funding – my postdoc was fixed term for two years. I was also asked to offer some teaching in English to mainly Erasmus students. This was a great experience. It enabled me to engage in fruitful discussions with Finnish and other students from a number of different countries. The feedback on my teaching was generally very positive. My line manager was pleased with my work, told me that I was good for the university’s ambition to “become more international.” I also got positive vibes from my colleagues. I felt valued.

For the first six months I made a concerted effort to learn about Finland’s history and to appreciate its culture and etiquette. I became fascinated by the folklore and mythology in The Kalevala, the epic Finnish poem. I quickly saw that the Finns were good at many things (I have never needed to whip out my Finnish dictionary out of my pocket and embarrass myself with villainous Finnish: most Finns, at least those who live in Helsinki, speak very good English) but not at getting back to me. It’s that silence again, so notorious that even the Finns themselves make jokes about it. The silence can be trying for those who, say, want to get feedback on their unsuccessful job applications.

As a guest in Finland I promised myself that I would try not to complain about how the Finns run their country, but complaining is instinctive, and almost every foreigner living in Finland has, I am sure, done it at least once. How unreactive I once was; how frustrated now! My patience has since been worn down over the years and is now threadbare.

At the start of 2009, I began making plans to become a permanent fixture in the Finnish higher education system. I started by asking about contracts in my own department – more on this later – and approaching other departments within the faculty. There was nothing available at the time. Thankfully in December of 2009 I was informed that I would receive one year’s research funding from the Kone Foundation in Helsinki. This was slightly less money than my previous faculty postdoc position, but funding is funding and besides, I didn’t think it wise to have a gap on my CV.

Before my Kone funding ran out in April 2011, I had already applied for more funding to various Finnish funding bodies so that I could continue with the same research. None were successful. This was my first taste of how life in Finnish academia was going to pan out over the next few years. I also continued to look for permanent academic contracts in universities throughout Finland. I was prepared to move north to Oulu or Rovaniemi to the University of Lapland. How lovely it would have been to have lived so close to the Santa Claus Village! Instead I was only offered part-time teaching in southern Finland. Departments ‘bought in’ my courses for the eight weeks which they each lasted. I delivered high quality lectures – again the student feedback is testament to this – in my own department, the University of Helsinki Summer School and night classes at the Finnish Open University. I had no holiday pay or health insurance like the full time and permanent staff.

When one applies for academic posts in UK universities they can expect to be informed about the outcome of their applications, even if they are unsuccessful. Finnish universities do not work in this way. Finns do everything in silence. Applicants have no idea what happens to their paperwork after they submit it. When you ask the decision makers for feedback you feel like you are unnecessarily hassling them. You are met with silence. I suggested to a Finnish colleague that this silence might be viewed as discourteous to the applicants. My colleague informed me that Finns would rather not be seen to be rejecting people, “we would rather not be ones to say no.” I remember thinking at the time that keeping people in the dark about an issue as important as employment was furtive and thus a more frustrating type of rejection.

There has been some progress in opening up the Finnish Higher education system to more foreign academic talent, but progress has been slow. To get a sense of this, I emailed all universities in Finland and asked them for statistics on numbers of foreign staff. The University of Turku reflects the national picture. Out of its 500 academic staff currently holding permanent contracts, only 21 are not Finnish citizens and only 8 have a mother tongue other than Finnish, Swedish or Sámi. I have lost count of the number of brilliant foreign academics who have upped and left this supposedly fair and open Nordic country because they are made to feel belittled and marginalised by a system apparently designed to guarantee that Finns progress the fastest.

I have wondered about these statistics and similar ones before them. After doing some digging and speaking to academic colleagues based at different Finnish universities, I was left with four different explanations. The first is the Finnish language; without speaking, or at least being able to read it so much of the country’s higher education system and wider culture is closed off to the foreigner. Secondly, Finns feel more comfortable to appoint their ‘their own’ over foreigners, irrespective of talent. Thirdly, there are some Finns who believe that they are more entitled to permanent academic contracts in Finland simply because it is ‘their’ country and that knowledge should be reproduced in certain ways. Finally, and this was most surprising to me, Finnish academics feel insecure and don’t wish to be challenged by foreign scholars, who may eventually come to undermine them.

In December 2013, I was excited to see an advert for a permanent lectureship in my own department. I remember the words “open” and “international” being used in the advert for the post. It had been a long time coming and due to the absence of a proper contract I had thought about leaving Finland earlier that year. I was encouraged to apply by my line manager, who also acted as a referee, namely because my contribution to the department was valued and, I was told, “important.” The advert also said that, teaching and publications were to be in English and that whoever was appointed should have learned Finnish to the required level within five years from their start date. Excellent! Although I was struggling with the Finnish language, this sounded fair enough and doable to me. I submitted a strong application before heading up north to Oulu to celebrate Christmas with my Finnish partner and her father.

I knew three of the nineteen candidates who had also applied for the permanent lectureship: a Greek, an Italian and my Finnish colleague, who had just completed their PhD. I hadn’t heard anything for over two months so at the end of February 2014 I stopped by the Head of Department’s office – I was still working on a part-time teaching contract at the time – to ask when the outcome might be known. It was impossible to tell from his deadpan face that my Finnish colleague had already been interviewed at the end of January 2014 and was, I think, already lined up for the lectureship.

I thought it unusual that I first received the official correspondence about the lectureship from one of the other candidates. The letter stated that my Finnish colleague was to be appointed. Congratulations! But I remember thinking how odd that the letter had only been prepared in Finnish for a post which the Head of Department had told me was “totally open” and that the search had been international in scope. Also, most scholars would agree that it is near impossible to walk straight out of a PhD into a permanent lectureship, especially when one is up against international competition with more experience. I emailed the Head of Department and asked to see how the nineteen candidates had been ranked, at least in terms of teaching contact hours, years of research experience and publications in international journals. According to his email, sent to me on 3rd March 2014, there was no ranking: “Unfortunately, the statement you received is all what you can get. This was a strategic recruitment, where we hired a qualified person with strong existing ties to the research group…”

It would be unfair of me not to mention that there has been some progress in opening up the Finnish Higher education system to more foreign academic talent. Highlights include a snatch of Professorial appointments: Sarah Green in the Department of Social Research at the University of Helsinki, John Moore at the University of Lapland and Craig Primmer at the University of Turku are cases in point. The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers is doing its best to ensure fair play in the Finnish academic community. The systemic changes are, however, happening much too slowly. I have lost count of the number of brilliant foreign academics who have up and left Finland (a measure which you will not find in Finnish statistics) because, they are made to feel belittled and marginalised by the Finnish oligarchy who ultimately decide who gets appointed. “If you create an elite you are saying that not everyone can achieve their ultimate goals” as the Scottish writer Irvine Welsh put in his recent piece for Prospect. Who could blame those foreign academics for thinking that the Finnish higher education system is designed to guarantee that Finns “progress” the fastest, and end up in the most senior positions? This, of course, also impacts upon Finnish academics, especially females, who are more likely to not be favoured by the decision makers when compared with their male colleagues.

This doesn’t feel like the Finland I read about in that geography atlas all those years ago. It was more like a country which has allowed a myth of being open and fair to congeal and coagulate around its borders; a country where reverence is at its most unshakeable between Finns, who seem generally indifferent to the talents and academic credentials of foreigners; hierarchal higher education which turns on hereditary principles that ensure that elites continue to be grandfathered into the system. But still I am grateful to the Finnish higher education system for the many things it has revealed to me. The most important of these was succinctly put by Michael Ignatieff in his insightful memoir Fire and Ashes: “When you live in other people’s countries, you eventually bang up against glass doors and cordoned-off areas reserved for insiders. You realize you understand only what the insiders say, not what they really mean.”

A MOOC on Globalizing Higher Education and Research

Editors’ note: today’s blog entry is also available on Inside Higher Ed at

This entry is a slightly revised version of a new article in the International Association of UniversitiesHorizons‘ magazine (June 2014). The English version of Horizons is available at: and more specifically at: Horizons Vol.20.1 [EN_web].pdf . The French version is available at:ître-0 et plus précisément à: Horizons Vol.20.1 [FR_web].pdf. Our thanks to Hilligje van’t Land for the invitation to develop this article. It’s worth taking a look at the whole issue of Horizons, by the way, as it has an ‘In Focus’ section on ICTs in Education – Revolution or Evolution?.

Please note that our MOOC is freely available for perusal at until the end of August 2014, even if you never registered to take the course. Once you register, all commissioned visualizations, PDFs of the text, and SoundCloud-based podcasts embedded in the MOOC, can be freely reviewed and even shared until the course site is shut down on 1 September. The course content was presented in the following fashion:

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

Week 1: Universities (Starting Monday 24 March)
Keywords: collaboration, competition, global competency, globalization, internationalization, learning, logics, mechanisms, mission, mobility, models, technology
Week 2: City-regions (Starting Monday 31 March)
Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, cities, city-regions, competition, hubs, gateway cities, global cities, innovation systems, liberal arts colleges, mobility, R&D, networks, urbanization.
Week 3: Nations (Starting Monday 7 April)
Keywords: competition, denationalization, exports, mobility, nation-state, revenue, services, students
Week 4: Regions (Starting Monday 14 April)
Keywords: collaboration, competition, geopolitics, higher education areas, interregionalism, regionalism
Week 5: Globals (Starting Monday 21 April)
Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, competition, desectoralization, framing, governance, hegemony, knowledge, intergovernmental organizations, publishing, R&D, rankings, thinkers
Week 6: World Class (Starting Monday 28 April)
Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, bibliometrics, competition, desectoralization, governance, metrics, models, world class universities, world university rankings
Week 7: Singapore (Starting Monday 5 May)
Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, city-state, competition, developmental state, global cities, hubs, innovation systems, nation-states, networks, R&D, rankings, regionalism, services

Kris & Susan


We’ve just done our first massive open online course (MOOC)! Not as a participant – we might add – but imagining, making and delivering it over a seven week period this spring to some 18,400 participants. And what a ride this has been.

We, or perhaps we should say Kris, first broached the subject. What about doing a MOOC on globalising higher education? Our dive into the global/digital/public world had its genesis in 2008 and the GlobalHigherEd blog – now in its 6th year and notching up steadily toward ¾ million hits, as well as an associated Twitter feed: For a specialist subject – we’ve been constantly impressed with the level of interest in global higher education developments. And it is a sufficiently fast moving scene – to keep us busy, if not dizzy, with what we think it is worth sharing with others.

The move into the MOOC world felt a natural step. But thinking about it from this end of the experience – with the last class completed, it was also a huge step change in what needs to be in place in order to do it well. To begin – you need not just a level of expertise in your subject, but a very good team of educational technology experts around you that can help you translate your expertise into the formats that will make for a great learning experience. And we had that in spades via the University of Wisconsin-Madison, for which we are hugely grateful. Our MOOC was also somewhat unusual as we were two colleagues who have historically worked together on globalising higher education developments, but an ocean separated us. Learning to communicate over a distance, moving ideas and material back and forth, took both skill and trust. This process involved not just ourselves, but a whole crew of people as they stepped into to help us sort aspects of the development of the MOOC out.

But it was unusual from a different angle. Early on we decided that we wanted a text-based MOOC. Our reasons for this were that we wanted it to be accessible to as global an audience as was possible; we did not want bandwidth for instance to be an issue. We also felt that we could more easily update the content going into the future, rather than be faced with high costs of rerecording a video to take in new developments or evidence. We tried to imagine who might take our class — a busy administrator? Perhaps a university president or rector? Or journalist? — where being able to print the text off, or download it on a mobile device, and read it when on a daily journey, might make more sense. We were also quite taken with recent experiments by the New York Times – of extended essays, with movies, podcasts and other moving parts embedded. We liked the look and feel of these efforts and wanted to see how far we could emulate this kind of format. We also wanted a MOOC that was an open access global commons, and a resource to think with and borrow from.

Saying yes, and diving in to deliver each week are two quite different questions. Yes, meant talking though the how, formats, imagining the students, how might we work together and so on. Doing it meant crafting each week, commissioning visual material, recording podcasts with experts around the world (including IAU-ers Eva Egron Polak, Goolam Mohamedbhai, and Madeleine Green) and getting these transcribed, playing around with writing styles to ensure rigor of science but accessibility of ideas, thinking of challenging assessments, poking our nose into discussion forums and threads to engage as far as we could with our participants, and encouraging them from week to week to challenge each other around issues – from global research footprints to global competencies, national exporting strategies of countries around higher education, region building, and world class rankings. It meant monitoring issues like plagiarism from week to week.

We’ve finished now, and are really pleased with our efforts. This is not to say that we got it all right. But it is to say that we also know what things we would like to do differently in the future, and what new issues we would like to address. Our focus on the edges of innovation in higher education took us to the experimental, at times dazzling investments – like the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, and the emerging CUSP experiment in New York. This focus meant we tended not to spend as much time on the huge efforts that go into delivering higher education to an extraordinary number of students day after day – such as the community colleges. We aim to rectify this gap in any future rendition of the course.

But already we are receiving emails of thanks from course participants – who thank us for helping them think through their work in ways that have made a difference to them and their understanding. We’re thrilled by this, as this is the great privilege we have as university academics. The MOOC helped us experiment with reconfiguring the in/out boundaries of the university; it provided us with an opportunity share our expertise with others, whilst at the same time being hugely aware that there is also a great deal for us to learn.

 Susan Robertson (University of Bristol, UK) & Kris Olds (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)



Universities 2030: Learning from the Past to Anticipate the Future

Editors’ note: we’re pleased to post a ‘long read,’ but a good and worthwhile read, consisting of a series of informed reflections about the future of the university from an historical perspective. Universities 2030: Learning from the Past to Anticipate the Future, was coordinated and co-edited by our colleague Adam Nelson (Professor, Educational Policy Studies and History, University of Wisconsin-Madison). I asked Adam to explain more about how this material came together, so let’s pass it over to him! Kris Olds & Susan L. Robertson

Adam Nelson: In the spring of 2013, the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) commissioned a report to help university leaders think about the future of higher education. In response, I convened a group of leading historians from around the world to consider how universities in the past had responded to major periods of change. Specifically, I asked each to write a brief essay identifying a “key moment” in the internationalization of higher education: a moment when universities responded to new historical circumstances by reorienting their relationship with the broader world. What follows is the commissioned report, produced with significant assistance from Nick Strohl, a PhD candidate in History and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you would prefer to download a PDF version of the report, please link here. We wish to thank WUN for supporting historical research in the field of higher education.

Please link here for an Inside Higher Ed version should you wish to print or more easily share this entry.



Universities 2030: Learning from the Past to Anticipate the Future

Edited by

Adam R. Nelson & Nicholas M. Strohl (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

A commissioned report prepared for the Global Higher Education and Research (GHEAR) project, Worldwide Universities Network



Tamson Pietsch, Brunel University (UNITED KINGDOM)

Glen A. Jones, University of Toronto (CANADA)

Geoffrey Sherington, University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)

Renato H. L. Pedrosa, University of Campinas (BRAZIL)

Christopher P. Loss, Vanderbilt University (UNITED STATES)

 Shen Wenqin, Peking University (CHINA)

Gilsun Song, Zhejiang University (CHINA)

Yang Rui, University of Hong Kong (CHINA)

Justin J. W. Powell, University of Luxembourg (LUXEMBOURG)



What will the landscape of international higher education look like a generation from now? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for universities, especially “global” research universities? And what can university leaders do to prepare for the major social, economic, and political changes—both foreseen and unforeseen—that may be on the horizon? The nine essays in this collection proceed on the premise that one way to envision “the global university” of the future is to explore how earlier generations of university leaders prepared for “global” change—or at least responded to change—in the past. As the essays in this collection attest, many of the patterns associated with contemporary “globalization” or “internationalization” are not new; similar processes have been underway for a long time (some would say for centuries).[1] A comparative-historical look at universities’ responses to global change can help today’s higher-education leaders prepare for the future.

Written by leading historians of higher education from around the world, these nine essays identify “key moments” in the internationalization of higher education: moments when universities and university leaders responded to new historical circumstances by reorienting their relationship with the broader world. Covering more than a century of change—from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first—they explore different approaches to internationalization across Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. Notably, while the choice of historical eras was left entirely open, the essays converged around four periods: the 1880s and the international extension of the “modern research university” model; the 1930s and universities’ attempts to cope with international financial and political crises; the 1960s and universities’ role in an emerging postcolonial international development apparatus; and the 2000s and the rise of neoliberal efforts to reform universities in the name of international economic “competitiveness.”

Each of these four periods saw universities adopt new approaches to internationalization in response to major historical-structural changes, and each has clear parallels to today. Among the most important historical-structural challenges that universities confronted were: (1) fluctuating enrollments and funding resources associated with global economic booms and busts; (2) new modes of transportation and communication that facilitated mobility (among students, scholars, and knowledge itself); (3) increasing demands for applied science, technical expertise, and commercial innovation; and (4) ideological reconfigurations accompanying regime changes (e.g., from one internal regime to another, from colonialism to postcolonialism, from the cold war to globalized capitalism, etc.). Like universities today, universities in the past responded to major historical-structural changes by internationalizing: by joining forces across space to meet new expectations and solve problems on an ever-widening scale.

Approaches to internationalization have typically built on prior cultural or institutional ties. In general, only when the benefits of existing ties had been exhausted did universities reach out to foreign (or less familiar) partners. As one might expect, this process of “reaching out” has stretched universities’ traditional cultural, political, and/or intellectual bonds and has invariably presented challenges, particularly when national priorities have differed—for example, with respect to curricular programs, governance structures, norms of academic freedom, etc. Strategies of university internationalization that either ignore or downplay cultural, political, or intellectual differences often fail, especially when the pursuit of new international connections is perceived to weaken national ties. If the essays in this collection agree on anything, they agree that approaches to internationalization that seem to “de-nationalize” the university usually do not succeed (at least not for long).

