A further response to ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational-ethical dilemma)’

Editors’ note: several weeks ago, Professor Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick, UK, contributed an entry where he posed: ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational, ethical dilemma)’. Peter N. Stearns, Provost of George Mason University, offered the first response to Nigel’s challenge in a series we will be posting through to the end of 2010.

This  ‘response’ is from Gregor McLennan, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Bristol. As Director of the IAS, Gregor has been busy promoting  a series of debates around the changing nature of the university in contemporary societies. His contribution to this series is therefore particularly welcome. Gregor’s work lies in the area of sociological theories and social philosophies, and has written widely on Marxism and pluralism in particular. His book, Sociological Cultural Studies: Reflexivity and Positivity in the Human Sciences, tackled some key questions of the day around (inter) disciplinarity, explanation, critical realism, complexity theory and Eurocentrism.

Susan Robertson & Kris Olds

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I want to raise a couple of issues about Nigel Thrift’s questions, to do with the way he constructs universities as a collective agency, a coherent ‘we’ that bears a ‘global’ identity. Nigel urges this ‘we’ fully to bring its actions into alignment with its ‘beliefs’, and to improve upon the shoddy performance of ‘other actors’ in tackling the ‘grand challenges’ of the day. And in that regard, the collectivity should see itself henceforth as positioned on a ‘war footing’, deploying its ‘engines of reason’ to force the principles of ‘scientific cooperation’ into service of the ‘survival of the species’.

There are several things that might be contested in this scenario of ‘agentification’, by which I mean the portrayal of universities as though they constituted a singular moral centre or personality, strategically intervening as such.

One is to do with its assumed site, the ‘global’ apparently designating something definite, and something quite obviously good. As Nigel knows, substantial objections can be raised against such easy affirmation of the nature and ‘imperativity’ of the global per se.  Yet universities everywhere now are falling over in the rush to assure themselves that meeting the ‘challenge of the global’ is something wholly other than the imperativity of the market, something that instead touches upon our deepest ethical and intellectual mission. It behoves us, I think, to be a tad sceptical about such ‘globalloney’ (in Bruno Latour’s phrase), and perhaps even to risk the accusation of parochialism by emphasising the continuing importance of the national contexts that not only universities, but many millions with an interest in the future of universities, still mainly orientate themselves around. National contexts – arguably at least – retain a certain logistical, cultural and psychological coherence that globality might forever lack; and the prospect of a world of relatively small-scale, highly educated democracies looks better geared to effective species-survival than the sort of flaccid but pushy cosmopolitanism that is currently doing the rounds.

Second, it is not self-evident that the kind of cooperation that characterizes scientific practice and development has any direct application to, or analogue within, the political processes through which any humanity-wide survival strategy will necessarily have to be coordinated. Nigel asks universities as a whole to interact in the way that individual investigators do, but this expectation is surely inappropriate. Academics are driven to work together because of their motivation to produce facts, measures, truths, and theories, whereas universities, as such, have no such intrinsic motivation, and nor do governments.

So asking universities to tackle the survival of the species is rather like asking families, or football clubs to do this. It’s not that people within these civic associations shouldn’t be mightily concerned about such imperatives, and contribute their expertise in a politically active way. It’s just that this is not these institutions’ defining concern. Indeed, in some ways the specific concern of universities – to develop plural communities of knowledge and understanding through discovery, controversial systematization, and rigorous reflection – is likely to generate some resistance to any politicized summary of the ‘threats and opportunities’ that ‘we’ all face. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a defence of the apolitical: as individuals and members of a range of collectives, we should get active around the priorities that Nigel Thrift designates. But it might be OK that universities are not best suited to organize in that targeted way. As Peter Stearns emphasises, universities’ hallmark medium is education, which is necessarily open-ended, changing and reflective. Of course, just as we need universities to free us from the blockages of our societal formations, interests and mind-sets, so in turn we need politics to reign in our deliberations and give positive shape to our values. But though they complement each other in this way, the functions of education and politics remain very different.

