Brazil’s new Latin American and global integration universities launched

As 2009 drew to a close, Brazil’s Senate granted official authorization for the establishment of a new, very different kind of university in Brazil – the Federal University for Latin America Integration, otherwise known as UNILA.

Unanimously passed on December 16th 2009, the Bill now enables UNILA to formally announce itself as a university, instead of a fledging project under the banner of the Institute for Advanced Studies, with oversight by the University of Parana, in the Brazilian state of Parana.

UNILA is one of three regional integration universities launched by Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2006 to advance Brazil’s interests within the region and globally. The other two university projects are UNILAB – the Afro-Brazilian University of Integration, and UNIAM – the University of Amazonian Integration.

These Brazilian initiatives were the latest addition to a rapidly changing higher education landscape around the globe, and one that is set to continue in 2010 (as implied in a recent NY Times report about the implications of the collapse of Dubai’s overheated economy for branch campuses such as Michigan State University and Rochester Institute of Technology).

Dubai’s spectacular meltdown in December was matched by a stunning $61m launch party for Saudi Arabia’s ‘House of Wisdom’ – the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, or KAUST which Kimberly Coulter covered for GlobalHigherEd.

As Kris Olds wrote in his introduction to Coulter’s entry:

KAUST is a unique experiment in how to organize an institution to facilitate innovation in scientific knowledge production, a secure and efficient compound (hence Saudi Aramco’s involvement), a defacto sovereign wealth fund, a demonstration effect for new approaches to higher education in Saudi Arabia, and many other things (depending on standpoint).

So what do these initiatives have in common? Money aside (KAUST has an endowment of around US$11bn), but like KAUST, Brazil’s three new universities reflect a shared ambition: to use international higher education networks to advance cultural, political and economic projects.

However while KAUST is aimed at developing a world class national university in Saudi Arabia via the recruitment of global talent (academics and students), state of the art buildings and cutting edge development projects, UNILA, UNILAB and UNIAM are aimed at creating a ‘supranational’, ‘global’ and ‘regional’  university respectively, drawing upon staff and students from within the wider region, or from across south-south networks (UNILAB) – though each,  as I will show below, have distinctive visions and territorial reaches with UNILAB the most global.

In August of 2009, I had the privilege of attending the official launch of UNILA.  Close to the fabulous Iguacu Falls,  in Foz, Parana, UNILA is being developed on a 43 hectare site granted by Itaipu Binacional, the bi-national energy company running the huge hydro-electric dam providing energy to Paraguay and the southern cone of Brazil.

The objectives of UNILA are to pursue inter-regional trans-disciplinary research and teaching in areas of joint interest of the MERCOSUL member countries (Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay) focusing, for example, upon use of natural resources, trans-border biodiversity, social sciences and linguistic research, international relations as well as relevant disciplines for strategic development.

Unlike KAUST, however, whose model is US-oriented (in becoming the MIT of the East, the ‘Stanford by the Seashore’), UNILA’s mission and approach to knowledge is shaped by a distinctive Latin American commitment. Each course has a Patron and a Founder.

The first Patrons have been chosen for being Latin American names who have left relevant academic-scientific contributions associated to a field of knowledge , while course founders have been appointed for the high academic prestige in their respective fields of knowledge as well as renowned international competence in their specialities.

10 Professorial Chairs have been appointed to UNILA. Each Chair has a mandate to develop courses in ways that are inspired by, and advance, the intellectual legacy of the Patron. For instance, in the area of science, technology and innovation,  founding Chair, Hebe Vessuri, will draw inspiration from the patron Amilcar Herrerra (1920-1995) – an Argentinean geologist who valued inter-disciplinary knowledge and who have argued that the solution to problems lay not with science as progress, but in the interface with policy and politics.

These patrons are clearly not the organic intellectuals of the ruling classes. Many of these patrons, such as the Chilean writer Francisco Bilbao (1823-65), and Paraguay’s Augusto Roa Bastos (1917-2005), have spent years in exile.

The target student population for UNILA is 10,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and post-graduate programmes leading to MA and PhD degrees. Entrants will be required to sit a university entry examination that will be offered in two versions: one with a Portuguese language requirement for Brazilian citizens and a Spanish Language for the foreign candidates of eligible member countries. Lectures will be offered in both Portuguese and Spanish, as it is expected that half of the teaching staff will be from the regional member countries.

By way of contrast with UNILA, UNILAB is the most global in ambition. This unilateral Portuguese-speaking Afro-Brazilian University of Integration will have  campuses in various  Portuguese speaking countries (Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, Sâo Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor). Expected to open for enrolment in the beginning of   2010, UNILAB is hailed as a political-pedagogic innovation project (see here for information on UNILAB developments).