A Brief Overview of the Essays

The first essay in this collection takes us back to a moment in the late nineteenth century when British “settler” universities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa entered a period of transition. As Tamson Pietsch explains, settler universities were built to serve local needs, but by the 1870s and 1880s, it was clear that their success would hinge both on their responsiveness to local conditions and to the changing shape of “universal” science and learning. Reliant on local constituencies for students (and provincial governments for revenue), they expanded their curricula to meet new demands and opened their doors to new populations—especially women and the middle classes. At the same time, as a revolution in science, technology, and commerce began to reshape the form and content of “the higher learning,” settler universities invested in programs that would connect their staff and students to international networks.

Fast-growing economies brought new expectations to universities as local and provincial governments pledged more resources in exchange for more “applied” work. Yet, even as settler universities such as McGill, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, and Cape Town began to expand, their “internationalization” remained a British internationalization. Ties with the empire took priority. In the 1880s, the University of Toronto had closer ties with Cambridge, England (3,500 miles away), than Cambridge, Massachusetts (500 miles away). Cultural and intellectual bonds, often maintained through close personal relationships, guided the process of “reaching out.” Thus, even while settler universities expanded their student numbers, scholarly networks, and scientific productivity, their international orientation remained (as it were) “close to home.”

Imperial bonds among British settler institutions grounded collaborations well into the next century. Glen Jones highlights a “key moment” in 1911 when Canada’s universities joined representatives from the University of London for a meeting in Montreal to build support for the first “Congress of the Universities of the Empire,” to be held in London the following year. Just as settler universities had drawn on colonial ties, Jones describes the Congress meetings as “large family reunions where distant relatives could exchange information on current events and work out possible solutions to common problems.” Much like the American Association of Universities (which was founded in 1900 and added McGill and Toronto in 1926), the new Congress laid the groundwork for subsequent collaborations and helped member institutions negotiate a shift from “empire” to “commonwealth.” Following close on the heels of the landmark Imperial Conferences of 1907 and 1911, it compensated for greater national independence by reinforcing historic ties.

University consortia seemed the way of the future. Persisting through economic depression and war (as well as the dissolution of the empire), the later-renamed Association of Commonwealth Universities successfully navigated a transition from imperialist to internationalist justifications for university cooperation. Members coordinated admissions standards, discussed research priorities, and shared resources where possible. Through its publications, the association helped to codify the study of higher education at a time when this field was just starting to coalesce. By the 1950s and 1960s, as regional university consortia began to arise in Asia (e.g., the Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning, founded in 1956) and the United States (e.g., the Midwest Universities’ Consortium on International Affairs, founded in 1964), the Association of Commonwealth Universities built on a sense of cultural solidarity to bolster collective strengths. At the heart of its success was its members’ recognition that, in the increasingly complex, competitive, and interconnected world of the future, universities would have to collaborate across continents.

This is not to say that members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities allowed international collaborations to overshadow national priorities, nor that international partnerships were limited to Commonwealth members. On the contrary, as Geoffrey Sherington’s portrait of the University of Sydney in 1930 reveals, national aims still took precedence even as international partnerships extended far and wide. Sydney, a settler university established in 1850, was meant to serve provincial and national needs through a comprehensive program of teaching and research. By the 1920s, however, the cost of the university’s steady growth had outpaced its revenue from state grants, philanthropic endowments, and student fees. By 1930, Sherington notes, the university was “almost bankrupt.” Its response to financial difficulty was significant: during the economic crisis of the 1930s, as out-of-work students sought admission in record numbers, the university expanded (whereas universities elsewhere in the world contracted). More students brought more tuition, and the university adapted to meet new demands for applied fields of study.

Expansion affected not only Sydney’s undergraduate curriculum but also its postgraduate research programs. Both the provincial and the national government—together with international donors—helped the university create new chairs to advance economic (and geostrategic) interests. Post-World War I geopolitics had given Australia more regional influence, and U.S. philanthropic organizations(including the Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation) partnered with the Australian state to support research to advance economic development—as well as cultural understanding and political stability in the broader Southwestern Pacific zone. The fact that funds came from America indicated not only shifting contours of power in the 1930s but also Sydney’s willingness to be creative about financial support. Sydney’s internationally trained vice chancellor, Robert Strachan Wallace, framed the university’s foreign partnerships as a way simultaneously to serve provincial, national, regional, and international aims.

Just as Sherington follows reforms at Sydney from the 1930s to the present, Renato H.L. Pedrosa follows the history of the University of São Paulo in Brazil during the same period. The differences between these institutions’ approaches to internationalization amidst financial crisis shed light on the role of national context in shaping university development. In the case of Brazil, global economic shifts had begun to alter domestic politics as early as the 1920s, when international competition drove down the price of Brazilian coffee. The state of São Paulo, a center of coffee production, found itself gradually losing political and commercial influence. After the disputed presidential election of 1930, when São Paulo’s winning candidate was ousted by the authoritarian Getúlio Vargas, a small cadre of intellectuals persuaded São Paulo’s governor to found a modern university in the state capital. According to Pedrosa, the establishment of the University of São Paulo marked a “key moment” in the history of Brazilian higher education not only because it was the country’s first comprehensive research university but also because it represented a sharp contrast to Vargas-style nationalist modernization.

Whereas the heavy-handed Vargas imposed (quasi-fascist) nationalism and centralized governance on Brazil’s emerging system of federal universities—as well as other state-controlled institutions and industries—the University of São Paulo offered a competing model of liberal internationalism and decentralized governance. With help from a wide variety of foreign (mostly European and American) scholars, the University of São Paulo held that a new scientific cosmopolitan approach to higher education would modernize the Brazilian state and prepare the nation for its future. Unlike the universities controlled by Vargas (and his successors), the University of São Paulo looked outward rather than inward; it rejected Vargas’s “hyper-nationalization” and, instead, framed “internationalization” as the key to local, provincial, and ultimately national strength. The strategy worked. The University of São Paulo out-lasted Vargas to become the leading research university not only in Brazil but in all of Latin America.

Already by the 1950s and 1960s, the University of São Paulo had become a model for other universities across Brazil, some of which received financial support from the U.S. government and from U.S. philanthropic foundations (notably the Ford Foundation), which invested millions of dollars in higher education in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and other countries as part of a broader agenda of international development tied to cold-war geopolitics.[2] By the 1960s, a new approach to internationalization had taken root in many Latin American universities: one guided by the pursuit of external financial support. While the idea of external support was hardly new, foreign aid took on more interventionist forms in the context of the cold war. The principal difference between U.S. support for Australian higher education in the 1930s and U.S. support for Latin American higher education in the 1960s was that Australian universities retained more control over institutional agenda-setting while Latin American universities increasingly allowed foreign partners to dictate the process of “reform.”

The result, as Christopher Loss shows in his essay “Cambridge Meets Ciudad Guayana,” sometimes led to a perceived “de-nationalization” of scholarship allegedly intended to advance national development. Ciudad Guayana provides a case in point. With technical assistance from the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies (funded by the Ford Foundation), the government of Venezuela set out to build, de novo, a planned industrial city in Venezuela’s oil-rich Guayana region. Just as the province of São Paulo had looked to foreign academics to catalyze regional development, so did Venezuela. But the result was not what the government had bargained for: plans for the “slumless city” were soon frustrated by the rise of squatter settlements, construction glitches, and other unforeseen problems. Even as “Ciudad Guayana” became a textbook case for students at Harvard and MIT, it offered a cautionary tale about the dangers of positivist social science that sought to generalize theory without adequately understanding local context. In this case, “de-nationalized” scholarship did little to serve the cause of Venezuela’s development for the future.

Concerns about the “de-nationalization” of scholarship guide the next three essays in this collection, all on the history of higher education in China. In “Foreign Influences, Nationalism, and the Founding of Modern Chinese Universities, 1917-1927,” Shen Wenqin explores an early attempt to import the philosophy and practices of Western (especially German) research universities during the first years of the Republic of China. Leaders such as Cai Yuanpei, who had studied in Germany, worked hard during the 1910s and 1920s to reform Chinese higher education along Western lines. He encouraged a greater focus on scientific research and specialized knowledge as well as faculty-centered models of academic governance. Within ten years—from 1917 to 1927—China either founded or reformed several universities, including Cai’s own Peking University, that borrowed from Western examples.

Here as elsewhere, however, the broader context was crucial. After the Western powers had suppressed the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the twentieth century, many in China felt their country had been humiliated. Cai, along with Chen Duxiu and other members of the New Culture Movement, sought alternatives to Confucian training and looked for inspiration to Western ideas of science and democracy. Particularly after World War I (when, to China’s dismay, Shandong territories were transferred from German to Japanese control), the New Culture Movement called for a reassertion of Chinese rights and national sovereignty. Informed by foreign visitors such as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, the movement combined internationalism with nationalism to forge a new Chinese identity. Some of its members, seeing themselves as modern cosmopolitans, had, by the early 1920s, embraced revolutionary conceptions of communist internationalism as the key to China’s future.

Within a few years, however, the New Culture Movement began to fray. Although there was general agreement on the need for modern science (and modern universities that were open to competing political views), some maintained that U.S.-oriented liberal internationalism could help to create a new China while others, inspired by the Soviet model, warned against too-eager integration with the West. This split came to a head in the anti-western Nationalist revolution of 1925-1928. Before the revolution, copying western university models had been cast as a way to use foreign expertise to build a future leadership cadre; internationalization, in short, was seen as a productive force for future national development. After the revolution, this dynamic changed. Supported by Soviet aid, revolutionaries attacked western embassies and commercial interests and eventually consolidated power under Chiang Kai-Shek. By the 1930s, Cai’s earlier view of German and American universities as models for China was subject to increasing debate.

Cai died in 1940, but the debate between nationalism and internationalism continued in Chinese universities. The revolution of 1949, led by Mao Zedong (once a New Culture adherent), did not end these debates. With the rise of the Communist regime, Chinese university officials pursued new strategies of internationalization to prepare for the future. In “Government-Backed Study Abroad and the Internationalization of Chinese Higher Education, 1945-1985,” Gilsun Song notes that, after the revolution, Chinese leaders actively fostered international collaborations with Communist allies (particularly with the Soviet Union). Study-abroad programs became a prefer-red means of borrowing foreign ideas and practices. In keeping with the (global) postwar focus on economic reconstruction, university partnerships were geared toward building research capacity among Chinese scholars in science and technology.

On the one hand, the internationalization of Chinese universities in this period resembled that of western universities, in that scholarly exchanges connected politically allied countries to build technical expertise and system capacity. On the other hand, Chinese ideology during this era shunned the liberal-cosmopolitanism of western universities as “bourgeois” and, thus, anti-revolutionary. This framing was carried to extremes during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when all foreign exchange ceased and those who had studied abroad were persecuted. Here was a moment in which internationalization per se was fundamentally—indeed violently—rejected. A key element marking the end of the Cultural Revolution was the return of “internationalization” with a series of state policies to send Chinese students abroad, policies that culminated in the great “opening” of 1978. University (chiefly postgraduate) exchanges with the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, England, Canada, and other countries marked a new era of internationalization, with a renewed emphasis on economic development.

While many Chinese academics went abroad in the 1970s and 1980s to study the natural sciences, Song notes that a far greater number went to study foreign languages and cultures. What distinguished these academics from their New Culture predecessors a half-century earlier was the political context to which they returned: a shift from culture to capital as the basic orientation of Chinese internationalization frames Yang Rui’s essay, “Long Road Ahead: Modernizing Chinese Universities.” Stressing the longue durée, Yang offers a cautionary tale about the challenges of adopting foreign university models without a clear understanding of how they might (or might not) coexist with established customs. Yang notes, for instance, that China’s ancient tradition of higher education in service to the state has coexisted awkwardly with the Western university’s emphasis on institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Are these different traditions compatible? What sorts of “integration” might be possible? What approaches to internationalization might help China avoid the dangers of “de-nationalized” scholarship? Yang questions China’s recent efforts to adopt Western educational practices with an eye toward improving international league standings. He asks whether these “rankings” are even relevant to national or local needs—and he is not alone. Geoffrey Sherington notes that, in the context of neoliberal reform, the University of Sydney’s “public mission” has been gradually “supplanted by the perception of Australia’s universities as part of a global market dependent for survival on [international] competition for students and research grants.” Renato H. L. Pedrosa likewise notes that the University of São Paulo is piloting online education (e.g., Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs) to enable students to earn degrees from anywhere in the world. Chris Loss warns that university leaders who are seeking “to build institutions that span the globe” risk forgetting the needs of the localities in which they operate.

What, then, does the future hold? Some insist that, in the neoliberal university, strategies of internationalization will render the institution place-less. They say that new forms of digital learning will make physical campuses obsolete; that mobility will allow students (at least elite students) to move fluidly across institutions (even as open access makes it possible for non-elite students to seek higher education en masse). They say that user interests will shape the curriculum, making it ever-more-individualized and responsive to personal demands; that virtual media will enable students to download lectures wherever they may be, even if they have no intention of completing a course. They say that one-off credentials (or certificates in specialized niche fields) will replace the broad education associated with formal degrees; that private investments will supplement—or supersede—public funding as higher education and corporate industry become “synergized”; and that all these changes will make “the global university” of the future more cost-effective and serviceable in a competitive knowledge economy.

While this neoliberal vision of the university may come to pass, the concluding essay in this collection offers a rather different view. In “Higher Education Between National Ambitions, Supranational Coordination, and Global Competition: The University of Luxembourg in the Bologna Era,” Justin Powell sees a future in which governments still invest significant resources in brick-and-mortar universities; students continue to seek traditional degrees through studies both on- and off-campus; admission becomes more selective, not less, as institutions chase “prestige” among increasingly global talent pools; and the university continues to be a symbol of national culture and a key driver of national development. According to Powell, the University of Luxembourg reflects the long tradition of “national” universities in Europe and, simultaneously, serves as a bold symbol of Europe’s attempt to “internationalize” universities by encouraging common standards and coordinated degrees.

The founding of the University of Luxembourg in 2003 represents a “key moment” in the history of higher education for two reasons, Powell argues. On the one hand, it demonstrated the continued importance of comprehensive national research universities to modern conceptions of economic competitiveness, the development of human capital, and training for a political and economic elite. On the other hand, the university (and the nation of Luxembourg itself) embodies the cross-border mobility of intellectual capital in today’s Europe. As the world’s second-richest country by per-capita GDP, Luxembourg has committed an exceptional level of financial support to its university. Not unlike its Enlightenment predecessors, it aims to become an “international” university serving “national” interests. It seeks to use higher education to diversify the country’s economy beyond steelmaking and banking, and, like other cases discussed in this collection, it hopes to expand its research capacity by “importing” scholars from around the world.

What will the landscape of international higher education look like a generation from now? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for universities, especially “global” research universities? And what can university leaders do to prepare for the major social, economic, and political changes—both foreseen and unforeseen—that may be on the horizon? On balance, these essays suggest that the answer to this final question may be: very little. In many cases, higher-education leaders found themselves, despite their best efforts, reacting to broad social, economic, political, and geopolitical changes beyond their control. In the best cases, successful leaders and their institutions found innovative ways to respond to unanticipated historical-structural change by building on traditional and well-established strengths and networks. Those experiments which veered too far in the direction of “de-nationalization” or extreme nationalism—such as in the case of Ciudad Guyana or in the era of China’s Cultural Revolution—often failed.

Yet, if the specific institutional cases in this collection—the University of Sydney, the University of São Paulo, and the University of Luxembourg—offer any clues, the lessons of the past can help institutional leaders prepare for the future. These cases demonstrate that a university attuned to national interests can succeed in a world increasingly characterized by cross-border mobility, and that even a “global” research university can (perhaps must) also serve the state. As higher-education leaders confront the twenty-first century, they may be well served to note that global cooperation and competition must square with national contexts as well as local interests. In some ways, universities in 2030 will operate differently—one thinks of the likely continued growth of online learning—but in other ways, the university will remain an institution defined by place, and by the local constituencies it claims to support. In this way, it will continue to respond to global pressures and serve national interests, as it has done for centuries.




“The 1880s: Global Connections and the British Settler Universities”

Tamson Pietsch, Brunel University (UNITED KINGDOM)

To a visitor from Britain, the original buildings of many of the universities established in the middle of the nineteenth century in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa appear reassuringly familiar. With ivied cloisters and neo-gothic edifices, they seem to stand as tangible signs of the exportation of old world traditions to the new.

But it would be a mistake to see these early settler universities as little more than transported institutions. They were not set up by British officials, as in India and later Africa, but rather by self-confident local elites who saw them as both symbols and disseminators of European civilisation in the colonies. Providing a classical and liberal (and often religious) education, these institutions were designed to cultivate both the morals and the minds of the young men who would lead colonial societies. Presuming the universality and superiority of ‘Western’ culture, they established themselves as the local representatives of ‘universal’ knowledge, proudly proclaiming this position in the neo-gothic buildings they erected and the Latin mottos they adopted. Fashioned by colonial politics and frequently funded by the state, in their early years, these ‘settler’ universities were very much local affairs.

However, in the 1870s the established relationship between culture and power had begun to change. On one hand, imperial expansion and revolutions in transport and communication and science were expanding the content and social function of ‘universal’ culture. On the other, in the context of an expansive franchise, local settler communities were beginning to demand that the universities they were financially supporting should be more than cultural incubators of a narrow elite. Still struggling for student numbers, settler universities could not afford to ignore these demands. To survive, they needed to find new ways to re-assert their position as cultural institutions that straddled the local and the global. They did so in two ways.

First, settler universities reconfigured their relationship with their local communities. They expanded their educational constituencies by widening their curricula and by expanding their franchise to include women and the middle classes – often doing so well in advance of universities in the United Kingdom (UK). From the 1880s students at Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and New Zealand could take degrees in pure and applied science, and by the 1890s schools of law and medicine were flourishing in institutions across Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. At the turn of the century this provision widened further to include engineering, veterinary science, dentistry, agriculture, architecture, education and commerce. Women began to be admitted in the same period, and universities’ active involvement in the extension of public primary and secondary schooling also opened the way to entry for many more members of the middle classes. In these ways, settler universities shored up their local legitimacy.

