Malaysia’s International Education by 2020 and Beyond: Re-examining Concept, Targets and Outcome

Editor’s note: This guest entry, also available on Inside Higher Ed, has been kindly contributed by Professor Dato’ Dr Morshidi Sirat. Morshidi was the former Director-General of Higher Education Malaysia, and is now Director of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Facility (CTEF) based at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. Morshidi is also a Senior Research Fellow at the National Higher Education Research Institute (IPPTN), Universiti Sains Malaysia. Given Morshidi’s expertise and experience in higher education policy, he is often engaged in consultancy work on higher education policy in Malaysia, then Association of Southeast Asian Region (ASEAN) and the South Pacific Island States.

This entry is based on recent work in ASEAN and South Pacific Island States, specifically to address confusion between international education and the internationalisation of education in many emerging and developing higher education systems. In many systems, these terms are used interchangeably. This entry is an attempt to re-examine international education as a concept and a strategy for both international understanding and economic development as implemented in Malaysia. Arguably, lessons learnt should provide guidance for Malaysia’s international education beyond 2020, especially with respect to the manner in which Malaysia’s citizens “engage with others in this globalised and yet highly divisive world.” Kris Olds



Malaysia’s International Education by 2020 and Beyond:

Re-examining Concept, Targets and Outcome

Morshidi Sirat


It is important to address international education in this era of globalisation and unsettling geopolitical issues, in particular on Malaysia’s response to preparing Malaysians for future global and regional scenarios. Anyone that studies international development dynamics from the ‘people perspective’ as opposed to the ‘economic and neo-liberalism perspective’ will almost immediately agree that we are in dire need of international and intercultural understanding as we try to deal with longstanding and more importantly, emerging geopolitical issues. As such, international education is not merely about the dynamics of flows in terms of the numbers of students, scholars, and/or programs between countries. More importantly, it is about qualitative impact, in particular about the content of international education and related programs. It must be emphasized that “in any educational program, of any educational system, for any educational process and under any educational material”, the aims and objectives of international education must be communicated in order to realise international understanding among nations (Juan Ignacio Martínez de Morentin de Goñi, 2004: 94).

With this as a preamble and context, we can then proceed to re-examine international education as a concept and as a strategy for both international understanding and economic development as implemented in Malaysia.


With globalisation, many terms connected with the “international” are loosely defined and liberally adopted in policy circles particularly in the formulation of strategic planning directions on education and higher education. These policy documents and the people behind these policy documents are equally guilty of adopting terms and terminologies without proper definition, contextualisation and correct usage of these terms. Thus, in our attempt to trace and assess the progress of international education in Malaysia to-date it is important at the outset to provide a working definition of ‘international education’. But more importantly, it is pertinent for us to establish whether, at the time of target setting for the so-called international education in 2007 (for the National Higher Education Strategic Plan Phase 1), the Economic Transformation Plan (ETP) and in 2013 (in the case of the Malaysia Education Blueprint), did we conceptualise and operationalise the term ‘international education’ as it should be conceptualised and operationalised? Moving on from issues and questions which I have raised earlier, this entry will begin with a deliberation on the term ‘international education’, detailing the aims and objectives of international education. Subsequently, a working definition is adopted in order to assess where Malaysia is in terms of international education. Following that, the ‘international education’ element in the Malaysia Education Blueprint and the National Higher Education Strategic Plan (NHESP) will be highlighted and the implementation of international education rated. A statement of “where we are” and “where we should be heading” will be offered for further consideration and deliberation based on the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015-2025 (Higher Education).

What is International Education?

Admittedly, the term ‘international education’ has yet to acquire a single, consistent meaning. The reason for the uncertainty, confusion and disagreement lies partly in the many interpretations of the term ‘international education’. As James (2005:314) notes, further confusion arises because the word ‘international’ itself is equally ambiguous as not all things regarded as international are in essence international. To understand the meaning of international education, we need to explicate the term in terms of aims and objectives.

Epstein (1994: 918) describes ‘international education’ as fostering “an international orientation in knowledge and attitudes and, among other initiatives, brings together students, teachers, and scholars from different nations to learn about and from each other. In other words, “All educative efforts that aim at fostering an international orientation in knowledge and attitudes” (Huse´n and Postlethwaite, 1985: 260) and seek “to build bridges between countries” (McKenzie, 1998: 244) fit this idea of international education. Arum (1987) divides international education into three parts: (1) international studies (including all studies involving the teaching or research of foreign areas and their languages); (2) international educational exchange (involving American students and faculty studying, teaching, and doing research abroad and foreign faculty and students studying, teaching, and doing research in the United States); and (3) technical assistance (involving American faculty and staff working to develop institutions and human resources abroad, primarily in Third World countries).

The justification for international education can be approached from two directions: a ‘top-down’ approach considers addressing global and national needs, and a ‘bottom-up’ approach, that is the development of the individual. These approaches are not mutually exclusive (James, 2005: 315). Thomas (1996: 24), writing on the development of an International Education System, asserts that ‘education is uniquely placed to provide lasting solutions to the major problems facing world society’, problems which transcend political borders (Gellar, 1996).

The Mission and Aims of International Education

Belle-Isle (1986) states that the “mission of international education is to respond to the intellectual and emotional needs of the children of the world, bearing in mind the intellectual and cultural mobility not only of the individual but . . . most of all, of thought”.

The aims of international education are related to developing ‘international understanding’ for ‘global citizenship’, and the knowledge, attitudes and skills of ‘international-mindedness’ and ‘world-mindedness’ (Hayden and Thompson, 1995a, 1995b; Schwindt, 2003; YAIDA, 2007). Admittedly, none of the aims of modern ‘international education’ are exclusively international (James, 2005: 324). Therefore, and in a post-9/11 world, the term ‘internationalist’ may no longer be sufficient to describe the values espoused by the movement; it might be time to transcend ideas based on nation-states (Sarup, 1996; in Gunesch, 2004). Gunesch (2004) proposes ‘cosmopolitanism’ as an alternative name for the outcome intended of ‘international education’ (Mattern, 1991). While the aims of international education are laudable, it is misleading to relate them to internationalism, for they extend beyond differences in nationality (James, 2005: 323). Peterson (1987) asserts that international education seeks instead to produce what might be termed ‘cosmopolitan locals’, who have a national identity, understand others better, seek to co-operate and have friends across frontiers. That cosmopolitan is “familiar with many different countries and cultures” and “free from national prejudices”. OED (2004) indicates the potential limitations of the cosmopolitanism, in associating prejudices with nations. But, it is preferable as a term to ‘international’ in the sense that it does transcend purely nation-based associations.

Towards a Working Definition

Any working definition for international education should appropriately address the issue of “global interconnectedness that characterizes the contemporary world, and point to a form of international understanding required by the citizen of the future that must comprise some understanding of the world perceived as a whole.”

UNESCO experts have developed conceptual approaches to international education that resulted in an operational definition being adopted by UNESCO (1974). I must emphasize here that we are more interested in a working definition and not an academic definition. UNESCO’s effort may be considered as the only large-scale effort to provide a working definition of the term “international education” by a widely recognized international educational body. The definition, agreed at UNESCO General Conference level, combined the elements of international understanding, cooperation and peace with the range of focal points of international education under the overall rubric of “education for international understanding”. UNESCO (1974: 2) outlines the following relevant educational objectives for international education:

  • a curriculum with a global perspective
  • understanding and respect for other peoples and cultures
  • human rights and obligations
  • communication skills
  • awareness of human interdependence
  • necessity for international solidarity
  • engagement by the individual in the local, national and global scale

Malaysia’s International Education

At this juncture, let us pose some pertinent questions: To what extent is international education important in the educational process and the education system in Malaysia? Personally, I like to think it should be important as “There is nothing that is more effective than having nations-states and people break down barriers between themselves.” In fact, in this highly globalised and inter-connected world it is imperative that we understand other cultures, languages, institutions, and traditions. More so, in today’s globalized world, Malaysian students and in fact students of ASEAN need more international experience. For Malaysia, foreign students enrich our campuses and our culture, and they return home with new ideas and ways to strengthen the relationship between countries. But interestingly, since the early 1990s, the market place and international education have become intertwined and international education has and continues to be seen as an engine for growth (see – /38). Let us not mention the contribution of international students to the Malaysia economy at this juncture as I want to focus on aspects or issues that are beyond the monetary in this entry. That is, I want to focus on to what extent Malaysia has been successful in leveraging international education as a vital part of 21st century diplomacy. Admittedly, we send undergraduates, graduate students, administrators, faculty, and researchers on short and long-term programs abroad but what is more important and pertinent question to ask is: what are the impacts of our programs on students and scholars from abroad in Malaysian education system? Another question that beg some answers: Malaysia education institutions are implementing internationalisation-related activities such as international student mobility, but are these institutions themselves internationalised in its leadership, governance and management arrangement, curriculum content and pedagogy?

The National Higher Education Strategic Plan, 2020 (NHESP), while adopting UNESCO’s operational definition for international education, could not be regarded as intending to progress the comprehensive aims and objectives of international education. This strategic planning document addresses the internationalisation of higher education and not international education. The NHESP fleetingly touched on the aims and objectives of international education by way of the benefits of international exposure and experience. For instance, while a “curriculum with a global perspective” is embedded in many courses offered by Malaysian universities, this is targeted at international student enrolment and recruitment or providing exposure to local students with limited global citizenship or international understanding objective. At best, these are offered at the “exposure level”. Promoting the establishment of Malaysian branches of foreign universities in Malaysia is widely regarded by policy makers as one element of international education. However, the introduction of the Malaysia’s Global Reach component in phase two of the implementation of the NHESP, 2011-2015 is an attempt to insert amendment to what is incomplete from the perspective of international education. Malaysia’s Global Reach was introduced with international education for 21st century diplomacy in mind.

If we examined international education from more recent government documents, in particular the recently launched Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2013-2025, it is stated that:

“…it is …imperative that Malaysia compares its education system

against international benchmarks. This is to ensure that

Malaysia is keeping pace with international educational

development.” (Ministry of Education, 2013: 3-5).

Our reading of this important document is that the emphasis is on “international educational development” and not “development in international education.” The international education element of the Blueprint is the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, which is designed to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect (international education), are offered only in two Fully Residential Schools in Malaysia) (Ministry of Education, 2013:4-6).

At another level, the International Schools, which use international curriculum such as the British, American, Australian, Canadian, or International Baccalaureate programmes, sourced their teachers from abroad. In terms of enrolment, data as of 30 June 2011 shows that 18% of Malaysian students in private education options are enrolled in international schools nationwide (Ministry of Education, 2013:7-11).

With a very restricted notion or definition of international education, based on the NHESP and re-emphasized in the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2013-2025, the Performance Management Delivery Unit, and Prime Minister’s Department (PEMANDU) subsequently identified prioritised segments of the education system to drive the economic growth of the nation, namely:

  • Basic Education (primary and secondary), with Entry Point Project (EPP) identifying the private sector as playing an important role in improving basic education in terms of the provision of international education, as well as in the training and upskilling of teachers.
  • Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), with EPP 12: Championing Malaysia’s International Education Brand aims to position Malaysia as a regional hub of choice in the global education network. This will include marketing vocational training to international students. This EPP’s goal is to transform a foreign student’s experience in Malaysia into one that is comparable to that in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Thus, targets are set as Gross National Income (GNI) by 2020 (mil) RM2, 787.7 and 152,672 -projected jobs by 2020.

