Heavy Lifting vs Spectral Presence in Global Higher Ed

As I shuffled through the morning paper today, supping a much needed cup of coffee, I came across a story about the innovative architect Thom Mayne (of Morphosis) being selected to design the first building of Cornell University’s Applied Sciences NYC campus. This unique development initiative, outlined in detail here (‘Unsettling the university-territory relationship via Applied Sciences NYC’), is rolling forward with considerable speed.

Since Cornell (with Israel’s Technion) won the competition in December 2011, a Cornell/Technion leadership team was appointed in February 2012, and Andrew C. Winters (formerly of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office) was appointed to “lead the physical development process.”

Taken together, the involvement of a skilled and high-powered leadership team from both Cornell & Technion, along with a NY power broker (Winters), and highly qualified designers like Morphis as well as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (for the master plan), imply that this project is serious business.

CornellNYC Tech, “home of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute,” is really just the start of a broader development agenda, which includes the right to bring in other partner universities (and indeed non-university actors) from the US and abroad to their Roosevelt Island campus.

What is interesting about this project, in comparison to one associated with another Ivy League school (Yale, which is working with the National University of Singapore to develop Yale-NUS College), is that the Cornell-led development process reflects a significantly deeper level of commitment to being grounded in the host city of the new campus. What do I mean by being ‘grounded’ and why might it matter?

Being grounded means establishing commercial, legal, material (including human), and discursive presence in the host city. It means being present such that one is entangled in the regulatory, socio-cultural, physical, political, and institutional landscape of the city. It is a form of presence that leads to being drawn upon, and drawing upon, others also present in that city. It means being knitted into development processes where traded and untraded interdependencies (that “take the form of conventions, informal rules, and habits that coordinate economic actors under conditions of uncertainty”) help bring the city-region development process to life.

In the Cornell process, their mission and objectives have led them to control and be fully responsible for all stages (apart from coordinating the bid and review process, which was guided by the New York City Economic Development Corporation) of the development process including:

  • The campus planning and design process
  • The physical development process
  • The research-led knowledge production process
  • The teaching and learning process (in classrooms, labs, etc.).

The process of publicly bidding to develop Applied Sciences NYC (see my summary of the bid process here), then getting deeply involved in campus and building design process, the actual development process, and academic planning for the complex, effectively sutures Cornell’s identity, and its future, to the global city of New York.

Given this stance to the development process, a large number of Cornell and Technion faculty and administrators will be present in NYC, which will lead them to form deep social relations with key actors in the city. Some of these social relations will be sought out, though many will be accidental, subject to the unruly laws of serendipity in the metropolis. Physical co-presence matters to the socio-economic development process in cities, and the lead university (Cornell) behind Applied Sciences NYC seems to recognize this, as did Technion and Mayor Bloomberg.

In the Yale-NUS College case, Yale’s mission and objectives have led them to gift their brand (‘Yale’) for a fee, while providing input to a NUS-controlled:

  • Campus planning and design process
  • Physical development process
  • Teaching and learning process (in classrooms, labs, etc.).

Of course the newly hired faculty will have business cards that say ‘Yale-NUS College’ on them, and promotional materials flag the Yale name everywhere (a point made in this insightful article by Karin Fischer), but this is really a Singaporean project. Two proxy measures of this are that (a) that the newly hired faculty will receive Singaporean contracts, and (b) graduates only receive a degree from the National University of Singapore (not even a dual degree, a now common option in global higher ed). Of course a few administrators will be seconded from Yale, but they will inevitably retain their tenured jobs back in New Haven, CT.

Yale is thus the equivalent of Wharton when it helped provide much of the intellectual and organizational guidance to develop Singapore Management University (est. 2000), except for the fact that Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania did not sell the Wharton/Penn brand, nor did they play up their role in the SMU development process.

There are pros and cons to each model, of course, but I can’t help but wonder what the direct and indirect implications will be of Cornell’s higher level of material and non-material commitment to their new global city venture versus that being undertaken by Yale (at least in a spectral sense) in its newly adopted global city. Being present while being absent provides some latitude of freedom to reduce risk, and cost, but as INSEAD’s presence in Singapore demonstrates, and as Cornell and Technion’s presence in New York indicates, there are a myriad of rewards to being present – to be seen to be contributing, to be seen to be sharing the costs, to being on the ground, and to be demonstrating a medium- to long-term level of confidence in risky experiments in global higher education/global city development.

Kris Olds

Unsettling the university-territory relationship via Applied Sciences NYC

The unruly process of ‘innovation’ has long stumped analysts and advocates. Indeed, there is a veritable cottage industry of scholars who work on innovation, innovation systems, innovation networks, and associated phenomena. This agenda intersects with higher education systems, institutions and practices in a variety of ways, including the development of research and advocacy programs regarding university industry linkages, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, the role of higher education institutions (HEIs) in R&D, the role of HEIs in city-region development, online education (most recently), and so on.

But how does this agenda intersect with the globalization of higher education and research agenda? Well, in a wide variety of ways, especially given the globalizing nature of economies and societies. Researchers who focus on all of the above phenomena are increasingly grappling with the impact of ‘global pipelines’ guiding flows of people and information between multiple sites; transnational flows of mobile people, technologies, and the like; and multi-sited epistemic communities that produce the jointly authored publications mapped out here. The vast majority of this research, however, deals with grounded HEIs, institutions fixed in place. This, of course, makes sense, for most HEIs are not mobile, and never will be (and indeed should arguably not be).