Second, settler universities renegotiated their relationship to ‘universal’ scholarship. Unlike the largely static classical curriculum, scientific research was a dynamic and rapidly expanding field of study. If they were to sustain their claim to be credentialisers of knowledge, settler universities also had to find new ways to demonstrate their connection and contribution to this new branch of ‘global’ knowledge.

They did so by ‘internationalising’ some of the structures of knowledge in the colonies. First, they improved access to intellectual resources, through expanding library provision and increasing their investment in foreign publications. Second, they sought to improve the mobility of their staff and students by establishing travelling scholarship schemes and leave of absence (sabbatical) programmes that carried them abroad. Third, they developed new practices for the recruitment of staff which relied heavily on the private recommendations of trusted individuals in Britain: Australian universities set up appointment committees in London, and Canadian university presidents wrote to friends across the UK seeking recommendations. Such appointment practices helped to foster close connections between academics in Britain and the colonies, tying settler universities into the informal networks at the heart of the British university system.

Together, these innovations worked to connect previously locally-oriented colonial institutions into a wider world of academic scholarship. They reconfigured the relationship between academic knowledge and location, creating measures of proximity and distance that depended on personal connections as well as territorial location.

However, the academic ‘world’ created by the long-distance connections these changes brought about was nonetheless still a limited one. Despite their intellectual engagement with ‘foreign’ ideas – despite their purchase of European journals and notwithstanding professorial trips to Berlin and Leipzig and sometimes the United States – it was primarily to Britain that scholars and students from settler universities gravitated. The reach of their personal ties and the routes of their repeated migrations thus mapped not a ‘universal’ but rather a ‘British’ academic world that expanded to include Canada and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but for the most part did not extend in the same way to Europe, America, India, and East Asia. Indeed, from the 1880s on, universities in both Britain and the empire began to enshrine this world in statutes that gave preferential standing to each other’s degrees, and to express it in imperial associations and congresses that at once proclaimed and reinforced its existence.

Settler universities responded to the challenges presented by the intensified global connections of the late nineteenth century by reasserting their position as local institutions that credentialised ‘universal’ knowledge. In many ways they were successful – the position of institutions such as McGill, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, and the University of Cape Town is in no small part due to the innovations of the 1880s. But by creating structures that enabled and encouraged personal connections with British scholars, settler universities also helped establish the uneven lines of global connection and irregular geographies of access that continue to condition these institutions today.


“Congress of the Universities of the Empire”

Glen A. Jones, University of Toronto (CANADA)

In June of 1911, representatives of sixteen universities met in Montreal. No one attending the event could have predicted the important role the meeting would play in furthering both national and international collaboration between universities. All but one of the universities represented at the meeting were Canadian, and this would be the very first national meeting of Canadian university leaders. Participants concluded that the exchange of information and views among senior university officials had been important and productive. A second formal meeting of Canadian university presidents took place in 1915. When the group met again in 1917 they formally created the National Conference of Canadian Universities, an organization that would play a leadership role in facilitating the sharing of information between universities and building a national higher education community. That organization would become the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada in 1965 (Pilkington, 1974).

The only non-Canadian university represented at the Montreal meeting was the University of London. R.D. Roberts, London’s university extension registrar, had assumed the role of secretary for the proposed first Congress of the Universities of the Empire, scheduled to convene in 1912. The objective of his trip to Montreal in 1911 was to encourage participation in this first international meeting and discuss the agenda (Charbonneau, 2011).

The 1912 Congress hosted by the University of London would be the first of nine periodic conferences designed to bring together university leaders from across the Empire. At this first meeting, participants concluded that they should create an office designed to facilitate the exchange of information, and the Universities Bureau of the British Empire was opened in London in 1913. With plans postponed because of the war, the second Congress took place in Oxford in 1921. The Congress met every five years until World War II. At its 1948 meeting, the organization changed its name to the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth. The first meeting outside Great Britain took place in Montreal in 1958. In 1963, the organization received a royal charter as the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) (Ashby, 1963).

The creation of regular meetings between universities within the British Empire in the early twentieth century was an important step in international collaboration within higher education.[3] Universities had emerged within most of the British colonies, heavily influenced by English and Scottish institutional models, but there were few formal connections between these institutions. Given a common language and institutional ancestry, the Congress meetings played the role of large family reunions where distant relatives could exchange information on current events and work out possible solutions to common problems. While membership was largely a function of colonialism, the organization maintained a clear separation from government and was largely disengaged from politics. The organization evolved with the commonwealth, transitioning from its colonial roots in the British Empire to the more egalitarian international relationships associated with the Commonwealth of Nations emerging from the Singapore Declaration of 1971.[4]

The agendas of Congress meetings focused on the key higher education issues of the day and provided a forum for international discussions of admissions standards and curriculum. The meetings brought together participants from universities in quite different economic contexts with quite different resources and capacities. Higher-education leaders from Africa and India were at the table with peers from the more developed colonies of Australia and Canada, though few would deny the special respect awarded to the Oxbridge patriarchs. As Sir Eric Ashby noted in his history of the Association:

Transplanted universities do not indefinitely remain replicas of the stock from which they come. . . . Like vegetation adapted to alps and deserts, universities adapt themselves to unfamiliar environments. Yet they remain unmistakably universities notwithstanding local differences in emphasis; they pursue similar curricula; they aspire to remain on a ‘gold standard’ of scholarship; none of them could stand alone, and their strength lies in the fact that they share a common tradition and they draw freely on one another’s resources. (Ashby, 1963, p. 94).

The organization would also leave behind an important legacy of reports documenting the key higher issues and debates during a time period when there was little formal scholarship or analysis of higher education. Congress proceedings became important reference documents; in fact, the Proceedings of the Fourth Congress even received a short review in Nature (1932). The annual yearbooks of the ACU included detailed descriptions and analyses of almost every higher education system in the Commonwealth written by national experts – frequently the only scholarly reference work available for many of these systems

The creation of an international network represented a logical and innovative response to the increasing international challenges associated with higher education in the early twentieth century. Universities wanted to pave the way for their students to move easily into graduate programs at peer institutions. They wanted to ensure that students completing the new graduate degree programs would be serious candidates for academic appointments at other universities. They were concerned with the increasing international influence of German and American research universities. Building an international community of universities was a strategy for furthering the status and advancing the work of its members. It became an important mechanism for forging connections between institutions that shared many similar concerns and questions.

With over 500 members in 37 countries, the Association of Commonwealth Universities continues to play an important role as an international network of universities in the 21st century. It continues to facilitate an international conversation between institutions, support professional networks and professional development for senior staff, and promote mobility.



Ashby, E. (1963). Community of universities: An informal portrait of the Association of    Universities of the British Commonwealth, 1913-1963. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Charbonneau, L. (2011). A meeting of minds in Montreal. University Affairs. Retrieved on June 10, 2013 from:

Fourth Congress (1932). Review of “Fourth Congress of the Universities of the Empire, 1931.Report of the Proceedings.” Nature, 129, 816.

Pilkington, G. (1974). A History of the National Conference of Canadian Universities, 1911-1961. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Toronto.


“The University of Sydney in Financial Transition: 1930 and Beyond”

Geoffrey Sherington, University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)

In 1930, the University of Sydney was confident in its educational past but uncertain of its financial future. Various factors constrained and limited its response to change even though the onset of the Depression would eventually increase enrolments. But in the area of research, there was clearer recognition of opportunities arising from both national and transnational contexts. Financial crisis and new research opportunities in depression and then war provided for a new transition.

Founded in 1850, Sydney was Australia’s first university, grounded initially on the ideal of a liberal education and influenced by examples of reformed Oxford and Cambridge. It was also conceived as the initial Australian public university, offering secular instruction, supported through state endowment and private philanthropy, and open to those of academic merit – a group which soon included both males and females. During the 1880s, with the assistance of a large private bequest, the University was able to expand its teaching to include more subjects in humanities and sciences as well as the professional faculties of medicine and law.

As the University grew, its governance structure evolved. The University had been established through state legislation and state endowment, but its governance structure provided for autonomy and independence. The governing body, the University Senate, had been originally composed of sixteen appointees, both civic figures and representative of religious denominations (some of which maintained colleges attached to the University). The Senate oversaw financial matters, including fees, salaries and appointments, while a Professorial Board held responsibility for the curriculum, examinations, and student discipline. The Professors also exercised a civic role through setting the public exams for local schools. By 1912, membership in the Senate had been widened under new legislation to include graduates elected through a convocation of graduates. As part of the changes to university governance, New South Wales increased its annual endowment and provided for state bursaries and scholarships.

By the First World War, the University of Sydney had become part of a world of universities founded on British culture and learning with expanding research networks throughout the British Empire. Simultaneously, it became more closely associated with the development of the public education system of New South Wales (the largest of the six Australian states of the new Federation from 1901). Meanwhile, the number of professional faculties continued to expand—now including not just law, medicine, and engineering but also agricultural and veterinary science and then pharmacy and architecture.

Few could have foreseen the changes that would occur after the First World War when a financial crisis emerged. By the late 1920s, half of the students at the University paid no fees, a proportion much higher than other Australian universities, except the University of Western Australia, which had provided free tuition since its foundation in 1911, but only with the support of a large philanthropic bequest. In contrast, the University of Sydney had declining fees, no prospect of a large new bequest, and declining grants from government. Burdened by wartime debt, all Australian governments looked for ways to save. By 1930, the University of Sydney was almost bankrupt. Large philanthropic bequests from the nineteenth century were exhausted. State grants were no longer sufficient. Student fee income had been eroded—ironically, by the policy of extensive state and teacher college scholarships initiated before the war. Under the terms of these state scholarships, all student holders of these awards received free tuition, thus denying the University a traditional source of income.

In this context, new leadership emerged. For decades, University governance had depended on a part-time Chancellor as chair of the Senate (usually a long-term member of the faculty) but now moved towards a full-time Vice Chancellor to manage all university affairs. In 1928, an outsider, Robert Strachan Wallace, assumed the post. Sydney had long appointed its professors from Britain and also Europe, and Wallace was in this mould, having international experience in Scotland, England, Germany, and Australia. A professor of English, his most recent appointment had been as Dean of Arts and President of the Professorial Board at the University of Melbourne. He also had extensive administrative experience in the military during the First World War.

The appointment of Wallace reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of Australian university administration in 1930. Appointed principally for his academic credentials as well as his charm, Wallace had to balance the University’s past against new interests. He declared that he hoped to bring the University into ‘closer relationship with the public’. But first he had to secure its financial future. Negotiating with a new commission created by the New South Wales Government, he made progress toward increasing annual state grants—provided the University improved its administrative efficiency.

A new agreement to increase state grants was almost reached when the onset of the Depression in 1930 destroyed all these plans. The annual grant was not increased but cut. The University Senate was forced to reduce salaries by 10 per cent. For the next two years there was continuous correspondence and bitterness between the University and the Government over the effect of these reductions in the budget.

In the end, it was not so much planning but the Depression itself which brought about change. During the 1930s, more students remained in school, seeking qualifications that might lead to employment. Within a decade, the University’s enrolment increased 34.5 percent, from 2,712 to 3,647 students. Significantly, government grants grew, and so did the proportion of student fees, from 30 per cent of income in 1930 to 37 per cent in 1940. Much of the increase had been due to expanding enrolments in the professional Faculties. As Vice Chancellor Wallace now claimed that the University provided for students ‘a thorough grounding in the elements of the profession of their choice,’ even though some might say ‘Commercialism…has invaded even the seats of learning’. In this way, student demand worked to supplant planning in the various fields of teaching.

The road to recovery was much different in research, where transnational influences became more prominent. Academics from Sydney continued to participate in the British world of learning and research throughout the 1920s, and by the 1930s, many Sydney graduates were leaders in their area of research, taking up posts in Britain or elsewhere or returning home to Australia to teach. But increasingly many of Sydney’s leading researchers were homegrown.

And then there were international and philanthropic interests in Australian research. Both the Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation discovered Australian universities as a field for endeavour. They were particularly interested in developing Sydney as a national research institute. Both sent delegations to meet Vice Chancellor Wallace, trying to persuade him that the University should move away from the ‘standards and ideals of a generation past’, guided by professors from Oxford and Cambridge or the Scottish universities, and accept the new era of ‘specialised areas of research’ now found in North America. To support the new era, both the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds to support research associated with a new chair in anthropology at Sydney.

The chair in anthropology had been established by funds from the Australian Government with the expectation this would lead to training for patrol officers in New Guinea – a territory which Australia had acquired under a League of Nations mandate after the First World War. Even prior to the creation of anthropology chair the Australian Government had funded a chair in Oriental Studies, recognising Australia’s place near to Asia, and would later establish a chair in aeronautical engineering at Sydney on the eve of the Second World War.

It was the perceived national benefits of university research that brought the Commonwealth government into closer association with all of Australia’s universities in this period. The Second World War and the post-war period consolidated the idea of universities as the basis for nation building, further strengthening support for the Commonwealth government’s expanded national grants for research and teaching in the 1950s and 1960s. The University of Sydney became a major beneficiary of these views.

Such a national agenda would prevail until almost the end of the twentieth century, only to be supplanted by the perception of Australia’s universities as part of a global market dependent for survival on competition for students and research grants. For the University of Sydney, this has meant that one-fifth of its students are now international enrolments, so reducing reliance on government for funds. At the same time, the University now seeks to measure its research not so much by national standards as global rankings. This history suggests that public universities often face a number of dilemmas in balancing autonomy and financial viability. Relationships with governments were once crucial, but equally, the growth of global-isation provides new issues that extend well beyond national boundaries.


“The Research University in Brazil: 1930 and 2030”

Renato H. L. Pedrosa, University of Campinas (BRAZIL)

Brazil was one of the last countries in the Americas to develop higher education. In 1930, despite more than four hundred years of European colonial influence, Brazil had not yet developed a full-fledged modern research university, even though the institutional model was already present in some other Latin American countries. That changed, however, following the 1929 financial collapse. The political and economic fallout from that global disaster would precipitate the founding of Brazil’s first university, the University of São Paulo (USP), in 1934. From its beginnings as a regional alternative to the authoritarian regime’s plan for national higher education, USP would flourish, becoming the country’s leading research university by the end of the twentieth century.

Even before the economic and political turmoil of the 1930s, Brazil was undergoing important economic and political change. Since the establishment of the Republic in 1889, the country’s political power had been split between Rio de Janeiro, the official capital, São Paulo, a center of coffee production and emerging industry, and Minas Gerais, a colonial-era mining center. By the early 1920s, however, falling prices and greater international competition had begun to erode the Brazilian coffee industry. It was becoming increasingly clear to many of Brazil’s leaders that the country would need to invest in alternatives to coffee production in order to promote long-term economic growth. In no region of the country was such concern greater than São Paulo, whose national political and commercial clout was built upon the coffee trade.

In this political and economic context, a controversial presidential election would spark revolution. Fueled by populist outrage over falling coffee prices—prices had dropped by more than fifty percent between 1929 and 1930—supporters of Getúlio Vargas, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, challenged the electoral victory of São Paulo’s Julio Prestes in the 1930 contest. A nationwide revolt ensued, and in less than a month, Vargas was installed as president, a post that he would hold for the next fifteen years under an authoritarian regime. Meanwhile, similar revolutionary movements swept through South America, many involving military coups and occasional violence, in countries such as Argentina (1930), Bolivia (1930), Peru (1930 and 1931), Ecuador (1931 and 1932), and Chile (1932) (Fausto, 1997).

Vargas’ rise to power was itself a key moment for higher education in Brazil. Soon after assuming the presidency in 1931, he established a new law governing Brazilian universities, the “Statutes of Brazilian Universities Act,” a body of rules and regulations that would guide the development of Brazilian higher education for the next thirty years. The Act also included a provision for the founding of the University of Rio de Janeiro, complete with 328 articles that detailed the new institution down to specific courses it would offer. It thus appeared that the era of relatively decentralized development of higher education of the early republican period was over. Brazil, Vargas declared, would follow a centralized model similar to those found in European countries like France and Italy.

The state of São Paulo, however, would demonstrate its independence from federal control by establishing a very different university and governance structure. In 1932, São Paulo called on Vargas to make good on his promise to write a new constitution and return the country to democratic rule. The constitutional movement failed, but in its wake, Julio de Mesquita Filho, the publisher of the most important newspaper in São Paulo, developed a new strategy to restore São Paulo’s influence in national affairs. Mesquita Filho became convinced that only by becoming the country’s intellectual leader would the state regain its dominance (Schartzman, 1991). He thus persuaded São Paulo’s governor, Armando Oliveira, to establish a modern research university in the state capital.

         Mesquita Filho selected Fernando de Azevedo, who had worked earlier on a university project commissioned by Mesquita Filho, to develop a plan for what would become the University of São Paulo. In contrast to the detailed federal higher education laws under Vargas, USP’s founding document was just 54 articles long and proposed a liberal and decentralized structure for the new institution. The first item of the second article, which established the mission of USP, reflected a central tenet of modern, Western-style universities around the globe. It proclaimed that the university should “promote the advancement of science by means of research.” The most important aspect of the early institution was its faculty, which included many foreign intellectuals and scientists brought from Europe for the specific purpose of starting academic departments. It included many young scholars, like the French historian Fernand Braudel and the anthropologist Claude Lévy-Strauss, who would become leaders in their respective fields after World War II.

What is known as the paulista enterprise has flourished. Today, USP is the top university in all rankings among Latin American universities and one of the few from that continent that appears in international rankings. Brazil has also developed a large group of public universities, more or less following the model of USP, many of which were reformed in the 1960s through the import of U.S.-inspired graduate education programs. Among Latin American countries, Brazil is now a leader in research and graduate education and is ranked 13th in the world in number of internationally published papers (Brito Cruz & Pedrosa 2013).

