EUA launches ‘Council for Doctoral Education’ to strengthen Europe’s global competitiveness

This week Georg Winckler, President of the the European Universities Association (EUA), launched what is billed as the first organization of its kind across Europe – the Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) committed to the development of Europe’s doctoral degrees.

According to Winckler, the purpose of the EUA-CDE is to develop greater levels of cooperation and exchange of good practice between the various univereua-2007-doctoral-programs.jpgsities of Europe in delivering doctoral degrees. A doctoral degree, it seems, is the sine qua non qualification for participating in, and delivering on, a more competitive European knowledge-based economy.

In 2007 the EUA tabled its report Doctoral Programmes in Europe’s Universities: Achievements and Challenges directed at the European Ministers and universities. In it the EUA showed that across Europe there had been a rapid expansion in the numbers of doctoral graduates along with a mushrooming of different kinds of doctoral programmes.

Similarly, the EUA Trends V Report (2007) reported that 30% of European higher education institutions surveyed said that they had some kind of doctoral, graduate or research school. This difference, however, as the table below illustrates, is of concern to the EUA who believe that such variation is symptomatic of chaos rather than ‘requisite variety’.

Reviewing and restructuring Europe’s doctoral programmes then– the 3rd cycle of the Bologna Process– is seen as crucial in the construction of the European Research Area. The mandate for the EUA-CDE is to bring doctoral programmes into line with each other by introducing more structured doctoral programmes, developing transferable skills, and ensuring quality.

While the Bologna Reform of the 1st and 2nd cycle of degrees (Bachelors and Masters respectively) has been a remarkable success, it remains to be seen whether the various Member States of Europe will cede some of their autonomy in order to bring the 3rd cycle – doctoral programmes – into line. It is also not clear whether structural conformity will generate the much sought after excellence and innovation for the economy rather than simply uniformity and possible mediocrity amongst doctoral programmes per se. After all, having a competitive edge means offering something new and different.

The problem for higher education institutions is that they are tied to the economy in two ways: on the one hand as engines for the new economy, and on the other as academic capitalists looking for new opportunities to generate funds to augment institutional finances.

Institutions need to be both different and similar at the same time – a paradox if ever there was one in the global higher education market.

Susan Robertson

Brainpower famine in Eastern Europe: food for thought

lisboncouncilreport.jpgThe Brussels based think-tank, The Lisbon Council, sees trouble ahead for the countries of both Western and Eastern Europe. The Eastern European low-wage, low-tax, FDI-driven growth rates of today, accelerated by membership of the EU, are not going to last. A combination of low-birth rates and increasing brain drain will combine to fix their economic trajectories at well below the EU average with no prospect of improvement. And that is a problem for Western Europe too: it has been the dynamism of the East which has given a fillip to the West.

In its just issued report, The European Human Capital Index: The Challenge of Central and Eastern Europe, the Lisbon Council claims:

There is a very real risk that in coming decades Central and Eastern Europe could become a sparsely-populated area with a declining workforce that will have to shoulder the burden of a population set to experience unprecedented levels of aging and decline. At stake is nothing less than the long-term sustainability of these remarkable countries, which have added so much to Europe’s history, economy and diversity.

Now, if we look beyond the doom-laden futurology and risk of future collapse which seems to be so much a part of these calls for action, we can begin to see the contradictions in the analysis and the prescriptions. The EU economy is driven by processes of centralization and concentration and we can see this in the movements of knowledge, technology and capital. Universities are heavily implicated in this and the mobility of students and the highly skilled is the brain drain which is going to accelerate the emptying of the East. The extension of service and production commodity chains into the East and the region’s growth as a consumer market has gone hand in hand with their low tax, flexible labor laws and low state spending. In short the growth model is predicated on the very things which the Human Capital Index measures as being lacking.

The Lisbon Council solutions – reformed universities, on the job skills training, investment in knowledge, skills and innovation – require a shift in the growth model and the question is, how to achieve that within the context of macro and micro economic orthodoxy, the EU promotion of mobility and double-think about brain drain. At the time of the formation of the EU single market there was a response – the EU as a whole had to invest in the conditions for more and better jobs and a geographical spread so that capital, technology and knowledge are shifted away from concentration and centralization. The problems and solutions were posed in those terms which of course requires an increased European tax base and a commitment to significantly greater regional re-distribution and planning.