This said, one of the most fascinating experiments to unsettle the university-territory relationship, with the aim of engendering new forms of unruly innovation, is unfolding in New York City.

Just over a year ago, in December 2010, New York City stirred up interest around the world with the issue of Request for Expressions of Interest seeking “Responses from the Academic World for a Partnership with the City to Create a State-of-the-Art Applied Science Campus.” As the 16 December 2010 press release put it:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert K. Steel and New York City Economic Development Corporation President Seth W. Pinsky today announced that the City is seeking responses from a university, applied science organization or related institution to develop and operate an applied sciences research facility in New York City. In order to maintain a diverse and competitive economy, and capture the considerable growth occurring within the science, technology and research fields, the City is looking to strengthen its applied sciences capabilities, particularly in fields which lend themselves to commercialization. The City will make a capital contribution, in addition to possibly providing land and other considerations, commensurate with the respondent’s investment.

In the end 18 responses from a total of 27 HEIs were received, according to this 17 March 2011 press release:

  • Åbo Akadmi University, Finland
  • Amity University, India
  • Carnegie Mellon University with Steiner Studios
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University and the City University of New York
  • The Cooper Union
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Korea
  • New York University, Carnegie Mellon, the City University of New York, the University of Toronto, and IBM
  • The New York Genome Center, with Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, Rockefeller University, and the Jackson Laboratory
  • Purdue University
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Stanford University
  • The Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
  • The University of Chicago
  • The University of Warwick, United Kingdom

This lineup of universities is noteworthy for it is the largest ever number of HEIs simultaneously considering the stretching of their institutional infrastructures out across space and into one place (NYC, USA). No other jurisdiction has ever, as far as I know, received such an expression of interest in such a concentrated period of time, highlighting the hold the city has on imaginations worldwide. Prometheus unbound, indeed.

As Mayor Bloomberg noted at the same time:

We were enormously optimistic that this once-in-a-generation opportunity would draw the interest of top caliber universities from New York City, the region and the world, and the number and breadth of responses is as strong an endorsement of the idea as we could have hoped for,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “The institutions that responded recognize the historic opportunity this initiative represents – to grow a presence in the world’s most dynamic, creative and globally connected city. For New York City, it’s an opportunity to increase dramatically our potential for economic growth – a game-changer for our economy.

To cut a long story short, these expressions of interest were vetted and used to develop a comprehensive Applied Sciences Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop the applied sciences campus. The RFP, which was issued on 19 July 2011, had a closing date of 28 October 2011.

On 31 October 2011, the City of New York issued another press release noting that the City had received 7 full proposals put together by these 17 HEIs:

  • Amity University (Governor’s Island)
  • Carnegie Mellon University/Steiner Studios (Brooklyn Navy Yard)
  • Columbia University (Manhattanville)
  • Cornell University/Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Roosevelt Island)
  • New York University/University of Toronto/University of Warwick (UK)/The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay/City University of New York and Carnegie Mellon (Downtown Brooklyn)
  • New York Genome Center/Mount Sinai School of Medicine/Rockefeller University/SUNY Stony Brook (Midtown Manhattan)
  • Stanford University/City College of New York (Roosevelt Island)

Each proposal crafted plans to “develop and operate a new or expanded campus in the City in exchange for access to City-owned land and up to $100 million in City capital.”

Interestingly the geographies of these HEIs are less diverse than the lineup noted in relationship to the Dec 2010 response. Clearly the commitment required to harness the direct and indirect resources that would bring such a risky project to life was significant.

By mid-December 2011 a decision was made that one proposal (put together by Cornell University in partnership with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology) would get the formal go-ahead. The image below comes from the proposal, and is supplied courtesy of Cornell University.

While there has been significant coverage of this news story, this 19 December 2011 press release remains the best summary of the proposed project, to date. The official project sites run by Cornell, as well as by the NYCEDC are worth reviewing as well.

During the first two months of 2012 development planning has been fast-tracked and the senior leadership team has been put together. It is also worth noting that discussions are continuing with NYU-led consortium (with the University of Toronto, University of Warwick, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, CUNY, and Carnegie Mellon University) in relationship to a Downtown Brooklyn site, as well as with Carnegie Mellon and Columbia in relationship to two other sites.

