We were globalists at a tender age!

As is evident in the end note to my most recent entry (‘Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?’), I acknowledged the insightful comments of one of my ‘retired’ colleagues, the venerable (in the best sense of the word) Yi-Fu Tuan. Yi-Fu (pictured below) is always ready to launch a witty or illuminating commentary, no matter what the topic. In this case he had some thoughts about the notion of a ‘world view’; a term coincidentally used for the new weblog The World View (on Inside Higher Ed), and remarkably similar in tone to WorldWise (on the Chronicle of Higher Education).

What follows is Yi-Fu’s initial response to my entry, some additional text (the Preface) from a book he is finishing that is tentatively called Making Sense of Life and World: A Cosmopolitan Humanist Geography, and then some of my own reflections.


Dear Kris,

Thanks for the article on globalized education. Strange to think that I, an undernourished child in a one-room school [in China], had a global education. The years were 1938-1941. In this elementary school, we were taught to read and write, and we were taught to do so through stories. Some of them clearly instilled virtues typical of China, such as hard work and filial piety. But we also read stories drawn from Western sources–for example, the apple that fell on Newton, the kite that Benjamin Franklin flew, and the absent-mindedness of young James Watts, who boiled his mother’s watch instead of the egg. Newton’s apple allowed our teacher to introduce gravity and the solar system; Franklin’s kite opened up the topic of electricity. But of greater importance to us children was that the stories encouraged unconventional thinking and behavior: singed into our young brain was the idea that it might be better to daydream under an apple tree than grind out additions and subtractions in school; that doing science was worth risking electrocution in a storm. As for boiling mother’s watch in a fit of absent-mindedness, what’s wrong with that if the mind of young Watts was occupied with the steam engine?

The funny thing was that though I recognized the names — Newton, Franklin, Watts — to be foreign, I never thought the exploits of these luminaries to be irrelevant to my own ambition. I assumed, as did my school mates, that we were inheritors of world culture. We were globalists at a tender age!



Text from the preface to Yi-Fu Tuan’s Making Sense of Life and World: A Cosmopolitan Humanist Geography (forthcoming)

Thinking about life and world is what one does in a reflective mood. “Here I am, already a third, a half, or three-quarters way through the passage of life, what have I learned? Above all, what have I learned that matters to me, not as a specialist or professional, but as the sort of person I am?” The mood soon passes. Society does not encourage it. Moreover, when I do make an effort to pin down my world-view, it turns out to be very elusive. What I come up with is likely to be a kaleidoscope of worn images and cliches.

Can I–can we–do better? I believe we can by giving a certain body to world-view. To do so, I propose that we introduce a new coinage “cosmopolitan humanist geography.” It, as I shall show, has the advantage of being more concrete and specific. Consider the three parts of that coinage. First, cosmopolitan or cosmos. Like the word “world” in world-view, it tells of the scope of the project. Second, humanist or humanism. It tells of the materials–the sources–it draws on, which are histories, philosophical apercus, personal experience, rather than technical knowledge. Third, geography, a field of study that is heavily factual and furthest from the abstractions of philosophy and theoretical science. Moreover, unlike philosophy or even world-view, geography seldom demands an overarching theme–one master narrative. Rather it consists of congeries of related topics: in physical geography these include climate, land forms, and soils; and in human geography, population, settlements, and economic activities. And what might be the topics of cosmopolitan humanist geography? No standard list and certainly no standard approach can exist, for cosmopolitan humanist geography is a personal statement, an individual’s understanding and appreciation of life and world.

Nevertheless, certain building blocks seem to me essential. What, after all, can a cosmopolitan humanist geography be without some consideration of nature and human nature, society, culture, morality, religion, and human destiny? I prefer the words “building blocks” to topics because “building blocks,” unlike topics, hint at an intended edifice. So, then, there is to be an edifice? And won’t edifice be another word–another metaphor–for a coherent world-view or philosophy? It would, but the word “geography” checks a too ardent striving for coherence, which, in my view is unattainable. Still, although an achieved edifice may be out of reach, having one as a distant goal can provide one with the motivation and the energy to begin and, more importantly, to persevere in the construction of a cosmopolitan humanist geography.