The third problematic aspect of Nigel’s line of thought comes out most clearly in Indira V. Samarasekera’s paper in Nature, in which it is suggested that universities have two prevailing thought-styles and labour processes: ‘solution-driven’ and ‘blue skies’. Both modes, she accepts, have to be part of core business. But whilst the latter, ‘until recently’, has been considered the ‘mainstay’, and must ‘remain so’, a much closer alignment between the two modes is held to be necessary if ‘we’ are to be more effective in ‘solving the world’s problems’. Accordingly, it is quite a good thing that the ‘fairly traditionalist’ structure of ‘curiosity-driven projects’ is giving way to a ‘fast and effective’ modality, enabling us to ‘keep pace’ with the big challenges, for which we need to ‘copy the organizations that work best’. To that end, Samarasekera maintains, we need to develop ‘collaboratories’ involving universities, government and industry, to bridge the gap between ‘universities and the private sector’, and to construct funding regimes that stimulate ‘interdisciplinary, inter-professional, and inter-sectoral approaches’.

It strikes me that the founding contrast here between ‘blue skies’ thinking (with just a hint of the smear of ‘uselessness’) and various other research practices (themselves over-schematized as ‘solution-driven’) is considerably exaggerated. But another, perhaps more insidious, bifurcation comes into play, according to which the agentic ‘we’ of the university turns out to have two bodies, as in, ‘We, the academic leaders and universities, should embrace this new relationship…’ In this depiction, the purely academic side of the collective, and the blue skies folks in particular, are ushered into the background and cast as worryingly slow off the mark, not quite up to the demands of fast and smart global Higher-ed with its solution-seeking culture. Responsibility for meeting the latter therefore falls perforce to the academic leaders, now stepping decisively into the foreground as the distinctive group that represents the essence and future of the university. So, given that the merits and deficits of, let’s say, inter-disciplinarity are never going to be definitively resolved if left to the bottom-up logic of seminar-room agonism, university leaders will have to push it through from the top, along with all the other excellent and necessary ‘inters’ of the new knowledge-society regime – inter-sectoralism, inter-professionalism, dynamic and agile Engagement with dynamic private and civic Collaborators, and so on. Now, whilst Nigel’s notion of the ‘forcing’ of knowledge seems potentially more subtle and interesting than this increasingly hectoring management ideology, a somewhat ‘traditionalist’ note still needs to be struck by way of caution, because to see universities as agentic interventionists at all is to risk missing the central point and purpose, even today, of their existence.

Gregor McLennan

Collaborating to create a global brand for Canada’s higher education system(s)

Note: our thanks to Jean-Philippe Tachdjian, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT), Government of Canada, for permission to post his slideshow here. CMEC is the acronym for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. Kate Geddie’s earlier entry (‘Canada’s new branding effort: “Education in/au Canada”’), along with one by Nick Lewis on New Zealand (‘“New Zealand Educated”: rebranding New Zealand to attract foreign students‘) are worth reading in association with this slideshow.

Canada’s new branding effort: “Education in/au Canada”

An international “brand” for Canadian education was recently launched, marking the latest national government’s effort to gain market share in the global education sector. Similar in motivation to recent campaigns developed by other countries such as the Netherlands, Malaysia and New Zealand, Canada’s new brand represents one pillar of the federal government’s strategy to recruit greater numbers of international students to Canadian institutions and to promote Canadian education overseas in the increasingly competitive international education marketplace.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), there were over 156,000 international students in Canada in 2007, which translates to roughly 5% of total foreign student numbers (see the OECD’s Education at a Glance 2008 for up-to-date comparative data). In comparison, the US, UK and Australia together receive 45% of all global flows.