The challenges have always been clear and the solutions filled with all sorts of dilemmas which don’t even get a mention from the Lisbon Council. Human capital mantras suggest that the governments in Eastern Europe need to improve the supply of human capital, invest more in formal education, create their entrepreneurial universities and attract migrant (cheap) labor from the potentially massive new pool of Turkey etc. And so move themselves onto a different growth path. Perhaps.

One thing that is increasingly clear, is that the Economics of Education and the Human Capital theorists, and this report comes straight out of that stable, can offer descriptions based on such measures as its Human Capital Index, but its policy relevance is restricted and amounts to the same old same old. Quite how societies approaching the sorts of collapse envisaged in the report would react and what shibboleths of neo-liberal human capital development models would then be questioned seems to be beyond their remit. A pity.

Peter Jones

OECD’s science, technology and industry scoreboard 2007

oecd.jpgEvery two years the OECD publishes a Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard. Yesterday it released its 2007 assessment of trends of the macroeconomic elements intended to stimulate innovation: knowledge, globalization, and their impacts on economic performance.

GlobalHigherEd has taken a look at the major findings of the report and highlights them below. These indicators of ‘innovation’ presumed to lead to ‘economic growth’ reveal a particular set of assumptions at work . For instance:

  • Investment in ‘knowledge’ (by which the OECD means software and education) has increased in most OECD countries.
  • Expenditure on R&D (as a % of GDP) in Japan (3.3%) and the EU (1.7%) picked up in 2005 following a drop in 2004. However, in the US expenditure in R&D declined slightly (to 2.6% in 2005 from 2.7% in 2001). China is the big feature story here, with spending on R&D growing even faster than its economy – by 18% per year over the period 2000-2005.
  • Countries like Switzerland, Belgium and English speaking countries (US, UK etc) have a large number of foreign doctoral students…with the US having the largest number. About 10,000 foreign citizens obtained a doctorate in S&E in the US in 2004/5 and represented 38% of S&E doctorates awarded.
  • Governments in OECD countries are putting into place policy levers to promote R&D – such as directing government funds to R&D through tax relief.
  • Universities are being encouraged to patent their innovations, and while the overall share of patents filed by universities has been relatively stable, this is increasing in selected OECD countries – France, Germany and Japan.
  • European companies (EU27) finance 6.4% of R&D performed by public institutions and universities compared to 2.7% in the US and 2% in Japan.
  • China now ranks 6th worldwide in their share of scientific publications and has raised its share of triadic patents from close to 0% in 1995 to 0.8% in 2005, though the US, Europe and Japan remain at the forefront. However, the US and the emerging economies (India, China, Israel, Singapore) focus upon high tech industries (computers, pharmaceuticals), whilst continental Europe focuses on medium technologies (automobiles, chemicals).
  • In all OECD countries inventive activities are more geographically concentrated – in an innovation cluster – as in Silicon Valley and Tokyo.
  • There has been a steady diffusion of ICT across all OECD countries – though take up if broadband in households varies, with Italy and Ireland showing only 10-15% penetration.
  • Across all OECD countries, use of the internet has become standard in businesses with over 10 employees.

These highlights from the Scoreboard reflects a number of things. First, it is a particular (and very narrow) way of looking at the basis for developing knowledge societies. Knowledge, as we can see above, is reduced to software and education to develop human capital.

Second, there is a particular way of framing science and technology and its relationship to development – as in larger levels of expenditure on R&D, rates of scientific publications, use of ICTs.

Third, it is assumed that the combination of inventions, patents and innovations will be the necessary boost to economic growth. However, this approach privileges intellectual property rights over and above other forms of invention and innovation which might contribute to the intellectual commons, as in open source software.