I’ve outlined the above stages and provided some links in part so readers of GlobalHigherEd could locate materials about the early development stages of Applied Sciences NYC in one spot. But in doing so, and in grappling with the territorial unsettlings inspired by the draw of the global city of New York, I can’t help but be fascinated by the significance of this experiment a number of levels. From a global higher ed perspective, Applied Sciences NYC is noteworthy because it is generative of:

  • The formation of deep partnerships between universities from different countries, but in a new (third) setting. In so doing, universities have no choice but to forge deep and relatively trusting relations, a requirement and an outcome absent from traditional international partnerships (which are usually struck up for the purpose of forging partnerships, i.e. partnerships in search of legitimizing projects).
  • The creation of a partnership node that 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 universities in the US, Israel, and abroad. This is, indeed, the value of drawing in universities like Technion and Cornell (on this issue see President David Skorton’s guest entry ‘A Cornell University response to ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational-ethical dilemma)’’ in Global Higher Ed). Thus, the new campus could, in theory, serve as a site of research, teaching, and collaboration more generally, for the many universities that Cornell and Technion trust and respect.
  • The establishment of new research and teaching programs that will have significantly more latitude for configuration given the novelty of the campus, and the mandate associated with the original RFP issued by NYC. In short, some distance from the origin sites of both Cornell and Technion may help both universities break free from established practices and unwritten codes of convention on their main campuses, for good and bad.
  • The ability to design a campus from scratch, which will enable barriers to collaboration to be designed away (well, in theory!).
  • The creation of an institutional space that will allow these two universities, not originally based in the city of New York, to identify and work more intensely with New York-based partners in the public, private, and non-profit worlds. The abundance of international organizations, NGOs, and non-profits in the city of New York cannot help but be a huge resource to these two universities, especially if they are cognizant of the importance of viewing ‘innovation’ broadly.
  • The creation of physical presence in New York so as to at least have the potential to forge informal relations of trust and interdependency with city-based actors (be they US or foreign). This is, for example, one of the benefits reaped by INSEAD after it established a deep presence in the global city of Singapore in 2001. The unruly processes associated with innovation often take time: they often occur by accident, and serendipity often comes into play. Serendipity is better facilitated, if indeed it can be facilitated, via proximity and territorial co-presence.

These are just a few aspects of the development process that come to mind. While there are many more I could have flagged, I have some World Regions course grading to attend to!

In closing, Applied Sciences NYC is much more significant that even its advocates realize. This is a long-term experiment in reconfiguring the university-territory relationship.  Not all universities can nor should do this, but at least some should. And don’t rush to judgment too quickly, either: as a fascinating article about Bell Labs in yesterday’s New York Times reminds us, ‘true innovation’ takes time, and while revolutions happen fast, they ‘dawn slowly.’

Kris Olds

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

Editors’ note: our thanks to David J. Skorton, President, Cornell University, for his informative and thought provoking response below to Nigel Thrift’s ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational, ethical dilemma)‘. David J. Skorton (pictured to the right) became Cornell University’s 12th president on July 1, 2006. He holds faculty appointments as professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and in Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering on Cornell’s Ithaca campus. He is also chair of the Business–Higher Education Forum, an independent, non-profit organization of Fortune 500 CEOs, leaders of colleges and universities, and foundation executives; life member of the Council on Foreign Relations; co-chair of the advisory board for the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities; member of the National Advisory Council for the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institutes of Health; and Master of the American College of Cardiology.

As our regular readers know Professor Nigel Thrift, Vice Chancellor of the University of Warwick, contributed an entry where he posed: ‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational, ethical dilemma)’. Professor Skorton’s response below is the third response to Nigel Thrift’s ‘question’. The first two were provided by Peter N. Stearns, Provost of George Mason University, and Gregor McLennan, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Bristol.

Several more responses are in the works, and others can be proposed (via <kolds@wisc.edu>) through to April 2011.

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson


My British colleague Nigel Thrift asks if we should be bothered by our role as universities in the “long emergency” of global suffering and deterioration, whether it be through climate change, hunger, poverty or disease [‘A question (about universities, global challenges, and an organizational, ethical dilemma)‘, April 8, 2010]. He says, “Yes, we should,” and I fully agree with him.

By any measure, the facts go beyond the alarming: World Bank socioeconomic indicators show a high level of human misery, from extreme poverty to child malnutrition, particularly in those countries suffering from armed conflict. More than 1 billion people lack access to potable water, and 42 percent of the world’s population–that’s 2.6 billion people–don’t have access to proper sanitation. More than 10 million children under the age of 5 die every year from causes that would be preventable with better nutrition and access to health care.

Clearly, universities in the developed world have a major role to play in alleviating this human suffering. This is especially true in the United States, where universities traditionally have carried out a three-part mission of teaching, research, and outreach and service to the larger world.

Nigel talks about our intellectual and ethical responsibilities and the need for decisive action. Those reasons are splendidly altruistic and well-stated. As an American, I would add a further reason to act: higher education is one of the most effective and credible diplomatic assets available to the United States. Before my overseas colleagues cringe in dismay, let me add that I am in no way advocating that higher education be utilized for political gain or advantage. But I do contend that colleges and universities are among our country’s best tools to build human and societal capacity and foster positive international relations in a world in which the United States is being challenged economically as well as on religious, moral and ideological grounds. The global participation of our universities can help alleviate poverty and create a pathway for millions to improve their own lives and enter an increasingly globalized society. Moreover, we in higher education in the United States need to engage the world in order to educate American students to function in a global economy and to address common problems from global outbreaks of new infectious diseases to climate change.

Many universities in the United States and other developed countries, the United Kingdom included, are already reaching out to and establishing partnerships with institutions in the developing world. Cornell is high on the list of those participating in this effort, particularly in coming to the aid of the overburdened higher-education infrastructure in Africa. In 2007, for example, Cornell established a master’s of professional studies degree program in international agriculture, with emphasis on watershed management, in Ethiopia in partnership with Bahir Dar University. In addition, our Weill Cornell Medical College is working to strengthen medical education at the Weill Bugando University College of Health Sciences and at Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania, in order to improve and expand Tanzania’s core of health-care providers. We need many, many more initiatives like these to directly confront the issues of world poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, and societal dysfunction.