Canada’s new logo (pictured to the left) is a jaunty red maple leaf with the bilingual caption “IMAGINE: Education in/au Canada.” According to the CMEC, it is intended to complement existing provincial and institutional efforts by establishing a more easily recognizable national umbrella image, particularly for use in recruitment fairs and exhibitions. Unlike many countries focusing on the university-level market, Canada’s new logo is intended to be used by all levels of education, from primary through to further and higher education.

The fact that Canada has pursued an education brand is noteworthy as it signals a new, perhaps unprecedented, form of collaboration across the different levels of government in relation to international education. As Glen Jones explained in another GlobalHigherEd entry, education remains an issue of provincial and territorial jurisdiction in Canada, meaning that international education policies have generally remained decentralized and uncoordinated. This new brand, however, was developed through collaboration by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade’s (DFAIT) Edu-Canada Initiative, the provincial and territorial ministries of education and the CMEC, as well as several stakeholder and sectoral representatives. And while provincial responsibility for education is not at question, this multi-scalar and multi-sectoral initiative represents a new structural response to concerns of competitiveness in the international education industry and for the potential labour force gains that foreign students who choose to remain in Canada, post-graduation, represent.

Kate Geddie

‘Branding’ global higher education services in the Netherlands

Governments are increasingly turning to ‘branding’ their higher education sector in order to promote them as globally competitive knowledge services sectors, and to secure a competitive advantage on the basis of imagined lifestyles, access of cultural experiences, a quality education, and so on. New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, to name just a few countries, have all been busy identifying and packaging the unique image they want to project in order to generate ‘brand value’.

The Netherlands is no exception. It is actively promoting itself as a major European destination, with offices in Beijing, Taipei, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Mexico City. Offices in Bangkok and Moscow are due to open in 2008. According to the Institute of International Education’s Atlas of Student Mobility, the Netherlands currently has around 2% of the world market of international students, with some 42,000 students enrolled in higher education programs in the Netherlands.

study-in-holland.jpg
‘Study in Holland’ was launched in January of this year as the official brand for the Netherlands. According to Nuffic, the Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education,

The logo combines traditional symbols of Holland – the tulip and the windmill – with symbols for higher education and research. The tagline is ‘Study in Holland: open to international minds’. The brand was developed by Fabrique Communication & Design, and international students played an important role in selecting the final design.

Nuffic also notes that:

Research has shown that international students choose the Netherlands because of the academic quality and the cosmopolitan atmosphere. For their part, Dutch higher education institutions consider the international staff and student populations an important part of their quality assurance policy.

The brand can be used by higher education institutions who are accredited by the Netherlands-Flemish Accreditation Organization (NVAO). They must also have signed up to the Code of Conduct, which is a set of minimum standards for the teaching and care provided to international students in the Netherlands.

Aside from a large number of programs (especially graduate) where teaching is in English, an important element of the Dutch brand not explicitly featured is the relatively low student fee which international students are charged (in comparison to the USA, Australia and UK). Low fees can be a comparative advantage. However, in the case of the Netherlands, the low fee is also a signal of a particular social welfare regime and social ethic. It conjures up European values, a European social model, and so on which is part of its ‘cosmopolitan’ attraction.

study-in-holland-2.jpg

However, according to a Nuffic Report issued on the 4th March this year, this is about to change in the 2008-9 academic year. Non European Economic Area (EEA) students will face a doubling of fees for professional and vocational programs in Dutch universities presenting the further penetration of fee increases in university programs. This means that fees that sit currently at around 3,500 euro are estimated to almost double taking them to around 7,000 euro (US $11,000). Universities like the University of Amsterdam had already moved to increase fees in academic programs over a year ago taking them well into the 9,000 euro mark.

What will be interesting in 2008-9 is to see how these moves impact on brand image and brand managing. After all, we can package a brand and project it, however the ‘consumers’ also have their own often more pragmatic reasons for choosing one course and place over another. Playing around with the actual product, such as the cost of fees and so on, has major implications for the take up of the brand and must surely create a headache for brand managers.