How might the past shape the future of Brazilian higher education and, specifically, the University of São Paulo? In September 2013, USP announced that it will start to offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) without any restriction regarding registration; whether such courses will be awarded university credits, however, remains up for debate, as it is at many universities around the world. The international trend of providing courses and even full programs using online technology is certainly one that research universities like USP will have to face, as online learning may become a common feature of university curricula in the near future.       

         The on-campus student will still be there in 2030, certainly, but more and more people will develop their own program paths without being in residence or restricting themselves to a single institution. One can see graduate education expanding and becoming more diversified with more programs that go beyond the traditional academic degrees (MSc/PhD). These changes are likely to go along with a less specialized undergraduate education, a trend that will evolve from the traditional Liberal Arts/General Education curriculum, which will need to be updated and adapted to a country like Brazil, but which will certainly have a place here and in other emergent economies. International scientific collaboration will become even more common than it already is today.

While specific predictions are unlikely to be realized completely, today’s communications revolution will likely be at the core of the most interesting developments in twenty-first-century higher education. Despite a few gloomy predictions, the university will certainly remain a central part of the educational system, doing its job by helping people develop their full potential and by being the source of innovative knowledge, as it has been for at least two centuries.


Brito Cruz, C.H., R.H.L. Pedrosa, Internationalization and the Research University in Brazil: Past and Present Trends. Preprint, 2013.

Fausto, Boris. A Revolução de 1930: Historiografia e História. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, São Paulo, 1997.

Schwartzman, S. (1991), A Space for Science: The Development of the Scientific Community in Brazil. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1991.


“Cambridge Meets Ciudad Guayana”

Christopher P. Loss, Vanderbilt University (UNITED STATES)

In the past decade, U.S. universities have pursued global partnerships to extend their institutional reach beyond native borders. Although “going global” is hardly a new phenomenon, the aggressiveness with which institutions such as New York University and Yale University have sought out global partnerships suggests a significant departure from the mere exchange of scholars and students. The construction of brick-and-mortar colleges in the Middle East and in Asia has raised important questions as to how academic globalization might alter the future of organized learning both at home and abroad.

As bold as these current endeavors are, there have been other, even more grandiose attempts to export American academic expertise. In 1960, the Joint Center for Urban Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University partnered with the Venezuelan government to help build a city located at the confluence of the Caroni and Orinoco Rivers, in the sparsely inhabited but resource-rich Guayana Region of southern Venezuela. That city was Ciudad Guayana.[5]

The chain of events that led to the Joint Center’s participation in the design of Ciudad Guayana began with a collaboration of two different urban studies centers, one at MIT and the other at Harvard, in 1959. The Ford Foundation funded the partnership between the two schools, encouraging two “urbanists” and friends—Lloyd Rodwin of MIT and Martin Meyerson of Harvard—to combine forces. The Joint Center (1959-1985) was the product of that union.[6]

Meyerson and Rodwin’s goal was to make the Joint Center a leading producer of “basic research” as well as a “bridge between fundamental research and policy application at national and international as well as local levels.”[7] They wanted urban studies to supplant the moribund field of city planning. Well into the 1950s city planning remained a hodgepodge profession of dubious distinction—one still stigmatized by the longstanding and not incorrect assumption that, as historian Peter Hall has described it, “the job of the planners was to make plans, to develop codes to enforce these plans, and then to enforce those codes; relevant planning knowledge was what was needed for that job; planning education existed to convey that knowledge together with the necessary design skills.”[8]

The Joint Center aimed to strengthen planning’s intellectual and professional credibility by injecting it with new ideas from the social and behavioral sciences. Rodwin and Meyerson sought to place the study of the city within a total social and political context. They wanted to challenge planners to “reckon with the lives and living habits of human beings,”[9] vanquishing, once and for all, the mythology of omnipotent planners and charismatic architects that tended to treat people as mere abstractions—as incidental to the planning process itself.[10] The Joint Center set out to correct this deficiency. “The purpose of the new Joint Center for Urban Studies,” declared the memorandum of agreement between MIT and the Harvard, “will be to focus research on the physical environment of cities and regions, the social, economic, governmental, legal technical and aesthetic forces that shape them, and the interrelations between urbanization and society.”[11] Ciudad Guayana offered the Joint Center the chance to explore all of these issues and more.

Founded on July 2, 1961 by decree of President Romulo Betancourt, the “Father of Venezuelan Democracy,” Ciudad Guayana was a planned industrial city built to exploit the natural resources of the region. Venezuela’s booming but unbalanced economy was dominated by the oil industry, and Betancourt thought the development of Guayana would bring greater economic diversification and even more growth, prepping Venezuela, to use Walt Rostow’s widely circulated stage theory, for industrial “take off.”[12] Encompassing nearly a third of the entire country but less than four percent of its growing population of 8 million, Guayana was cast as a latter-day El Dorado and as the key to Venezuelan modernization. Two Joint Center consultants, sent to survey the region, gushed: “No other region of Venezuela – and very few in the entire world – can match the Guayana’s combination of key resources: energy, minerals, forests, water, and a natural access to the Atlantic Ocean…. This concentration of resources is capable, if well oriented, of originating intensive and accelerated social and economic development.”[13] With a projected future population of a quarter million—second only to Caracas—and an estimated price tag of $3.8 billion, Ciudad Guayana was to be the engine of this massive business enterprise.[14]

The Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), a government authority, was tapped to manage the project. The president of the CVG was an enigmatic MIT graduate named General Rafael Alfonso Ravard. It was a chance meeting between Ravard and Rodwin, while Rodwin was in Caracas on a consulting assignment in 1959, that led to the Joint Center’s involvement in the preparation of “a comprehensive development plan” for Ciudad Guayana two years later.[15] With a joint team of Venezuelan and American planners, and with offices in Cambridge, Caracas, and Ciudad Guayana, it was precisely the sort of project that Rodwin and Meyerson thought would result in other big ticket, large-scale city building projects elsewhere around the world (projects that could fund the Joint Center into the future).

That never happened. Imagined as “a vast ‘new’ city … on the empty, grassy plains of southern Venezuela,” it turned out that the plains were not quite as barren as the American planners had been led to believe.[16] By the time the Joint Center’s advance team touched down in the summer of 1961, the CVG had already broken ground on a number of projects. After halting further building, the Americans, led by German émigré designer Willo von Moltke, planned a “linear city” complete with a modern highway network and a bridge across the Caroni River connecting the existing settlements of Puerto Ordaz on the west side to the much poorer port town of San Felix on the east, placing the Alta Vista “city center” directly in the middle. This design was intended to create a unified and fluid metropolitan space, but, in fact, had the opposite effect, reifying inherited housing patterns and socioeconomic divisions. To this day, the “east side” of Ciudad Guayana remains the poor side of town.[17]

The other problem, intimated by the first, was the thousands of landless migrants streaming in every month in search of work and shelter in a city that did not yet exist. Though the planners had hoped that Ciudad Guayana would be a “slumless city,” the uncontrollable spread of squatter settlements quickly disabused them of such fantasies.[18] Planning cities in relatively thinly settled, “non-contiguous frontiers” like the Guayana proved just as challenging as any other planning project, maybe more so. Despite having staked their claim to a version of city planning that figured people in the equation, try as they may, the Joint Center and their Venezuelan counterparts never figured out how to make it all add up.[19]

Five decades later, as academic leaders embark on new transnational ventures, understanding the challenges that emerged when Cambridge met Ciudad Guayana is more vital than ever. For while global higher education partnerships provide intellectual energy for scholars and students, and make the university an exciting place to work and live, these collaborations are often fraught with unintended consequences that can thwart the best-laid plans—and the best planners. University officials and professors must bear this in mind as they continue the quest to build institutions that span the globe.


“Foreign Influences, Nationalism, and the Founding of Modern Chinese Universities, 1917-1927”

Shen Wenqin, Peking University (CHINA)

Although China has a long tradition of higher education, its “modern” universities are a product of the twentieth century and reflective of foreign influences (Hayhoe, 1996; Jin, 2000). The first group of Chinese universities came into being around the turn of the century, led by Beiyang Gongxue (predecessor of Tianjin University, established in 1895), Nanyang Gongxue, Capital Metropolitan University (predecessor of Peking University, 1896), and Shanxi University (1902). But it would be in the years after the Republican revolution of 1911, a movement led by Sun-Yat Sen which toppled the two-thousand year old Qing Dynasty, that Chinese higher education would truly begin to change.

Prior to the demise of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, China only had four universities. And until then, Nanyang Gongxue and Capital Metropolitan University had yet to produce a graduate. Beiyang Gongxue and Shanxi University had 44 and 35 graduates, respectively, though none, remarkably, in the humanities or natural sciences. Chinese higher education generally adhered to ancient traditions of learning in the Confucian tradition. In the post-revolutionary era, however, Chinese leaders would look to “modernize” Chinese higher learning.

Cai Yuanpei, appointed as the first Minister of Education for the new Republic of China in 1912, looked west for models of higher education. Under his leadership, a series of modern education laws and regulations were established, laying the foundation for the development of Western-style higher learning. One of Cai’s first moves was the drafting of a document known as “The Regulation of the Universities” (DaXue Ling), a Ministry of Education proclamation which outlined the modern disciplinary system in Chinese universities. “The Regulation of the Universities” established standards not only for university admissions and operation but also for governance structure—one in which the institution would be run by a president and university senate. Most importantly, the document made research and postgraduate education as central to the university mission.

But it was not until Cai became president of Peking University, a post he assumed in 1917 and held until 1927, that his idea of a university with a “modern mentality of research” (Clark 2006) would be fully realized. This “mentality” was certainly not present when Cai arrived, even though the university had reached considerable size. In 1916, the university had graduated 1,503 degree recipients and 192 teachers, but most students were drawn to the professions—namely law and business—and guided by a sense of “careerism.” Indeed, the number of students in the humanities and natural sciences—the hallmark fields of the modern research university—was very small. The university’s faculty similarly did not value the research enterprise. Cai, in his inaugural address, sought to change this mentality, encouraging students to work hard and attend to scholarship—not careers. He proclaimed the university to be “a place to investigate advanced knowledge.”

From where did Cai’s intense interest in research and scholarship arise? To begin with, Cai had studied in Germany for several years from 1907 to 1911. During this time he became familiar with the German university system and admired the German ideals of academic freedom, original research, and knowledge for its own sake—principles that would become central to his work at Peking University (Chen Hongjie 2002). In 1917, seminars along the lines of those found in German and American universities were founded in the division of humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Cai saw such seminars as places for “the professor and graduate students or advanced students to do research together.” By 1918, Peking had taken its first steps toward realizing Cai’s vision, as 148 students (80 postgraduates and 68 senior undergraduates) participated in the seminar system.

Faculty research was another matter. In 1919, to encourage professors to engage in scientific research, Cai founded The Journal of Peking University, a forum for the publication of faculty research. In the preface of this new journal, he declared that the “University is not a place for teaching knowledge; it is a place to create new knowledge for the republic of scholars”(Cai, 1919). With the addition of another academic journal, the Social Sciences Quarterly, in 1922, the Peking faculty began to publish more widely, and in new fields, including the humanities. Within a few years, Peking University had come to resemble a Chinese version of Johns Hopkins University, an institution complete with research seminars, faculty governance structures, and professional journals.

In many ways, Cai’s reforms at Peking reflected the growing influence of American models as opposed to German ones, as more and more Chinese returned from study abroad in the United States in the 1920s. In 1918, two famous educators, Yanxiu and Zhang Boling, visited the United States and conducted a survey of American higher education. When they returned to China, they founded Nankai University, a private institution reflective of American models. From December 1919 to April 1920, a group of normal school principals and local education authorities headed by Chen Baoquan (president of the Beijing Normal School) and Yuan Xitao (an officer in the Ministry of Education) visited American universities for more than five months. Following their visit, they wrote a report on American higher education offering suggestions for reform in China (Chen Baoquan 1920). Many other young Chinese students and scholars studied in the United States during this time, absorbing the patterns of American higher education and bringing back ideas for change in their home country. Some, including Guo Bingwen, Jiang Mengling, Hu Shi, Zhao Yuanren, and Zhu Kezhen (later president of Zhejiang University) became prominent reformers in Chinese higher education in the 1920s.

As a result of such transatlantic travel and intellectual exchange, a number of features of American higher education could be found in China by the end of 1920s: private universities, the organization of academic work into departments, the elective curriculum for undergraduates, the credit-hour system, and the board of trustees’ governance structure. Like Cai, other Chinese higher education leaders used their experience abroad to shape their own institutions in China. For instance, Guo Bingwen became the President of Southeast University in 1921, while Jiang Mengling became the executive president of Peking University in 1923. The two men received their doctoral degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City in 1914 and 1918, respectively (Kuo, 1915; Chiang, 1918). The influence of the American model was not confined to these two Universities: in 1929, the Sun Yat-sen University set up a board of trustees that clearly borrowed from the American model.

In less than a decade, from Peking University’s reform under Cai in 1917 to the founding of Sun Yat-sen University in 1924, a modern system of higher education, emphasizing research and academic freedom, had emerged in China. Why were these Chinese higher education leaders so eager to establish “modern” universities in China? One explanation is that figures like Cai Yuanpei, Jiang Mengling, Guo Bingwen, and others were all patriots: “To save the nation through education and scholarship” was their creed. (For example, though they had learned from western models, they supported a policy of reclaiming the management of China’s Christian universities from foreign presidents.) Making China a free, democratic, and prosperous country was the com-mon aspiration of Chinese intellectuals of that generation. During the 1910s and 1920s, the newly established Republic of China was fragile, as warlords and political fragmentation wracked the country. These leaders were convinced that, just as the University of Berlin, the University of Göttingen, and other universities had made Germany into a powerful empire, so too would great Chinese universities lead China toward prosperity and freedom.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that modern Chinese higher education development was merely a copy of the Western model. The task of establishing a full-fledged research university was an expensive one, challenging even in times of prosperity let alone times of political instability. Chinese reformers could only go so far in implementing Western models. For example, although Cai and other educational leaders realized that graduate education was the core of the modern university, they could not afford to establish full graduate schools. Instead, they relied on research seminars and institutes. Similarly, because they often could not afford expensive laboratory equipment, research and study in the humanities and theoretical sciences took precedence over direct research in the physical and applied sciences.

Chinese educational leaders sought to re-invigorate their country’s higher education system by combining foreign and domestic ideas. For example, the Chinese Studies Center at Tsinghua University, established in 1925, made its work “adopting both the strength of modern schools and ancient Chinese Academy (Shu Yuan).” The ancient tradition of open debate and close interaction between teachers and students flourished there alongside some Western influences. The reforms between 1917 and 1927 were only a beginning, yet they laid the foundation for the future growth of research universities in China. These years would be one of the first of many instances of Chinese educational leaders borrowing from abroad in higher education in the twentieth century, a process of intercultural learning which one scholar has described as “borrowing modernity” (Batchelor, 2005).

Today’s Chinese higher education reformers still pay close attention to higher education in other countries, yet reformers have never been able to completely cast off ancient traditions or ignore the vicissitudes of state politics. In the early twenty-first century, China’s universities can be said to represent a wide range of historical influences and now embody a uniquely Chinese vision of higher education.



Batchelor, Randal Shon (2005). Borrowing modernity: A comparison of educational change in Japan, China, and Thailand from the early seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century, Montana State University.

Cai Yuanpei (1919). Preface for “The Journal of Peking University Research”.

Chen Baoquan.(陳寶泉). Eight Years of European and American Education:The USA Section. Shanghai, The Commerce Publisher, 1920.

Chen, Hongjie (2002). The German Classic idea of University and Its Influence on Chinese Universities (In Chinese) Beijing: Peking University Press.

Clark,William (2006). Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Monlin, Chiang [蒋梦麟] A Study of Chinese Principles of Education. Shanghai, Commercial Press, 1918.

Hayhoe, Ruth. China’s Universities, 1895-1995: A Century of Cultural Conflict.Routledge, 1996.

Jin Yilin. Histories of the Modern Universities in China:1895-1949 [In Chinese]. Beijing, Central Party Literature Press, 2000.

Kuo, Ping Wen The Chinese System of Public Education.New York City : Teachers College, Columbia University,


“Government-Backed Study Abroad and the Internationalization of Chinese Higher Education, 1945-1985”

Gilsun Song, Zhejiang University (CHINA)

The internationalization of Chinese higher education proceeded gradually, if unevenly, between 1945 and 1985. During this process, government-backed study abroad programs would become an important channel of international exchange. With the exception of the early years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1972), study abroad and student exchange programs offered Chinese students and higher education leaders opportunities to observe and learn from foreign countries and their educational institutions.

The second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) left China depleted of highly skilled workers and in need of a strategy for postwar reconstruction and national security. China thus looked to its Communist ally, the Soviet Union, as a model for how to develop its human capital through investment in higher education. Between 1949 and 1966, China’s first phase of internationalization proceeded as a form of emulation of the Soviet system of higher education.

Chinese emulation of the Soviet system of higher education involved more than student and teacher exchanges; in fact, Chinese higher education often adopted the Soviet model wholesale, including curriculum planning, rules and regulations, and management measures at a system level. Sino-Soviet exchange programs were a priority for China’s higher education leaders looking to develop foreign relationships. In 1953, the Chinese government issued “Guidelines for the Preparation of Selected Overseas Students to the Soviet Union,” and in 1954, “Chinese Students’ Alliance Instructions Concerning the Selection of Institutions of Higher Education for Studying Abroad in the Soviet Union and Other People’s Democratic Countries Overseas.”

