We were globalists at a tender age!

As is evident in the end note to my most recent entry (‘Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?’), I acknowledged the insightful comments of one of my ‘retired’ colleagues, the venerable (in the best sense of the word) Yi-Fu Tuan. Yi-Fu (pictured below) is always ready to launch a witty or illuminating commentary, no matter what the topic. In this case he had some thoughts about the notion of a ‘world view’; a term coincidentally used for the new weblog The World View (on Inside Higher Ed), and remarkably similar in tone to WorldWise (on the Chronicle of Higher Education).

What follows is Yi-Fu’s initial response to my entry, some additional text (the Preface) from a book he is finishing that is tentatively called Making Sense of Life and World: A Cosmopolitan Humanist Geography, and then some of my own reflections.

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Dear Kris,

Thanks for the article on globalized education. Strange to think that I, an undernourished child in a one-room school [in China], had a global education. The years were 1938-1941. In this elementary school, we were taught to read and write, and we were taught to do so through stories. Some of them clearly instilled virtues typical of China, such as hard work and filial piety. But we also read stories drawn from Western sources–for example, the apple that fell on Newton, the kite that Benjamin Franklin flew, and the absent-mindedness of young James Watts, who boiled his mother’s watch instead of the egg. Newton’s apple allowed our teacher to introduce gravity and the solar system; Franklin’s kite opened up the topic of electricity. But of greater importance to us children was that the stories encouraged unconventional thinking and behavior: singed into our young brain was the idea that it might be better to daydream under an apple tree than grind out additions and subtractions in school; that doing science was worth risking electrocution in a storm. As for boiling mother’s watch in a fit of absent-mindedness, what’s wrong with that if the mind of young Watts was occupied with the steam engine?

The funny thing was that though I recognized the names — Newton, Franklin, Watts — to be foreign, I never thought the exploits of these luminaries to be irrelevant to my own ambition. I assumed, as did my school mates, that we were inheritors of world culture. We were globalists at a tender age!

Yi-Fu

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Text from the preface to Yi-Fu Tuan’s Making Sense of Life and World: A Cosmopolitan Humanist Geography (forthcoming)

Thinking about life and world is what one does in a reflective mood. “Here I am, already a third, a half, or three-quarters way through the passage of life, what have I learned? Above all, what have I learned that matters to me, not as a specialist or professional, but as the sort of person I am?” The mood soon passes. Society does not encourage it. Moreover, when I do make an effort to pin down my world-view, it turns out to be very elusive. What I come up with is likely to be a kaleidoscope of worn images and cliches.

Can I–can we–do better? I believe we can by giving a certain body to world-view. To do so, I propose that we introduce a new coinage “cosmopolitan humanist geography.” It, as I shall show, has the advantage of being more concrete and specific. Consider the three parts of that coinage. First, cosmopolitan or cosmos. Like the word “world” in world-view, it tells of the scope of the project. Second, humanist or humanism. It tells of the materials–the sources–it draws on, which are histories, philosophical apercus, personal experience, rather than technical knowledge. Third, geography, a field of study that is heavily factual and furthest from the abstractions of philosophy and theoretical science. Moreover, unlike philosophy or even world-view, geography seldom demands an overarching theme–one master narrative. Rather it consists of congeries of related topics: in physical geography these include climate, land forms, and soils; and in human geography, population, settlements, and economic activities. And what might be the topics of cosmopolitan humanist geography? No standard list and certainly no standard approach can exist, for cosmopolitan humanist geography is a personal statement, an individual’s understanding and appreciation of life and world.

Nevertheless, certain building blocks seem to me essential. What, after all, can a cosmopolitan humanist geography be without some consideration of nature and human nature, society, culture, morality, religion, and human destiny? I prefer the words “building blocks” to topics because “building blocks,” unlike topics, hint at an intended edifice. So, then, there is to be an edifice? And won’t edifice be another word–another metaphor–for a coherent world-view or philosophy? It would, but the word “geography” checks a too ardent striving for coherence, which, in my view is unattainable. Still, although an achieved edifice may be out of reach, having one as a distant goal can provide one with the motivation and the energy to begin and, more importantly, to persevere in the construction of a cosmopolitan humanist geography.

Below [in the book] is a sample of my building blocks. They are made up of my own thoughts and experiences as well as those of other people that I have collected over the years. I like to think that visitors strolling through the construction yard will pause at a site here and there to savor its merit and perhaps even conclude that the incompletion, like an armless Venus de Milo, offers its own kind of reward. Above all, I hope that my effort will stimulate others to make similar efforts. Living in a house that we have built ourselves is highly satisfying. Living in a cosmopolitan humanist geography of our own making will surely afford the same sort of satisfaction. Rather than foggy images, specific images and articulated ideas answer the question “What is my world-view? How do I see life and world? What truly matters to me?”

Yi-Fu Tuan

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Now Yi-Fu’s comments above, and those in his book’s preface, flag some interesting issues for consideration when considering the globalization of higher education and research. These include what level(s) of abstraction to work with and prioritize.