Susan Robertson

‘Malaysia Education’: strategic branding leads to growth in international student numbers 2006-8?

Several months back in our round-up of the global higher education student mobility market, we reported that Malaysia might be viewed as an emerging contender with 2% of the world market in 2006 (this was using the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education figures which reports only on the higher education sector).

Last week, Malaysia’s leading newspaper The Star reported that figures had increased between 2006 and 2008 by 30%, bringing the overall numbers of international students in Malaysian international schools and higher education institutions to 65,000. According to the following calculations by industry analyst (see pamjitsingh.ppt) the Malaysian government is well on target to realise its 2010 goal of 100,000 international students.

Taking into account the forecast in world demand by 2010, the Malaysian government estimates that their market share would need to grow from its current world share of international students (schools and higher education) of 3.9% in 2004 to 6.6% in 2010. In comparison to the global average annual growth rate of international students which is around 7.4% p.a, the Malaysian target growth rate would need to be in the order of 24.0% per annum to achieve the 2010 target.

In order to realize this goal, a new Higher Education Ministry Marketing and International Education Division was created.

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    Dr Mohamed Nasser Mohamed Noor took on the post of Division Director in January 2006. According to Dr. Nasser, the success of this rapid increase can be attributed to Malaysia’s ‘branding’ of its education sector – ‘Malaysia Education’. It would seem that Malaysia is not far off course to realize their 2010 target if they maintain their current progress of 30% increase over two years (2006-2008).

    Branding has emerged as an important strategy for governments seeking to strategically develop their higher education markets. Nick Lewis’s entry on Brand New Zealand carried on GlobalHigherEd late last year illustrates how cultural re/sources, such as ‘clean’, ‘safe’, ‘green’ New Zealand, are being drawn upon to realise value and to reposition New Zealand in a highly competitive market.

    Similarly Europe (see this report destination-europe.pdf) has been casting around for an identifiable ‘brand’ to market itself as a significant player with an identifiable ‘product’ in the global higher education market. This means finding a combination of distinctive elements that enable the country or region to position themselves in relation to the competition.

    The ‘Malaysian Education’ brand draws on deep cultural, religious and political resonances to promote its product – one that emphasizes lifestyle, culture and quality of education. This includes the value to be gained from its unique multicultural population of Malay, Indian and Chinese; its Islamic religion; and its experience of colonialism. Despite the contradictions inherent in this new form of neo-colonialism, these cultural values and symbols are being (effectively?) mobilized to open up the African, Arab, Chinese and Indonesian markets.

    Malaysia’s story demonstrates the high level of fluidity in globalising the higher education market. It requires players to be highly competitive, constantly utilize intelligence, be attentive to strategies as to how to open new markets, and have a way of representing the sector as an attractive and unique brand.

    Will Malaysia leave behind its ’emerging contender’ crown and don the mantle of a major player in the region? Much depends clearly on what the other players in the region do – Singapore, China and Australia. Let’s see what 2010 reveals.

    Susan Robertson

    “New Zealand Educated”: rebranding New Zealand to attract foreign students

    nzbrand.jpgIn June 2007 Education New Zealand, the peak industry body for institutions involved in the sale of education to foreign students in New Zealand, launched a new national brand. The New Zealand Educated brand (from which the images in this entry are sourced) is designed to represent and to lead a new phase of development in the sale of educational products to foreign students. The Brand is far more than simply a logo or a coherent message for developing promotional materials. It is based upon and expresses the strategic logic of industry development generated at a national level under the auspices of Education New Zealand over the last three years. Similarly, whilst much of such material is directed at foreign students studying in New Zealand, the new brand represents an imaginary of a far wider and more expansive international education industry. Narrowly, the brand will be used in all offshore promotional and marketing collateral designed to attract students to New Zealand to study. More widely it is the front end of a strategic reassessment of offshore trade shows and other commercial events promoted by Education New Zealand, its domestic public relations, its website, and its relationships with both the New Zealand government and off-shore institutional partners in education programmes.