The prioritised segments identified above complement the regional education hub, which is the thrust for the NHESP. For the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015-2025 (Higher Education), the notion of international education was not conceptualised in the context of achieving UNESCO’s aims and objectives of international education as opposed to internationalisation of higher education and its monetary aspect to the Malaysian economy. In this Blueprint, the shifts on “Holistic, Entrepreneurial and Balanced Graduates’ and ‘Global prominence’ are conceived primarily in terms of monetary return and institutional reputation. There is no direct and clear statement in the Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015-2025 (Higher Education), with respect to UNESCO (1974) guidelines on international education and the outcome for the students in a highly interconnected but at the same time highly divisive world. What can we improve upon in the next 15 years, is to present the idea of international education beyond the notion that international education is about “engine of growth for the national economy”. Arguably, we need to re-orientate our efforts towards international understanding, citizenship and (mutual rather than soft power) diplomacy (Knight, 2014).


The term international education has yet to acquire a single, consistent meaning. But the manner in which Malaysia interprets and uses this concept/term in the context of economic development need some reflection and re-examination. We may achieve the targets set for 2020 in terms of international student enrolment in our education system, but what about the real aims and objectives of international education, which is to realise international understanding among nations. We need to seriously examine whether the aims and objectives of international education are effectively embedded in Malaysia’s (i) educational program, (ii) educational system, (ii) educational process and (iv) educational material.” There is a need to reassess Malaysia’s commitment towards creating the goals of international mindedness and ‘international understanding’ beyond 2020 and in the context of the Transformasi Nasional 2050 or National Transformation 2050 (TN50). In the case of Malaysia, where economic development is of top priority, we need to seriously think in terms of the economic impetus for better intercultural understanding. Nothing much could move forward in the Malaysian context unless and until there are clear economic impetus for any initiatives coming out of the higher education institutions. We need to re-look at this economic premise if we are to emerge as a nation of ‘global prominence” with respect to the manner our citizen engage with others in this globalised and yet highly divisive world.


ARUM, S. ‘International Education: What Is It? A Taxonomy of International Education of U.S. Universities.’ CIEE Occasional Papers on International Educational Exchange, 1987, 23, 5–22.

BELLE-ISLE, R. (1986) ‘Learning for a new humanism’. International Schools Journal 11 Springs: 27–30.

EPSTEIN, E.H. (1994). Comparative and International Education: Overview and Historical Development. In: Torsten Husén and T. Neville Postlethwaite, eds., International Encyclopaedia of Education (p.918–923). Oxford: Pergamon Press.

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Deep Internationalization & Infrastructure

Note: this entry is also available via Inside Higher Ed here.


Over the last several years, it has been interesting to see the development of some new and relatively deep collaborative models of institutional (or ‘commercial,’ using GATS parlance) presence in territories outside of universities’ main campuses. These new models tend to be research- and graduate or professional education-oriented, with relatively strong interdisciplinary inclinations. Some examples include:

These new models are formal joint ventures (in full, or in a significant way) vs stand-alone branch campuses; they involve significant medium-term commitment and investment; they are associated with the development of new purpose-designed buildings and broader institutional infrastructure; they involve the creation of new governance and organizational structures; they involve a concerted effort to produce innovative forms of new knowledge, impact, and sometimes service; and they are located in global cities.

While there are 250+ branch campuses around the world, including somewhat similar models (e.g., the campuses at Education City in Qatar), as well as dozens of international university research ventures (IURVs), the above developments are not as singularly research-oriented as those described by the Georgia Tech team several of us engaged with at a 2016 workshop on IURVs. Rather, the above examples differ from typical branch campuses and IURVs given their graduate/professional education focus, their intertwined research and education agendas, and especially the de jure nature of the joint venture structure that exists on multiple levels.

Why has this relatively deep form of internationalization emerged and fueled the development of new forms of higher ed infrastructure? It’s certainly the opposite of the ‘ghost MOU’ approach to internationalization where symbolic representations of internationalization are signed but lead to little but the creation of document after document buried in international unit filing cabinets.

For some ideas on thinking through the complex nature of deep internationalization associated with these developments, I think it’s worth turning to Gabriel Hawawini‘s recent book The Internationalization of Higher Education and Business Schools: A Critical Review (Springer, 2016). Hawawini is a professor of finance and former dean of INSEAD (2000-2006). He is the key architect of INSEAD’s highly successful transformation into a genuine international business school via a strategic planning process that spurred on INSEAD to refashion its organizational structure in a manner that led to to the development of commercial presence in Asia (in Singapore) and the Middle East (in Abu Dhabi). Now while INSEAD did not adopt the above joint venture via physical infrastructure model, the thought process behind their multi-campus model is still relevant, hence my argument that leaders and analysts interested in options for deep internationalization strategies should read Hawawini’s book. I also referred to aspects his argument in a recent course I taught on Cities, Universities and the Development Process and found that the framework Hawawini developed is clear and coherent to those new to the internationalization of higher education debate. Of course his is a business school-derived perspective but it’s a remarkably clear headed one that can be usefully used to foment debate and decision making regardless of the nature of the higher education institution as it is derived out of an actual (vs hypothetical) strategic planning process that led to positive and sustainable outcomes for INSEAD (and Singapore). And it’s a book that, despite the title, is more about the internationalization of higher education institutions than business schools.

What I like about Hawawini’s argument is that he wears an institutional political economy hat when thinking about internationalization of higher education. By this I mean he is cognizant of the role of different types of firms and states, as well as variable state-society-economy relations, in shaping the modern knowledge economy. This is a geographically uneven economy, and a very urban one (a theme raised last week in an interesting article by Emily Badger in the New York Times). Given this, and given Hawawini’s role as a higher education decision-maker and leader, he confronts what this evolving context means for higher education institutions that are grappling with the internationalization challenge.

In this short book, Hawawini first outlines what he defines as internationalization (p. 5):

Internationalization is an ongoing process of change whose objective is to integrate the institution and its key stakeholders (its students and faculty) into the emerging global knowledge economy.

Note the integrative element to this definition, as well as the ’emerging’ dimension to the global economy. Hawawini then discusses the academic and economic motives for internationalization, and as well as the obstacles shaping how the internationalization of higher education can be realized. He then moves on to delineate the organizational model options to realize internationalization. These options can be visualized (see below from a 2014 MOOC I taught with Susan L. Robertson) which helps, I find, when facilitating debate with diverse audiences (from students through to council/board members) about the critically important relationship between motives (why internationalize), mechanisms (how to internationalize), and structural change (how to institutionalize internationalization).


Further to the above models, Hawawini makes the critically important point that the dominant model (the Import model) adopted by most Western universities, including public research universities, is becoming increasingly problematic with respect to the production of regionally and globally relevant knowledge, not to mention educational programming. Why? Economic growth, infrastructure, global production/value chains, and so on are binding together cities and regions, with some regions (e.g., Pacific Asia, the Gulf) developing as much more important and powerful spaces in their own right. Thus the creation of solely- or jointly-developed institutional infrastructure in key nodal cities is required to adequately understand what is happening within these regions, how cities and regions are being bound together, and what is needed to develop and circulate relevant forms of knowledge. As Hawawini puts it (pp. 25-26):

An alternative view is that the global economy is being transformed into an increasingly complex network of interconnected but different economic areas each of which is endowed with the capacity to innovate and create knowledge. According to this multipolar view of the world, knowledge is increasingly being dispersed throughout the globe. In this case learning from the world becomes an imperative, particularly for research-driven higher education institutions. This is why higher education institutions should be present abroad: they need to acquire that dispersed knowledge and meld it together to create new ideas and more advanced knowledge.

Shifts in the spatial structure of economic activity, as well as in emerging growth patterns, are creating new regional economic geographies and political economies and if this is the case, sitting back and resting upon past laurels is not enough IF a university seeks to become a “truly global institution” (p. 76). Committed and aspiring global institutions need to refashion their organizational structures to ensure they can realize their visions and generate an impact. This is, arguably, a key part of the rationale for why four of these eight institutions (Technion, Tsinghua, Duke, Imperial College) have taken the big step and allocated considerable time, effort and resources to developing a formal institutional presence in the cities of New York, Seattle and Singapore. Each university needs to be located within these cities and each has contributed to the development of the infrastructure (broadly defined) needed to become more regionally and globally relevant. They are, as Hawawini puts it, internationalizing “to learn from the world” in order to “create knowledge” in an increasingly “multipolar world.”

While Gabriel Hawawini’s book does have many strengths, I recommend that it be read in conjunction with other books and articles that focus on particular geographies and sectors. For example, in my Cities, Universities and the Development Process course I assigned Aihwa Ong’s excellent book Fungible Life: Experiment in the Asian City of Life (Duke University Press, 2016) which focuses on Singapore and the leading edges of bioscience. As the book description states:

In Fungible Life Aihwa Ong explores the dynamic world of cutting-edge bioscience research, offering critical insights into the complex ways Asian bioscientific worlds and cosmopolitan sciences are entangled in a tropical environment brimming with the threat of emergent diseases. At biomedical centers in Singapore and China scientists map genetic variants, disease risks, and biomarkers, mobilizing ethnicized “Asian” bodies and health data for genomic research. Their differentiation between Chinese, Indian, and Malay DNA makes fungible Singapore’s ethnic-stratified databases that come to “represent” majority populations in Asia. By deploying genomic science as a public good, researchers reconfigure the relationships between objects, peoples, and spaces, thus rendering “Asia” itself as a shifting entity. In Ong’s analysis, Asia emerges as a richly layered mode of entanglements, where the population’s genetic pasts, anxieties and hopes, shared genetic weaknesses, and embattled genetic futures intersect. Furthermore, her illustration of the contrasting methods and goals of the Biopolis biomedical center in Singapore and BGI Genomics in China raises questions about the future direction of cosmopolitan science in Asia and beyond.

Ong’s book is a deep dive in the complex role of the state, universities, firms, research stars, and knowledge about genetics in shaping the development of Singapore, in particular, as a key space in the development of scientific knowledge. After reading it you can better understand why universities like Duke and Imperial College seek (and need) to have a formal institutional presence in Singapore, and in association with key national partner universities like NUS and NTU. The Ong book, thus, provides insights on the geographical-, historical-, and sectoral -specific developments that these universities are currently navigating.  The Ong book has its weaknesses, but this is not the space for this discussion.

Clearly not all universities have the ambition, connections, stature, and resources to refashion their organizational structures to help enable deep internationalization. This is, of course, fine. As Hawawini puts it (pp. 76):

I have sketched out the contours of the truly global higher education institution and argued that any attempt to transform an existing higher education institution into a truly global one is unlikely to succeed because of historical and organizational barriers rather than insufficient resources or a dearth of leadership. …

In the light of this conclusion, I believe that most higher education institutions should refrain from claiming their aim is to become truly global institutions.

