Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?

The denationalization of higher education – the process whereby developmental logics, frames, and practices, are increasingly associated with what is happening at a larger (beyond the nation) scale continues apace. As alluded to in my last two substantive entries:

this process is being shaped by new actors, new networks, new rationalities, new technologies, and new temporal rhythms. Needless to say, this development process is also generating a myriad of impacts and outcomes, some welcome, and some not.

While the denationalization process is a phenomenon that is of much interest to policy-making institutions (e.g., the OECD), foundations and funding councils, scholarly research networks, financial analysts, universities, and the like, I would argue that it is only now, at a relatively late stage in the game, that the higher education media is starting to take more systematic note of the contours of denationalization.

How is this happening? I will address this question by focusing in on recent changes in the English language higher education media in two key countries – the UK and the USA (though I recognize that University World News, described below, is not so simply placed).

From a quantitative and qualitative perspective, we are seeing rapid growth in the ostensibly ‘global’ coverage of the English-language higher education media from the mid-2000s on. While some outlets (e.g., the Chronicle of Higher Education) have had correspondents abroad since the 1970s, there are some noteworthy developments:



  • University World News (UWN) launched in October. This outlet is the product of a network of journalists, many formally associated with THES, who were frustrated with the disconnect between the globalization of higher education and the narrow national focus of ‘niche’ higher education media outlets. As with IHE, UWN’s free digital-only mode enhances the ability of this outlet to reach a relatively wide range of people located throughout the world.


  • Chronicle of Higher Education launches a virtual Global edition (similar in style to the New York Times’ Global edition) in May. A new $2 million strategic plan leads to the ongoing hiring of more Washington DC-based editorial staff, more correspondents (to be based in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe), enhanced travel for US-based sectoral experts, and the establishment of a new weblog (WorldWise).
  • Inside Higher Ed announces it is hosting three new weblogs (GlobalHigherEd; University of Venus; The World View), all with substantial globally-themed coverage. Reporter staff time retuned, to a degree, to prioritize key global issues/processes/patterns. IHE forms collaborative relationship with Times Higher Education to cross-post selected articles on their respective web sites.
  • Times Higher Education (THE) teams up with Thomson Reuters to produce the Times Higher Education/Thomson Reuters World University Rankings (2010 on). THE continues to draw upon guest contributions from faculty about ‘global’ issues and developmental dynamics: this is partly an outcome of seeking to meet the needs and conceptual vocabulary of their faculty-dominated audience, while also controlling staff costs. The digital edition of THE International launched in July 2010.

From a temporal and technological perspective, it is clear that all of these outlets are ramping up their capacity to disseminate digital content, facilitate and/or shape debates, market themselves, and build relevant multi-scalar networks. For example, I can’t help but think about the differences between how I engaged with the THES (as it used to be called) as a Bristol-based reader in the first half of the 1990s and now. In the 1990s we would have friendly squabbles in the Geography tea room to get our hands on it so we could examine the jobs’ pages. Today, in 2010, THE staffers tweet (via @timeshighered and @THEworldunirank) dozens of times per day, and I can sit here in Madison WI and read the THE website, as well as THE International, the moment they are loaded up on the web.

While all of these higher education media outlets are seeking to enhance their global coverage, they are obviously approaching it in their own unique ways, reflective of their organizational structure and resources, the nature of their audiences, and the broader media and corporate contexts in which they are embedded.

In many ways, then, the higher education media are key players in the new global higher education landscape for they shape debates via what they cover and what they ignore. These media firms are also now able to position themselves on top of hundreds of non-traditional founts of information via Twitter sources, select weblogs (some of which they are adopting), state-supported news crawlers (e.g., Canada’s Manitoba International Education News; Netherland’s forthcoming NUFFICblog; the UK’s HE International Unit site and newsletter), cross-references to other media sources (e.g., they often profile relevant NY Times stories), and so on — a veritable BP oil well gusher of information about the changing higher education landscape. In doing so, the higher education media outlets are positioning themselves as funnels or channels of relevant (it is hoped) and timely information and knowledge.

What are we to make of the changes noted above?

In my biased view, these are positive changes on many levels for they are reflective of media outlets recognizing that the world is indeed changing, and that they have an obligation to profile and assist others in better understanding this emerging landscape. Of course these are private media firms that sell services and must make a profit in the end, but they are firms managed by people with a clear love for the complex worlds of higher education.

This said there are some silences, occlusions, and possible conflicts of interest, though not necessarily by design.

First, English is clearly the lingua franca associated with this new media landscape. This is not surprising, perhaps, given my selective focus and the structural forces at work, but it is worth pausing and reflecting about the implications of this linguistic bias. Concerns aside, there are no easy solutions to the hegemony of English in the global higher education media world. For example, while there is no European higher education media ‘voice’ (see ‘Where is Europe’s higher education media?‘), if one were to emerge could it realistically function in any other language than English given the diversity of languages used in the 47 member country systems making up the European Higher Education Area?

Second, these outlets, as well as many others I have not mentioned, are all grappling with the description versus analysis tension, and the causal forces versus outcomes focus tension. Light and breezy stories may capture initial interest, but in the end the forces shaping the outcomes need to be unpacked and deliberated about.

Third, the diversification strategies that these media outlets have considered, and selectively adopted, can generate potential conflicts of interest. I have a difficult time, for example, reading Washington Post-based stories about the for-profit higher education sector knowing that this newspaper is literally kept afloat by Kaplan, a major for-profit higher education firm. And insights and effort aside, can THE journalists and editors write about their own rankings, or other competitive ranking initiatives (e.g., see ‘’Serious defects’ apparent in ‘crude’ European rankings project’), with the necessary distance needed to be analytical versus boosterish? I’ll leave the ‘necessary distance’ question for others to reflect about, and assume that this is a question that the skilled professionals representing the Washington Post and the THE must be grappling with.