Below [in the book] is a sample of my building blocks. They are made up of my own thoughts and experiences as well as those of other people that I have collected over the years. I like to think that visitors strolling through the construction yard will pause at a site here and there to savor its merit and perhaps even conclude that the incompletion, like an armless Venus de Milo, offers its own kind of reward. Above all, I hope that my effort will stimulate others to make similar efforts. Living in a house that we have built ourselves is highly satisfying. Living in a cosmopolitan humanist geography of our own making will surely afford the same sort of satisfaction. Rather than foggy images, specific images and articulated ideas answer the question “What is my world-view? How do I see life and world? What truly matters to me?”

Yi-Fu Tuan


Now Yi-Fu’s comments above, and those in his book’s preface, flag some interesting issues for consideration when considering the globalization of higher education and research. These include what level(s) of abstraction to work with and prioritize.

Do we hove into view the (as he calls it) technical forms of knowledge, statecraft, and regulation that are undoubtedly driving many of the changes we see in this sphere/sector? Or do we, and this would be his preference, seek out and illuminate situated viewpoints such as those of local and foreign students, and foreign faculty, at Texas A&M’s Qatar campus, as they work through challenging topics in particular courses, at particular times.

This a similar point raised by the The Economist in a gentle critique of Ben Wildavsky’s informative new book The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010):

This is a fascinating story. But Mr Wildavsky, a former education reporter who now works for both the Kauffman Foundation and the Brookings Institution, is too earnest a writer to make the best of it. He wastes too much ink summarising research papers and quoting “experts” uttering banalities. And he fails to point out the humour of sabbatical man jet-setting hither and thither to discuss such staples of modern academic life as poverty and inequality. Mr Wildavsky should spend less time with his fellow think-tankers (who are mesmerised by the idea of a global knowledge economy) and more talking to students, who experience the disadvantages as well as the advantages of the new cult of globalisation at first hand.

Yet we all, as did Wildavsky, need to make decisions about what to focus on, what to integrate, what to exclude, and so on, as we attempt to make sense of the globalization of higher education and research. I, for one, learn from the situated views of students and faculty as they grapple with the amalgam of forces reshaping higher education and research practices, and from the foundation/think tank/higher ed media views of Wildavsky, and from the experiential reflections of cosmopolitan humanists like Tuan, so long as their respective views are compared within the broader context of competing ‘modes of knowing’.

The bigger question, to me, though, is absence versus presence. Who is not producing important discourses about the globalization of higher education and research? Or if they are producing them, why are they not being circulated, consumed, and debated at broader scales and more diverse fora? What modes of knowing are absent or limited, why is the case, and what can/should be done to bring them out into view so they too can be reviewed by The Economist, by higher education media outlets, and by faculty members, staff and students?

Higher education and research are being globalized, to be sure. In this context we need to think about absence as well as presence, for there are many more ‘dear colleagues’ (an Yi-Fu-ism) on sidewalks, in think tanks, in branch campuses in the Gulf, in NGOs, in universities on Java in Indonesia, in administrative offices in Bascom Hall, etc., etc., whose voices are not being heard. Yet we can all benefit when we pause, engage with, and subsequently reflect about what more of our informed colleagues are learning and saying.

Kris Olds

Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?

The denationalization of higher education – the process whereby developmental logics, frames, and practices, are increasingly associated with what is happening at a larger (beyond the nation) scale continues apace. As alluded to in my last two substantive entries:

this process is being shaped by new actors, new networks, new rationalities, new technologies, and new temporal rhythms. Needless to say, this development process is also generating a myriad of impacts and outcomes, some welcome, and some not.

While the denationalization process is a phenomenon that is of much interest to policy-making institutions (e.g., the OECD), foundations and funding councils, scholarly research networks, financial analysts, universities, and the like, I would argue that it is only now, at a relatively late stage in the game, that the higher education media is starting to take more systematic note of the contours of denationalization.

How is this happening? I will address this question by focusing in on recent changes in the English language higher education media in two key countries – the UK and the USA (though I recognize that University World News, described below, is not so simply placed).

From a quantitative and qualitative perspective, we are seeing rapid growth in the ostensibly ‘global’ coverage of the English-language higher education media from the mid-2000s on. While some outlets (e.g., the Chronicle of Higher Education) have had correspondents abroad since the 1970s, there are some noteworthy developments:



  • University World News (UWN) launched in October. This outlet is the product of a network of journalists, many formally associated with THES, who were frustrated with the disconnect between the globalization of higher education and the narrow national focus of ‘niche’ higher education media outlets. As with IHE, UWN’s free digital-only mode enhances the ability of this outlet to reach a relatively wide range of people located throughout the world.