He argues that “most higher education institutions are firmly grounded in their local and regional environments” and given this it is illogical to seriously pursue the kind of development initiative evident in the case of, for example, Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. There are plenty of alternative mechanisms, including student/staff/faculty exchanges, partnerships, and curricular transformations (internationalizing the curriculum & internationalization at home). For the ambitious or curious, though, it’s worth reflecting on these experiments in deep internationalization via the development of outward-facing forms of city-based infrastructure.

Kris Olds

Defending Central European University and Academic Freedom: Elements of an Initial Response

Editor’s note: this guest entry, also posted on Inside Higher Ed, has been kindly developed by Sejal Parmar, Assistant Professor at the Department of Legal Studies and a core faculty member of the Center for Media, Data and Society at the School of Public Policy at the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. The photographs are (c) Daniel Vegel, Zoltan Tuba / CEU. Dr. Parmar was previously Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19. She has also been a postdoctoral fellow at New York University Law School and a visiting scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School. Her main field of expertise and research is international and European human rights law, particularly on freedom of expression. Dr. Parmar’s entry provides us with a number of important insights on how and why CEU is defending itself after being dragged into an ideological struggle not of the university’s making, as well as reminding us that what happens to CEU should matter to everyone concerned about the future of higher education, knowledge production, and human rights. Kris Olds


Defending Central European University and Academic Freedom: Elements of an Initial Response

Sejal Parmar, Central European University

CEU's new

CEU’s new “N15” building in Nádros street.

The Central European University (“CEU”) “in a single week has become the most important global symbol of academic freedom in the world.” So observed CEU’s President and Rector Michael Ignatieff on 4 April, the day amendments to Hungary’s Act on National Higher Education (“Lex CEU”), which were only tabled on 28 March, were adopted by the Hungarian Parliament. Signed into law by Hungary’s President just a week later, on 10 April, these amendments “make it impossible for the University to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Budapest, CEU’s home for 25 years.” CEU’s fight to remain “at home” has prompted a tsunami of statements from across the world and a spectacular popular movement, mobilising some of the largest demonstrations the country has seen since the fall of communism; as many as 80,000 people marched in Budapest on 9 April. CEU has been propelled into the global limelight through numerous opinion pieces, editorials, academic blogs, papers, social media posts and the hashtag #IstandwithCEU. Ironically, the university, which hosted the “Frontiers of Democracy” initiative in recent years and has long offered courses on international human rights advocacy, has necessarily been galvanised into taking on the forces of “illiberal democracy” for the sake of its own freedom.

An emblem and catalyst

Under the terms of Lex CEU, CEU is required to offer academic programmes in New York at pointless and unbearable financial cost. CEU currently awards both Hungarian and American accredited degrees, without having a campus in the US, thanks to its dual legal identity and accreditation in New York as “CEU”, and in Hungary as “Közép-európai Egyetem” (“KEE”). Contesting the legislation as an attack on its academic freedom and institutional autonomy, CEU is currently pursuing “all legal remedies” whilst calling on the government to show “mutual good will” by initiating negotiations towards finding a “lawful and long-term solution that would ensure [the university’s] academic freedom and institutional integrity.”

The attack on CEU’s freedom as a university may be unprecedented in the history of the EU, but it is not unique. Just in the past year, Russian authorities have revoked the license of the European University in St Petersburg, the Turkish government has forced the shutdown of fifteen institutions after the failed July 2016 coup attempt, and campuses in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been subjected to violent attacks, resulting in scores of deaths. As a legislative assault on a Hungarian institution of critical inquiry and “public watchdog”, it is also not unique and may have even been predicted. It is part of a broader political offensive on democratic institutions by Hungary’s Fidesz government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, which has over the years targeted independent media, the Constitutional Court and foreign-funded NGOs, whilst treating “the very concept [of] human rights as a sort of public enemy”. Little wonder that Timothy Garton Ash has urged that Europe’s “appeasement [of Hungary] has to stop”.

CEU’s case exposes both the erosion of academic freedom around the world, and deepening challenges to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hungary and in the EU generally. It should, accordingly, catalyse a deeper interest in threats to academic freedom – which is protected by Article 19 ICCPR, Articles 15 and 13 ICESCR, Article 10 ECHR and Article 13 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – both intrinsically and as manifestations of the shrinking of civic space. Until now, this fundamental freedom has been neglected by most intergovernmental bodies, NGOs and scholars, for whom it might have seemed a marginal or esoteric subject.

Elements of an evolving response

CEU’s “open society” mission and its “densely international” community make it distinctive. A private and independent institution, CEU derives its funding from a founding endowment, philanthropic gifts, research grants and tuition income. Nonetheless, its response to Lex CEU may be instructive on how a university can defend its own academic freedom today. The strength of CEU’s response so far, led by the Rector and the specially constituted “Response Team”, has rested on four simple elements.

Leadership and rhetoric

First and foremost, CEU’s leadership has been calm, resolute and tireless throughout this episode, inspiring great institutional unity, as well as pride and gratitude, across the CEU community. Firmly and eloquently, the Rector has reiterated: “Under all circumstances, CEU will continue its operations,” and, “Budapest is our home … [we] belong here.” Leon Botstein, the wizardlike Chairman of the Board of Trustees and President of Bard College, has promised: “Whatever it takes will be done … we will prevail.” Such words have instilled confidence within CEU, whilst simultaneously reinforcing the university’s ties to Budapest.


CEU’s position has been consistent and clear, and effectively communicated in various ways. In the spirit of transparency, CEU’s senior administration have held regular community forums and press conferences, which have been broadcast live and uploaded onto the university’s You Tube channel. The Rector has given high-profile interviews to international and Hungarian media, and the dedicated CEU site has been regularly updated with detailed information in both English and Hungarian. An official Twitter handle, @StandwithCEU, has been established and a Thunderclap is planned. The Response Team has also quickly refuted false statements concerning the legislation and CEU, including misleading references to CEU as “the Soros university” or “George Soros’s university” by the government and the media. CEU’s position has been conveyed “in a highly sophisticated, professional, and honest way,” setting “the crisis ‘comms’ standard universities worldwide should strive to match,” as Kris Olds, an expert on global higher education put it.

Constitutional challenge

tiered classroom, CEU Business School classCEU has quickly set forth a strong legal case contesting the constitutional validity of Lex CEU on both substantive and procedural grounds. The most important claim is that the legislation violates the freedom of academic activities, the freedom of scientific research, learning and teaching, the right to education and the autonomy of higher education institutions, as protected by Hungary’s Fundamental Law. CEU also argues that Lex CEU targets and discriminates against foreign higher education institutions in general, by requiring them to provide programmes in their state of origin, and CEU in particular, by making it impossible for KEE to take over the programmes of CEU and by requiring CEU to change its name; and that it also provides insufficient time for compliance by requiring a binding international agreement between Hungary and the US to be completed within six months of the publication of the law and an agreement between Hungary and the State of New York to be concluded by 1 January 2018.

Political and public support

CEU has gathered and been heartened by support from an astonishing array of individuals and organisations – a testament to the networks and energy of its community, and its reputation. In Hungary, this has included backing from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Eötvös Loránd, Corvinus and Andrássy universities; the Ombudsman for educational rights; and former President Solyom. Pledges of solidarity have come from international academia, including: the heads of leading universities in North America and Europe; the International Association of Universities; and many Nobel laureates. Key strategic players have expressed their support and concern about Lex CEU, notably: two senior State Department officials, twelve members of Congress and a former New York governor; European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, and European Commissioners Moedas and Navracsics; as well as President Steinmeier of Germany, and France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, Harlem Desir. Statements urging Hungary to reconsider the legislation have been issued by: former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, endorsed by two other Special Procedures; the Directors of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency; and leading NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Scholars at Risk. Hundreds of writers and thousands of private individuals have sent messages of support, while tens of thousands have signed an online petition to “save” CEU.


CEU's new This episode has already been defining moment for CEU as a community and institution, for it has laid bare its resilience and adeptness, its rootedness in Hungarian society, and its global clout. It may also be a turning point in the fortunes of the Fidesz government, whose attempt to attract votes in advance of the 2018 elections by targeting CEU appear to be grossly misjudged. The university has proven itself to be the government’s most formidable, albeit reluctant, adversary within Hungary yet, thanks to the above-mentioned elements and mass demonstrations. CEU’s case clearly presents an critical test for the EU in showing whether it can meaningfully address the flouting of its common values within an existing Member State: a legal assessment is being carried out by the European Commission; the European Parliament debates the situation on 26 April; and the European Council, under Article 7 TEU, wields the ultimate power to sanction Hungary. The European Peoples’ Party can also expel Fidesz from its ranks, as commentators have argued it should. Given the problems of the Constitutional Court, powerful players in Brussels and Washington DC are now being counted upon. On what terms CEU “prevails” – as it will eventually, I have no doubt – is vitally important for the university. Yet it will also matter enormously as an example and precedent for others, above all academic institutions under the spectre of intimidation and closure around the world.


Central European University’s Complicated Legal Geographies

Please note that an edited version of this is available on Inside Higher Ed – this version is more easily shared and printed, if so desired.


As has been reported widely, including in Inside Higher Ed, Central European University (CEU) (registered officially under the names Central European University and Közép-európai Egyetem, KEE) is facing some major challenges regarding its future existence. The 4 April 2017 legislative move by the government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was widely condemned by CEU, as well as by numerous parties across Europe and North America. As the European University Association, with 850 members across 47 countries (serving 17 million students), put it in a press release:

04 April 2017
EUA is extremely shocked and deeply concerned by the decision taken on 4 April 2017 by the Hungarian Parliament to adopt the recently proposed amendments to the Hungarian Education Law, targeting the Central European University.
The bill was passed apparently without taking into consideration the many statements of support from politicians and academics underlining the important achievements of the Central European University in the past 25 years.
Should this amendment be signed off in law, it will make further operations of the CEU in Hungary almost impossible. CEU is a long-standing EUA member and the Association stands by its colleagues and friends, willing to help them in any way as this process moves forward.
In Budapest, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the Embassy of the United States to Budapest, David Kostelancik, issued the following statement:

The United States is disappointed by the accelerated passage of legislation targeting Central European University, despite the serious concerns raised by the United States, by hundreds of local and international organizations and institutions, and by thousands of Hungarians who value academic freedom and the many important contributions by Central European University to Hungary.

The Central European University is a successful and prestigious American-Hungarian institution and has been an important component of the U.S.-Hungarian relationship for 26 years.  The United States will continue to advocate for its independence and unhindered operation in Hungary.

In the United States, Leon Botstein (President, Bard College), Carol Christ (Provost and Chancellor-designate, University of California at Berkeley) & Jonathan Cole, Professor and former Provost, Columbia University) had this to say in the Washington Post:

If we allow CEU to be controlled exclusively by the Hungarian government and lose its international status and autonomy, all universities in Hungary will suffer. For this to take place within the European Union is unthinkable. It will set a precedent that will prevent higher education from flourishing. Take away a university’s right to select its students and the most qualified faculty, contest the received wisdom of our time, be a critical voice against existing social and economic arrangements, and you no longer have a free university in a democratic society. The purging of the basic features of academic freedom at CEU would create a wasteland out of a fertile intellectual soil. Hungary would no longer attract great faculty minds, nor would exceptional students from around the world want to come to Hungary to learn. There is therefore much to be lost if CEU is forced to defend academic principles of freedom by becoming a university in exile.