Finally, is it possible to provide The World View, be WorldWise, or do justice to the ‘global’, in a weblog or any media outlet? I doubt it, for we are all situated observers of the unfolding of the global higher education landscape. There is no satellite platform that is possible to stand upon, and we are all (journalists, bloggers, pundits, academics, etc.) grappling with how to make sense of the denationalizing systems we know best, not to mention the emerging systems of regional and global governance that are being constructed.

All that can be done, perhaps, is to enhance analytical capabilities, encourage the emergence of new voices, and go for it while being open and transparent about biases and agendas, blind spots and limitations.

Kris Olds

Note: my sincere thanks to the editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Times Higher Education, and University World News, for passing on their many insights via telephone and email correspondence.  And thanks to my colleagues Yi-Fu Tuan and Mary Churchill for their indirectly inspirational comments about World views this past week. Needless to say, the views expressed above are mine alone.

Where is Europe’s higher education media?

Welcome to 2008, the start of GlobalHigherEd‘s first full year of life.

The Beerkens’ Blog recently let us know that Eric Beerkens is moving on, out of academia, and into the policy world in The Hague. His blog, which will hopefully be maintained despite his new job, is one of the few around that is adopting a broad-based, analytical, and snappy view on changes to the world of higher education, with an eye to underlying forces, differential impacts, contradictions, and periodically humourous dimensions of the change process. There are innumerable journal articles, chapters, books, policy reports, and so on, being produced about the globalization of higher education. And there are numerous fora, networks (e.g., NESSE), and think tanks buzzing about. But there is a need for freely accessible straight to the screen spaces of knowledge production about ongoing development processes. None of these replaces the other; it is the strange brew that is produced through the mix that matters.

I was in Brussels last month and spoke on a plenary panel at conference organized by the European Education Policy Network. Our charge was to discuss “Interactions between Academic Research and the Policy World”. I spoke about two very different types of institutions that have the capacity to deepen the strong ties, and create the weak ties, that help academics and policy makers engage on a more productive basis.

The first was Canada’s Metropolis Project, an exemplary research and outreach vehicle that bridges the worlds of policy makers and academics regarding the impact of immigration on cities. I won’t go into any detail here on this issue.

The second was the higher education media, at least the ‘quality’ outlets, which policy makers use to locate more accessible summaries of relevant research, to keep up-to-date on debates and new developments, and to use as a vehicle for the release of topical information. I spoke about some of the differences I have noticed in Europe (where I am on sabbatical) versus the USA (where I live), and Canada (where I am from), with respect to the nature of the higher education media.

In North America, especially the United States, there is a rich diversity of higher education media sources, including:

If we treat Europe and the Bologna Process-fueled European Higher Education Area as a legible regional system, emergent as it is, and on par with the North America, we have:

  • Daily: none
  • Weekly: none
  • Biweekly: European University Association (EUA) newsletter
  • Monthly: Academic Cooperation Association (ACA) newsletter
  • Irregular: higher ed sections in local and national magazines and newspapers; blogs


The Times Higher Education’s coverage of European-scale development processes is frankly pathetic, though perhaps the reworked version (to be released on 10 January) will be better [July 2010 note: it is better]. I am sure there are other media sources as well – let me know what they are and I’ll update this section of today’s entry.


Does the relative limits of higher ed media diversity in Europe matter? I would argue, despite some critical comments from two former journalists (both English) in the audience last month, that the lacunae of media resources is worth taking note of and redressing. The discursive fields regarding European higher education are not as diverse, multi-directional, multi-layered, and especially multi-temporal, as is the case in North America. To be sure European debates are informed and vibrant but there is something to be said for having freely accessible (unlike the subscription only ACA newsletter) and non-stakeholder (e.g., the EUA newsletter) outlets that profile ongoing developments and provide a setting for analyses, opinion pieces, debates, job advertisements, and so on. The voices represented in European debates about higher education reform also lack the insights of informed journalists such as Scott Jaschik (in the US) who established Inside Higher Ed in 2005 with some other former employees of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Jaschik and his colleagues clearly realized the importance of generating knowledge and stirring up debate via insightful analyses that are freely accessible (including to policy makers and especially students) via the web. Free access via the web also facilitates access via search engines such as Google which are hindered by the defacto subscription filter created by outlets like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Times Higher Education. It is important to also note that Inside Higher Ed‘s capacity to be so active, yet free, is underlain by a very mobile labour market linked to thousands of universities and associated organizations that seek to openly advertise their faculty and staff vacancies.

Blogs have their place, of course, as does tracking official sources including the European Commission‘s informative ERA-Watch. And so does detailed historical research that comes out in book form. But as we enter 2008, a mere two years ahead of 2010 (the target date of the “completion” of the European Higher Education Area), it is surprising that there are no vibrant European higher education media outlets, especially outlets that reflect the temporal rhythms of a development process that is genuinely breathtaking in its speed and effect (and is indeed now generating deep ripple effects in other parts of the world). Report release notices, newsletters, and blogs (including the Beerkens’ Blog, GlobalHigherEd, and others) all play a role in creating the “carnival of ideas” that shed light on the globalization of higher education, including Europe’s evolving place in it. But the European carnival of ideas is a distinctly sleepy one at the present moment. Plus c’est la meme chose, plus ça change?

Kris Olds