Nigel notes that “perhaps it could be argued that we are now on a kind of war footing and need to act accordingly,” and I have described the international situation as “explosive.” But what is needed is not so much a warlike stance as a long-term commitment to address problems that have seemed intractable for at least half a century.

Nearly three years ago I proposed the creation of a new Marshall Plan for higher education that would enlist colleges and universities in fulfilling their potential as educators, developers and researchers for the world. What would such a plan achieve? First, colleges and universities need to coordinate our efforts at capacity-building in the developing world, and by that I mean developing a new kind of plan that would enable us to work together on education, research, and outreach. Second, we need to make sure our efforts complement the current work by nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and by government agencies in confronting the issues of literacy, nutrition, global health, sustainable technologies and conflict resolution, among others. And third, we need to follow the lead of our colleagues in the developing world who are most knowledgeable about local needs and the cultural, social, and political contexts within which projects and programs must operate.

A major thrust must also be to make higher education available to the growing number of students in the developing world with few options to pursue postsecondary education. As I have written before: We cannot handle tomorrow’s students and the demands for advanced skills with the resources that exist today.

Just as U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall’s 1947 proposal for a massive program of aid and redevelopment helped bring a war-ravaged Europe back to economic health, political stability and peace, an enlightened, coordinated, and broad-based plan could greatly benefit the developing world today.

Is such a plan feasible today, given the much wider global community? I sincerely hope so, and I am also hopeful that as more and more of our research universities reach out globally, they will see that the stakes are even higher now than they were six decades ago. The appalling conditions faced by vast numbers of the world’s people create a humanitarian crisis of the first order and, as such, a threat not only to stability and intercultural understanding, but also to peace.

But, Nigel asks, are universities “optimally organized” to address these fundamental global challenges? “Optimally organized” is elusive and must be defined on a local basis. However, based on past and present action, I can certainly answer for Cornell, which has a long history of international research and capacity building. The Cornell-Nanking Crop Improvement Program, a cooperative agricultural exchange program, was carried out in China between 1925 and 1931 to improve the major food crops of northern China and train Chinese investigators in crop-improvement techniques. That effort paved the way for many post-World War II technical assistance programs involving American universities and their counterparts overseas.

We, and many of our peer institutions, have long regarded ourselves as international universities, and ever more institutions in the United States understand that they need to engage the world by educating American students to function in a global economy by exposing them to the breadth of world cultures. These students quickly find that collaboration across national borders often is the most effective way to attack a variety of research problems and to build human and institutional capacity in the developing world.

One thing is apparent: No single college or university, acting alone, can achieve what is needed to solve global society’s growing ills. Working together, however, the research institutions of the United States and the rest of the developed world, in cooperation with those already in the field and in local leadership positions, can play a central role in helping countries that are struggling to meet the needs of their citizens. Acting together, we can improve local education, apply research and contribute our problem-solving skills.

The world increasingly is turning to higher education to develop and share the knowledge needed to solve its most critical problems, which know no disciplinary or national boundaries. In a 2007 essay I wrote that the development of human capacity is not only one of the most effective ways to ameliorate global inequality, it is a prerequisite for any enduring improvement of the standard of living at the local level, where it counts most. In 2010, with income inequality between the richest and poorest nations ever more pronounced, that is assuredly more certain than ever.

I firmly believe that the current global milieu – especially the frictions, fears and misunderstandings between cultures – requires responses that universities are uniquely qualified to supply: dialogue, learning, creativity and discovery. And that’s not only good for America and its friends – it’s good for the world.

David J. Skorton

Global higher ed players, regional ambitions, and interregional fora

How do dominant national and regional players in global higher ed speak to, and engage with, other parts of the world, especially when these parts are viewed as ‘less developed’? This is a complicated question to start answering (not that it is possible, in fact!).

History matters, for it has laid a foundational path, including taken-for-granted assumptions that shape the tone, mechanisms, and power dynamics of bilateral and/or interregional relationships. Times change, of course, and the rationale and logics behind the relationship building cannot help but evolve. The end of the Cold War, for example, enabled the building of relationships (e.g., the 46 country European Higher Education Area) that were previously impossible to imagine, let alone create.

The structure of higher education systems matter too. How does a nation ‘speak’ (e.g., the USA) when there is no senior minister of higher education, and indeed no national system per se (such as that in Germany)? It is possible, though content and legitimacy are derived out of a relatively diverse array of stakeholders.

In this context we have seen new forms of engagement emerging between Europe and the Global South, and between the USA and the Global South. I am wary that the ‘Global South’ concept is a problematic one, but it is used enough to convey key aspects of the power/territory nexus that I’ll stick with it for the duration of this brief entry.

What are the driving forces underlying such new forms of global higher ed engagement?

Clearly the desire to engage in capacity building, for a myriad of reasons, is a driving force.

A second force is concern about what the other dominant players are doing; a form of global engagement inspired or spurred on by the competitive impulse.

