“Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged”

The OECD has recently published the report Higher Education and Regions: Globally Competitive, Locally Engaged. Prepared by OECD’s Programme for Institutional Management in Higher Education (IMHE), this publication builds on two related OECD publications concerned with the role of universities and regional development, namely Response of Higher Education to Regional Needs (1999) and Cities and Regions in the New Learning Economy (2001).


Based on the IMHE’s objective to evaluate and enhance higher education’s contribution to local economic competitiveness in the face of a globalizing knowledge economy, the report synthesizes the experiences of initiatives in 14 regions across 12 countries. As the report writes, the lessons learned draw from various regional projects that had one common goal: “to transform each [higher education institution (HEI)] into an engine for growth” to respond at the local level to the global economic challenge (p. 16).

The report therefore examines and assesses the capacity for universities and colleges to effectively contribute to regional economic development through their multiple dimensions and activities: knowledge creation through research and technology transfer; knowledge transfer through education and human resources development; and, cultural and community development, which they argue can contribute to the conditions in which regional innovation thrives. The project aims to identify the internal and external barriers and constraints that prevent universities from furthering this regional economic agenda, and provides general recommendations for higher education institutions as well as regional and national governments to overcome these obstacles, particularly in terms of governance, management, and capacity building for innovation. The figure embedded in this entry is reflective of the general tenor of the report.

Unlike other recent higher education policy documents that seek to balance the multiple missions of the sector, this report unequivocally frames the purpose of higher education as primarily – if not solely – serving an economic objective. The report identifies and endorses a shift it feels has begun in policy circles and within higher education institutions to move away from national interests and the pursuit of knowledge in favour of engaging with regional economic needs in the face of “global competition.” Yet despite endorsing a regional focus, this report seems to represent renewed interest in comparing the “outcomes” of higher education systems and institutions in terms of international standards of quality, relevance and impact.

Kate Geddie

Has audit culture in higher education, at least at the national scale, not (yet) come to Canada?

Has audit culture in higher education, at least at the national scale, not (yet) come to Canada? This is an issue that caught the eye of the Chronicle of Higher Education today; one that ties back to our 17 September posting on internationalization in Canada, and the perceived (according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) lack of a “coherent” national strategy on this front. It is noteworthy that institutions as diverse as the OECD, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Council on Learning, and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada have all expressed concern, over the last few weeks, about the national higher education data gap; a gap that limits the capacity for analysts, advocates, and policy-makers to understand what is going on within the country’s higher education system (see also our report this week on how it affects Canada and international student mobility strategies). This data gap then makes it difficult to compare the Canadian system on an international scale. These two tables from the recent Education at a Glance 2007: OECD Indicators report provide striking examples of what the above institutions are concerned about (“m” = data is not available).



Note: the OECD report (p. 54) states that a “traditional university degree is associated with completion of “type A” tertiary courses; “type B” generally refers to shorter and often vocationally oriented courses”.

The creation of new forms of internationally comparable data is a foundation of national and increasingly global governance (witness the power of the OECD to frame debates and policy shifts), including for the restructuring of higher education systems. International comparative data also provides the fuel for institutions as diverse as faculty unions through to boards of trade to create pressure on governments and other stakeholders to reshape higher education systems. It will be interesting to see how these debates unfold in Canada, complicated as they are by provincial jurisdiction over education, but in a context where global competition is becoming a mantra and force for change, for good and for bad.

Kris Olds

New reactions to OECD drive to establish a “worldwide higher education assessment system”

Another busy day for the OECD’s Directorate for Education, especially its director, Barbara Ischinger, and Andreas Schleicher, the head of its Indicator and Analysis Division. Both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education have lengthy stories today about the OECD’s role in seeking to establish a “worldwide higher education assessment system”, despite the diversity of resources and systems that exist across global space, and widely varying views on the efficacy of assessment systems at the tertiary level. News was stirred up following some recent OECD meetings on this issue.

These initial reactions are obviously mediated by the presence of higher education media outlets in the USA and Europe, with views underlain by the ongoing politics of two other territory-spanning governance initiatives with assessment elements – the Bologna Process (in Europe) and the Spellings Commission (in the USA).

The stories are well developed and it is best advised to read them directly. The Chronicle article, in particular, identifies critical views on this initiative from the perspective of organizations like the American Council on Education, the European University Association, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, while Inside Higher Ed also highlighted critical commentary from the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Education at a Glance 2007: OECD Indicators

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is one of the key institutions associated with the attempted and actual global governance of higher education systems. One of the ways it does this is through the release of data-laden evaluative reports that ‘benchmark’ the higher education systems of countries against each other. On this note, the OECD released its annual report, Education at a Glance 2007: OECD Indicators, today. The 451 page report can be downloaded for free via the hyperlink embedded in the title above.

Media coverage of the findings is already being stirred up in various countries, with a mix of both glee and concern. In the USA, for example, the Chronicle of Higher Education has profiled the report under the title ‘U.S. Continues to Slip in Educational-Attainment Levels, Says Report Comparing OECD Countries‘. More globally oriented publications, like the Financial Times (see ‘OECD criticises waste in education spending‘) have used the OECD report to flag issues related to expenditure patterns and practices.

Chapter C is particularly relevant for global higher ed people as it highlights (including via some interesting graphics like the two below) a range of trends and conditions in OECD countries, as well as “partner” economies, with respect to transnational student mobility.



Kris Olds

New OECD publications on “cross-border higher education”

The OECD recently released a report on titled Cross-border Tertiary Education: A Way towards Capacity Development. The executive summary states:

Cross-border tertiary education refers to the movement of people, programmes, providers, curricula, projects, research and services in tertiary (or higher) education across national jurisdictional borders. Cross-border education is a subset of educational internationalisation and can be part of development cooperation projects, academic exchange programmes and commercial initiatives. The focus of this volume is on the mobility of students, programmes and providers/institutions.

Student mobility remains relatively small, but has grown at an unprecedented pace in the past decade. The provision of tertiary education abroad, through academic partnerships, franchising, the opening of a branch campus or other arrangements, has also grown significantly. These trends raise new issues for policy makers and education stakeholders, in advanced economies as well as in developing countries.

The report, one of a series on the internationalisation of higher education (as the OECD prefers to term it), is reflective of an effort to position the OECD as a key creator of the intellectual frameworks through which a rescaled (globalized) higher education system is created. See, for example, the UNESCO/OECD guidelines on “Quality provision in cross-border higher education”, and CERI – The Internationalisation of Tertiary Education. More generally the OECD seeks to become a “relevant hub for global issues“.

Simon Marginson (University of Melbourne) and Marijk van der Wende (University of Twente) also have a new working paper available via the OECD’s Directorate of Education website. The paper is titled “Globalisation and Higher Education” and can be downloaded here. Both scholars are prolific writers on themes related to the globalisation of higher ed, with strong ties to the policy community, especially in Europe and the Asia-Pacific.