Pacific Rim views on global education: Hong Kong+Seattle

Editor’s note: this guest entry was kindly produced by Gray Kochhar-Lindgren (pictured to the right), Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, as well as Director of the First Year Experience, at the University of Washington, Bothell. During 2009-10, Gray served as a Fulbright Scholar in General Education based at the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong America Center. With Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, he is currently working on a book entitled Designing the Global University. Our sincere thanks to Gray for a tantalizing entry that sheds light on some of the opportunities and challenges of fashioning deeper forms of internationalization, especially those of a partnership nature.  This is an issue that Nigel Thrift also addressed in a recent blog entry (‘Internationalization is difficult‘) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as via recent comments he made in the Times Higher Education (‘Global future: together alone‘), and one that I will deal with via a series of entries about international collaborative (e.g., dual and joint) degrees this coming September.   Kris Olds


Having spent September 2009-June 2010 serving as a Fulbright Scholar in General Education in Hong Kong , I have now returned to my responsibilities at the University of Washington, Bothell, as a Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Director of the academic side of our First Year Experience. All the universities in Hong Kong are moving from three to four year degrees and UW Bothell started first and second year programs in 2006 and is now rapidly expanding its degree options. On both sides of the Pacific, curricular and administrative structural reform are moving forward at a sometimes dizzying, but always invigorating, pace. What are the connections and asymmetries involved in such an effort?

As in other parts of the world, a very similar language is emerging in both Seattle and Hong Kong around curricular reform, including the familiar rhetoric of student-centeredness; outcomes-based assessment; interdisciplinarity; writing, quantitative, and IT literacies; cross-cultural competencies; interactive pedagogies; and the development of new administrative structures that can serve the university as a whole instead of reproducing only department or College level concerns.

The most difficult challenges include how best to shape faculty participation in governance, teaching, and administration of the curricular shifts; how to change the culture of the university so that teaching is valued as highly as research productivity in promotion and tenure decisions; how to change faculty behavior toward more interactivity in and beyond the classroom; what forms trans- or interdisciplinarity teaching and research take; and, of course, how best to resource the curricular changes in terms of money and people.

In addition to these similarities, each site has its material and cultural specificities. It is, for instance, much easier to do student projects on different moments of urbanization in Hong Kong and on biodiversity of wetland habitats in Bothell.  The University of Hong Kong, where I was based last year, is an English-language institution, but the language politics of Hong Kong as a whole, which has Cantonese as its primary language and the use of Putonghua growing quickly, involves issues quite different than in the Pacific Northwest of the US. The global position of the US and the “one country, two systems” of Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, create different sets of questions for teaching, learning, and university reform in each case.

As an outsider-insider in Hong Kong there were always, and inevitably, blind spots I did not even recognize as well as a torrent of learning from daily life, reading, conversation, teaching, and the curricular work itself.  As we all learn to work more effectively across global sites, we would do well to think much more rigorously about our theories of cultural translatability.

Finally, there is the formation of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research groups. I am in the very beginning of this process, so I am immensely curious about how it will unfold. I am collaborating with scholars in Hong Kong, Seattle, Macau, and elsewhere to collect a series of essays on Global Noir, with its affiliations with cities, political economy, the tradition of the genre, and a reconceptualization of the concept of noir.

On a larger scale, I, along with Robert Peckham, the Co-Director of the Centre for Humanities and Medicine at HKU, are forming a research project called “Transnational Asian Cities: Health, Virtualities, and Urban Ecologies” that will involve scholars from multiple disciplines in Hong Kong, Seattle, Shanghai, and Mumbai.  How will we construct the object of study? How will we stay in touch? What types of new understandings will we produce and in what media? How will such effort be judged and assessed? Such questions must, in our globalized but still localized contexts, be asked time and time again.

All of these efforts, which are part of redefining the contemporary globalized university, require leadership, visibility, inventiveness, collaboration, faculty and staff development, and consistency of effort over time.  We will all have to learn to articulate spatial-temporal consistencies and asymmetries, a host of rapidly shifting variabilities of culture and language, and a series of nodes of Intensity where we collect, share, and move our work ahead. What, in other words, does “Seattle+Hong Kong” signify? How do we actualize the links as new curriculum and new university structures? How do we move back and forth across the Pacific? As with any organizational change at such basic levels, there are difficulties, frustrations, and successes, but the necessity for change is clear.  Ready or not.

Gray Kochhar-Lindgren

Mobile educational spaces: from Chaska’s Field of Dreams to Zaha’s nomad structure

The blurring of institutional boundaries via the establishment of international joint and dual/double degree programs, the opening up of branch campuses, the creation of hybrid spaces (of an interdisciplinary and a public/private nature), the operation of base campus affiliated overseas colleges, invitations to open up overseas bases within the confines of another campus, and the like, are but signs that higher education is becoming a very unsettled sector. Staid and conservative for the most, change is underway, and for a wide variety of reasons.

edcampus.jpgEducation Futuresprofile of “EdCampus” in Chaska, Minnesota, reinforces this point. Their informative entry, which draws upon a local Minnesotan newspaper, highlights a new university campus owned by one company, but associated with no particular university. As the source newspaper article puts it:

The novelty lies in the “Field of Dreams” approach of the company developing the EdCampus: If you build it, they will come.

The company plans to erect classrooms as shells, line up higher education institutions as tenants to fill them, then customize the rooms for satellite classes or lectures offered by as many colleges and universities as it can line up.

“They could lease space to anyone from Harvard to North Dakota State,” Chaska Mayor Gary Van Eyll said.

And the Chaska Herald newspaper writes that:

“EdCampus Twin Cities,” as it is being called, will “leverage the power of combining dynamic students from diverse institutions, backgrounds and disciplines into a single campus – outfitted with the best available technology, customizable classroom space, and student-centric services,” according to promotional material….

The project is estimated to cost $88 million to build. It would include 125 “custom classroom environments” spread across 225,000 square feet. An additional 115,000 square feet would provide space for student services, retail, corporate training spaces, lecture space and administrative offices.

“It will have everything a college campus would have,” said Pokorney. “But no football team.”

When complete, EdCampus could serve up to 6,500 students in addition to employing 200 professional and support staff. It is estimated that EdCampus could bring in nearly $100 million in annual revenues.

As Education Futures notes, this model negates the territorial imperative associated with most universities, for even the most global of universities still devotes a significant amount of effort to enhancing developmental ties to the local community. In this case, though, this is likely to be a mere service centre; a knowledge space akin to a motorway (freeway) rest stop for commuter students eager to acquire degrees, while dropping a few dollars here and there (“annual revenues”?) via consumption practices, and some streams of property tax income.

If this model can turn a higher education system on its head, then perhaps future scenarios will see universities adopting the contemporary mobile art container model currently on offer in Hong Kong. The design intelligentsia’s favorite architect – Zaha Hadid – has created a large mobile art complex (web cam shots below at dawn on 26 March) that is being moved between Hong Kong, London, New York, Moscow, and Paris.


This travelling pavilion houses an art exhibition made up of the work of 20 artists. A nomadic structure moving across global space; a museum that travels; innovative space for the the transmission of ideas and the cultivation of knowledge. Will the day come when we see a Zaha Hadid-designed mobile university campus, on permanent move between cities around the world, resplendent in its role as a space for the production of ever more global forms of knowledge and subjectivities? Far fetched, to be sure, and a quality assurance nightmare, but who would have thought “EdCampus” would ever be dreamt up in the Fargoesque landscape of Minnesota?!

Kris Olds