A third and related driving force is the amorphous desire to project ‘soft power‘ – the externalization of values, the translation of agendas, the enhancement of the attraction dimension, and so on, such that transformations align with the objectives of the projecting peoples and systems.

All three driving forces are evident is a spate of events and initiatives underway in 2008, and especially this October.

Europe Engages Asia

For example, the logics of capacity building, the need to enhance ties to select regions (e.g., East, South, and Southeast Asia), and the projection of soft power, enticed Europe to forge new relations across space via the ASEM framework. The inaugural meeting of ASEM’s Ministries of Education, which was hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and titled ‘Education and Training for Tomorrow: Common Perspectives in Asia and Europe’, took place in Berlin from 5-6 May 2008. The three official ‘public’ documents associated with this event can be downloaded here, here, and here.

This initiative, as we noted earlier (‘Ministers of Education and fora for thinking beyond the nation‘), is part of an emerging move to have ministers of education/higher education/research play a role in thinking bilaterally, regionally, and indeed globally. One interesting aspect of this development is that ministries (and ministers) of education are starting, albeit very unevenly, to think beyond the nation within the institutional structure of the nation-state. In this case, though, a regional voice (the European Union) is very much present, as are other stakeholders (e.g., the European University Association).

A linked event – the 1st ASEM Rectors’ Conference: Asia-Europe Higher Education Leadership Dialogue “Between Tradition and Reform: Universities in Asia and Europe at the Crossroads” – will be held from 27-29 October in Berlin as well, while other related late-2008 schemes include:

More broadly, link here for information about the new (2008) EU-Asia Higher Education Platform (EAHEP).

The US Engages Asia

Moving across the Atlantic, to the USA, we have seen the logics of capacity building, the need to enhance ties to select regions (e.g., Asia and Africa), and the projection of soft power, guiding some new initiatives. The US Government, for example, sponsored the Asia Regional Higher Education Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, between 6-9 October 2008.  As the official press release from the US Embassy in Dhaka puts it, the:

Asia Regional Higher Education Summit is sponsored by the United States Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and co-hosted by the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. This Summit is a follow-up to the Global Higher Education Summit recently held in Washington, DC. The Washington summit was convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, and USAID Administrator and Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Henrietta Fore. The Summit’s objective was to expand the role and impact of U.S. and foreign higher education institutions in worldwide social and economic development.

It is worth noting that countries representing ‘Asia’ at the Summit include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Qatar, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, the United States and Vietnam.

The US Engages Africa

And this week we see the US Government sponsoring the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit in Kigali, Rwanda. This summit is also, like the US-linked Asia event noted above, a follow-on initiative of the Global Higher Education Summit (29–30 April 2008).

According to the official program, the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit is a three-day event:

that will address innovative approaches to meet the challenges of the higher education community in Africa; to learn from each other by sharing best practices in partnering; and to foster mutually beneficial partnerships initiated before and during the summit. In this regionally focused forum, speakers and participants will discuss how higher education influences human and institutional capacity development, and plays a role in preparing Africa for economic growth and global competitiveness.

The summit is designed to focus on developing partnerships between higher education institutions, foundations and the private sector at the national and regional levels, although consideration will also be given to international and cross-continental levels.

Summit participation will be limited to presidents, chancellors, and rectors representing African and American universities, and foundation and corporate leaders to ensure maximum interaction and sharing of perspectives between and among decision makers and authorized agents. The working sessions and organized breaks will be structured to maximize input and interactions between summit participants.

The summit aims to provide opportunities for participants to:

  • Reinforce the goals of the initial Higher Education Summit for Global Development within the context of the African continent for the purpose of moving to concrete actions;
  • Raise awareness about and generate interest in the objectives of the first World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Education Alliance (GEA) in Africa and the Global Development Commons (GDC);
  • Highlight the importance of higher education in African development;
  • Add to the body of knowledge and further the discussion about the link between higher education and development;
  • Share successes and generate actual partnerships and alliances with universities, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations participating in the summit;
  • Generate ideas and recommendations to share with universities, corporations, foundations and non-governmental organizations;
  • Generate a progress report on the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative and planning grants.

The open press events are outlined here, while the detailed program is here. See here too for an example of a recently announced EU-Africa higher ed initiative.

‘Soft Power’ and Global Higher Ed

The soft power dimension behind the formation of linkages with regions like Asia and Africa is not always made explicit by Europe nor the USA. Yet two aspects of soft power, as it is sought after, are worth noting in today’s entry.

First, the intertwining of both soft and ‘hard’ power agendas and players is more evident in the case of the USA.  For example Henrietta H. Fore (Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator, USAID, and pictured below) is speaking at the higher education summit in Africa, as well as at the Pentagon about the establishment of the AFRICOM initiative:

Secretary Gates has spoken powerfully and eloquently on many occasions about the need for the United States to enhance its non-military as well as military instruments of national power in service of our foreign policy objectives. The Department of State and USAID are proud to play their respective primary roles in diplomacy and development.

Thus AFRICOM, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, effectively has an Africa-focused global higher ed initiative associated with it (under the control of AFRICOM partner USAID).