The legislation proposed by the Orban government has implications far beyond Hungary. Governments with authoritarian tendencies that stoke intolerant nationalist sentiments tighten their grip by repressing the freedom of universities, suppressing a press committed to free expression and violating the autonomy of its legal systems. Many of us have been there before — Europe under fascism, the United States during the McCarthy period.

It’s worth noting that Cole is author of The Great American University: Its Rise To Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected (Public Affairs, 2009), one of the seminal texts about state-society-economy conditions and associated policies and programs that enabled U.S. universities to become world-class producers of scaleable high-impact knowledge.
CEU itself released a series of detailed responses in rapid fashion, while doing an exemplary job of disseminating their views in two languages (Hungarian and English) in a highly sophisticated, professional, and honest way. [as a close observer of how universities communicate amidst crises, I think CEU has now set the crisis ‘comms’ standard universities worldwide should strive to match – it will be difficult, I assure you!]
Reactions to the legislative news are still rippling across Hungary, Europe, the United States (including because the CEU is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education and holds an “absolute charter” from the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, “for and on behalf of the New York State Education Department)”, and North America more broadly (given that the CEU president equivalent is Michael Ignatieff, a well know Canadian public intellectual and former candidate for prime minister in 2011).
The ‘what’s next’ stage for CEU is filled with considerable uncertainty. Will this legislation be vetoed like those who filled the streets late on 4 April hope?
Or will CEU be forced to close given that operating conditions under this new legislation generate some very challenging demands and discriminatory provisions, as designed by a government antagonistic to all things associated with George Soros (CEU’s founder). These demands and discriminatory provisions include:
  1. Violation of the rules on the legislative process
  2. Violation of the freedom of academic research, studies and education
  3. New requirement to conclude a binding international agreement
  4. New requirement for foreign higher education institutions to provide higher education programs in their country of origin
  5. New provision terminating the current structure of cooperation between the US (CEU) and the Hungarian university (Közép-európai Egyetem)
  6. New provision requiring CEU to change its name
  7. Insufficient time ensured by the law to prepare for compliance with its new provisions
Central European University’s Complicated Legal Geographies
Several of the above demands and provisions unsettle, deeply, CEU’s place in the national, regional (European) and global higher education landscapes. Items 3-7, for example, will require engagement between the national governments in Hungary and the USA via a formal “binding international agreement,” which will defacto provide the Hungarian Government the right to approve or rescind the agreement with little to no justification. The Hungarian Government will also require international universities (in this case the CEU) to open a branch campus in “their country of origin” (the United States in the CEU case). Finally, the new legislation creates conditions where the Hungarian Government will force the termination of “license-programs” for higher education institutions having their seat in OECD vs member states (i.e. the United States). As CEU put it to Hungary’s Members of Parliament on 3 April:
KEE, the Hungarian university, could no longer deliver the programs of the American university as it is allowed to do under Section 77 (4) of the HEA, as Hungarian universities could only deliver programs of European universities and not of countries from the OECD. Based on this current Section 77 (4) of the HEA, CEU operates in Hungary through the Hungarian University and the Hungarian University issues the CEU’s (U.S.) diplomas on behalf of CEU. The proposed new Section 77 (4) does not include the OECD countries (such as the United States of America) anymore. Consequently CEU would not be able to offer U.S. academic programs through KEE.
Given the above, it’s no surprise the #IstandwithCEU Twitter hashtag has gone global apart from in Murdoch papers: an innovative and highly ranked university’s future is at serious risk. And why? Because PM Orbán’s government has successfully reworked and made far harsher the legal geographies that CEU needs to navigate to exist, let alone thrive. The Government has upgraded it’s governing power over CEU’s operating conditions, thereby reducing the university’s autonomy, as well as making its capacity to succeed subject to many more factors, decision-makers, and structural contexts (including demand for educational services in the deeply saturated NY/US higher education market).
The power-politics dimension of these reworked legal geographies is worth considering. As Renáta Uitz, Chair of the Comparative Constitutional Law Program,of CEU put it in Verfassungsblog (5 April):

As for the conditions themselves, the idea that foreign universities can only operate in Hungary based on an international agreement deserves special attention. This condition in and of itself introduces the sovereign to the picture with its might and doubles its weight. It is not only that the sovereign sets a condition, but it also takes the sovereign’s benevolence for a foreign university to be able to meet this condition. If the Hungarian government were not in the mood to compromise with a foreign government on the principles of establishing a university, this statutory condition cannot be met by the organization to which it applies.

Furthermore, a last minute rider to the bill further specified this requirement: for federal entities the Hungarian government is expected to conclude an international agreement with the federal unit in which the university had been accredited, based on the prior approval of the respective federal government. Now, in case such a legal construct (i.e. a state-level treaty with prior federal consent) does not exist in the foreign jurisdiction in question, the condition for the operation of a foreign university set by Hungarian law simply cannot be met. [my emphasis]

The challenges CEU faces have multiplied in two weeks to include those of political, fiscal, regulatory, organizational, and mission-related natures. And while CEU has been, as noted above, very assertive in analyzing and communicating about these challenges, I’d like to leave readers of this blog entry with several questions to ponder.

First, what are European universities, funding councils, organizations (incl the EU), and national political leaders, really doing to help resolve this matter. I’ve been following this debate since it erupted in late March, and have been struck by the relatively more assertive (and immediate) public representations made by the US and Canadian governments, including Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the Embassy of the United States to Budapest David Kostelancik.

There are clear signs that EU representatives and key national political leaders (esp Chancellor Angela Merkel) are finally speaking up. But given that the Hungarian Ambassador to Washington is being recalled over her handling of the communications side of this higher education bill, that, according to the Hungarian Government:

“The election of the Trump administration means that Hungarian diplomats must pursue new political and economic duties,” Tamás Menczer, the foreign ministry’s press officer, told Magyar Hírlap.

and that David Kostelancik is an Obama-era appointment, time is tight to put pressure on and shape the bilateral Hungary-US government relationship about this issue (recognizing, though, that US states vs the federal government have authority over higher education institutions). In short, what European-scale solutions exist to resolve this crisis? Enacting Article 7 of the European Union Treaty, perhaps given the attack on CEU but also in association with other human rights related transgressions?

Second, what will supportive people, programs, departments, universities, organizations do to help support CEU once the flurry of news about this crisis recedes from view, as it will. As we’ve learned here in Wisconsin, higher education-related crises generate plenty of good will at first (people associated with universities are easily stirred, after all), though months and years later the petitions and letters are but distant memories; mere data for someone’s PhD dissertation, a New York Times Magazine article (with spectacular photos of Budapest slipped in), etc.

Third, and on a related note, while the hope is that this harsh legislation will be revoked, what will happen if it is not? Plenty of people on social media platforms have flagged attempts to welcome CEU to other cities in Eastern Europe (e.g., Prague). But, instead, are any universities in the US thinking about how they might be able to help CEU establish, quickly, a US-based branch campus? Bridging typically takes 1-2 years and it takes a full 4-5 years to establish a purpose-built campus. For example, are relevant National Resource Centers (NRCs) based at US universities discussing this issue? While NRC staff and faculty are, no doubt, consumed with the Trump budget proposal, including developing provisional lay-off plans if things fall apart this year, there may be a creative way to host a CEU campus if the future of Central European University (and Közép-európai Egyetem) depends upon it. Indeed, it might be a vehicle to develop a win-win solution in the era of aggressive nationalism, Orbán/Trump style.

Kris Olds

The UK University-Territory Relationship in a Post-Brexit World

This entry is also available via Inside Higher Ed in a format more amenable for sharing or printing.


Post-EU Referendum turmoil in the UK (and the EU) continues, for all sorts of reasons, but soon more serious and sustained assessment of the post-Brexit landscape for UK universities will occur. This blog entry is an exercise in thinking future-forward, brainstorming-fashion (so all caveats apply!), about one possible risk-reducing option.

In such a context here is the question to consider: is an Oxbridge-Lille (a joint Cambridge-Oxford university) or equivalent (e.g., Imperial College-Lille; Birmingham-Nottingham-Warwick-Lille) campus in the Eurostar hub city of Lille an institutional-organizational level option to reduce risk and ensure stable access to EU nationals (including staff and students), creative UK staff with EU citizenship dreams (for themselves, and their children should they have any), EU research monies, EU-funded research infrastructures, and relevant EU policy-making fora and bodies? Or might the Euro-UK equivalent of Singapore’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), in a similar location, be a creative post-Brexit option? Or might an equivalent of Cornell Tech NYC be worth creating in European higher education and research space?

In other words, is it time for the UK university-territory relationship to be reconsidered, or at least debated, vs simply waiting and seeing what might emerge over the next 2-4 years via the ‘leadership’ of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, et al?


The implications of ‘Brexit’ for UK universities are many, hence their leaderships’ unified argument and vigorous engagement in the pre-EU Referendum campaign. We heard, for example, about the over-dependence of UK universities upon EU students and staff, and the critical role of EU research monies (especially via Horizon 2020 and the European Research Council) in supporting one of the most research-active higher education systems in the world.

A glance at any of the backgrounders below makes a patently obvious point – the UK is deeply integrated into the European Union, the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Research Area (EHEA), both formally and informally:

For example 46,230 postgraduate students and 78,435 undergraduates originating from the European Union (excluding the UK) studied in the UK in 2014-15 according to WonkHE, making up 5.5% of the total student population. This is a significant and relatively stable stream of non-UK students at the undergraduate level, as is evident in this figure from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA):


Further to the human mobility theme, “in 2012–13, 27,147 EU students came to study or work (train/teach) in the UK with an Erasmus grant” while non-UK EU staff now make up 15% of the UK’s academic workforce (see ‘The European Union’s contribution to UK higher education‘). On the research side, “UK national public investment into science is complemented by an additional 10% of funds (and rising from the EU)” with EU monies the “second largest single funding source” in 3 out of the 4 Research Excellence Framework (REF) panels according to Scientists for EU (November 2015):


Needless to say, UK university-based researchers also participate in numerous research consortia coordinated out of continental European universities, as well as exercise leadership at multiple scales in the EU-supported research and teaching policies, programs and projects.
As noted in many of these documents, the indirect impacts of human mobility to the UK, and EU research support, are plentiful too. For example Iain Wright, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Labour MP for Hartlepool, recently wrote that EU research support “generates more than 19,000 jobs across the UK and contributes more than £1bn in additional value added to our country’s economy.” And the geographically-specific impacts are significant for key UK cities received spillover effects via concentrated flows of these monies (2007-2015):


Given that service exports (including education) generate localized expenditures (e.g., housing, food, entertainment) expenditures related to students from non-UK EU countries in the UK was estimated to “generate £3.7 billion for the UK economy and support over 34,000 British jobs.” All in all, the UK is an overall beneficiary when it comes to EU-related research money and EU-sourced or supported student and staff mobility. And this does not even begin to factor in the positive intellectual impacts of enhanced cooperation between UK and other EU universities, a phenomenon discussed in some detail by the Royal Society in 2016, and very much evident to US-based collaborations like myself.