  • Chronicle of Higher Education launches a virtual Global edition (similar in style to the New York Times’ Global edition) in May. A new $2 million strategic plan leads to the ongoing hiring of more Washington DC-based editorial staff, more correspondents (to be based in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe), enhanced travel for US-based sectoral experts, and the establishment of a new weblog (WorldWise).
  • Inside Higher Ed announces it is hosting three new weblogs (GlobalHigherEd; University of Venus; The World View), all with substantial globally-themed coverage. Reporter staff time retuned, to a degree, to prioritize key global issues/processes/patterns. IHE forms collaborative relationship with Times Higher Education to cross-post selected articles on their respective web sites.
  • Times Higher Education (THE) teams up with Thomson Reuters to produce the Times Higher Education/Thomson Reuters World University Rankings (2010 on). THE continues to draw upon guest contributions from faculty about ‘global’ issues and developmental dynamics: this is partly an outcome of seeking to meet the needs and conceptual vocabulary of their faculty-dominated audience, while also controlling staff costs. The digital edition of THE International launched in July 2010.

From a temporal and technological perspective, it is clear that all of these outlets are ramping up their capacity to disseminate digital content, facilitate and/or shape debates, market themselves, and build relevant multi-scalar networks. For example, I can’t help but think about the differences between how I engaged with the THES (as it used to be called) as a Bristol-based reader in the first half of the 1990s and now. In the 1990s we would have friendly squabbles in the Geography tea room to get our hands on it so we could examine the jobs’ pages. Today, in 2010, THE staffers tweet (via @timeshighered and @THEworldunirank) dozens of times per day, and I can sit here in Madison WI and read the THE website, as well as THE International, the moment they are loaded up on the web.

While all of these higher education media outlets are seeking to enhance their global coverage, they are obviously approaching it in their own unique ways, reflective of their organizational structure and resources, the nature of their audiences, and the broader media and corporate contexts in which they are embedded.

In many ways, then, the higher education media are key players in the new global higher education landscape for they shape debates via what they cover and what they ignore. These media firms are also now able to position themselves on top of hundreds of non-traditional founts of information via Twitter sources, select weblogs (some of which they are adopting), state-supported news crawlers (e.g., Canada’s Manitoba International Education News; Netherland’s forthcoming NUFFICblog; the UK’s HE International Unit site and newsletter), cross-references to other media sources (e.g., they often profile relevant NY Times stories), and so on — a veritable BP oil well gusher of information about the changing higher education landscape. In doing so, the higher education media outlets are positioning themselves as funnels or channels of relevant (it is hoped) and timely information and knowledge.

What are we to make of the changes noted above?

In my biased view, these are positive changes on many levels for they are reflective of media outlets recognizing that the world is indeed changing, and that they have an obligation to profile and assist others in better understanding this emerging landscape. Of course these are private media firms that sell services and must make a profit in the end, but they are firms managed by people with a clear love for the complex worlds of higher education.

This said there are some silences, occlusions, and possible conflicts of interest, though not necessarily by design.

First, English is clearly the lingua franca associated with this new media landscape. This is not surprising, perhaps, given my selective focus and the structural forces at work, but it is worth pausing and reflecting about the implications of this linguistic bias. Concerns aside, there are no easy solutions to the hegemony of English in the global higher education media world. For example, while there is no European higher education media ‘voice’ (see ‘Where is Europe’s higher education media?‘), if one were to emerge could it realistically function in any other language than English given the diversity of languages used in the 47 member country systems making up the European Higher Education Area?

Second, these outlets, as well as many others I have not mentioned, are all grappling with the description versus analysis tension, and the causal forces versus outcomes focus tension. Light and breezy stories may capture initial interest, but in the end the forces shaping the outcomes need to be unpacked and deliberated about.

Third, the diversification strategies that these media outlets have considered, and selectively adopted, can generate potential conflicts of interest. I have a difficult time, for example, reading Washington Post-based stories about the for-profit higher education sector knowing that this newspaper is literally kept afloat by Kaplan, a major for-profit higher education firm. And insights and effort aside, can THE journalists and editors write about their own rankings, or other competitive ranking initiatives (e.g., see ‘’Serious defects’ apparent in ‘crude’ European rankings project’), with the necessary distance needed to be analytical versus boosterish? I’ll leave the ‘necessary distance’ question for others to reflect about, and assume that this is a question that the skilled professionals representing the Washington Post and the THE must be grappling with.