In addition to enacting these types of policies, government meetings concerning overseas students were also held in 1959, 1960, and 1966 (Lian Yan pi 2005). These meetings emphasized “Quality guarantees and a striving for increased numbers,” as well as the idea that China “Should not only pay attention to long-term needs, but also to the present” (Jin Linyxiang 1999, p. 602). Even as these policies and guidelines gradually increased international activities, study abroad and international exchange programs remained somewhat limited in scope and subject to strict oversight and control. For instance, China did not allow students to visit capitalist countries; instead, most went to the Soviet Union and to countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Between 1950 to 1956, the Chinese government sent 10,698 students abroad, and of these, 8,320 students—77 percent—went to the Soviet Union (Chen Xuefei 2004). Nevertheless, important leaders in the Chinese government were shaped by international opportunities during this period, including Jiang Zemin[20], Li Peng[21], Song Jian[22], and Ye Xuanping,[23] each of whom studied abroad in the Soviet Union and would later become core contributors to national development.

In 1966, The Cultural Revolution ushered in a new phase of internal struggle in China, damaging severely the country’s education system at all levels. The Cultural Revolution consisted of two periods: the first from 1966 to 1972, the second from 1972 to 1978. In the first period, the Revolution completely stopped international cooperation and communication and can be thought of as a period devoid of international connections. Many Chinese students who returned from abroad suffered persecution and were accused of having “illicit relations with a foreign country” (Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen 2005, p118). These students, as well as many intellectuals and professors, were sent to the countryside to work as famers or to do manual labor. Some were even put in prison.

In the second phase, however, things began to change. The government began to fund study abroad programs once again, sending 1,451 Chinese students to 32 countries between 1972 and 1978 (China Education Year 1984). Among the 1,548 students sent abroad, 1,451 (93.7%)studied foreign languages and 97 (6.3%) studied natural science (China Education Year 1984). That fact that almost 94% of the students were sent to study foreign languages shows the perceived need within China to reach beyond its cultural borders and to interact with other nations. Indeed, by 1972, China saw itself lagging behind other countries, specifically in the fields of science and technology, and felt it could not longer remain isolated. Study abroad programs would become one component of a gradual opening up to the rest of the world.

The internationalization of Chinese higher education accelerated rapidly following the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, China carried out its “Reform and Opening Policy,” which helped open China to the world. The same year, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, on hearing reports on Tsinghua University’s vision and action plans, stated, “I am in favor of increasing the number of international students…. This is a quick method for increasing efficiency within 5 years and a very important method for improving the level of our country” (Li Tao 2000, p. 602). As a result, Chinese higher education looked to make even more connections beyond China’s borders.

One of the first efforts at greater international cooperation involved the meeting of science and technology delegations from China and the United States in July and October of 1978. Following the meeting, both countries agreed to participate in student exchange programs (Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen 2005).In the same year, China also signed student exchange agreements with Japan, Germany, Italy, England, Canada, Belgium and other countries, reaching out beyond familiar Communist alliances for the first time in decades. Not long after these agreements, the State Council gave permission for provincial, municipal, and regional authorities, as well as other qualified departments, to contact and interact with overseas parties.

The effect of these initiatives on international exchange was dramatic. By 1985, China had sent 3,246 students abroad, more than ten times the amount (314 students) who went abroad in 1978 (Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen, 2005). While the numbers of students studying abroad increased, the proportions of the types of students studying abroad also changed. In 1981, 252 graduate students and 214 undergraduate students studied abroad, but by 1985 the number of graduate students increased to 1,184, while the number of undergraduate students decreased to 73 (Chen Xueping 2004).

The greater proportion of graduate-level study abroad reflected a desire for more highly qualified, professionally skilled workers who could directly contribute to China’s technological innovation and economic growth. Thus, China’s regulations for sending students abroad moved to a “doctoral education and graduate student” orientation in 1982, from an “advanced training and graduate studies” policy in 1979 (Chen Xueping 2004). International study and exchange soon became a preferred method of national development.

Finally, in 1981, the Ministry of Education and seven other departments proposed opportunities for self-funded study abroad. Before the 1980s, all Chinese in education going abroad were selected directly by the government. However, the “Reform and Opening Policy” loosened the regulation of this process. After the self-funding policies were introduced, the State Council produced a series of guidelines and rules concerning self-funded study abroad. These provisions further opened Chinese higher education to internationalization. Returning overseas students became a powerful force in promoting international partnerships and in creating competitive national development plans. As key players in the internationalization of Chinese higher education, the contributions of Chinese students who have studied overseas have had a great impact on economic growth and development.

The general trajectory of study abroad and international exchange programs between 1945 and 1985 reveals the extent to which China has relied upon this process as a way to develop skills and knowledge in the fields of science and technology. In fact, in these forty years, the Chinese government sent more than 30,000 students abroad who studied science and technology (Chen Xueping 2004, Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen 2005). These students have often helped guide China towards international partnerships and opportunities, while at the same time growing the capacity of Chinese higher education as an international force and an engine of domestic economic growth. The Chinese study abroad experience may often be an individual one, yet it always proceeded in harmony with the national interest.


China Education Year Editorial Department eds., (1984). China Education Year 1949-1981, pp. 980-981, Shanghai, Encyclopedia of China Publishing House (in Chinese).

Chen Xuefei (2004). “The Change and Benefit of the Government-Funded Studying abroad Since the Reform and Opening up in China,” Fudan Education Forum, Vol 2-3.

Jin Linyxiang eds., (1999). China’s Education System General History III, p. 602, Jinan, Shandong Education Press.

Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen (2005). “Studying Abroad Education in Modern China and Its Impact,” Journal of Shanxi Teachers University (Social Science Edition), vol. 32-3.

Li Tao eds., (2000). The History Chinese Overseas Education Record: After 1949, Higher Education Press.


“Long Road Ahead: Modernizing Chinese Universities”

Yang Rui, University of Hong Kong (CHINA)

China is an old civilization with extraordinarily rich traditions in higher learning. The ancient Chinese education system was established during the Yu period (2257–2208 BC), and China’s earliest institutions of higher learning appeared in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BCE). The famous Jixia Academy was established twenty years before the Platonic Academy in Greece (Hartnett 2011).

Chinese higher education evolved according to its own logic. By and large, it focused on knowledge of human society rather than knowledge of the natural sciences. It generally disregarded knowledge about the rest of the world and confined the dissemination of knowledge to the provincial level. Its central focus was political utility defined by the ruling classes. China thus started its higher learning system with a fundamentally different relationship between the state and higher education. Whereas universities in the West sometimes (perhaps often) clashed with state power, institutions of higher education in China were loyal servants of the emperor and the aristocracy.

The imperial examinations and the academies were key elements of ancient Chinese higher learning (Hayhoe 1996). Designed for recruiting bureaucrats to ensure merit-based appointment of government officials, the imperial examinations dominated Chinese higher education up to 1905. The academies, which reached their peak during the Southern Song (1127-1279), were integrated into the government school system from the Yuan to Qing dynasties (1271-1911). Under the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), their aim shifted to preparing students for the imperial examinations. Autonomy and academic freedom—the definitive scholarly values of European universities, at least by the mid-nineteenth century—were absent in the Chinese tradition.

With the international diffusion of the European model of the university after the Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860), China’s institutions of higher education could have taken a lead in assimilating Western culture, science, and technology. Instead, most continued to train scholars with an encyclopedic knowledge of Confucian values but little knowledge of the outside world. Even after Western higher education models had demonstrated their strengths, China’s communication with the West was largely (and intentionally) restricted in an attempt to preserve traditional culture and protect aristocratic authority.

Only gradually, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, did this scholarly isolationism give way to a new era in which China began to experiment with Western-style universities. The central purpose of China’s modern higher education has been to combine Chinese and Western elements, to “indigenize” Western models, and to bring together aspects of both philosophical heritages. Yet, such markedly different cultural roots have led to continuous conflicts between traditional Chinese and new Western ideas of the university—and of “modernity” itself.

The late 1970s marked a key moment in the internationalization of higher education in China—a moment when the country sought deliberately to break with the past and embrace a new future. Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of “groping for stones to cross the river” sought to downplay ideological differences between China and the West. As a result, traditional values in higher education were often minimized in favor of higher education’s contribution to economic growth. By the 1980s, China had incorporated a series of reforms taken from foreign models, including decentralization and marketization, without exploring the ideological foundations of these approaches. China’s emphatic determination to separate the advanced knowledge of Western capitalist countries from what were still perceived as “decadent ideas” and a “bourgeois way of life” had overtones of the formula devised in Deng’s early modernization efforts: “Chinese learning as the substance, Western techniques for their usefulness” (Ayers 1971).

Since the 1990s, China’s higher education policies have emphasized the quest for world-class universities. The Program for Education Reform and Development in China (1993), the Education Act of the People’s Republic of China (1995), the 211 Project (initiated in 1995), the 985 Project (initiated in 1998), and the dramatic expansion of Chinese higher education starting from 1999 reflect a fervent desire to “catch up” with the West. This desire reflects larger changes in Chinese society as China reforms its economy to adopt market principles. A desire for internationally competitive universities provides the impetus for China’s best institutions to follow the lead of European and North American universities and embrace “international” norms. However, the notion of world-class status is imitative rather than indigenous (Mohrman 2005). In striving for “international” standing, top Chinese universities compare themselves with Oxford and Yale but forget the long history of these institutions—let alone their own.

Today, Chinese universities routinely look to the most elite Western (often American) counterparts for standards, policy innovations, and solutions to their own development problems. This is particularly the case for the most prestigious universities. For example, personnel reforms at Peking University in the mid-2000s were patterned entirely after the perceived U.S. experience. The reformers cited Harvard and Stanford almost exclusively to legitimize their policy moves (Yang 2009). But the grafting of American policies onto Chinese university structures has often ignored important cultural differences. The wholesale adoption of U.S. plans was not appropriate—indeed, not possible—in a culture with strikingly different cultural values and educational traditions.

China’s latest policy initiative is the Medium and Long-Term Education Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020) approved in May 2010. The policy has prioritized technical innovation and preparedness, but, like its predecessors, it lacks what is required for a re-emerging China: namely, a vision to make cultural preparedness an equal priority to ensure China’s well-rounded future global role. Still confined to a catch-up mentality, state policy continues to stress economic development as the primary reference point in every part of the initiative, once again leaving knotty issues of culture and values aside.

Modern universities are layered institutions, with technical apparatus on the surface but cultural values at the core. China’s repeated attempts to import Western university models has occurred mostly on the level of technical apparatus, while the core values of the Western model, such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy, have rarely been understood, let alone implemented. In the present great leap forward in Chinese higher education, what is missing is attention to cultural and institutional values. If Chinese universities cannot successfully integrate Chinese and Western values, the promise of the modern university in China will be limited. The question of culture is part of a much wider and more complex process of seeking an alternative to Western globalization. To be truly “world-class,” Chinese universities must find an appropriate—one might even say uniquely Chinese—way to balance indigenous and Western ideas of the university.


Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Shanghai Jiao Tong University. 2012. Academic Ranking of World Universities. Retrieved August 24, 2013 from

Altbach, Philip. 2001. “The American Academic Model in Comparative Perspective,” In In Defense of American Higher Education (11-37), eds. Philip Altbach, Partricia Gumport and Bruce Johnstone. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Altbach, Philip. 2010. “Enter the Dragons? Not So Fast,” Times Higher Education, 17 June, 39.

Ayers, William. 1971. Chang Chih-tung and Educational Reform in China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hartnett, Richard. 2011. The Jixia Academy and the Birth of Higher Learning in China: A Comparison of Fourth-Century B.C. Chinese Education with Ancient Greece. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Hayhoe, Ruth. 1996. China’s Universities 1895-1995: A Century of Cultural Conflict. New York: Garland.

Hayhoe, Ruth. 2005. “Peking University and the Spirit of Chinese Scholarship.” Comparative Education Review 49 (4), 575-583.

Mohrman, Kathryn. 2005. “Sino-American Educational Exchange and the Drive to Create World-class Universities.” In Bridging Minds Across the Pacific (pp.219-235). ed. Cheng Li. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Yang, Rui. 2009. “Enter the Dragon? China’s Higher Education Returns to the World Community: The Case of the Peking University Personnel Reforms.” In Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Practice (pp.427-461), eds. John Smart and William Tierney. Dordrecht: Springer.


“Higher Education Between National Ambitions, Supranational Coordination, and Global Competition: The University of Luxembourg Established in the Bologna Era”

Justin J. W. Powell. University of Luxembourg (LUXEMBOURG)

Among the youngest research universities in Europe, the University of Luxembourg (UL) is one of very few public universities to be established since the pan-European “Bologna process” began in 1998 amidst celebrations for the Sorbonne’s 800th Anniversary.[24] Founded in 2003, and growing rapidly, UL aims to become a full-fledged, internationally-recognized research university. Embedded in a small, hyper-diverse, multi-lingual, and (recently) very prosperous nation-state located in the heart of Western Europe, and well-positioned in significant regional and global networks, Luxembourg’s “national” flagship university is thoroughly international. Recruiting scholars, staff, and students from over a hundred countries, the university could not advance without transnational mobility. Luxembourg, the home of a European Union (EU) capital city, simultaneously reflects European and international priorities. Devoted to internationality and interdisciplinarity, UL exemplifies contemporary worldwide trends in higher education.

Today, more than ever, countries explicitly compete with each other through human capital investment. The Lisbon strategy in Europe set about to create “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world” (EC 2004). European education ministers collaborate to promote a comprehensive, continent-wide model of skill formation. This emergent model, a bricolage that integrates diverse characteristics of the German, French, British, and American national models, responds to heightened competition among “knowledge societies” (Powell, Bernhard, & Graf 2012). The Bologna process represents a considerably intensified phase in higher education’s on-going internationalization. While voluntary, Bologna exerts pressure on national systems and influences decision-making (Ravinet 2008). Membership in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) challenges countries to accept common standards and practices to coordinate national quality assurance, ensure the transparency and recognition of qualifications obtained elsewhere, and facilitate cross-border mobility.

Somewhat paradoxically, at the same time that European borders are becoming more porous, and spatial mobility everywhere supported and glorified, Luxembourg has invested heavily in establishing a new national university. In so doing, it has provided, at long last, a stay-home alternative for Luxembourg youth who had traditionally sought higher education abroad. On the one hand, the university was founded against considerable resistance, both pecuniary and ideological, due to the long-standing custom of educating elites in other countries within cosmopolitan networks (Rohstock & Schreiber 2013). On the other hand, rising international competition and supranational coordination have increased pressure on Luxembourg to found a research university to foster scientific innovation upon which to build its future “knowledge society.” UL provides a means to diversify the economy beyond steelmaking or banking and to integrate multilingual citizens from diverse cultural background into a polity dominated by local elites.

The University of Luxembourg, now enjoying broad-based support and a rising reputation, provides a gauge of the impact of global norms generally and the principles codified in the Bologna process specifically. Arriving in a new century with a rapidly-growing population of just half a million (nearly half non-Luxembourg citizens), UL exemplifies the most recent institutionalization phase of “the European university.” Due to its recent establishment, UL has straightforwardly assumed European standards – or even exceeded them, especially in multi-linguality (French, German, and English are official university languages) and student mobility.

Although the university’s antecedents can be traced back to the early 1800s, it was not until 1974 that the Centre universitaire du Luxembourg, hosting several humanities and social science departments, opened alongside teacher training institutes and an Institut supérieur de technologie (Meyer 2008). The UL, building upon these legacies, was established as a private, government-dependent institution (établissement public) directed by a seven-member council, the Conseil de Gouvernance. The UL’s founders, made up largely of national policymakers consulting advisors from abroad, selected multilingualism, interdisciplinarity, and inter-nationality as the institution’s three key principles. These foci not only reflect global trends but also capitalize on Luxembourg’s history as a trading crossroads, as well as its contemporary context of cultural and linguistic hyper-diversity. The mission statement emphasizes that as “a small-sized institution with an international reach, [it] aims at excellence in research and education. … to be among the world’s top universities. UL intends to be innovative, centred on research, … and attentive to the needs of the society around it” ( 2012).

With roughly half of its 6,288 students (2012/13) coming from abroad, UL is extra-ordinarily diverse (UL 2013). Regardless of nationality, each student pays tuition of just €200 per semester. Thus, state investment in higher education ensures that the university can attract students from around the world. All Bachelor-level students are expected to spend a semester abroad as a required part of their course of study—a reflection of past educational traditions and a unique requirement among European institutions. The network Université de la Grande Région ( links the UL with universities in Belgium, France, Germany, and provides cross-border coordination, enabling such benefits as students’ eligibility to take courses at other campuses at no additional cost.

Since Luxembourg has traditionally relied heavily on tertiary education provided in neighboring countries—especially Germany, Belgium, and France—to supply qualified personnel, especially teachers, lawyers, and physicians, a key challenge remains to recruit the most talented undergraduate student body. Over half of Luxembourg’s workforce consists of cross-border workers, and the country continues to experience strong population growth. In a hyper-diverse society marked by such migration flows and mobility, internationalization has been key to the establishment and expansion of the university from the start. To develop an institution based on local strengths, regional needs, and global trends, UL aims to achieve excellence by recruiting top faculty members worldwide to conduct research and teach in three multidisciplinary faculties and two major interdisciplinary research centers. By identifying in advance promising research areas that also reflect Luxembourg’s economic and geographic contexts, the university focuses its resources on key priorities.

Luxembourg has invested both considerable capital and strategic planning in establishing its national university. It aims to compete globally by concentrating its resources, both intellectual and financial, and by building on the country’s strengths and priorities. It may have taken a leap of faith to establish the university, but the state—led by those who accept the principle that the future belongs to education and science—has shown dedication to fund its ambitious experiment in scientific capacity-building. There is no turning back, as the new Belval campus towers rise among the steel-factory smokestacks of Esch-sur-Alzette.

However small, no country wishing to become a “knowledge society” can do so without an international research university. As many larger countries in Europe struggle to maintain their universities in the Bologna era, Luxembourg has grasped a window of opportunity. 2003 was a key moment in its history of higher education, long abbreviated by internationality avant la lettre.


European Council. 2004. Report from the Commission to the Spring European Council – Delivering Lisbon – Reforms for the Enlarged Union. COM/2004/0029 final. Brussels: European Council.