Brexit, Transition Politics, & Risk

It is no exaggeration to state that the Leave win in the EU Referendum was a shock to most stakeholders associated with the higher education community in the UK, in other EU nations, and in regional associations (e.g., the European Students’ Union; the European University Association; League of European Research Universities). In short order, major expressions of discontent and concern were expressed in the UK by university associations, individual university leaders, the higher education media (especially Times Higher Education), and individual staff and students. Concerns emerged about the potential loss of research monies (a prediction apparently being brought to life already due to the marginalization of UK researchers from project proposal consortia), the ability of UK universities to guarantee right of residency for the many EU staff they depend upon; difficulties in student recruitment,  access to or possible relocation of EU research infrastructures (broadly defined), and the unleashing of xenophobia that has made many non-UK European researchers and students feel discriminated against and unwelcome. On the last point, part of the issue is that non-UK EU nationals are being effectively being told, via coded language, that they are bargaining chips in what will be multi-year UK-EU negotiations about the human mobility and the free movement of workers.

More broadly, Science and Technology Committee chair Nicola Blackwood told Science Minister Jo Johnson this week: ‘I think this [Brexit] will be make or break for our knowledge economy.’ More specifically, Blackwood said:

Can I … plead with you to make the case within Government, not only that issues such as continued access to Horizon 2020 [a funding scheme] are maintained and collaboration [is maintained] and the right kind of immigration system that benefits our science and higher education sectors are in place, but also that the science and innovation community is at the heart of the exit negotiations, as you’ve been saying is important, because I think this will be make or break for our knowledge economy going forward.

Blackwood raises an important issue, for in a multi-year period of tumultuous change coming up, all subject to political machinations, just how important of a priority will universities be in the big picture? This is a point Martin McQuillan also raised just prior to the referendum vote when he stated:

The chaos created in the intervening years by the gravitational pull of the right wing of the Conservative Party and their UKIP allies will be the legacy of the Cameron and Osborne governments. It is unlikely to be an environment in which our universities will flourish.

The governmental context shifted today, too, for UK “universities are on the move to the Department for Education” from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which is itself being refashioned into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (where research matters will be managed in the future). As Mark Leach of WonkHE put it:

Breaking up the family like this will be unpopular with vice chancellors who will now need to lobby two departments on overlapping issues. It also separates universities from the department with responsibility for infrastructure, growth and industry and takes HE policy further away from the industrial policy ‘action’ at home, and limits universities to some of the exposure to Britain’s international trade links that BIS used to pursue.

On the Future of UK universities in a Post-Brexit World

What will be the future of UK universities in a post-Brexit world? Will they all (or the vast majority of them) wait and see what emerges from the negotiations, focusing their lobbying efforts on strategic units, politicians, and officials? Perhaps. There is plenty of uncertainty to factor in, though, as Nick Hillman (Director, The Higher Education Policy Institute) put it in a 5 July 2016 speech to the University of Nottingham’s executive board:

No one knows what is going to happen for certain, so we can argue and act in favour of the future we desire. We can, to coin a phrase, take back control of the argument… We are only now coming to think about all the questions and not all the possible answers are obvious.”

In this section, I’d like to suggest that UK universities take seriously the words of Jo Johnson (Minister of State for Universities and Science) on 13 July 2016 when he stated:

Brexit does not mean that we are becoming insular and inward-looking in any way, but, on the contrary, we are going to be more outward-looking, more open and more globally minded than ever before.

but in a manner that builds upon global regionalisms (including the development of the ERA & the EHEA) that have helped enable the creation of a more resilient and outward-looking higher UK educational and research system over the last decade plus.

Could an ‘outward-looking’ UK university deal with Brexit-related risk, take advantage of progress in developing the EHEA and the ERA, and contribute to refashioning its future structure and identity by creating a new and deeply embedded campus in a nearby (commuting time-wise) Eurostar station city like Lille, France, safely in EU-space? Commercial presence in the EU, to use GATS parlance, would enable a multi-campus model to emerge like the one visualized in the bottom of the figure below.

Version 2: Import Model | Export Model | Academic Joint Venture Model | Partnership, Alliance, & Consortia Model | and Foreign Campus Model

Models for the Globalization of Higher Education

Source: based on Hawawini, G. (2011) The Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions: A Critical Review and a Radical Proposal (November 2011).

In such a model, students and faculty regularly travel between campuses; indeed programs tend to be designed such that components are held in multiple locations. The nodal location also enables the university to leverage these flows. This model is not one associated the creation of offices or small outreach campuses where teaching occurs, with minimal basic research; rather, these campuses broadly replicate the terms and conditions of faculty and staff in the main (origin) campus. Indeed the replication of such employment conditions is required in some contexts (e.g., Singapore) where state largesse, subject to contractual agreements, facilitates the new campus development process.

Imagine, for example, a Lille- or Amsterdam- based version of Cornell Tech in New York City, currently being constructed in New York City and primarily associated with Cornell University and Technion in Israel (photo below courtesy of Cornell Tech):
Campus View from West Loop Road

Campus View from West Loop Road. The Bloomberg Center, Residential Building, The Bridge (listed from left to right) – Credit Kilograph, Weiss Manfredi, and Handel Architects

In a process that began in 2010 (see my Unsettling the University-Territory Relationship via Applied Sciences NYC) a long-term experiment in reconfiguring the university-territory relationship was launched. This initiative is noteworthy from a post-Brexit perspective because it is generative of the formation of deep partnerships between universities from different countries, but in a new & strategically valuable setting. In so doing, partner universities have no choice but to forge deep and relatively trusting relations, thereby going beyond traditional international partnerships that are all too often associated with ghost Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with little follow-up.
In the case of Cornell Tech, the creation of a partnership node can be opened up, at will, to new partners, while also serving as a prospective site of engagement between Cornell and Technion’s existing partners in the US, Israel, and abroad. This is, indeed, the value of drawing in research-active universities like Technion and Cornell.

Other models also exist, including the Euro-UK equivalent of Singapore’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), an option several of us from US universities (including UW-Madison, MIT, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon) recently discussed at a workshop on International University Research Ventures: Implications for US Economic Competitiveness and National Security. Most international research university ventures are STEM-related, though given what’s happening in Europe and the broader region, a case could certainly be made for an innovative UK-EU-Other campus that focuses on global challenges/problems including terrorism, climate change, financialization, refugee crises, risk/uncertainty, and the like. In short, an Oxbridge-Lille (or equivalent) campus is in the realm of the possible, potentially leading to educational innovation within the UK and EU irrespective of what Boris and Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (David Davis) are able to pull off over the next 2-6 years.

In Conclusion

I was in Copenhagen the week before the EU Referendum vote was held participating in a UNIKE conference regarding University Futures. This event, as well as the EU-funded project it is an outcome of, is an excellent of what UK university engagement in EU research and professional development programming can engender. The network structure of the project brought together UK, continental European, and European Higher Education Area-scale faculty, (post)graduate students , postdocs, and staff to explore various dimensions of universities and the knowledge-based economy. The network also extended into Asia and North America. Compared to many North American events focused on similar topics, this was a relatively cosmopolitan gathering; a sign of how 21st century regionalisms are indeed open regionalisms; they are not closed and inward looking, but instead use the phenomenon of global regionalism to build up capacity of constituent parts to engage globally.

As Anne Corbett recently stated in University World News:

It is not going to be an easy time for higher education. Nothing can be the same. But as the UK higher education world reflects on how it is to continue on the post-Brexit path, it is surely time to take a deep breath and return to fight with renewed energy for the values of European cooperation, as well as the money that has come into the sector from the EU.

In this entry I am arguing UK universities might want to rethink their territorial relationship(s) and consider options for becoming more deeply embedded in EU-space in preparation for a post-Brexit non-EU world. And in doing so UK universities might help stabilize and hopefully further not only their own institutional-organizational development futures, but also contribute to the development of the Europe educational and research space they are unquestionably dependent upon.

There are, no doubt, dozens of challenges (many legal) for why the ideas put forward above might be enormously difficult if not impossible to operationalize, though they’re posed here in the context of recognition that, as Nick Hillman put it last week, “not all the possible answers are obvious.”

Kris Olds (with thanks for input on this topic from numerous colleagues in Belgium, the UK & the USA)









UBC Future Forward

This entry is also available in Insider Higher Ed.


As I outlined back on 9 August 2015 in Inside Higher Ed, the unexpected leadership transition at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in summer 2015 had all the ingredients to become a major crisis. And a ‘barn-burner’ of a crisis has certainly emerged, sad to say. As a concerned alum, I do hope my alma mater can move forward. From my perspective, nearly seven months later (amid a possible vote of non-confidence in the Board of Governors and an ongoing presidential search) it’s worth flagging two key problems, and then three correctional action suggestions.

On Problems

UBCWest3First, if mistakes were made in the handling of the processes in which Professor Gupta was hired, institutionally supported in his first year in the job, and/or resigned, they need to be analyzed and openly communicated. No institution nor key leader is perfect – that’s life. World-class universities sing their praises and own their mistakes. Moving on is more difficult if a consistently defensive posture is adopted by key stakeholders with power, and if important mistakes are not publicly owned. Fortunately, process factors are not typically entangled up in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Second, UBC, including the Board of Governors, needs to publicly commit to becoming a more transparent organization as this seems to be a core theme of various conflicts. If and when the principle of enhanced transparency is committed to, detailed changes need to be devised and outlined in a systematic way. Discourse about transparency is not enough – a strategic plan with deliverables and deadlines is needed. For example, many boards of governors (or equivalent) live stream and then archive all regularly scheduled meetings. Live streaming and archiving important committee meetings is also possible. Err on the side of transparency. And in doing so, use transparency, as many of the world’s best universities do, as a mechanism to enhance engagement with key stakeholders within the organization. Why? Because engagement in a shared governance context improves information flows in all directions, as well as the quality of decisions and associated outcomes. Finally, if a major crisis were to emerge in the near future, take into account this higher education crisis expert’s view: “Our first line for every client is, “Tell the truth, tell it all, tell it first.“”

On Correctional Actions

I’ll preface my three correctional action suggestions with a statement that UBC is a very fortunate university – it’s a high quality and respected institution with relatively stable financial footings. And we’re also fortunate that a respected leader like president emeritus Martha Piper is acting as Interim President and Vice-Chancellor. This interim role is critically important to moving forward. Only experienced and broadly trusted interim presidents can play the unique university-wide role of helping to repair broken communications and creating psychic healing measures. This is a nebulous but vital role for any president to focus on, from start to finish, amid a governance/leadership crisis.