Source and photo caption from AFRICOM:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Left to right, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Admiral Mike Mullen; Henrietta H. Fore, administrator of U.S. Agency for International Development and director of U.S. Foreign Assistance; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; flag bearer; General William E. Ward, Commander of U.S. Africa Command; and U.S. Africa Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka stand together after the unfolding of the flag during the U.S. Africa Command Unified Command Activation ceremony in the Pentagon, October 1, 2008. (DoD photo by U.S. Petty Officer 2nd Class Molly A. Burgess)

AFRICOM Photo ID 20081003133444

Clearly the USA and Europe have adopted very different approaches to global higher ed in strategic ‘less developed’ regions vis a vis the links being made to hard power agendas.

Second, many of the US-led initiatives with USAID support are associated with political appointees (e.g., U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings), or leaders of more autonomous stakeholder organizations (e.g., Peter McPherson, President, NASULGC) who are publicly associated with particular political regimes.  In McPherson’s case, it is the Bush/Cheney regime, as profiled in Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone by The Washington Post’s former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran. But what happens when elections occur?  Is it a coincidence that the rush of US events is happening a month before the US federal election?  Will these key players regarding Africa (and Asia) be as supported by the new regime that comes to power in early 2009?

Another perspective is that such US initiatives don’t really matter in the end, for the real projectors of soft power are hundreds of autonomous, highly ranked, active, and well-resourced US universities. Last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, for example, highlighted the latest stage of Cornell’s work in South Asia, while the rush of US universities to establish campuses and programs in the Middle East was done irrespective of people like Spellings, and institutions like USAID (and the US Government more generally). In other words these universities don’t need ministerial talk shops in places like Berlin or DC to open doors and do their stuff. Of course many European universities are just as active as a Cornell, but the structure of European higher education systems is vastly different, and it cannot help but generate a centralizing impulse in the projection of soft power.

As a phenomenon, the actions of key players in global higher ed regarding in developing regional initiatives are well worth illuminating, including by the sponsors and participants themselves. Regions, systems, and international relations are being constructed in a conceptual and programmatic sense. As we know from any history of bilateral and interregional relations, frameworks that help generate a myriad of tangible outcomes are being constructed, and in doing so future development paths, from all perspectives, are being lain down.

Yet it is also important not to read too much into this fora-intensive agenda. We need to reflect upon how geo-strategic visions and agendas are connected to and transformative of the practices of day-to-day life in the targeted regions. How do these visions and agendas make their mark in lecture halls, hiring procedures, curricula, and course content? This is not a development process that unfolds, in a seamless and uni-directional way, and it is important to think about global higher ed players, regional ambitions, and interregional fora at a series of interrelated scales to even begin understanding what is going on.

Kris Olds

Cisco, KAUST, and Microsoft: hybrid offerings for global higher ed

The globalization of higher education has been going hand in hand with novel experiments in the provision of education services, as well as in the production of knowledge via R&D. These experiments have been enabled by the broad but highly uneven liberalization of regulatory systems, and spurred on by the perception (and sometimes reality) of inadequate levels of state support for higher education and research. A myriad of policies, programs and projects, of an increasingly sophisticated nature, are now bringing many of these experiments to life.

Experimentation is also being facilitated on some traditional public university campuses, with hybrid units in development (e.g., see the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance), offers to select foreign universities to establish a formal presence on another campus (e.g., see this entry regarding the University of Warwick), and even private ‘campuses’ under construction by firms that lease space to mobile higher education service providers (e.g., see this entry on Chaska’s ‘Field of Dreams’).

Over the last few weeks a variety of examples of such institutional experimentation have bubbled up.

Cisco Systems, Inc.

First, the San Jose-based firm, Cisco Systems, Inc., announced that its Networking Academy, which has been in operation since 1997:

has achieved a key milestone with a record 47 percent increase in the total number of students enrolled in Morocco in the past 12 months. Since the program’s inception, this brings the total number of Networking Academy students over 7,500. Each student undergoes a comprehensive technology-based training curriculum that can provide them with skills which they can utilize in their future professional careers.

According to Cisco, its Networking Academy provides educational services in more than 160 countries, reaching 600,000 students per year. The Network Academy topics (e.g., LANs, IT networks, network infrastructure essentials) can be standardized in a relatively easy manner, which enables Cisco to offer the same “high-quality education, supported by online content and assessments, performance tracking, hands-on labs, and interactive learning tools”, across all 160 countries.

And growth is rapid: in Morocco, for example:

The first Networking Academy in Morocco started in Ain Bordja in February 2001, long before Cisco’s office in Morocco was established. Today, the total number of Networking Academies has grown to 39 throughout the entire Kingdom with many more new Academies across Morocco to be announced in the very near future.

Cisco’s growth in providing these education services partly reflects problems in the Moroccan higher education system (see, for example, the World Bank’s 2008 report The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa). It is noteworthy that nearly 1/3 of the students are female; a level of enrollment perceived my most analysts of the region to be significant and positive.

Further information on the Networking Academy is available in this short video clip. This initiative is akin to the Oracle Corporation‘s Oracle Academy, which has “partnered with more than 3,400 institutions and supported 397,000 students across 83 countries“. Today, coincidentally, marks the official opening of the Oracle Academy of the Hanoi University and Hanoi University of Commerce in Vietnam.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Second, over the last week the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an institution we have profiled several times (see here and here), announced a series of major funding initiatives that will support other universities, around the world, to develop major R&D initiatives. The logic is to kick-start the creation of KAUST’s global networks (recalling that the KAUST campus is only now being built from scratch, as one of many photographs from the KAUST website, conveys).