Do we hove into view the (as he calls it) technical forms of knowledge, statecraft, and regulation that are undoubtedly driving many of the changes we see in this sphere/sector? Or do we, and this would be his preference, seek out and illuminate situated viewpoints such as those of local and foreign students, and foreign faculty, at Texas A&M’s Qatar campus, as they work through challenging topics in particular courses, at particular times.

This a similar point raised by the The Economist in a gentle critique of Ben Wildavsky’s informative new book The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2010):

This is a fascinating story. But Mr Wildavsky, a former education reporter who now works for both the Kauffman Foundation and the Brookings Institution, is too earnest a writer to make the best of it. He wastes too much ink summarising research papers and quoting “experts” uttering banalities. And he fails to point out the humour of sabbatical man jet-setting hither and thither to discuss such staples of modern academic life as poverty and inequality. Mr Wildavsky should spend less time with his fellow think-tankers (who are mesmerised by the idea of a global knowledge economy) and more talking to students, who experience the disadvantages as well as the advantages of the new cult of globalisation at first hand.

Yet we all, as did Wildavsky, need to make decisions about what to focus on, what to integrate, what to exclude, and so on, as we attempt to make sense of the globalization of higher education and research. I, for one, learn from the situated views of students and faculty as they grapple with the amalgam of forces reshaping higher education and research practices, and from the foundation/think tank/higher ed media views of Wildavsky, and from the experiential reflections of cosmopolitan humanists like Tuan, so long as their respective views are compared within the broader context of competing ‘modes of knowing’.

The bigger question, to me, though, is absence versus presence. Who is not producing important discourses about the globalization of higher education and research? Or if they are producing them, why are they not being circulated, consumed, and debated at broader scales and more diverse fora? What modes of knowing are absent or limited, why is the case, and what can/should be done to bring them out into view so they too can be reviewed by The Economist, by higher education media outlets, and by faculty members, staff and students?

Higher education and research are being globalized, to be sure. In this context we need to think about absence as well as presence, for there are many more ‘dear colleagues’ (an Yi-Fu-ism) on sidewalks, in think tanks, in branch campuses in the Gulf, in NGOs, in universities on Java in Indonesia, in administrative offices in Bascom Hall, etc., etc., whose voices are not being heard. Yet we can all benefit when we pause, engage with, and subsequently reflect about what more of our informed colleagues are learning and saying.

Kris Olds

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:

2004/2005

2007

  • 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.

2009/2010

  • 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.

Welcome to our new readers

It is perhaps appropriate, following our two most recent entries, to welcome our new Inside Higher Ed readers to GlobalHigherEd – both the Inside Higher Ed site (est. June 2010), and the WordPress.com base site (est. September 2007). We look forward to engaging with our new readers, and also using this opportunity to propel GlobalHigherEd forward for our long-standing supporters.

Apart from the weblog, it is worth noting GlobalHigherEd established a Twitter service in October 2009 (see ‘Tweeting about Phoenix’s Chicago, Chicago’s Phoenix, and other matters‘). We’ve been maintaining the service @ http://twitter.com/globalhighered with several postings throughout most days of a typical week. We’ve posted 1,155 ‘tweets’ since the service was established and have attracted approximately 850 ‘followers’ to date.

Given how well things are going on this front, we’d like to encourage our new Inside Higher Ed readers to subscribe to Twitter and start following the GlobalHigherEd Twitter service for it complements the weblog, and provides a steady stream of links to relevant articles, reports, news stories, graphics, micro-analyses, and so on that we just don’t have time to cover in longer entries.

The Twitter archive for our site, as well as several other sites on this topic, is laden with material about the globalization of higher education and research.  And, as we have noted before, Twitter is the least immersive of digital communications technologies so access to this resource is really not a challenge. You can make of Twitter what you will, and to assist you in the process we’re starting to add a series of thematic ‘lists’ that bundle different types of Twitter services. As the author William Gibson (in his Twitter service Great Dismal) puts it “Twitter is like little animated hieroglyphics in the margins of a working manuscript, offering obscurely breaking news.” We could not agree more with this analogy for it captures the momentary aspect of the service, but also the fact that it can, if desired, be used to build up elements of a base for a more lengthy and substantial contribution.

The Twitter phenomenon, not to mention the weblog phenomenon, are now associated with a variety of higher education media outlets. This development both reflects the changing nature of the media, but also the enhanced pace of contextual change many of us are coping with, and contributing to. Our next entry will deal with these phenomena, though by highlighting their role in the rapid development of more ‘global’ coverage in the mainstream higher ed media outlets.  This said, it is clear that the traditional outlets (e.g., Chronicle of Higher Education; Times Higher Education), and as well as relatively newer digital-only outlets (e.g., Inside Higher Ed; University World News), are all adopting very different approaches when seeking to achieve this global coverage objective.

In any case, more on this topic shortly. But for now, welcome to our new Inside Higher Ed readers!

Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

The temporal rhythm of academic life in a globalizing era

The globalization of higher education and research is associated with a wide variety of shifts and changes, many of which (e.g., branch campuses) are debated about in relatively intense fashion. Other aspects of this transition, though, receive little attention, including the temporal rhythm of academic life; a rhythm being simultaneously maintained, extended, reduced, and bracketed.

In many ways not much has changed for we continue to follow a seasonal rhythm: the build up to term, the fall and spring cycles (punctuated by brief breaks of variable lengths), and then a longer summer ‘break’. When I was an undergraduate my summers were associated with work at fish canneries, mineral prospecting, and drill camps (throughout British Columbia and the Yukon) – the legacy of living amidst a resource-based staples economy.

Summers during graduate student life in Canada and the UK were focused on research, with some holiday time. And summers now, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US (pictured to the right, at dusk), are associated with a mix of research and writing time, university service, and holiday time with my family. But the real temporal anchor is the twin semester (or quarters for some) cycle split by a summer break.

Scaling up, the rhythm of institutional life follows aspects of this seasonal cycle, albeit with noteworthy national and institutional variations. For example, research administrators kick into higher gear in the US and UK (where I am a visiting professor) during the summer and winter breaks before important national funding council deadlines, yet even research active university libraries shut down for much of the summer in France for the annual holiday cycle. Human resources managers everywhere get busy when new faculty and staff arrive in the July/August and December/January windows of time. We all welcome and say goodbye to many of our students at key windows of time throughout the year, whilst the term/semester/quarter cycle shapes, in bracing ways, the rhythms of contract (sessional) lecturers.

In an overall sense, then, it is this year-to-year seasonal rhythm, with fuzzy edges, that continues to propel most of us forward.

The globalization of higher education and research, though, is also extending, reducing, and bracketing our senses of time, as well as the structural rhythmic context in which we (as faculty members, students, and staff) are embedded.

For example, research on key ‘global challenges’ – something a variety of contributors to GlobalHigherEd have been reflecting about, and something international consortia (e.g., the Worldwide Universities Network) are seeking to facilitate – is inevitably long-term in nature. This is in part because of the nature of the issues being addressed, but also because of the practicalities and complications associated with developing international collaborative research teams. This said, government funding councils are resolutely national in orientation — they have a very hard time matching up budgetary and review cycles across borders and tying them up to the agendas of large international collaborative teams (CERN and a few other exemplars aside). So while research agendas and relationships need to be long-term in nature, we have really yet to develop the infrastructure to support a longer-term temporal rhythm when it comes to international collaborative research on ‘global challenges’.

Long-term thinking is also evident in the strategic thinking being undertaken by the European Commission regarding the role of universities in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), as well as the European Research Area (ERA), in the context of the Lisbon agenda. Related forms of long-term thinking are evident in a whole host of agencies in the US regarding ‘non-traditional’ security matters regarding issues like dependency upon foreign graduates (e.g., ‘the coming storm’), comparative ‘research footprints’, and the like.

Moving the other way, the reduction and/or bracketing of temporal rhythms is most obvious in the higher education media, as well as the for-profit world of higher education, or in the non-profit world once endowments are created, and bonds are sold.

On the media front, for example, higher education outlets like US-based Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the UK-based Times Higher Education, are all active on a daily basis now with website updates, Twitter feeds, and once- to twice-daily email updates. The unhurried rhythms of our pre-digital era are long gone, and the pick-up in pace might even intensify.

On the for-profit and ratings front, stock value and revenue is tracked with increased precision, quarterly and annual reports are issued, and university data from networks of acquired universities are bundled together, while fund managers track every move of for-profit education firms. Interesting side effects can emerge, including replicant or Agent Smith-like dynamics where multiple offerings of honorary degrees to Nelson Mandela emerge within one network of universities controlled by the for-profit Laureate International Universities.

Ratings agencies such as Moody’s are also developing increased capacity to assess the financial health of higher education institutions, with a recent drive, for example, to “acquire liquidity data to provide a more direct and accurate gauge of the near-term liquidity standing” of each rated institution (on this issue see ‘Moody’s Probes Colleges on Cash’, Inside Higher Ed, 16 June 2010).

Or take the case of national governments, which are beginning to develop the capacity to track, analyse and communicate about international student flow vis a vis export earnings (see recent data below from Australian Education International’s Research Snapshot, May 2010).

This bracketing of time, which takes place in the Australian case on a combined monthly/annual cycle so as to enhance strategic planning and risk assessment at institutional, state, national, and international scales, has become both more thorough and more regular.

These are but a few examples of the new rhythms of our globalizing era. Assuming you agree with me that the temporal rhythm of academic life is being simultaneously maintained, extended, reduced, and bracketed, who has the capability to adjust rhythms, for what purposes, and with what effects?

I’ll explore aspects of this reworking of temporal rhythms in a subsequent entry on the global rankings of universities; a benchmarking ‘technology’ (broadly defined) that bundles together universities around the globe into annual cycles of data requests, data provision, and highly mediatized launches.

Kris Olds