In terms of correctional actions, it’s first worth noting that many universities and higher education systems are revisiting their governance structures. A formal independent governance review is worth considering. And at a minimum, it’s worth commissioning one or more independent studies of UBC’s governance in comparative perspective, with attention to higher education structures and systems, variations in autonomy and transparency, and the changing context for provincial/higher education relationships. A condition of ‘legacy governance’ exists right now in that our governance systems and procedures reflect earlier eras of revenue streams, very different political and technological contexts, and now dated understandings of the roles of universities in the development of economy and society. Students, in particular, are underrepresented in governance systems vis a vis their majority (in many contexts) role in providing the revenue streams that sustain universities. It’s also worth noting that crises in several of UBC’s peer universities have been associated with a lack of awareness, at the governing board level, regarding how shared governance works, including what roles various formal and informal governance bodies play, as well as how these governance systems interconnect. Conversely, many faculty, staff and students associated with many shared governance bodies do not understand what roles boards of governors (or equivalent) are required to play. In short, an open and transparent examination of governance structures and practices could help, if done well, enhance levels of knowledge while reducing mistrust and erroneous assumptions.

Second, and as noted here, unexpected leadership transitions generate enormous attention to the cultural, economic, and political forces reshaping universities, as well as associated lines of power that bring these forces to life. A crisis is a wonderful teaching and learning moment. But do this in a systematic way! For example, launch a UBC Futures seminar series; provide modest funding to spur on some unique courses and workshops on related issues in the 2016-17 academic year; work with the BC Open Textbook Project or UBC Press to develop a ‘living’ open text on the tumultuous times UBC has been going through so everyone can learn, down the line, what went well, and what did not; enable ethnographic research by social scientists in key governance bodies; etc. There is so much more that could be done to turn all the intellectual power at UBC in on itself so as to learn in a systematic vs. haphazard way. In short, grasp the moment and identity rigorous and intellectually stimulating mechanisms (though not associated with decision-making) to generate sustained and valuable learning-oriented experiences.

Third, take the medium-term view regarding the ongoing presidential search and shape the search process to rebuild community. Some universities can hire in one year after an unexpected leadership transition, while others take 2-3 years of ‘bridging’ leadership. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, dealt with an unexpected leadership crisis in 2011 by bringing back David Ward, our former chancellor (president equivalent) and president emeritus of the American Council of Education (which has 1,700+ member institutions). Interim Chancellor Ward did a wonderful job from 2011-2013 in what he wittily defined as his “Chancellor Encore” role. Ward helped to repair broken communications, including via framing and bringing to life psychic healing measures (e.g., new modes of vertical and lateral communications in and outside of UW-Madison). His sturdy two-year leadership bridge led to the successful 2013 hiring of our current chancellor (Rebecca Blank, President Obama’s acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce).

As Martha Piper aptly put it in her statement about UBC’s Centennial celebrations:

Looking forward, our future is unwritten. What we learn, discover, and contribute together will depend on the strength of our connections – to all of our communities, local and global.

On this note, it’s critically important to ensure that the presidential search process helps build connections in the UBC community, while creating a positive pathway to move forward. If presidential search process troubles and tensions exist, recognize them openly and do something about them. For example, put the presidential search process on pause for one week (or even a long weekend), coordinate a facilitated off-campus retreat with an objective and independent governance/leadership expert, and dig in to honestly explore causes and realistic solutions on a face-to-face basis. Evidence elsewhere points to the fact that all university presidential searches distill and condense what is working well with respect to governance, what’s functioning in an adequate manner, and what is problematic. Presidential searches are lenses into the heart of the governance of the university, inevitably exposing both buried and surface tensions, and uneven power geometries. In short, there are opportunities and risks associated with all presidential searches. Given this it’s important to always take the medium-term view. UBC is a wonderful university, and it will have many options: take time to make the right presidential search process choices, and in so doing strengthen the entire community (alum included!).

Kris Olds

Photos courtesy of @TrishJewison, Eye in the Sky Traffic Reporter for @GlobalBC and @AM730Traffic.


Global Networks Amplify Local Controversies

This entry is also available at Inside Higher Ed.


What are the implications for universities and their governing boards/trustees/councils of becoming increasingly embedded in global networks?

There are many implications, including the ability to be interconnected with flows of knowledgeable people (aka human capital), ideas, money, technologies, and so on. These global networks also ensure that international collaborative research and co-authorship occurs, a phenomenon explored on a number of levels in these fascinating reports:

Pause for a moment, too, and explore this fascinating visualization by Olivier H. Beauchesne of indexable co-authorship between 2005-2009:


What political boundaries, if any, do you notice in this empirically-based visualization of collaborative activity?

It’s no surprise if you read the reports flagged above that governments and funding councils across the worlds are enamored with facilitating more international collaborative research. Why? It is perceived to enhance the quality of the knowledge produced, the ability to address key global challenges, and that collaborative output (e.g., articles, reports, books) can generate relatively higher interest and impacts.

When I examine the above graphic, I think of all of my colleagues at the universities I’ve been educated and have worked at – the University of British Columbia, the University of Bristol, the National University of Singapore, Sciences Po (albeit just for one year), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At all of these universities I was (and am, in the case of UW-Madison) surrounded by colleagues who collaborate with colleagues in other universities, national and regional (e.g., European) research councils, firms, government agencies, international organizations, etc., all of which are scattered across the planet. Of course there is variation in researchers’ individual collaborative geographies, but there is evidence of a progressive deepening and extension of global networks, and this is backed up by bibliometric research on the basis of Thomson Reuters and Elsevier data.

From a broader perspective, it’s worth noting that these globalizing networks are structurally supported by the operation of segmented academic labour markets that are increasingly supra-national in nature, the digitalization of research infrastructures (think of research databases, publication platforms, the Global Research Council, ORCID, etc.), university internationalization strategies, global production networks (value chains), open access online higher education media, etc.

Now when things go well, universities benefit, as do the economies and societies (both territorialized) they are most closely associated with. Think, for example, of the myriad of ways the local, regional and indeed national economy benefited when one UW-Madison faculty member established the largest medical records company (Epic Systems) in the world, with offices in Verona WI, the Netherlands, and Singapore. When things go well, universities see increased attention from the higher ed media, and the business/economy-focused media (given the critically important role of universities in constructing vibrant knowledge-based economies). Said universities see higher positioning in world university rankings, increased flows of international fee-paying students, more diversity and competition in the make up of job applicant pools, more spin-off companies with genuinely global perspectives, greater competitiveness in extramural funding competitions, and so on.

As with many phenomenon, the existence of vibrant global networks that run through universities is a double-edged sword. They have the capacity to, if things go poorly, propel near instantaneous and surprisingly durable echoes and reverberations that span out across global space. Information flows, like water – it can’t be suppressed. Epistemic communities care little for the complex causes of major budget cuts, the detailed factors underlying poor leadership, nor the diverse causes of governance ineptitude. These global epistemic communities, supported by mediatized services (e.g., via Twitter, Facebook, email), pay negligible if nil attention to detailed rationale and nuances of controversial policy shifts (e.g., about tenure and layoff provisions). These increasingly global epistemic communities treasure, above all, freedom of thought to produce innovative forms of knowledge in the search for truth, clear and evident autonomy from the interventive impulses of the state, church, society, and governance systems that are proactively supportive vs repressive/micro-management in inclination.

Unfortunately, while higher education, as well as the associated knowledge economy, is going global, higher education politics with respect to budgets and university governance (at the board/council/trustee level) is at risk of regressing, of becoming more local, regional, hyper-politicized, and ideological. Think, for example, about the messy local/provincial politics shaping key aspects of the University of British Columbia‘s ongoing leadership/governance crisis, or an evident regional agenda to mess about (a ‘solution in search of a problem’?) with one of the foundational principles of academic freedom – tenure – that has built the University of Wisconsin (System), over a century plus, into what it is.

Going global brings with it amazing opportunities. Going global is a necessary developmental agenda for universities that seek to excel and build resilience in the 21st century. Going global is an integral part of supporting of regional knowledge-based economic development strategies, something I learned much about via colleagues on an OECD mission. But, hand in hand with going global is a global eye on the local.

Are those governing universities, and provincial/state higher education systems, as aware as they should be about the global networks that play a fundamental role in sustaining the vibrancy, effectiveness, and stature of their universities? If not, they should be, for local controversies and tensions are also simultaneously global in nature – they reverberate, at the speed of light, through global networks.

Kris Olds

Academic Freedom, Tenure & the U.S. Higher Education System

This entry is available via Inside Higher Ed as well.


2015 is surely one of the most momentous years in a long time regarding debates about tenure, academic freedom, the Wisconsin Idea, budget cuts, etc. Yesterday’s balanced article (‘Tenure or Bust‘) by Colleen Flaherty, in Inside Higher Ed, is but the latest of a series of nuanced pieces Ms. Flaherty has produced this year about the unfolding of higher education debates in this Midwest U.S. state of 5.75 million people.

While I’m immersed in the tumult as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I can’t help standing back and trying to look at the big picture. Studying, living, working, and visiting a range of other countries, including universities in Canada, England, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and France, as well as being based in the U.S. since 2001, often engenders a drive to compare. And when comparing and reflecting upon what this wonderful university and the state/national higher education system (systems, in reality) has to offer, I increasingly think too much is taken for granted, or assumed. This is a relatively risk-oriented society, and I’m struck by how many people (including many of of the people leaving comments below ‘Tenure or Bust‘) assume the system is ‘broken,’ resiliency can be counted upon, and mechanisms to turn the system on a dime exist, if searched for long enough. They also ignore path dependency, and prior developmental trajectories and agendas, the ones that have led us to where we are now, a nation that has some of the strongest and most dynamic universities in the world. Problems and weaknesses exist, of course, but people in Wisconsin and the U.S. more broadly don’t seem to know just how many other countries are desperate to create just the types of universities that exist here.

And what are some of the deep (core) principles and conditions that have led to the creation of so many world-class universities and higher education systems (at the state-scale) in Wisconsin and the U.S. more broadly? This question brings me to the words of Hanna Holborn Gray, the esteemed president of the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1993. In conference panel comments reprinted in the Summer 2009 issue of Social Research, Hanna Holborn Gray deemed universities to be a very important and special institution:

…the only institution in our world, that is, as it were, commissioned to always take a longer-term look. The only institution in our world that is commissioned, so to speak, to concentrate on the mission of discovery and learning, and the transmission of learning, on the elaboration and interpretation and debate over important ideas, over what is most important in the cultural world.

Emeritus President Holborn Gray then begged the question: “What is it that makes that profession or vocation possible? And what is it that makes the institution in which it is carried on a genuine institution?”

Her question was actually answered 115 years earlier to this day (18 December 1900), by the founding president of the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, in his ‘36th Quarterly Statement of the President of the University’:

When for any reason, in a university on private foundation or in a university supported by public money, the administration of the institution or the instruction in any one of its departments is changed from an influence from without; when an effort is made to dislodge an officer or a professor because the political sentiment or the religious sentiment of the majority has undergone a change, at that moment the institution has ceased to be a university, and it cannot again take its place in the rank of universities so long as their continues to exist any appreciable extent of coercion. Neither an individual, nor the state, nor the church has the right to interfere with the search for truth, or with its promulgation when found. Individuals, or the state, or the church may found schools for propagating certain kinds of special instruction, but such schools are not universities, and may not be so denominated.