Finally, is it possible to provide The World View, be WorldWise, or do justice to the ‘global’, in a weblog or any media outlet? I doubt it, for we are all situated observers of the unfolding of the global higher education landscape. There is no satellite platform that is possible to stand upon, and we are all (journalists, bloggers, pundits, academics, etc.) grappling with how to make sense of the denationalizing systems we know best, not to mention the emerging systems of regional and global governance that are being constructed.

All that can be done, perhaps, is to enhance analytical capabilities, encourage the emergence of new voices, and go for it while being open and transparent about biases and agendas, blind spots and limitations.

Kris Olds

Note: my sincere thanks to the editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Times Higher Education, and University World News, for passing on their many insights via telephone and email correspondence.  And thanks to my colleagues Yi-Fu Tuan and Mary Churchill for their indirectly inspirational comments about World views this past week. Needless to say, the views expressed above are mine alone.

Welcome to our new readers

It is perhaps appropriate, following our two most recent entries, to welcome our new Inside Higher Ed readers to GlobalHigherEd – both the Inside Higher Ed site (est. June 2010), and the WordPress.com base site (est. September 2007). We look forward to engaging with our new readers, and also using this opportunity to propel GlobalHigherEd forward for our long-standing supporters.

Apart from the weblog, it is worth noting GlobalHigherEd established a Twitter service in October 2009 (see ‘Tweeting about Phoenix’s Chicago, Chicago’s Phoenix, and other matters‘). We’ve been maintaining the service @ http://twitter.com/globalhighered with several postings throughout most days of a typical week. We’ve posted 1,155 ‘tweets’ since the service was established and have attracted approximately 850 ‘followers’ to date.

Given how well things are going on this front, we’d like to encourage our new Inside Higher Ed readers to subscribe to Twitter and start following the GlobalHigherEd Twitter service for it complements the weblog, and provides a steady stream of links to relevant articles, reports, news stories, graphics, micro-analyses, and so on that we just don’t have time to cover in longer entries.

The Twitter archive for our site, as well as several other sites on this topic, is laden with material about the globalization of higher education and research.  And, as we have noted before, Twitter is the least immersive of digital communications technologies so access to this resource is really not a challenge. You can make of Twitter what you will, and to assist you in the process we’re starting to add a series of thematic ‘lists’ that bundle different types of Twitter services. 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.” We could not agree more with this analogy for it captures the momentary aspect of the service, but also the fact that it can, if desired, be used to build up elements of a base for a more lengthy and substantial contribution.

The Twitter phenomenon, not to mention the weblog phenomenon, are now associated with a variety of higher education media outlets. This development both reflects the changing nature of the media, but also the enhanced pace of contextual change many of us are coping with, and contributing to. Our next entry will deal with these phenomena, though by highlighting their role in the rapid development of more ‘global’ coverage in the mainstream higher ed media outlets.  This said, it is clear that the traditional outlets (e.g., Chronicle of Higher Education; Times Higher Education), and as well as relatively newer digital-only outlets (e.g., Inside Higher Ed; University World News), are all adopting very different approaches when seeking to achieve this global coverage objective.

In any case, more on this topic shortly. But for now, welcome to our new Inside Higher Ed readers!

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

The media, universities, and Higher Ed Cabinets: Or, why doesn’t Harvard buy the New York Times?

A potentially symbiotic relationship between the ‘quality’ media in the USA, and institutions of higher education, has been discussed from time to time in a variety of fora. Fiscal stress in the print media, for example, has led some to suggest that the well endowed (e.g., Harvard, with nearly $40 billion in interest generating capital) should rescue outlets like the New York Times, or actually facilitate the creation of a quality newspaper in Chicago (the Chicago Tribune is shockingly bad for a city of eight million). Instead, we see a significant component of the New York Times being sold off to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú last week, or the Washington Post dependent upon the profits being generated by Kaplan.

Yet quality newspapers play a critically important role in the higher education process, let along the broader socio-economic development process. Many professors (including myself) use newspaper articles in courses, and we require term-length newspaper subscriptions to complement more traditional readings. Newspapers are also important outlets for the circulation of knowledge that is produced in universities, and they help observers of the world of higher ed (including global higher ed) keep up on what is happening.