    Three points may be of particular interest to readers of GlobalHigherEd. First, the national branding of international education activities by New Zealand operators is a feature of the New Zealand case. Education New Zealand has in the last decade been transformed into an efficient and professional peak body. Now funded by a marketing levy against all operators, it has taken advantage of the crisis prompted by the slump in sales to Chinese students and subsequent rationalisation and reprofessionalisation of activities among its members to emphasise and accentuate their mutual interests in Brand New Zealand. By working strategically in changing conditions Education New Zealand has sought to marginalise sectoral differences among its members and build a more coherent and integrated national product. It has now branded that product.

    nzparis.jpgIn this rebranding, Education New Zealand has placed international education firmly within the family of product/industry specific ‘Brand New Zealand’ so creatively symbolised by the erection of a giant rugby-ball-shaped trade stand in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower for 18 days during the recent Rugby World Cup in France (photo courtesy of Kris Olds). Although somewhat deflated by New Zealand’s early exit from a contest that it was expected to win, the ball, labelled ‘100% Pure New Zealand’, reveals the extent of national branding and the political project of economic nationalism that underpins it. As one of New Zealand’s leading export earners and with powerful messages of youth, tourism and knowledge economy to sell Brand New Zealand international education featured prominently in the imaginary of the ball.

    Second, in the design of the new brand, the brand makers have made a careful assessment of the tag-lines, messages and advantages of competitors as well as national strengths. That they chose to do so and the imaging that they discovered in doing so reveals the increasing deployment of brand expertise and logics in many places, and the increasing presence of nation branding. It is suggests a new moment in far more professionalised inter-national competition.

    The third interest lies in precisely what new brand values are being attached to Brand New Zealand International Education. The new ‘New Zealand Educated’ brand rebrands international education in New Zealand. It displaces one half of the old logo ‘The New World Class: New Zealand Educated’, as well as the multiple and wordy tag lines of ‘warm and welcoming environments’, ‘world class institutions’, ‘high quality living conditions’, ‘world leading courses and degrees’, ‘association with fresh thinkers’, ‘recreation in paradise’, and ‘British based education system’. These messages, somewhat cumbersome and highly defensive, were targeted at a bulk market largely out of Asia that was undifferentiated and knew little about New Zealand. The target was imagined as much to be parents as students and the place of information gathering and purchase was imagined to be the trade fair.nzbrandterms.jpg

    A new set of taglines, again a family of seven, pushes similar messages about a modern, friendly, British-based, out-doors, and green New Zealand, but one that is far more vibrant, globally connected, youthful, and exciting. Crucially it appears to imagine students as savvy, active agents, with subjectivities already located in the new global class elite and seeking an international education that will allow them to perform their lives within this elite – as leisure/experience consumers as well as actual or prospective creative entrepreneurs and knowledge workers. Hence, the seven tag lines are now ‘connected’, ‘inventive’, trusted’, ‘personal’, ‘adventurous’, ‘lively’, and ‘welcoming’. The photographic images are of self-confident, sophisticated students. The expectation now appears to be that the market place is on-line and the purchaser the savvy student. The text behind the tag lines presumes and more subtly restates New Zealand’s global credentials.

    nzbrand2.jpg

    The ‘New World Class’ was designed to secure a high volume supply chain in a emerging market for international students where New Zealand was positioned as a high-reputation, third-tier provider. In this market imaginary, the product was largely English language acquisition. New Zealand enjoyed certain key advantages from its safety, environmental reputation, national organisation, and British colonial history. The ‘New Zealand Educated’ brand recognises a much more sophisticated and competitive market place, but again one in which New Zealand enjoys similar advantages. However, these must be repackaged for a new local industry trajectory, a far more sophisticated and intermediated marketplace in which the expertise of branding is now being brought to bear, and new consumers.

    Nick Lewis