Genuine ‘universities’ like the University of Chicago and those that make up the University of Wisconsin System are associated with conditions of autonomy, and are spaces that respect and uphold academic freedom. And from the faculty perspective, academic freedom is significantly realized via the mechanism of tenure, which enables faculty to focus upon things like “establishing revolutionary theories about economics” (one of Milton Friedman’s many contributions in Chicago), the sustained basic research that underlies the creation of the iPhone (that the University of Wisconsin-Madison contributed to), challenging research questions related to democratization, authoritarianism, sexuality or violence, complex global challenges such as climate change, and so on. And in so doing, these faculty members (in association with staff & students) play a major role in creating the conditions that have helped us facilitate the formation of one of the world’s first university-linked technology transfer units (WARF) in 1925, through to generating research activity and spin-off firms that has made the Madison city-region one of the US’s most advanced industrial bases (according to the Brookings Institution in 2015) — a now common process of geographical concentration that the World Bank and others (e.g., David Warsh) note is inevitable, but defacto functions as ‘engines’ for regional and national economies.

I have no doubt the vast majority of the University of Chicago’s current faculty would make the same argument I am above: after all, that great university’s leadership has been doing so since it was founded 125 years ago in 1890. Visionary leaders like William Rainey Harper and Hanna Holborn Gray were aware that the long and challenging road to build one of the most dynamic and powerful higher education systems in the world depended upon more than platitudes about ‘academic freedom’ – academic freedom actually had (and has) to be realized each and every day.

Kris Olds

Reflections on Tenure in Canada vs Wisconsin

This entry is available at Inside Higher Ed as well.


In the context of some intense debates about tenure in the University of Wisconsin System, and at UW-Madison, I’ve been acquiring some interesting information and views about tenure and related governance matters in Canada vs Wisconsin. Reflections and data have been kindly provided by Canadian leaders representing faculty and university administrative bodies, both nationally and in select universities.

Why focus on this issue in comparative perspective? First, leading Canadian universities (UBC, Toronto, Waterloo, McGill) have been poaching faculty from UW and could increasingly do so if proposed changes to tenure do not match existing standards/AAUP guidelines. Second, looking at different systems in a comparative way helps you realize what is working well here in WI, but also what might need to be changed, especially if higher education governance becomes more politicized in Wisconsin (as it has been in states like North Carolina).

In the end, it is similar and different in Canadian peer universities vs what we experience in WI. I think the biggest difference is it is more unionized in Canada (for ~80% of the faculty base) and the details re. tenure and layoffs are embedded in collective agreements. This said, some faculty associations at peers – the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, McMaster University, and McGill University – though not officially certified as labour unions, nevertheless have negotiated collective agreements with standard grievance and arbitration procedures. Also, in Canada, the majority of part-time faculty are unionized and staff are unionized. It just goes to show you don’t necessarily need regulations re. tenure embedded in the state statutes (or equivalent) to guarantee strong tenure and shared governance, but, this said, there are other key differences (see below) so how it is all configured matters, a lot…

In the end, no tenured faculty in Canadian universities (including 100% of our peers, the ones poaching our faculty) lose tenure except for engaging in serious forms of unethical behavior (i.e. ‘due cause’). Exigency-related rules do apply but it has not happened, to date, for all sorts of reasons. And if exigency-related layoffs of tenured faculty were to be proposed, it happens at a broader university-scale and the guidelines typically state that a task-force is to be appointed with diverse membership and/or it can only happen in specified ways.

The other big (and important) difference is program-related changes are run through Canadian university senates and the senate is typically made up of senior administrators and elected faculty (the majority), staff, students, etc. See these senate membership lineups, for example:

The UW Board of Regents equivalent in Canadian universities does not need to sign off on program-related changes like the Board of Regents does here. So decisions on closure or redundancy are senate decisions (i.e. the locus of engagement and control is intra-institutional in nature). And in unionized environments, redundancy procedure, after senate has declared program closure, etc., are governed by collective agreement processes. In general the UW Board of Regents here in WI has not been too involved in the fine-grained details of program-related decisions or the funding of centers – they approve what has come up via shared governance pathways. But they could, in the future, become far more active and micro-management in orientation.

On a related note, boards of trustees or equivalent in Canada are university-specific and are more diverse and relatively autonomous from government involvement. You basically have government funded but privately (not-for-profit) autonomous universities. This keeps things less capital P political. The proposed New Badger Partnership (2011) Board of Trustees:

UW-Madison governed by 21-member Board of Trustees, including 11 members appointed by the Governor, with no Senate confirmation. Remaining 10 members represent UW-Madison constituencies (faculty, staff, classified staff, alumni, WARF). All remaining UW campuses governed by the current Board of Regents.

would have brought us half way to to this level of board autonomy vs the current system, though this proposed approach to governance should have also been applied to the UW System more generally and not just UW-Madison.

Thus, what you see is a relatively more autonomous/less politicized university and higher ed governance system in Canada; one where the norms of tenure and academic freedom are sometimes constructed via agreements but often are just part of institutional-organizational culture. The faculty trust the system more, I would say, than they do here now in what could become, if we don’t watch out, a hyper-politicized context. And they do so partly because of the unionized context, the codified agreements, and the fact the premier (governor equivalent) and the ruling party (or parties) tend to be much more hands-off. Increasingly, in Canada, governments through sector-wide bargaining or recalibrating funding formula, or setting tuition fee parameters, are exercising more hands on approaches. Budgets are, of course, political, but they’re just budgets for the most part and they don’t embed policy matters re tenure into budgetary processes in Canada like it has been happening here. It’s a more deliberative context: not perfect, this said, just more deliberative in structure.

The short-term take-away: don’t have unclear terms and procedures in a context where the potential exists for an increasingly more politicized and micro-management-oriented Board of Regents. Maintain tenure standards at UW-Madison and other universities in the UW System that match, in spirit and meaning, what they were before policy changes were injected into the Spring 2015 Wisconsin state budget. Faculty should not lose tenure except for ‘due cause’, as per AAUP guidelines. If program closure occurs after careful consideration by university-specific governance bodies, tenured faculty should have the right to shift to the unit of their choice, or become a professor of the school or college they are affiliated with. It is a clear and straightforward definition of tenure, and academic freedom, that helped make the US university system so well known, globally, for the production of innovative forms of knowledge. Unclear terms and procedures re. tenure has serious potential to destabilize the foundation of the entire system. And Canadian universities, not to mention hundreds of other US universities, will be salivating if this occurs.

The medium-term take-away: think about the potential role of faculty senates in future debates/steps. And think about tenure and shared governance in the context of the overall governance of the UW System (incl. what has been happening, and what should be happening). In my mind we have a legacy-based governance system that does not reflect the new realities of fiscal (tuition as a majority funding stream), economic (a globalizing knowledge economy), academic, and societal contexts. An unraveling of tenure in the next year will be a proxy indicator the entire UW System governance structure needs to be rethought.

We are, arguably, at risk of seeing the convergence of a legacy-based governance system with a more forceful and explicit political agenda – and this is not beneficial for a world-class university, and a world-class multi-campus state university system, in the 21st century.  Anchor tenure, tightly.

Kris Olds

Innovative and Engaging Communications in and Beyond the Academy

Editor’s note: this guest entry has been kindly developed by Gisèle Yasmeen, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Yasmeen raises a series of important issues in the build-up to a call for a “structured dialogue” on the nature and role of knowledge in society.


Innovative and Engaging Communications in and Beyond the Academy

Gisèle Yasmeen, University of British Columbia

Research and scholarship is primarily about asking and answering questions as well as conserving and constantly reinterpreting fragile and easily forgotten knowledge. When I started graduate studies more than 25 years ago, there was no talk of the world wide web, no blogs, no Twitterverse, Facebook, and so on. I grew up in an era of card catalogues, photocopying, typewriters and hand-written letters with supervisors and collaborators. My first experience with computers was with a mainframe “Amdahl” where you had to learn complex codes to do simple word-processing! I am convinced that the dramatic communications revolution we are experiencing is and will continue to transform research, teaching and academe beyond anything we are familiar with now in the next twenty years. So, how might we succinctly envision these changes and start to prepare for the scholarly world of the possible future? Or as I was asked recently by a university Vice-President of Research, “what are the implications of digital media for post-secondary institutions?”

Many of us are still getting our heads around these questions – myself included – and follow with great interest the work of those like John Willinsky, Leslie Chan, and John Wilbanks. The purpose of this article is, therefore, to reflect on the actual and potential role of ICTs in research, teaching and scholarly communication, and to humbly offer in the conclusion my own suggestion that the time has come for a new “knowledge commission.” Hence, the intended audience is those who are new to the file and others who may be wondering, where could we take it from here?

Research: the importance of ICTs for asking and answering questions

New media tools in general – and high performance computing in particular – enable us to mine vast quantities of data (numeric, text, images, sound) at lightening speed compared to the past, which enables not only research questions to be answered but new research questions to be asked, which could not be asked before. This exciting approach to (re)discovery is at the forefront of a variety of (inter/multi/trans)disciplines ranging from bio-informatics and social statistics to the digital humanities. Examples of ICTs, “big data” and other emerging technologies leading to research breakthroughs in the natural and health sciences are well known. Most of us are familiar with the Higgs boson or “God-particle” confirmed through the CERN Hadron collider and revolutionary work on human genomics through the “barcode of life” dataset. What is perhaps less known is the growing use and study of emerging technologies in the social sciences and humanities. For example, advanced imaging technologies allowed literary scholars funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities to read and analyse an illegible and deteriorated copy of explorer David Livingstone’s diary, as reported by the New York Times. The study and use of emerging technologies, such as advanced ICTs is predicated on the development of appropriate tools for research and, as Clifford Lynch eloquently argued last year, the builders of those tools often do not get the respect they deserve as necessary “enablers” in the world of research compared to those who spend time using those tools.

In fact, the concept of what is a “discipline” is worth reflecting on in an era of joint faculty appointments between computer science and literature or philosophy and the growing number of innovative instructional programs that combine information technology, creative arts and business. What are the implications of this for institutional and program design? After all, as the English language Wikipedia entry on academic discipline, drawing from the Encyclpaedia Britannica reminds us, “The University of Paris in 1231 consisted of four faculties: Theology, Medicine, Canon Law and Arts”. We need to be vigilant about how we classify and institutionalise structures of knowledge, particularly in an era of rapidly evolving collaboration between knowledge communities. Karoline Postel-Vinay of Sciences Po, at a recent Asian studies conference in Paris, encouraged participants to challenge our currently established conceptualizations of disciplines and areas of research.