KAUST’s Global Research Partnership (GRP) will be funding:

So three American universities, and one UK university. Further information on these centers can be found here.

KAUST also announced that its Center-in-Development scheme (note the in development moniker) will be funding one Saudi, one Asian and one European university in the form of:

Further information on these initiatives can be located here.

Thus we have a Saudi institution, which is really an instantaneously endowed foundation (to the tune of $10 billion), projecting itself out via funded programs, and translating institutional and researcher agendas in key centres of scientific calculation (to use some Latourian phrases), so as to enable itself to morph into a globally recognized, respected, and highly networked science and technology university within five years. Moreover, KAUST is forging ties with other types of knowledge-related institutions, including the US Library of Congress, so as to:

complement its academic and research programs in cutting-edge science and engineering with research and outreach programs aimed at giving students and faculty an appreciation of the rich history of scientific inquiry and discovery in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Microsoft & Cisco

Finally, my own university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has embarked upon two initiatives that splice together the institutional fabrics of a major public university, and select private sector firms (in software and the life sciences), with both initiatives facilitated by the alumni effect (another topic we have recently written about).

In the first, Seattle-based Microsoft is contributing substantial support to help UW-Madison open the Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, which will focus on the advanced development of database systems. As the formal UW-Madison press release notes, this lab is:

helping expand on a highly productive 20-year research and alumni relationship between the company and the University of Wisconsin-Madison computer sciences department.

The Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, named in honor of the Microsoft executive who was a founding father of the database industry, will open in downtown Madison under the direction of UW-Madison emeritus computer sciences professor, and Microsoft Technical Fellow, David DeWitt, one of the world leaders in database research.

“Microsoft is here because we are doing some of the best database work in the world and we have produced scores of graduates who have gone on to successful careers in the industry,” says DeWitt. “Our focus will be on continuing the production of talented graduate students and taking on some of the great challenges in database systems.”

David DeWitt (pictured above) was the John P. Morgridge Professor of Computer Sciences, though he has now taken up emeritus status to focus on this initiative. Further information on DeWitt and this scheme is available here.

And returning to the Cisco theme, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) sponsored a ground breaking ceremony last Friday for the development of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID), a $150 million project we briefly profiled here. WID is being developed with funding and other forms of support from UW-Madison, WARF, John and Tashia Morgridge (he is the former CEO of Cisco, while she is a former special education teacher), and the State of Wisconsin.

WID will open in 2010, though it is already in action via the efforts of WID’s interim director Marsha Mailick Selzer, and pioneer stem cell researcher, James Thomson. It is worth noting, though, that even the private component of WID (the Morgridge Institute for Research) is not-for-profit. This said the competitive impulse was loud and clear at the opening ceremony, according to the local newspaper reporter that covered the event:

The building will house an ambitious effort by the state to capture what Doyle hopes to be 10 percent of the market in regenerative medicine and stem cell technologies by 2015. The building is the centerpiece of a $750 million inititiave to develop stem cell research and biotechnology in Wisconsin.

So experiments aplenty. Fortunately, from the perspective of 7,500 Moroccan students, and UW-Madison’s researchers, Cisco Kid was a friend of mine (it’s bad, I know :)).

Kris Olds

Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East

Note: GlobalHigherEd will post brief entries by guest contributors from time to time. This one is by Amy W. Newhall (newhall@u.arizona.edu) of the University of Arizona.

In late September yet another American university announced an agreement to set up educational and research programs in the Gulf. The ambitious agreement between Michigan State University and the Dubai governmental entity TECOM Investments will “mesh MSU’s academic strengths with regional needs. MSU in Dubai is planning initially to offer not-for profit bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.” The new programs will be located in Dubai International Academic City, a free trade zone which is in keeping with TECOM’s stated goal to “Establish, own and promote various ventures in affiliated free trade zones, including educational institutions and research centers; investment; telecommunication and telecommunication equipment and accessories; film festival; media and broadcasting.”

Just which programs will mesh with what regional needs have not yet been revealed but agreements in other Gulf states such as the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait suggest they all will be in technical fields: medicine, foreign service, business administration, computer science, and engineering.

While American technical education is widely admired, its tradition of liberal education is less highly regarded according to a recent (June 2007) report titled Studying the American Way: An Assessment of American-Style Higher Education in Arab Countries by Shafeeq Ghabra and Margreet Arnold. Link here or here for a PDF copy of the study. Elements of liberal education curricula are often deemed to be at odds with local religious, political and cultural traditions. In some countries, teaching materials have been censored or bowdlerized and teaching methods seriously circumscribed. The summary firing of an instructor who discussed the Danish cartoon controversy and showed some of the cartoons in class at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed University in March 2006 illustrates the gulf between local and American understandings of protected speech, legitimate classroom activities and academic freedom. No procedural safeguards or processes were in place to protect the teacher’s rights nor were any processes by which she could contest the allegations and actions taken against her, according to statements on the matter. Zayed is not a branch US campus; so far it is only a candidate for accreditation in the US. It is not clear whether accrediting agencies take into account the existence or the absence of standard professional policies, regulations and grievance procedures in their accreditation assessments.