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Meyer, M.B. 2008. The Dynamics of Science in a Small Country: The Case of Luxembourg. Science and Public Policy 35(5): 361-371.

Powell, J.J.W. 2012. Small State, Large World, Global University: Comparing Ascendant National Universities in Luxembourg and Qatar. Current Issues in Comparative Education 15: 100–113.

Powell, J.J.W., N. Bernhard, & L. Graf. 2012.The Emergent European Model in Skill Formation. Sociology of Education 85(3): 240–258.

Ravinet, P. 2008. From Voluntary Participation to Monitored Coordination. European Journal of Education 43(3): 353-367.

Rohstock, A., & C. Schreiber 2012. The Grand Duchy on the Grand Tour: A Historical Study of Student Migration in Luxembourg. Paedagogica Historica 49(2): 174-193.

University of Luxembourg. 2013. Facts and Figures 2013. Luxembourg: University of Luxembourg.



[1] See Philip G. Altbach and Jane Knight, “The Internationalization of Higher Education: Motivations and Realities,” Journal of Studies in International Education11, 3-4 (Fall/Winter 2007), 290-305.

[2] See Daniel Levy, To Export Progress: The Golden Age of University Assistance in the Americas (2005).

[3] A number of important university networks emerged in the early twentieth century, including the Association of American Universities (AAU), founded in 1900. The AAU became somewhat international in scope when McGill and Toronto were admitted as members in 1926, however, the AAU essentially positions itself as an association of American research universities with two Canadian members.

[4] The Singapore Declaration began by asserting that the Commonwealth was a voluntary organization of independent nations, a quite different understanding of these relationships than those associated with the former British Empire.

[5] Robert E. Smith, “Venezuela Offers Harvard-MIT Center $800,000 Contract,” Harvard Crimson, March 9, 1961.

[6] For the history of the Joint Center, see Eugenie L. Birch, “Making Urban Research Intellectually Respectable: Martin Meyerson and the Joint Center for Urban Studies of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, 1959-1964” Journal of Planning History 10 (August 2011): 219-238; and Christopher P. Loss, Front and Center: Academic Expertise and its Challengers in the Post-1945 United States (book manuscript in progress). In the early 1970s the Joint Center shifted focus from urban studies to housing studies, and in 1985 it changed its name to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, with MIT severing the partnership four years later. The center still operates today as an affiliate of Harvard University. For more on its current activities, see Accessed August 22, 2013.

[7] JCUS: The First Five Years, 1959-1964 (Cambridge, MA: 1964), 53-56, quotes on 53-54.

[8] Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century (1988; Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 322.

[9] Lloyd Rodwin, “Garden Cities and the Metropolis,” Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics 21 (August 1945): 281.

[10] Lloyd Rodwin, “Images and Paths of Change in Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Literature, and City Planning, 1950-2000,” in The Profession of City Planning, ed. Lloyd Rodwin and Bishwapriya Sanyal (New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University, 2000), 3-23. The penetration of the “social sciences in urban and regional studies,” Rodwin wrote, “was the main reason for the organization, in 1959, of the Joint Center of MIT and Harvard University outside the city planning departments of either university” (19). See also “Lloyd Rodwin, 80, MIT urban studies professor, extended the field of planning to social sciences and the Third World,” MIT News, Dec. 8, 1999, available at Accessed May 23, 2013.

[11] JCUS: The First Five Years, 53.

[12] Walt W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth—A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1960).

[13] The Guayana Development Program: Staff Working Paper, March 1965, p. 1-2, 6, B77-B83, box 2, AC 292, Institute Archives and Special Collections.

[14] “Dream City Rises on the Plains South of Caracas,” New York Times, January 28, 1966, 74.

[15] Harvard University News Office, News Release – Harvard – March 15, 1961, box 1, AC 292. Rodwin’s version of his first meeting with Ravard is in Lloyd Rodwin, “Introduction,” in Planning Urban Growth and Regional Development: The Experience of the Guayana Program of Venezuela, ed. Lloyd Rodwin(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969), 1-2.

[16] “Dream City Rises on the Plains South of Caracas,” 74.

[17] Willo von Moltke, “The Evolution of the Linear Form,” in Planning Urban Growth and Regional Development, ed. Rodwin, 126-146.

[18] Guy Kelnhofer, Planning and Administration of New Towns, June 1963, p. 3, D1-D29, box 3, AC 292.

[19] On disappointments of the final result, see Lisa Peattie, Planning: Rethinking Ciudad Guayana (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987), 7-22.

[20] Former Chinese president and former chairman of military affairs

[21] Former State Council Prime Minister

[22] Former president of Chinese Academy of Engineering from 1988 to 2002

[23] Former Vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference national committee on 1993 and 1998

[24] This essay builds on prior work that analyzed university institutionalization in small states, contrasting Luxembourg and Qatar (Powell 2012).

Towards Harmonization of Higher Education in Southeast Asia: Malaysia’s perspective

Link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article, which enables better sharing and printing.

Editors’ note: today’s guest entry, by Morshidi Sirat (Universiti Sains Malaysia), Norzaini Azman (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) & Aishah Abu Bakar (University of Malaya), is designed to provide you with an up-to-date and insightful summary of the state of the Southeast Asian higher education region-building project. Regionalism — a state-led agenda to build up ‘regional coherence’ via the trading of goods and services, and the facilitation of human and non-human mobility (e.g. technologies, information, capital, the factors of production) – is a centuries old phenomenon. However, it was not until the Bologna Process (formally launched in 1999), which helped construct the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), that we witnessed the first substantial incorporation of higher education into regionalism agendas. For good and for bad it is also the Bologna Process that has helped stir up a series of subsequent ‘echoes’ (to use Pavel Zgaga’s term) in other parts of the world regions’ higher ed landscape.

For those of you interested in the theme of universities in a world of regions, please refer to this week’s content in our MOOC Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy.’ We’re up to Week 4 of 7 as of Monday 14 April (see the syllabus here), though the course can be engaged with in a pick-and-choose method for the ‘too busy’ but curious of our readers. Apart from the text and visuals we provided this week, you’re very fortunate (we think!) to be able to listen to and read what a number of key players in higher education regionalisms think about the process. We have a podcast Q&A with one of the architects of the Bologna Process (Pavel Zgaga, former Minister of Education and Sport, Slovenia), as well as with a key player in the African Higher Education and Research Space development initiative (Goolam Mohamedbhai, Former Secretary-General, Association of African Universities). Taken together, all of this content should provide you with an up-to-date and insightful (we hope!) summaries of what is going on with respect to this fascinating, albeit complex, development process.

Our thanks to Morshidi Sirat, Norzaini Azman & Aishah Abu Bakar for their many insights below.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson


 Towards Harmonization of Higher Education in Southeast Asia: Malaysia’s Perspective

by Morshidi Sirat (Universiti Sains Malaysia), Norzaini Azman (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) & Aishah Abu Bakar (University of Malaya)


Harmonisation of higher education is essentially a process that recognises the significance of regional education cooperation and the importance of establishing an ‘area of knowledge’ in which activities and interactions in higher education, mobility, and employment opportunities can be easily facilitated and increased. It is the process that acknowledges diversity of higher education systems and cultures within the region, while simultaneously seeking to create a ‘common educational space’ (Wallace, 2000; Enders, 2004). A region in a supra-national context, with different cultures, religions, languages and educational systems, must develop a harmonised system of education so that it can foster a higher level of understanding, a sense of shared purpose and common destiny in a highly globalised world. This system could be developed or constructed on the basis of a common, but not identical, practices and guidelines for cooperation in education.

A common space or higher education area does not intend to create a uniform or standardised system of higher education. The primary goal is to create general guidelines in areas such as degree comparability through similar degree cycle and qualifications framework, quality assurance, lifelong learning, or credit transfer system and so on (Armstrong, 2009; Clark, 2007). These general guidelines will facilitate and smoothen international student mobility, lifelong learning, and hassle-free movement of talented workers within the region, which will strengthen regional economy in the long run. The regional higher education area is the space in which students, faculty members and HEIs are the key players promoting similar standards of higher education activities. In other words, in a region with a harmonised system of higher education there will be continuous interactions and mobility for students, faculty members and talents.

The most important factor that contributes to the success of the process of harmonisation in higher education is the participation and consensus building at the level of national agencies, the public and also other stakeholders. The key element of the harmonisation in higher education will be the establishment of a mutually accepted roadmap that will consist of a vision of future goal (such as the establishment of a higher education space/area), areas to develop common frameworks (identified by key stakeholders such as credit transfer system, quality assurance guidelines, regional qualifications framework or comparable degree cycle and so on), methods and the key players who will be responsible for framework development and information dissemination to the public. According to Hettne (2004), harmonization is cyclical, and a policy process (functional cooperation) and policy tools (lesson-drawing, policy externalization, and policy transfer) anchors it.

Harmonization in Southeast Asia

The idea of harmonizing higher education systems in Southeast Asia was inspired by the development of regionalism in higher education in Europe, specifically the establishment of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). The idea of regionalism in higher education in Asia or Southeast Asia is a very exciting idea, indeed.

Southeast Asia has been integrating rapidly mainly through trade and investment. The region is also witnessing increasing mobility of people in the region and between regions. This new context places higher education in a pivotal role in developing human resources capable of creating and sustaining globalized and knowledge-based societies. Harmonizing the highly diverse systems of higher education in the region is seen as an important step towards the regional integration objective. The most common measure is the step towards a greater degree of integration in higher education policies and practices through concerted regional efforts.

Regionalization of higher education has political, economic, social and cultural dimensions, similar to globalization (Terada, 2003; Hawkins, 2012). As a political lever, regional cooperation provides opportunities for regions and individual nations to contribute to international quality assurance policy discussions. As an economic lever, regional integration provides smaller higher education systems entrance to possibilities of competition and cooperation on an international or regional scale. As a social or cultural lever, regional activities build solidarity among nations with similar cultural and historical roots (Yepes, 2006). Therefore, higher education regionalization looks differently, depending on the dimensions, actors, and values involved in the process.

In recent years Southeast Asian countries have shown commitment towards deepening connections and interactions by looking at the rich regional diversity as important basis for regional cooperation and collaboration rather than as stumbling block. It is envisioned that the ASEAN Community 2015 would be the outcome of cooperation and collaboration in ASEAN in areas relating to regional understanding and economic integration. ASEAN, as a regional block comprising of 10 nations, namely, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is steadily moving towards achieving “One Vision, One Identity, One Community” aspiration by 2015.

ASEAN leaders set a vision to build an ASEAN Community with three building pillars: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), and the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC). The primary goal of ASCC is create an ASEAN Community that is people-centred and socially responsible based on shared values.Education, particularly higher education has been treated as the core action line in promoting the ASEAN-Socio Cultural Community and in supporting the continued economic integration of ASEAN by 2015. Higher education in the region has been mentioned in many official declarations as one of the important steps to enhance human resource development in the region. An ambitious plan was set up in 2009, aimed at creating a systematic mechanism to support the integration of universities across Southeast Asia. Student mobility, credit transfers, quality assurance and research clusters were identified as the four main priorities to harmonize the ASEAN higher education system, encompassing 6,500 higher education institutions and 12 million students in 10 nations.

The ultimate goal of the plan is to set up a Common Space of Higher Education in Southeast Asia. The strategic plan calls for the creation of the ASEAN area of higher education with a broader strategic objective of ensuring the integration of education priorities into ASEAN’s development. The education objectives aim to:

  • advance and prioritize education and focus on: creating a knowledge-based society;
  • achieving universal access to primary education;
  • promoting early child care and development; and
  • enhancing awareness of ASEAN to youths through education and activities to build an ASEAN identity based on friendship and cooperation as a key way to promote citizens’ mobility and employability and the continent’s overall development.

The declaration advocates specific reforms focusing on a harmonization in the higher education system with the objective of increasing the international competitiveness of ASEAN higher education.

Since then, individual ASEAN governments have increased public investment in universities to support the ASEAN Higher Education Area, and the region’s burgeoning knowledge economy. Measures have been set up to strengthen the performance of Southeast Asian universities across a wide range of indicators such as teaching, learning, research, enterprise and innovation. These initiatives also pave the way for further collaboration and integration between universities in the region, enhancing the overall reputation of ASIAN universities compared to their competitors in the West and elsewhere in the world. It is not surprising to see the improved performance of many ASEAN universities in this year’s QS University Rankings: Asia.

As one of the five founding members of ASEAN, Malaysia has played a very active role in the organisation with ideas and initiatives that has contributed to shaping ASEAN into what it is today and what it is going to be in the future. Malaysia also initiated in the of ASEAN Plus Three summit, namely ASEAN and China, Japan and South Korea, which was the other name in replacement of the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) for the East Asia Summit (EAS). Malaysia has also taken a leadership role in the harmonisation of the higher education systems through many initiatives. For example, the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) played a crucial role of promoting harmonisation by encouraging active movement towards the development of quality assurance collaboration and sharing. The MQA spearheaded the establishment of the network of quality assurance agencies among Southeast Asian Countries, known as ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN). It was introduced to develop and recognize strength and commonalities in academic practices without losing individual country identity apart from ensuring compatibility of qualifications and learning outcomes within the ASEAN countries.


Admittedly, there are benefits in creating a common higher education space in Southeast Asia. The more obvious ones are greater mobility, widening access and choices, academic and research collaborations, enhanced collaboration on human capital investment, and the promotion of ASEAN and/or Southeast Asian within the fast changing global higher education landscape. The immediate advantage of such harmonization in higher education system is presented as easier exchange and mobility for students and academics between nations within Southeast Asia apart from member countries availability to access systems, tools and best practices for quality improvement in higher education. For some countries, harmonization serves as a jump start for keeping up with globalization

Arguably, the model that is most desired and considered most feasible is that which does not require all higher education systems to conform to a particular model.  The general consensus is that a system that become a reference or one that can be fitted into without jeopardizing cultural diversity and national identity is considered most feasible and desired. This consensus is very much in line with the successful approach used by the early Muslim scholars where their methodology involved taking all ideas which were non-contradictory to their religious value and faith. The scholars only borrowed ideas from others but they went on further to expand and introduce innovative ideas (Abbas, 2011). This approach has led to development of unique learning culture, which is the basis of a stronger community. As a result of harmonization, differing national standards come closer together. However, it has been very difficult for nations to agree on common standards mainly because issues of sovereignty usually become points of contention and also because it is not, in itself, an easy process. In the recent discussion with other ASEAN country members at the ASEAN + 3 meeting, Malaysia has recommended the idea of finding commonalities in practices when developing standards and not imposing uniformity and that such initiative should be undertaken in stages taking into consideration the various level of higher education development in ASEAN.

Forms of Harmonization

The likely scenarios of higher education landscape in Southeast Asia as a result of such a harmonization of higher education systems are generally perceived as follows:

  1. Students from different countries spend at least a year studying in other countries
  2. Students in different locations are offered the same quality of education regardless of  higher education institutions
  3. Graduates from one country are recruited by the employment sector in other countries
  4. A multi-national workplace
  5. Close collaboration  between faculty in creating and developing new knowledge
  6. Close collaboration between students in creating and developing new knowledge
  7. Close collaboration between employment sectors in creating and developing new knowledge
  8. Larger volume of adult students in the higher education system
  9. Close collaboration between International Relations Offices who are the key player behind mobility program.

Plan of Actions

The following actions are deemed necessary in achieving the desired goal in harmonizing higher education among ASEAN community:

1. Regional Accreditation

Accreditation is very important in higher education. It is viewed as both a process and a result. It is a process by which a university/college or technical and vocational training institution evaluates its educational activities, and seeks an independent judgment to confirm that it substantially achieves its objectives, and is generally equal in quality to comparable institutions. As a result, it is a form of certification, or grant of formal status by a recognized and authorized accrediting agency to an educational institution as possessing certain standards of quality which are over and above those prescribed as minimum requirements by the government.

2. Unified Education Framework

Intergovernmental Organizations establish ASEAN standards for HEI’s including curriculum. Consequently, revising curriculum and delivery modes in all programs are still on the process to meet labour market needs. Thus, a unified curriculum in the ASEAN region is highly recommended to achieve the desired goal of one community. The focus should be on learning outcomes.

3. Improve Quality of Education

ASEAN countries need to improve the quality of their education systems as many graduates lack the skills needed in today’s rapidly changing workplace. The shortage of skilled workforce in the Asia-Pacific Region, male and even more so female, has been a major bottleneck in economic and social development. There is a need for greater emphasis on technical and vocational education and training (Liang, 2008; Kehm 2010).

4. Scholarship for students/Faculty Exchange

More programs on scholarships grant on students from all the regions are now being practiced in most ASEAN countries. The Scholarships aim to provide opportunities to the young people of ASEAN to develop their potential and equip them with skills that will enable them to confidently step into the enlarged community. Another medium of attaining the quality of education is by educating the teachers, academics and other educational personnel and upgrade their professional competency. Programs can be introduced that focus on talent management, leadership selection and review of teachers’ and lecturers’ workload. Various initiatives, from faster promotion prospects to awards can be introduced, to acknowledge the role teachers and academics play, and raise the image and morale of the teaching and academic profession.

5. Regional Skills Competition

Encourage the participation of higher education institutions and TVET institutions in skills competitions such as the ASEAN Skills Competition to support workforce development and to achieve regional standards competency. It will contribute towards the advancement of quality and skills of workers in all ASEAN Member Countries.

6. Increase Usage of English Language

Language is a key towards the development of a global community. Workers should realize the importance of being able to communicate in English as an important tool for the realization of ASEAN Community 2015 so that they will not face a handicap to benefit from the fruits of the ASEAN community.