Digital media is also facilitating communication and collaboration between researchers in specialised fields in order to collectively advance and explore knowledge and is also enabling interaction with communities and experts beyond post-secondary institutions leading to the growth of “citizen science” and inter-sectoral modes of knowledge production (ie the co-creation of knowledge with “lay” collaborators). Hence, the issue of where legitimate knowledge lies and audience is an evolving one – or is it? Perhaps we need to begin by refuting the ivory tower myth. The walls of universities are and have always been porous for faculty and students. Virginia Woolf attended Oxford as one of the first women on campus and historical examples abound regarding restrictions on enrolment with respect to certain minorities either not accessing the hallowed halls of advanced education or being subject to quotas. Thankfully, this has changed for the better though barriers for many still remain, as many scholars argue. This is yet another reason to have a discussion on what is legitimate knowledge and how to structure our institutions around questions of its generation, conservation, transmission and value-addition – including reinterpretation.

Furthermore, students are the single-biggest “export of universities”. One of the fundamental purposes of higher education and research is to foster the development of the next generation as well as be challenged by the innovative ideas of youth. The Socratic dialogue continues to this day and is a necessary step in the growth and development of ideas on an individual and collective level. Young people graduate and go on to lead productive lives across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors as well as the academic world.

What we may be seeing accelerated via ICTs is an increasing blurring of boundaries with respect to knowledge intended for and/or accessed by academic audiences as well as those beyond. Data-intensive research is an area where we see sometimes very esoteric research questions being resourced and explored through digital means (e.g. medieval languages and literature) with user groups as well as commentators and “content providers” going well beyond academe. This might be compared to marketing a niche product to a global audience as well as sourcing suppliers through a global, often volunteer, network. The possibilities are endless.

However, with ICTs, as with all tools, there is always a “dark side”. There are concerns and critiques by longstanding observers of emerging and disruptive technologies, such as Heather Menzies, of the negative impacts of “real time” communications and the sometimes-associated lack of depth, reduced attention spans, and difficulty to maintain meaningful inter-subjectivity. It is said that 80-90% of human communication remains non-verbal, hence we need to be vigilant and attentive to the dynamics of learning, thought and social interaction through emerging multidisciplinary fields such as cognitive neuroscience. We need to see new media as one tool, for knowledge generation and sharing but, by no means, the only one.

A central challenge now confronting the scholarly community is how to assess the quality and impact of various types of content accessible to potentially millions of readers and commentators. This includes the conundrum of what to do with “user-generated” or self-published content. Furthermore, how do we conceptualize and classify who is a “peer” and their commentary on one’s work in various contexts given the accelerated blurring of boundaries between the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors? Who best plays the curatorial role of quality control in the information deluge? These are some of the fundamental and normative questions facing the world of research and scholarship, which the following section will attempt to unpack, at least in a preliminary way.

Knowledge sharing – maximising value from good quality knowledge

The previous section focused on “research”, commonly thought of as (re)discovery and analysis, but how does knowledge get documented, vetted, shared, commented-upon and preserved for present and future generations?   It goes without saying that teaching in its many, rapidly evolving forms – is primarily a form of knowledge transmission and, I would argue, two way exchange between generations. Others have written in great detail about the impact of ICTs on teaching, especially the growth of on-line learning, MOOCs, Khan Academy and the like so I will not go into detail about this topic here. Suffice it to say that ICTs are having a significant impact teaching in post-secondary institutions – some of which are having difficulty rising to the challenge. Rather, I’d like to focus on the impact of ICTs on scholarly publishing and debates on how to assess the quality published output, without expecting to resolve this complex conundrum.

Bibliometrics, impact factors and indices such as the H-Index are, on the one hand, gaining importance and, on the other, coming under greater scrutiny for sometimes excluding entire scholarly communities such as humanities scholars who typically write books and those with a policy orientation who often produce “grey literature” such as technical and policy-oriented reports. In addition, there have been scandals of peer review “rings” in journals trying to enhance their impact factor. There is a tautology built into the issue of impact factor, namely that a more accessible publication tends to have wider readership and citations. Public Library of Science, or PLOS, a not-for profit publisher of open access journals that accepts roughly 70% of its peer-reviewed manuscripts and has a relatively high impact factor since it’s journals are open access. Articles rejected by PLOS journals often get published elsewhere so a general discussion on the meaning of acceptance and rejection rates are probably needed. John Willinsky also noted in a recent interview that PLOS requirements to include open access data also forces researchers to think through the quality of the datasets used to support their publications. How, therefore, to meaningfully establish the quality and impact of a publication?

The growing “open” movement, which includes open access (OA) publishing, open source technologies and open data are revolutionizing the scholarly enterprise by being based on the premise that knowledge is a public good – particularly when it is publicly-funded – and that the outputs of research and related activities should be freely available, without charge, ideally on the internet. Part of rising to the “open” challenge is an infrastructural one but this is improving through the creation of OA platforms at the institutional level. The importance of open access to research results (journals and books) as well as raw datasets (numeric, text, images and sound) is hugely important to both the world of research and broader society and lead to greater readership and impact. One concrete example to note is when a number of Québec journals dramatically increased their readership within a few years when they went OA by joining the Ėrudit platform. Another example is the journal RNA Biology requiring several years ago that all its authors to submit their abstracts to Wikipedia. Another “open” phenomenon to mention is the growth of open peer review– strongest in the health world – where open access publishers are employing fully transparent processes in their review of articles. In other words, the identity of the reviewer is disclosed, as are his or her comments on the article being submitted, the author – and others for that matter – can respond and comment. We will likely be seeing more of this type of review and resulting publications.

Conclusion – Dialogue on the nature and role of knowledge in society

I recently published an article on scholarly and research infrastructure in the new 2nd edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences, which begins to expand established knowledge boundaries to include an unprecedented number of contributions by non-Americans, women, non-anglophones, and minorities to get a more complete picture of contemporary scholarship. The next step would be to give more serious thought to the idea of “knowledge commissions”. Examples – some considered more successful than others – include the Indian Knowledge Commission as well as Canada’s Massey Commission in the 1950s, which ultimately led to the creation of national research funding infrastructure. Given advances in technology and associated virtual and intersectoral communities of interest, practice and purpose, are we at the point where we need to establish such knowledge commissions to review the place of knowledge in society and the institutions that support its creation, conservation and transmission/exchange? New media tools have enabled us to interact in real time on a regular basis with like-minded others around the world via exchange of knowledge and information in multiple directions. This helps researchers gather and curate precious information and often engages “fellow travellers” in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. New collective voices are emerging, which were not heard before. Yes, it’s time for a structured dialogue.

The author would like to acknowledge Chad Gaffield and Kris Olds for constructive comments on an earlier version of this article

The Impacts of Leadership Shakeups at Large Public Research Universities: Lessons for UBC

This entry is also available at Inside Higher Ed.


Further to my 9 August Inside Higher Ed post on unexpected leadership change at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I was recently asked by Lori Culbert of the Vancouver Sun to comment on the possible impacts of this type of change at a large public research university in North America. Her article — ‘UBC: A leadership shakeup can affect planning, funding and reputation’ — was just posted tonight. I’ll add it to the long list of articles, blog entries, etc., I’m compiling on a new Facebook page (UBC Futures) that is an archive of sorts of everything (regardless of perspective) written about what has become a full-blown crisis. UBC Futures is modeled on the BadgerFutures: Resources for Debates about UW-Madison’s Future Facebook page, which has been operating since 2011.

Inevitably my comments to the Vancouver Sun were edited down to fit the format of a newspaper story. Given this I’d like to flag, here, what I said to Ms. Culbert. I’m partly doing this as UBC’s leadership has been remarkably stable since the era I attended it back in the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. I also worked at UBC from 1989-1992, and spent one year (1995-96) at UBC as a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow (in part of the Strangway era). All I recall is leadership stability, as do most of the subsequent Piper and then Toope era employees and students. In contrast, I’ve been through a senior leadership roller coaster ride at one UBC peer (the University of Wisconsin-Madison), and learned much about UBC’s other peers down here in the U.S. via engagement with colleagues (faculty and senior administrators), so I’m keen to outline my view of the possible impacts of unexpected leadership change in large public research universities. As I noted in my 9 August entry, “[M]ake no mistake, this type of unexpected leadership transition is hugely significant.” But in what ways?

As I told Ms. Culbert of the Vancouver Sun, the impact of unexpected and early senior leadership changes typically generate a mix of internal and external impacts, though these impacts will obviously vary from institution to institution.  But it’s very important to be open, honest, and realistic about the impacts.

IMG_0907First, internal resource impacts typically include: (a) the direct financial costs of an unexpected presidential search, typically equivalent to a full year of presidential salary; (b) the indirect financial costs of an unexpected presidential search (primarily the time allocated by a large number of faculty, staff, students and sometimes alum to the search process); (c) major yet diffuse institution-wide opportunity costs given widespread speculation, dialogue & debate about the causes of the leadership change as well as the implications of the change; (d) delays in fund raising and the implementation of major capital campaigns, typically led by the president (or equivalent); and (e) delays of high profile and often high impact strategic initiatives (e.g., funding of a new chemistry building or establishment of a new school).

Second, there are a variety of internal organizational and governance impacts, including: (a) delays of key senior leadership hiring (typically at the vice-provost/vice-president level) until the new president is in place; (b) the creation of 1-3 years of uncertainty about the role of the provost and the nature of the president-provost relationship, which in most in universities is strategically coordinated (including with respect when the provost hiring cycle takes place); (c) delays in the formation of key relationships with deans and other senior staff; (d) delays in strategic planning at the university-wide scale, typically on a 1-3 year scale; (e) subtle but important changes in the criteria used when assessing prospective replacement presidential candidates; and (f) discussion & debate about the quality of governance at the university, and in some cases concern and distrust regarding the power politics associated with decision making.

Finally, there are a variety of external impacts, including (a) a spike of curiosity and often concern about the nature and quality of governance, transparency and decision-making at the university, and (b) a delay in the formation of key relationships with important political leaders, leaders and key staff at major funding councils, and leaders of key foundations (mainly in the US). In the US unexpected leadership changes also raise concern within ratings agencies (e.g., Moody’s) for they have been paying increasing attention to the quality of governance and senior leadership teams when assessing universities.

These impacts will obviously vary from institution to institution so if you’re reading this at UBC please keep this key point in mind. And some disruptive impacts can shed light on long-running problems and weaknesses, or engender positive medium-term change. In UBC’s case, though, this unexpected presidential change is occurring on top of a number of other major leadership changes. More specifically, UBC now “has an acting President, an acting chair, an interim Provost, and an incoming, interim President.” There’s “also an interim VP External/Communication, and a VP Finance that has been on the job for less than 100 days.” And one related question remains to be answered: how thoroughly were the internal & external impacts of an unexpected university leadership change thought through, costed out & aligned at UBC?

Despite all of the above, large public research universities are remarkably resilient. When we went through several rough patches here at UW-Madison, faculty (including in the department I am now chair of) powered on, locomotive-like, doing what they have always done – excellent research, teaching/mentoring, and professional and public service. I know my colleagues down at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign are doing the same right now despite recently losing a president, a provost, being sanctioned by the AAUP, etc, etc. This is not to say unexpected leadership change is easy to cope with (see my points above!), but just that the sky cannot fall on a defacto city with 70-90,000 energetic students/staff/faculty. But unexpected leadership change has high direct costs, and the opportunity costs are many.

Good luck my dear alma mater.

Kris Olds


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.