MSU’s deal mirrors that of more narrowly focused single program branch campuses run in Qatar by five different American universities, Carnegie-Mellon, Georgetown, Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Medical College of Cornell and Texas A&M. [See today’s GlobalHigherEd entry on Qatar] They are operated by their home campuses with the same admissions standards and curriculum. Each home campus has “full academic authority and quality control over courses and programs.” Virginia Commonwealth University runs the School of the Arts in Qatar, one of the oldest of the branch institutions and their students receive a VCU degree . VCU maintains complete control over hiring and retention. However, all instructors require a visa to work in Qatar and that granting power remains in the hands of the state. Visas can be revoked at any time.

New York University (NYU) has been exploring the possibility of developing a mini-university in Abu Dhabi complete with programs in humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Administrators envision a full undergraduate program and eventually some graduate ones. The new Abu Dhabi school would serve students from all over the region in addition to NYU study abroad students. Faculty from New York would supplement permanent faculty based in country. The proposal has generated considerable and sometimes contentious discussion on the NYU campus. Serious questions have been raised concerning “academic freedom, equal access and opportunities for women and Jews and human rights issues.” NYU prides itself on having one of the largest (if not the largest) study abroad program in the world. Just how this latest proposal fits in with its own educational program and overall objectives is not clear, nor is it clear how the proposed fields of study will appeal to the different sets of students.

Amy Newhall

Qatar’s ‘Education City’: Can it be a state of the art ‘Cathedral in the Desert’?

Note: GlobalHigherEd will post brief entries by guest contributors from time to time. The first of several that will appear in the next two weeks is by May Wazzan <may.wazzan@googlemail.com>, a graduate student at the London School of Economics.


The small but very wealthy state of Qatar has recently announced an integral part of its future vision; reinventing itself as a more economically diversified, less hydrocarbon- dependent, Knowledge Economy (KE). The formulation of the parameters of this vision has been assisted by the World Bank. To this end, the past five years have brought budget constraint free, billion dollar reform plans in areas such as Education, ICT, R&D, and the Labor Market; areas where the notion of the KE has cast prominent policy implications. Against this background, Qatar Foundation, a private-government sponsored institution, has launched the massive ‘Education City’ (EC) in Doha, the capital city. EC is to play a key part in Qatar’s ‘KE vision’, and its objectives of becoming the innovative hub for higher education and Science and Technology development and research in the region.


Figure 1: Qatar faces an oil-dependency ratio higher than of the average GCC ratio in terms of oil revenue to total government revenue and oil exports to total experts, making diversification an urgent matter on the country’s policy agenda

Source: Fasano & Iqbal, 2003

EC houses branches of several American universities (including Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Cornell, Georgetown, and Virginia Commonwealth), strategically selected to teach different disciplines within the free- zone campus, work autonomously and under the same standards as their home campuses. QF offers the universities comprehensive financing, student fees go back to the home campuses but the universities are conditioned to make purchasing contracts locally. In 2006, 2,018 students were enrolled in EC. Up till today, EC has graduated 130 students. The campus is networked by an advanced IT infrastructure which is expected to benefit the entire region, given that it will connect different institutions in the Middle East. Within the campus, a new Science and Technology Park was recently launched to house local and international firms which will engage in science and technology development and research. Theoretically, the idea of EC corresponds to the Triple Helix Model (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000), of the public, private, and academic configuration, expected to spur innovation. The universities at EC will serve as the academic infrastructure for the park’s research oriented science firms.


But will EC deliver its promises to the Qatari Economy? EC faces the need to balance the role of the universities as educators and the use of universities as an ‘export industry’. The extent of local multiplier and spillover effects depends on the commitment of the universities and the willingness and incentives of Qatari nationals to engage in knowledge acquisition. The latter still faces shy doubts. Besides, one may be concerned about the strength of the foreign universities’ cultural and social synergies with the country which may create the threat of excessive commercialization of the university, at the expense of its embededness. For example, EC is the first co-education institute in Qatar and the use of advanced English is not so common yet. The Science and Technology Park’s location within the EC is strategic, especially if complimented by a serious commitment to engage local Qatari’s in R&D, something which has never been part of the Qatari mindset before. Without a doubt, EC is a state of the art, ambitious and promising venture. However, it is extremely important to ensure that EC doesn’t end up as solely a playground for foreign establishments. Kevin Morgan (1997) referred to the danger of installing ‘cathedrals in the desert’: facilities which are seriously under-utilized by local firms. Ironically, Qatar is literally a desert land.


Etzkowitz, H., Leydesdorff, L. (2000). The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and Mode 2 to a Triple Helix of university-industry-government relations. Research Policy, 29, 109-23.

Fasano U., Iqbal Z. (2003). GCC Countries: From Oil Dependence to Diversification. Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund.

Knowledge Economy 2020: A Perfect Vision. (2007, June). Qatar Today.

Qatar Population Census. (2003). March 2003 Population Census, State of Qatar.

Morgan K. (1997). The Learning Region: Institutions, Innovation and Regional Renewal. Regional Studies, 31:5, 491 – 503.

May Wazzan