Key Actors, Activities, and Progress

Over the past years, regional bodies have emerged as new and key actors in higher education policy making, offering the possibility of higher education regionalization (Wesley, 2003, Hawkins, 2012). Regional bodies introduce a new level to the local, national, and global spectrum of higher education policymaking and practice. Regional bodies can provide a smaller venue for national organizations to collaborate on norm-setting and policy harmonization that relate specifically to regional needs, values, and identity (a national-to-regional trend). Regional bodies can also give voice to smaller developing countries that do not have the economic status or ability to participate in international policy making discussions (a national-to-regional-to-international trend). Likewise, regional bodies have the potential for grassroots initiatives to gain a broader audience (local-to-regional-to-international trends) (Wesley, 2003, Hawkins, 2012). It is against this background that this paper turns to initiatives taken by regional bodies in their roles and activities in harmonizing the higher education sector in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia,the status of integration of higher education in ASEAN are being studied and promoted by three main bodies namely SEAMEO RIHED, ASEAN Plus Three and the ASEAN Universities Network (AUN). Their aim is to promote education networking in various levels of educational institutions and continue university networking and enhance and support student and staff exchanges and professional interactions including creating research clusters among ASEAN institutions of higher learning. Further actions are envisaged to strengthen collaboration with other regional and international educational organizations to enhance the quality of education in the region. Higher education systems in Southeast Asia are very diverse, and even within each nation incompatibility is to be expected.  But, it is important to appreciate that in the context of Southeast Asia, with its diverse systems, harmonization is about comparability; not standardization or uniformity of programs, degrees and the nature of higher education institutions.

ASEAN Plus Three

Beginning in 1997, the ASEAN community began creating organizations within its framework with the intention of achieving their goals. ASEAN Plus Three was the first of these organizations and the network was designed to improve existing ties with the People’s Republic of ChinaJapan, and South Korea. ASEAN Plus Three developed a Plan of Action on Education: 2010-2017 which emphasizes the need to develop and implement strategies related to quality assurance and the promotion of mobility. Subsequently, the ASEAN Plus Three Working Group on Mobility of Higher Education and Ensuring Quality Assurance of Higher Education among ASEAN Plus Three Countries was created. The working group main objectives are to analyze credit transfer systems within the ASEAN Plus Three region, and explore ways to improve student mobility programs in the ASEAN Plus Three region.


The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) is an international organization established in 1965 among governments of Southeast Asian countries to promote regional cooperation in education, science and culture in Southeast Asia. Members of SEAMEO included Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Republic of the Union of Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Socialist Republic of Vietnam. SEAMEO-RIHED (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization – Regional Centre for Higher Education and Development) was later developed under the umbrella of SEAMEO working for 10 Member Countries in Southeast Asia. Specifically, its mission is to foster efficiency, effectiveness and harmonization of higher education in Southeast Asia through system research, empowerment, development of mechanisms to facilitate sharing and collaborations in higher education (Yepes, 2006; Nguyen, 2009). Programs under SEAMEO-RIHED mainly serving 5 objectives

  1. Empowering higher education institutions: includes Study Visit Programmes to the US, the UK, Australia and China, training courses for International Relation Offices (IRP) in Southeast Asian HEIs and workshops on governance and management for HEIs.
  2. Developing harmonization mechanism: includes internationalisation Award (iAward), workshops on Academic Credit Transfer framework from Asia and Southeast Asian Quality Assurance Framework.
  3. Cultivating Globalized human resources : includes the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Programme.
  4. Advancing knowledge frontiers in higher education system management: includes Policy Action Research: Building Academic Credit Transfer Framework for Asia.
  5. Promoting university social responsibility and sustainable development : include seminar on University Social Interprise.

Out of the five objectives, the main focus being cultivating globalized human resources through AIMS students’ mobility program in which the Malaysian Education Ministry under the Department of Higher Education is directly and actively involved. It also includes the iAward program where Malaysia has participated under AIMS previously known as Malaysia-Indonesia-Thailand (M-I-T) Student Mobility Project.

AIMS Program

Student mobility has always been one of the key strategic elements of cooperation leading to the development of a harmonized higher education environment among countries in Southeast Asia. The ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) program commonly known asAIMS was started in 2009 to aid the drive towards European higher education harmonization. This program was designed to encourage student mobility through the multilateral collaborations among four countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Three objectives formed the reasons behind the promotion of student mobility and greater university cooperation:

  • enables students to hone their academic skills and intercultural understanding,
  • provides the critical knowledge needed to succeed in today’s globalised economy,
  • promotes regional cooperation between higher education institutions and helps to produce the international graduates that are attractive and necessary for an intergrated ASEAN Community to contribute to the development of qualified, open-minded and globalized human resources.

According to a report prepared in 2013, on the first three years of AIMS, the number of students participating in AIMS grew from a total of 260 students in 2011 to more than 500 students in 2013. The five disciplines involved were Hospitality and Tourism, Agriculture, Language and Culture, International Business and Food Science and Technology. Two additional disciplines were included in 2013 which are Engineering and Economics.

The implementing partners are:

  • Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE), Malaysia;
  • Directorate General of Higher education, Ministry of Education and Culture (DGHE, MOEC), Indonesia;
  • Office of the Higher Education Commission, Ministry of Education (OHEC, MOE), Thailand; and
  • Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam, recently joined in 2012.

The AIMS Program targets an expansion (set in 2009) as below.

By 2011 By 2013 By 2015
150 students 300 students 500 students
5 study fields 7 study fields 10 study fields
3 countries 5 countries 10 countries

The program aims to make temporary student mobility as a regular feature of higher education in Southeast Asia, as dedicated academic and administrative measures for internationalization of students’ experiences are generally viewed as essential for dynamic institution of higher education. As of December 2013, the progress of AIMS program is as shown in the diagram below.



(Source : Student Mobility: focusing on the globally competent human resources, Li Zhe (2013) presented at the First Working group on Mobility of Higher education and Ensuring Quality Assurance of Higher education Among ASEAN plus Three Countries, 30 September 2013, Tokyo Japan )

From the above projection, AIMS welcomes new members and the decision to join AIMS must come from the ministry responsible for higher education. The process for joining AIMS involved contacting RIHED, observing AIMS Review Meeting, reviewing AIMS handbook, assigning AIMS contact person, identifying participating HEIs, organizing In-country initiation meeting, allocating budget, organizing and attending policy meeting, attending further AIMS review meeting and consulting on student visa procedure (ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Program – Operational Handbook page 9-10).

So far, AIMS program has only involved undergraduates at degree level of any year in the program from fields of study (disciplines) that were determined collectively by participating countries. The duration of the mobility program awarded by Ministry is a minimum of one semester, but not more than six months. The undergraduate students that participate in AIMS are funded by each respective government. The HEIs involved in the AIMS program are nominated by the respective education ministries. Only flagship and leading universities are selected to aid credit transfer, matching of course syllabi, accreditation and attracting students to join the programs. The number of students involved in the exchange programs and the administrative arrangements of the AIMS is made through the HEIs bi-lateral agreements. However, while the AIMS Program marks the emergence of student mobility in ASEAN higher education institutions, it is the issue of recognition of periods of study and the recognition of academic qualifications obtained in another country that became highlighted and needed further review.

In ensuring the effectiveness and sustainability of the AIMS program, semi-annual review meetings involving the government agencies and HEIs representatives from member countries are carried out each year. The review meeting updates member countries on the development of the program, shares experiences and good practices, exchanges policy making and verifies student mobility data, foresight, plan and arrangement for future mobility activities.

The Internationalization Award (iAward)

The Internationalization Award was established in the year 2012 to recognize the contribution and significance of the international Relation Office as a focal point for students exchange in mobility programs. It recognizes universities that are making significant, well-planned, well-executed, and well-documented progress toward student mobility activities especially those using innovative and creative approaches. In addition, the iAward was aimed to serve as an assessment tool for the AIMS Program as well as a mechanism for quality assurance of internationalization. The specific objectives are:

  • To promote good practices in internationalization by International Relations Offices (IROs); and
  • To provide a collaborative atmosphere for experience sharing.

The process of iAward involves each ministry to nominate at least 2 IROs from their country. The nominated IROs are required to submit a self-assessment report before a site visit assessment is carried out by the iAward Assessment Committee. The award is granted to IROs that has demonstrated a commitment to the internationalization of student experience through one or more of the criteria listed below:

  • The establishement of a system assessment (planning, controlling & follow-up)
  • The establishment of facilities & infrastructure
  • Excellence in services and feedback
  • Excellence in governance, organization, staff

iAward assessment measured three dimensions of inputs (the resources available to support IRO efforts); outputs (the work and activities undertaken in support of mobility) and outcomes (the impact and end results).

The three recipients of the 2012 were the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia; BINUS University, Indonesia; and Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand. The recipients were invited to present their good practices and experiences to participants from 7 countries at the 5th Review Meeting of the ASEAN International Mobility for Students (AIMS) Program. They highlighted initiatives that remove institutional barriers and broaden the base of participation in international mobility programs.

There are a number of challenges that the AIMs need to look into. The program is rapidly expanding from three countries in 2010 to seven countries in 2013 and this presents logistical challenges to the management of the next phase of iAward assessment. This scenario is expected to get worst in the future if all the 36 universities participate actively in the program. This would mean that the applicability of the concept of one award per country will have to be reviewed.

As the number of students increases, the AIMs needs to move their focus on numbers and percentages of students involved in each country to the content and quality of the regional experience. After all, student mobility and internationalization of higher education as such is not a goal in itself but a means to enhance the quality of the educational experience and the international learning outcome of the students.

The ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework

In order to facilitate student mobility, the region’s diverse higher education systems need more harmonized standards and mechanisms for permeable and transparent quality assurance and credit transfer among institutions. Encouraging and supporting students to study abroad is a major strategy to develop a well-trained regional workforce, which can improve the quality and quantity of human resources in the ASEAN economy as well as the national education sector.

The ASEAN Qualifications Reference Framework (QRF), a common reference framework, functions as a device to enable comparisons of qualifications across participating ASEAN countries while at the same time, support and enhance each country’s national qualifications framework or qualifications systems that are currently at varying levels of development, scope and implementation. The ASEAN QRF addresses education and training sectors and the wider objective of promoting lifelong learning. The framework is based on agreed understandings between member countries and invites voluntary engagement from countries. Therefore it is not regulatory and binding on countries.

The ASEAN QRF aims to be a neutral influence on national qualifications frameworks of participating ASEAN countries. The process for endorsing the ASEAN QRF is by mutual agreement by the participating countries. Countries will be able to determine when they will undertake the processes of referencing their qualification framework, system or qualification types and quality assurance systems against the framework. The purpose of the ASEAN QRF is to enable comparisons of qualifications across countries that will:

  • Support recognition of qualifications
  • Facilitate lifelong learning
  • Promote and encourage credit transfer and learner mobility
  • Promote worker mobility
  • Lead to better understood and higher quality qualifications systems. (AQRF, 2013)

Currently chaired by the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA), the ASEAN QRF will also provide a mechanism to facilitate comparison and transparency of and harmonise regulatory agreements. It will link the participating ASEAN NQFs or qualification systems and become the ASEAN’s mechanism for recognition of its qualifications against other regional and international qualifications systems.

To promote quality assurance of education and training across the region, the ASEAN QRF is underpinned by a set of agreed quality assurance principles and broad standards related to:

  • The functions of the registering and accrediting agencies
  • Systems for the assessment of learning and the issuing of qualifications
  • Regulation of the issuance of certificates.

The ASEAN QRF utilises the East Asia Summit Vocational Education and Training Quality Assurance Framework quality principles, agency quality standards and quality indicators as the basis for the agreed quality assurance standards. The East Asia TVET Quality Assurance Framework is to be used as the benchmark for evaluating the quality assurance processes (for all education and training sectors). The referencing process will include member countries referencing their education and training quality assurance systems against the East Asia Summit Vocational Education and Training Quality Assurance Framework (AQRF, 2013).

A board or managing committee was established by the ASEAN Secretariat for the maintenance, use, evaluation and review of the ASEAN QRF, including a mechanism for assessing whether the Framework is providing the enabling function for member countries. The board or managing committee responsible for the on-going management of the ASEAN QRF is to be made up of national representatives (from a NQF or responsible body) in each country and an independent expert. The board or managing committee shall also be tasked with providing a central repository for member country referencing documents, and with providing access to information and guidance to other countries external to the ASEAN region on the ASEAN QRF.

Based on the current status, the development of a comprehensive ASEAN QRF still has a long way to go. To move forward, there is a need to identify major obstacles including reaching a mutual understanding between the “sending” and the “receiving” countries and identifying key players to be in the taskforce. It requires strong and long-lasting commitment by the participating countries and entails strong collaborations within and across Ministries, and other stakeholders in the participating countries. Nevertheless, there have been significant steps towards an ASEAN QRF that will facilitate student and labour mobility in the region.

Credit Transfer System (CTS)

To date, there are two attempts at developing a credit transfer system in Southeast Asia. The first is by University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP), a network of voluntary association of government and non-government representatives of the higher education (university) sector in the region. UMAP’s major contributions to the formation of a harmonized regional approach to HE in the Asia region was the development of the University Credit Transfer System (UCTS), a mechanism to satisfy one of the key concerns of most proponents of a regional approach to higher education (mobility for students seeking transfer of credits within the region). Founded in 1994 with 35 countries and over 359 HEIs members, UMAP hasdeveloped a trial programme to promote student mobility in Asia Pacific. Similar to other endeavours in many parts of the world, the UCTS aims at creating a more sustainable mobility programme that enables students to earn credits during their studies in other universities. According to the UMAP, host and home universities are required to complete a credit transfer agreement in advance of the enrolments, both at graduate and post-graduate levels. Participating universities are now voluntarily taking part in the trial process of implementing the UMAP Credit Transfer Scheme (UCTS). According to Nyugen, 2009, very few institutions have utilized UCTS and know what the system is all about (in Japan, a major proponent of receiving students from Asia, had only 6 percent of their HEIs utilizing UCTS as a tool). She notes that the program has a lack of identity in the region as well as financial support.

Somewhat more successful in terms of usage is the ASEAN University Network’s (AUN) credit transfer system known as ASEAN Credit Transfer System (ACTS). AUN was established by ASEAN in 1995 to embark on a program of strengthening relations and activities among higher education institutions. As of 2011, it had about 26 members. According to ACTS, credit transfer is the award of credit for a subject in a given program for learning that had taken place in another program completed by a learner prior to the program he/she is undertaking or about to undertake. When the institution recognizes that a subject or a group of subjects that have been completed at a different institutions equivalent to the subject or a group of subjects in the program that the student is about to undertake, the credit from the subject or group of subjects is transferred to the program the student is about to undertake. The equivalence between the subjects completed prior to the subject to be taken by the student is assessed based on the credit value, the learning level and the learning outcomes of the two subjects in question (Asia Corporation Dialogue, 2011).

While the ACTS is opened to all HEIs in the region, the fact is it has become primarily an elite program, as “elites prefer to cooperate with elites” (Nguyen, 2009, p. 80). Therefore, it is somewhat self-limiting (Hawkins, 2012). More interesting was the AUN sub-regional networking on QA practices, which seeks to establish some common standards for the region. In particular, the AUN Quality Assurance program has the goals of enhancing education, research and service among its members. AUN-QA complemented with a set of guidelines and manual for implementation reaches out to all institutions in the region that wish to get the AUN-QA label. In the last decade, AUN-QA has been promoting, developing, and implementing quality assurance practices based on an empirical approach where quality assurance practices are shared, tested, evaluated, and improved.The AUN-QA activities have been driven through increasing collaboration among its member universities but also with ASEAN Quality Assurance Network (AQAN), SEAMEO-RIHED, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA). The collaborations efforts are expected to further hasten the harmonization of AUN-QA framework within and outside ASEAN.


The implementation of the harmonization idea is not without challenges. Steps should be taken in order to increase student readiness. Barriers to language and communication must be overcome and there should be serious efforts to reduce constraints that are very ‘territorial’ in nature. Admittedly, students involved in mobility program may be faced with adjustment problems particularly with respect to instructional practices, curriculum incomparability, and cultural diversity. Then there is the language problem: differences in languages post a great barrier for inward and outward mobility of students at the macro level. ‘Territorial’ constraint, whereby each country hopes to safeguard the uniqueness of their educational programs, which in turn, may ultimately constrain the implementation of regional harmonization efforts, is a major consideration to be factored in.

Generally, the stakeholders have favorable views regarding the credit transfer system for ASEAN. Nevertheless, there is the issue of quality as the role of AQA (ASEAN Qualifications Agency) as a reliable monitoring body is being questioned. The AQA needs to exist and links need to be built between the different national quality assurance systems. The number of significant issue associated with quality assurance would require resolution facilitated by the AQA so that the local, regional and national autonomy is not compromised by external credit system. However, ASEAN needs a system that guarantee the quality of credits associated with education gained under any national system. Most importantly, mutual trust and confidence between different systems have to be developed. Without more transparency and knowledge about the quality of each other’s system, the development of credit transfer system within ASEAN will be very slow.

In the context of the cooperation in QA, the region still possesses a few structural impediments, the most important one being the problem about disparity of QA development. One could not argue differently that the level of disparity of HEIs and QA development in this region is extremely high. It could be said that the current stage of QA development in Southeast Asia is more or less similar to those in other developing countries in a sense that most of the QA systems have been originated by or operated as national formal mechanism. Half of the countries in the region, including Cambodia (ACC), Indonesia (BAN-PT), Malaysia (MQA), Philippines (AACCUP, PAASCU, etc.), Thailand (ONESQA) and Vietnam (Department of Education Testing and Accreditation) have national QA systems operated either under the umbrella of the MOEs or partly funded by the government. Although the majority of Southeast Asian countries in this region have already established and developed their national QA mechanism such as Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, the rest is still in the stage of developing quality assurance infrastructure such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR. Such disparity has fundamentally contributed to the inefficiency in developing a formal or common QA cooperation within the region. However, this does not mean that Southeast Asia could not do anything to promote mutual development of QA systems within the sub-region.In fact, it has developed the ASEAN Quality Reference Framework as a guideline for effective quality assurance mechanism.