In this context, it is worth noting that the New York Times teamed up with the Chronicle of Higher Education today to host the USA’s:

first Higher Education Cabinet, comprising presidents, trustees and leaders from 76 colleges, universities and higher-education associations. The goal of the cabinet is to identify trends and direct discussions about the most pressing issues facing higher education today.

The first meeting of the cabinet will be held today at The New York Times Building. The welcome address will be given by Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company, followed by remarks from Jeffrey Selingo, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Topics to be discussed at the cabinet meeting included e-learning, internationalization [“Internationalization” – How will you compete globally?], financing models, assessment and accountability.

“The New York Times is committed to fostering discussion about the changing landscape of higher education,” said Felice Nudelman, executive director, education, The New York Times. “We are delighted to be hosting the inaugural Chronicle of Higher Education/New York Times Higher Education Cabinet meeting and look forward to continued opportunities to facilitate creative and collective discussions about the key topics in higher education.”

Today’s ‘Cabinet meeting’ is apparently the first of many (to be held on an annual basis), and will be supplemented by quarterly online meetings “conducted via the EpsilenTM environment, an e-learning and meeting platform”, which is:

the result of six years of research and development within the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI.  Epsilen Products and Services are commercially available through BehNeem LLC, the holding company created in Indiana to commercialize, market and further develop the Epsilen Environment. The New York Times is an equity and strategic partner in the company.

The bringing together of institutions of higher education and the quality general and higher ed media cannot help but generate positive benefits. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if the leaders of the many well resourced universities participating in this scheme – people focused on generating maximum annual returns off of endowments, or selling their innovative learning technologies like Epsilen to the media (or to universities and colleges) – reflected much, if at all, about the structural problems facing media companies like the New York Times Company.

Autonomy of university foundation offices and administrators aside, imagine if just a few of these universities decided to pool parts of their endowments, and preserve if not enhance the quality media in the USA, a country desperately in need of better news and analysis. So, instead of Columbia’s Bollinger working for the Washington Post Company, imagine if the Washington Post worked for Bollinger, or the Chicago Tribune worked for Penn’s Guttman, or the New York Times worked for Harvard’s Gilpin Faust. Not ideal, perhaps, but better than watching these important media firms get ravaged by the forces of socio-economic and technological change. But, might this be expecting too much of inward looking universities in the era of the marketplace?

Kris Olds

Business schools, the business media, and the globalization of higher ed

Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Another Monday morning, another day of profile for one field of study in the Financial Times – the world’s leading political-economic daily for business leaders and policy makers. Every Monday the FT includes 1-3 pages of business school material that ranges from gossip about school ‘comings and goings’, to powerful global ranking schemes, to diaries of biz school students, to summaries of dense and highly analytical new books and concepts. This material is simultaneously available and archived on the FT.com web site. And this is but one business media outlet, with others like the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes weighing in on matters. What other field of study receives attention on a near real time basis, and at such a global scale?

Nigel Thrift (2005), the University of Warwick’s new Vice Chancellor, has suggested that we need to think about business schools as part of the “cultural circuit of capitalism” – the fluid and highly interdependent network made up of management consultancies, management gurus, business media, and business schools – and their associated infrastructures and technologies. Thus business schools have an underlying media infrastructure that represents them, but that also governs them (especially via benchmarking and ranking schemes).

But business schools are also beneficiaries of other forces that differentially impact all fields of study. They are beneficiaries of the emergence of academic capitalism – the “pursuit of market and marketlike activities to generate external revenues” (Slaughter and Rhoades, 2004, p. 11) in both research and teaching. Academic capitalism is blurring the boundaries between higher education institutions and market actors. And as markets globalize so go fields of study that are tightly interdependent with market actors. The delimitation process – the fragmentation and (de)valorization of select fields of study – is also being accentuated as universities begin compartmentalizing their organizational and financial structures, leading to intra-departmental/school fundraising: needless to say the wealthiest of alumni (aka benefactors) are often graduates from business schools.

Is it any surprise then, that many (not all!) business schools are leading the way with respect to thinking through how their field of study will adapt to, benefit from, and shape, the global higher ed development process?

Further reading

Slaughter, Sheila, and Rhoades, Gary (2004) Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State and Higher Education, Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Thrift, Nigel (2005) Knowing Capitalism, London: Sage.

Kris Olds