Finally, we should reflect on the purpose the Scoreboard. Not only is a country’s ‘progress’ (or ‘lack of’) then used by politicians and policymakers to argue for boosting investment and performance in particular areas of science and technology, as in recruiting more foreign students into graduate programs, or the development of incentives such as the promise of an EU Blue Card to ensure the brainpower stays in the country, but the Scorecard is a pedagogical tool. That is, a country ‘learns’ about itself in relation to other players in the global economy and is given a clear message about the overall direction it should head in if it wants to be a globally competitive knowledge-based economy.

Susan Robertson

EU Blue Cards: not a blank cheque for migrant labour – says Barroso

berlin1.jpgThe global competition for skilled labor looks like getting a new dimension – the EU is planning to issue “blue cards” to allow highly skilled non-Europeans to work in the EU. On Tuesday 23 October José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, announced plans to harmonize admission procedures for highly qualified workers. As President Barroso put it:

With the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal: Highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the European Union. Let me be clear: I am not announcing today that we are opening the doors to 20 million high-skilled workers! The Blue Card is not a “blank cheque”. It is not a right to admission, but a demand-driven approach and a common European procedure.

The Blue Card will also mean increased mobility for high-skilled immigrants and their families inside the EU.

Member States will have broad flexibility to determine their labour market needs and decide on the number of high-skilled workers they would like to welcome.

With regard to developing countries we are very much aware of the need to avoid negative “brain drain” effects. Therefore, the proposal promotes ethical recruitment standards to limit – if not ban – active recruitment by Member States in developing countries in some sensitive sectors. It also contains measures to facilitate so-called “circular migration”. Europe stands ready to cooperate with developing countries in this area.

Further details are also available in this press release, with media and blog coverage available via these pre-programmed Google searches. As noted the proposed scheme would have a common single application procedure across the 27 Member States and a common set of rights for non-EU nationals including the right to stay for two years and move within the EU to another Member State for an extension of one more year.

The urgency of the introduction of the blue card is framed in terms of competition with the US/Canada/Australia – the US alone attracts more than half of all skilled labor while only 5 per cent currently comes to the EU. This explanation needs to be seen in relation to two issues which the GlobalHigherEd blog has been following: the competition to attract and retain researchers and the current overproduction of Maths, Science and Technology graduates. Can the attractiveness of the EU as a whole compete with the pull of R&D/Industrial capacity in the US and the logic of English as the global language? Related to this obviously is the recent enlargement to 27 Member States where there are ongoing issues around the mobility of labor within the EU? We will continue to look beneath the claims of policy initiatives to see the underlying contradictions in approaches. The ongoing question of the construction of a common European labor market and boosting the attractiveness of EU higher ed institutions may be at least as important here as the supposed skilled labor shortages.

Futurology demographics seem to be at the heart of the explanation of the need to intensify the recruitment of non-EU labour – according to the Commission the EU will have a shortage of 20 million workers in the next 20 years, with one third of the EU population over the age of 65. Interestingly though, there is no specification of the kinds of skill shortages that far down the line – the current concern is that the EU currently receives 85 % of global unskilled labour.

Barroso and the Commission continue to try to handle the contradictions of EU brain attractiveness strategies by the preferred model of:

  • fixed term contracts;
  • limitations on recruitment from developing countries in sensitive sectors; and,
  • the potentially highly tendentious notion of ‘circular migration’.

High skilled labour is effectively on a perpetual carousel of entry to and exit from the labour market with equal rights while in the EU which get lost at the point of departure from the EU zone only to reappear on re-entry, perhaps?

According to Reuters the successful applicants for a blue card would only need to be paid twice the minimum wage in the employing Member State – and this requirement would be lifted if the applicant were to be a graduate from an EU higher education institution. Two things are of interest here then – the blue card could be a way to retain anyone with a higher education qualification and there are implications for the continuing downward pressure on wage rates for the university educated. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out in relation to the attractiveness of EU universities if a blue card is the implied pay-off for successful graduation.

Peter D. Jones

Venezuela’s revolution in higher education – ‘Mission Alma Mater’

Several researchers associated with the GlobalHigherEd network have been looking at President Chavez’ recent initiative – ‘Mission Alma Mater’ – to reform the higher education sector in Venezuela over the next five years. This initiative is part of Chavez’s wider social and political project – ‘Bolivarian Revolution’; it also builds upon the state-funded Bolivarian University of Venezuela (Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela) (UBV) program established in 2003.