ASEAN countries are rich in culture, diverse in language and religion but have one common goal, to be united as one. Mostly, the language barrier has always been a constant problem among the people of the member countries. This is a great challenge to the ASEAN Community to further create programs on how to address this issue. The increase of usage of English language is one of the focal areas to be considered.

Regardless all those differences, Southeast Asia countries share a similar emphasis on human resource development as a key in developing the whole nation to enter the knowledge-based economy and global environment. It is realized that they are moving fast forward the situation in which all nations operate in a global market environment. In so far as Malaysia is concerned, it has to be recognized that harmonization is not about ‘choice’. It is a global movement that now necessitates the involvement of all Malaysian higher education institutions. There are benefits to the private players. Initially, we need a state of readiness at the macro level, whereby the aims and principles of harmonization have to be agreed upon by all stakeholders and players in the local higher education scene.


The drive toward harmonization of ASEAN higher education seems to be on track, and member signatories of the ASEAN community are determined to move forward. The increased cooperation in education evidenced by all of the combined actions detailed provides an important background for the next chapter in the process of ASEAN higher education integration. The ASEAN community recognizes the need to create a common but not an identical or standardized ASEAN Higher Education Area (AHEA) that would facilitate the comparability of degrees and the mobility of students and faculty within Asia. While recognizing the fact that national and institutional variations in curriculum, instruction, programs, and degrees, resulting from historical, political, and socio-cultural influences, are bound to exist, it has managed to create a common ASEAN credit transfer system (ACTS), degree structure, credit, and quality control structures.

In conclusion, familiarization with the idea and concept of harmonization, as opposed to standardization, of higher education system in Southeast Asia is indeed an initial but a critical step towards the implementation of a meaningful and effective harmonization of higher education system in the region. While managers of higher education institutions and academics are not ignorant of the idea of harmonization, they tend to talk of it with reference to the Bologna process in Europe and the creation of the EHEA. Other stakeholders (particularly students) however are not very familiar as to how this concept could be realized in the context of Southeast Asia, which is culturally and politically diverse. Generally, students failed to appreciate the positive aspects of harmonization to their careers, job prospects and, of equal importance, cross-fertilization of cultures.

The task of creating a common higher education space is insurmountable in view of the vast differences in the structure and performance of the various higher education systems and institutions in Southeast Asia. Admittedly, we need to harmonize the internal structure of the higher education systems in the first instance before attempting a region-wide initiative. More importantly, the determination to realize this idea of harmonizing higher education in Southeast Asia should permeate and be readily accepted by the regional community. Typical of Southeast Asia, directives should come from the political masters. Thus, the role of Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) is very critical to a successful implementation of this idea of harmonization of the higher education systems. Although other regional bodies such as AUN and UMAP play important roles, at the end of the day, it is the nations and the individual HEIs who are the deciding actors who will determine the progress of the idea of harmonization in the region. Equally important, national prejudices and suspicions need to be put aside if we are to realize regional aspirations and goals.

Morshidi Sirat, Norzaini Azman & Aishah Abu Bakar


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No MOOCs for Iran or Syria?

This entry is also available on Inside Higher Ed here.  Also see this new IHE article ‘Massive Closed Online Courses‘ for more information about this matter.


Yesterday’s news that Coursera and Udacity need to follow US sanction rules is a reminder that the forces shaping the evolving global geographies of MOOCs is an issue that needs to be grappled with more thoroughly and systematically.

In recent entries here on Inside Higher Ed, I’ve argued that the MOOCs phenomenon has helped deterritorialize higher education institutions and practices via their ‘global reach’ such that the American-centric debates about MOOCs (e.g., completion rates; their uses to resolve austerity-induced public higher ed challenges), are important, yes, but just the edge of much broader debates that need to be engaged in.

From the global reach of MOOCs, to the cosmopolitan nature of the labor force working at the offices for platforms like Coursera and EdX, we see glimmers of a post-national higher ed future emerging. Moreover, we also see a global MOOC development agenda emerging, one backed by international organizations like the World Bank. See, for example:

Nation-states are also using MOOCs to promote national higher education systems abroad to target markets (e.g., a taste of Britain in India, courtesy of FutureLearn; Francophone Africa courtesy of France Université Numérique, and powered by EdX).

But, as the economic geographer Peter Dicken has argued so eloquently over the course of his career, firms and organizations are placed – they’re born and grounded in locales, even when they aspire to operate at a genuinely global scale.

Dicken’s point – about the ‘placing of firms’ – was hammered home in ‘Online education platform Coursera blocks students in Syria and Iran’ in Wamda yesterday. Phil Hill and I chatted about this on Twitter yesterday, and he has a nice summary about the Coursera/Udacity/EdX sanctions story here.

While this issue is still being investigated, I see three initial take-home messages from what is a rather perturbing development.

First, it appears as if the output of MOOCs has been defined by the US state as tradable “services” versus “information” in the US Treasury sanction documents for Iran and Syria, and in this Coursera note. Given this, the content of MOOCs mediated and propelled by US-registered MOOC platforms cannot be transmitted into said territory for they break sanction rules. Keep in mind that the broader regulatory context here regarding GATS and the trade in services (including education services).

Second, and most obviously, this is a bizarre and depressing development. How can the US Government seriously deem engagement with this array of Coursera courses, or this array of EdX courses, as supporting the regimes that sanctions are designed to put pressure on? And, relatedly, do government officials and leaders really think preventing access to MOOCs and associated outcomes (e.g., certificates) will generate the types of internal political pressure they are supposedly designed to do? You decide:

EdXembargoeThird, what role are MOOC platform partner universities playing in these deliberations? Do they even know? I doubt it, though I hope someone proves me wrong.

In this new global higher ed landscape, it is not enough to establish bilateral relations with intermediary firms/organizations like EdX, Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn, France Université Numérique, et al, and just use their services. Some broader strategic/governance rules of the game may need to be established. After all, if universities are willing to cede some MOOC-related authority to an association like the American Council of Education (ACE) regarding which MOOCs are credit worthy, then surely they should work via their relevant associations to collectively ensure that some very important global access issues, principle issues, and key precedents, are handled in as strategic a manner as they deserve to be.

Kris Olds

Mapping Coursera’s Global Footprint

Over the last year I’ve been stuck by how most debates about MOOCs, and MOOC platform providers, are remarkably national in orientation. In the US, for example, a surprising number of politicians and select ‘disruptive innovation’ consultants have framed MOOCs as a vehicle to help redress the fiscal challenges facing public higher education. This (the MOOC as fiscal challenge solution) is a mug’s game, though, as anyone involved in developing and running online courses (as I am for both regular credit classes and a MOOC) will tell you for they are resource intensive to both develop and run well. MOOCs are great for some things, and worse for others, but they are not going to save universities money by functioning as a silver bullet for the legacy impacts of austerity.

While the politics of MOOCs are primarily national in orientation, the developmental agendas of MOOC platforms like EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, iversity, et al, are scaled beyond the nation, such that they incorporate multiple world regions with respect to partners and students. Select regions (East Asia, South Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America), and select countries like China and India, are clearly being targeted by US- and Europe-based MOOC organizations and course developers, and they will be so more and more. This partially explains why international organizations like the World Bank have backed Coursera, why Coursera is working with translation services firms, and why Boston-based EdX is working with an increasing number of non-US governments. See, for example, these EdX press releases:

And see these Coursera press releases:

In order to make more sense of the emerging global footprints of MOOC platforms, I recently facilitated a mapping exercise with anonymized and aggregate (i.e. non-course specific) data regarding the location of students taking courses via Coursera. Fortunately, we have a wonderful Cartography Lab in the Department of Geography at UW-Madison. Coursera kindly provided the data in October and our cartographers went to work. What follows are two visualizations – one of the location of the 3+ million students (out of 5+ million) Coursera could geolocate, and one of Coursera’s expanding partnership base.



My thanks to Tanya Buckingham who worked on the above visualizations with GIS Certificate student Laura Poplett. I asked Tanya to provide some information about the first map posted above and this is what she had to say:

There are a two things about the data represented on the map that every reader should know. First, the participant data are represented using IP (Internet Protocol) address. A map of IP addresses will closely correspond to population density. Data are normalized to avoid creating a map of social phenomenon that simply reflects population density. In the experimental stages of this map, MOOC participants (as reported by IP address) were normalized with a denominator of global population information based on the LandScan dataset, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In the calculations, this resulted in areas that had a higher MOOC population than total population within a given area. This could be due to a handful of reasons, including how IP addresses are counted and aggregated for a certain area, or where people are living versus where they are participating in the MOOC in which they are enrolled. Considering the data by sub-country administrative units also resulted in a less than helpful map, since the area of these administrative units vary so widely. Ultimately, a hexagon tessellation was calculated to cover the earth’s surface, without considering total population within those units. Restricting the area provided a normalization of sorts–think of it as population by square kilometer rather than a population by state or province, where it is expected that the largest areas would have the highest numbers. While the map does look similar to a population distribution in Europe and the United States it does diverge in other areas of the world.

The second thing readers should be aware of is the number of participants shown on the map are just over 3.5 million people, when there are over 5.5 million people are registered as Coursera students. If the data are a representative sample, we would expect to see similar patterns as shown on the map now. However, if there is bias for a region in the world where it is not possible to geographically locate IP addresses, mapping those additional 1.5 million students could illuminate new patterns or clusters of students in areas where they are not represented on the map now. It is because of the missing data that the legend shows a qualitative value of “high, medium, low, no” participation, rather than exact numbers of participants.

The visualizations above thus represent the approximate global footprint of one MOOC platform generated by the students who sought to take courses offered by an expanding list of partners. Regardless of whether you like the idea of MOOCs or not, MOOCs are arguably post-national higher education platforms. Their names are almost uniformly placeless. As I have noted before, the founders of US-based MOOC platforms like EdX, Coursera and Udacity [undergoing pivot] are immigrants to the US from around the world, and many of the staff working in their offices are also recent immigrants. The platforms/courses also serve a growing number of students around the world. On the basis of the first map, Coursera could, arguably, be viewed as a defacto European and Indian MOOC platform for it has a major presence in both of these territories. The sames goes for EdX. Indeed I argued this point in Brussels at a recent ACA/EUA workshop, though the representative at the workshop countered that they were the “European” MOOC platform for they were born in Europe and operated by European rules with respect to the protection of student data. Indeed he went on to flag how they would be more protected from the prying eye of the NSA (a worthwhile objective, though technologically to be determined!).

In any case my point is this: US-based platforms like Coursera and EdX are serving more and more students around the world, and they will continue to do so as long as the platforms exist and partners provide courses. Mediating factors obviously include language, the nature of the courses, access to the internet (the latter of which is captured well by the World Bank and the OECD in the figures below), and access to YouTube (which is used in most courses).InternetAccess



Thus, while there is an evident national and regional (in Europe) politics to MOOCs phenomenon, it is important to recognize that these courses reach students around the world, including in countries far less well resourced than the origin country of most MOOCs. And given this, we may need to remember this point more often and open up/reframe practices, discussions, debates, regulations, intra-university governance pathways, analyses, and so on, to recognize this empirical fact. We’ve seen some magazine articles and blog entries on this issue (most recently Anya Kamenetz on ‘The MOOC Evolution‘), but the transnational dimension of MOOC provision and consumption has received remarkably little sustained attention considering how important it is.

My thanks to Coursera for providing the data, and to Tanya Buckingham and Laura Poplett for working so hard to creatively and effectively map Coursera’s global footprint (as at October 2013).

Kris Olds

Briefly Noted (reactions to Sebastian Thrun’s Fast Company hagiography)

Who is troubled by this week’s Sebastian Thrun hagiography (‘Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, Godfather Of Free Online Education, Changes Course‘) in Fast Company, as well as this announcement (‘Launching our Data Science & Big Data Track built with Leading Industry Partners‘) via the Udacity blog (both posted on 14 November 2013)? A lot of committed open education thinkers and practitioners, so it seems, and not merely because of the hype machine Thrun so evidently cultivates (I’ll leave aside the possible negative reaction to Thrun getting photographed in Lycra tights through a filter borrowed from a 1970s Swedish cinematographer, or the journalist’s attempt to throw in a clichéd Matrix reference):

I’ve compiled these reflective reactions as they are the only ones to emerge apart from a lot of supportive (of Thrun) tweets that are circulating said Fast Company article far and wide. Will we see some supportive articles and blog entries emerge next week regarding Thrun’s latest “pivot”? We shall see…

Kris Olds

Briefly Noted via @GlobalHigherEd

This is the first entry in a new weekly update series profiling interesting and periodically quirky reports, talks, or articles related to the globalization of higher education and research. These entries will typically be posted on Fridays on this site which is always mirrored on Inside Higher Ed. Today’s entry can be located at:

This series is being developed to bridge my daily use of Twitter @GlobalHigherEd to track and share resources with more traditional blog entries that will be emerging weekly. Briefly Noted, clearly inspired by the New Yorker’s Briefly Noted series on books, is designed to provide some filtered and hopefully useful leads on what to read for those of you who have no interest in coping with the torrent of periodically useful information flowing through the Twitterverse. As the author William Gibson (in his Twitter service Great Dismal) puts it “Twitter is like little animated hieroglyphics in the margins of a working manuscript, offering obscurely breaking news.” More recently, Gibson stated that he uses Twitter as a platform for “novelty aggregation.” The GlobalHigherEd version of Briefly Noted is being designed to provide selective material pulled out of my weekly aggregation process.

Comments and recommendations welcome! Kris Olds


ON THE OCCASION OF HIS INSTALLATION AS THE 16TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO, by Meric Gertler (7 November 2013). Meric Gertler, one of the world’s leading economic geographers, was formally installed yesterday at the University of Toronto. His address highlights the role of the university as a “critical piece of social infrastructure” not just in the Greater Toronto region, but also at a national and global scale. While an installation address is by necessity a brief one, Gertler outlines the need to address some serious challenges via pushing down (by recognizing and better leveraging “our location” in the Greater Toronto region), pushing out (by strengthening our international partnerships,” especially in other world cities like New York, São Paulo, and Shanghai), and by pushing inwards (by “reinventing undergraduate education”). I’ve flagged his address as these three strategies reflect an attempt to both support and take advantage of Toronto’s now hyper-cosmopolitan context and associated multi-scalar networks. Gertler’s role in guiding the transformation of the University of Toronto will be worth watching for he is already voicing the need to link the university’s internationalization strategy to mission, context, and all other development strategies (versus functioning as an add-on, appendage style, or as PR rhetoric with respect to internationalization). Some interesting times ahead over the next five years in Toronto, I suspect.

THE EDUCATION APOCALYPSE, by Audrey Watters (7 November 2013).  Audrey Watters, an education writer and one of the more acerbic critics of the MOOC juggernaut, posted a very informative critique on the coming “education apocalypse:”

I want to talk to you today about narratives of the education apocalypse, about eschatology and mythology and MOOCs and millennialism, and I do so not just as a keen observer of education technology but as someone trained as a folklorist. As much as being an ed-tech writer compels me to pay attention to the latest products and policies and venture capital investment, I am fascinated by the stories we tell about all of this. I am fascinated by what I see as some of the dominant end-times myths of the business world, of the tech industry. I am fascinated by how these myths — these sacred stories —  are deployed to talk about the end of the world —or at least  “the end of the university as we know it,” as Techcrunch puts it with the fervor of a true believer.

Watters focuses on the tropes and narrative tricks that analyst-entrepreneurs like Clayton Christensen (Harvard) and Sebastian Thrun (Udacity) use to make a case that their narratives are relevant, worth paying attention to, and equally important worth paying for. Her wittily crafted argument reminded me, somewhat, of Nigel Thrift’s writings on the “cultural circuit of capital” in his book Knowing Capitalism in that both of them seek to understand how and why invented development concepts become “unassailably true,” or practices such as “blended learning” get taken up and get incorporated into new political-economic agenda (like austerity). As Watters aptly puts it:

The structure to this sort of narrative is certainly a well-known and oft-told one in folklore — in tales of both a religious and secular sort. Doom. Suffering. Armageddon. Then paradise.

But who’s paradise is it?

OCEAN SCIENCE IN CANADA: MEETING THE CHALLENGE, SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY, by the Expert Panel on Canadian Ocean Science (Council of Canadian Academies, November 2013). While the title of this report conveys a very Canada-focused study, the 200-page text does a wonderful job of positioning Canada in global context with respect to other spaces of knowledge production about ocean sciences. The charge framing the report was:

What are Canada’s needs and capacities with regard to the major research questions in ocean science that would enable it to address Canadian ocean issues and issues relating to Canada’s coasts and enhance its leading role as an international partner in ocean science?

This charge was addressed via an analysis of Canada’s “capacity in ocean science” via an assessment of: human capacity; organizations, networks, and collaboration; physical and information infrastructure; funding; policy and governance.

From a global higher ed perspective, Chapter 3 (Canada’s Output and Impact in Ocean Science) is fascinating. This chapter’s key findings

  • Canada ranks 7th in the world by number of ocean science papers published, and 11th in scientific impact of its papers, as measured by average relative citations.
  • Ocean science in Canada grew at a slower pace compared with other fields of science in 2003–2011, meaning that its share of Canada’s total research output declined during this period.
  • Although national organizations such as DFO [Department of Fisheries and Oceans] and Environment Canada are highly connected hubs, collaborations in Canada are otherwise more decentralized, resembling a network of regional clusters.
  • Ocean science papers with international co-authors are cited more often than papers with authors from a single country, especially from Canada.

are bolstered by a variety of very well designed visualizations that identify the spaces and networks of Ocean Science knowledge production. Four of these images are pasted in below. Who knew that inland Alberta and Switzerland were key sites of knowledge production related to the world’s oceans!

This report reminded me of some other recent reports and documents:

that are also are attempting to understand, and visually represent, the uneven spaces of knowledge production and circulation. In many of these reports the associated visualizations play an integral role in conveying key analytic messages. Thus, even if you are not interested in the ocean sciences, Ocean Science in Canada is still worth a read and could provide a model of sorts for assessments of other forms of research output and impact.









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.


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:


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


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:


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:



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