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For the record, UVB’s are an important component of the Chavez government’s ‘Mission Sucre’ – social programs to provide free higher education to all Venezuelan’s, particularly the poor. The crux of the Bolivarian system’s principle of ‘egalitarian meritocracy’ is that everybody is actively supported to study – through studentships, free transport, an ‘initial’ semester as a bridge to university studies, evening and weekend classes, and so on. Prospective students only require a high school diploma (the ‘bachillerato’ – which is equivalent to an upper secondary school qualification) in order to enter the university. What is being abolished are the entry exams, or aptitude tests, that each university set for itself. These entry exams tended to work as a mechanism of exclusion for the poor.

So, what is Mission Alma Mater? Building upon the Bolivarian principles, Mission Alma Mater is an initiative intended to dramatically increase the capacity of the country’s higher education system. In launching the initiative in May of this year, Chavez was reported as saying:

There will be 11 new national universities, in addition to 13 regional ones and 4 new technical institutions.

These new universities would specialize in basic sciences, health sciences, art, hydrocarbons, economy and fiscal sciences, security and agricultural sciences. In addition, 29 existing technological institutes and schools would be converted to technical universities.

University staff also expect to benefit from the ‘Mission Almer Mater’ initiative – with all workers receiving between 28 % and 34% pay rises depending on their position in the public universities.

GlobalHigherEd intends to follow these initiatives in Venezuela over the next year for whatever else it does, it offers an interesting alternative to the model we have come to be more familiar with, the ‘entrepreneurial university’. Indeed, it could be argued that Chavez’s project is in its own way politically entrepreneurial. Mike Ceaser, in a report carried by the Chronicle of Higher Education, points out that Chavez’s recent threats to nationalize universities if they did not comply with recent curriculum reforms is driven by the fact that the public university system is one of the last government institutions still dominated by opponents of Chavez. Most analyses, however, have been thin on grounded knowledge about the transformations taking place in the Venezuelan higher ed system.

Susan Robertson and Thomas Muhr

‘The race to the top’: UK government acts on the Sainsbury Review and pledges £1bn boost for innovation

The race is on and the UK’s sights are set to making it to the top! At least this is Lord Sainsbury’s message in the long awaited report to the UK government at the end of last week. As he said:

We should seek to compete with emerging economies in a ‘race to the top’ rather than ‘a race to the bottom’.

The Race to the Top: A Review of Government’s Science and Innovation Policies examines the role of science and technology in ensuring that the UK not only remains globally competitive, but that it learns to run faster.

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The UK government’s response was to announce its intention to invest £1 billion into programmes to boost business innovation and applied research over the next three years. This programme will be led by the Technology Strategy Board, set up in 2004.

One focus of the Government’s new Innovation Programme which is of interest to universities will be to give more support through the Higher Education Innovation Fund to business-facing universities, setting targets for knowledge transfer from Research Councils, doubling the number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, and extending these to Further Education Colleges.

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Universities are located in the services sector in this kind of analysis – and governments are increasingly interested in what value they can add in this race to the top. Lord Sainsbury is also optimistic:

The UK is well placed to take advantage of the new markets opened up by globalisation. We have an extraordinary record of scientific discovery and a rapidly growing share of high technology manufacturing and knowledge intensive services in the UK’s GDP. The amount of knowledge transfer from British universities has increased significantly and we are beginning to see the growth of exciting high technology clusters around many of our world-class research universities.

Media reactions to the Sainsbury Review can be tracked here, while reactions in the blogosphere can be tracked here.

GlobalHigherEd has been carrying a number of stories on universities and innovation. We also note today an announcement in the Guardian that the ESRC are funding a three year £3 million study led by Ursula Kelly at the University of Strathclyde on universities and regional systems of innovation.

These developments will present universities with interesting challenges, not least because many academics see such close links to the economy as distorting the overall function of the university. That aside, the challenge also facing the UK is that the others seriously in the race, particularly US based firms, are investing even more heavily in R & D according to the EC’s innovation scoreboard of the 1,000 companies. So, while the race is on, getting to the top is also going to be tough.

Susan Robertson

“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).

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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