The principal aim of UNILAB is to encourage and strengthen co-operation, partnerships, and cultural, educational and scientific exchanges between Brazil an member states of   the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) listed above. UNILAB will also focus on collaboration with the African countries of the CPLP,  aiming to contribute to these nations’ socio-economic development, including reducing ‘brain drain’ problems currently experienced by African countries.

UNILAB is intended to become an integrated multi-campus institution with campuses in all the   African member countries of the CPLP. Each of these campuses will also be integrated within the regions where they are located. Its main campus will be established in the city of Redenção in Brazil’s North-Eastern state of Ceará, approximately 60 kilometres from the city of Fortaleza. Redenção has been selected to host the main campus because it was the first municipality that had abolished slavery in Brazil, and because the region currently does not yet host a university. The main campus is also expected to function as an instrument for the strategic social-economic development of the North-East of Brazil.

In a report carried by the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education on these initiatives, Brazil’s Minister of Education, Fernando Haddad, commented:

We will not offer traditional programmes, but instead we will construct a common identity between the countries, that makes it possible to contribute to the social-economic development of each of the countries involved.

The third, more regional, initiative, Universidade Federal da Integração Amazônica, or UNIAM, will be established as a public multi-campus university, with a main campus in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará.

The main aim of UNIAM will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries.

UNIAM’s  main campus will be established in the Brazilian city of Santarém, and three satellite campuses in the cities Itaituba, Monte Alegre and Oriximiná, all located in Brazil’s state of Pará. The aim of the new institution will be to encourage social-economic integration of the Amazon region, which includes not only parts of Brazil, but also areas of eight surrounding countries.

While it is unclear at the moment when the new university will open for enrolment, by 2013 UNIAM is expected to offer 41 programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral levels.  The Brazilian government will reportedly cover the US$107 million budget that will be needed to pay for the establishment and personnel costs of the new university until 2012.

Described by the Brazilian Ministry of Education as particular ‘political-pedagogic innovation projects’, these three new universities are intended to enhance national, regional and global integration, and demonstrate to the world that it may be possible to unite different countries through education.

These are fascinating initiatives likely to liven up the global higher education landscape in 2010. They reflect not only emerging regionalisms, but potential shifts in the sites and stakes of global and regional knowledge production and power.

Susan Robertson

Saudi Arabia unveils co-ed ‘House of Wisdom’/Postcards from Saudi Arabia: The KAUST inauguration

Editor’s note: this entry (which consists of two parts, one brief survey of themes, and one informal series of ‘postcards’) was prepared by Dr. Kimberly Coulter on the basis of her visit to Jeddah and Thuwal, Saudi Arabia.  Dr. Coulter attended the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and had a fascinating time engaging with KAUST officials (including President Choon Fong Shih), KAUST’s new students, and representatives of the international media.

KAUST is an example of an ambitious attempt to construct a new site of knowledge production, albeit one that is significantly deterritorialized given the globalized nature of the forms and quality of the epistemic communities being targeted, and the cultural-politics of Saudi Arabia. KAUST is thus a unique experiment in how to organize an institution to facilitate innovation in scientific knowledge production, a secure and efficient compound (hence Saudi Aramco‘s involvement), a defacto sovereign wealth fund, a demonstration effect for new approaches to higher education in Saudi Arabia, and many other things (depending on standpoint).  Regardless of standpoint, though, KAUST is an experiment worth watching, discussing, debating about, and learning from.

Dr. Coulter’s previous entry in GlobalHigherEd was ‘The NSF’s ‘cool’ project: a charrette assesses interdisciplinary graduate education, with surprising results‘. Many thanks to Kimberly for her effort in putting these two contributions together amidst the move from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. We would also like to thank KAUST and Rachelle Lacroix of Fleishman-Hillard for the invitation and assistance in enabling us to cover aspects of this key event.

9 October update: this article (‘In Saudi Arabia, a Campus Built as a ‘Beacon of Tolerance’ High-Tech University Draws the Ire of Hard-Line Clerics for Freedoms It Provides to Women‘) in the Washington Post does a decent job of summarizing the ongoing debate stirred up by the comments of Saad bin Nasser al-Shithri, a member of the Supreme Committee of Islamic Scholars, regarding KAUST.

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KAUSTtilesPart I: Saudi Arabia unveils co-ed ‘House of Wisdom’

In an atmosphere of spectacular fanfare and intense security, Saudi Arabia inaugurated its new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) on 23 September. The US$12.5 billion dollar university is a gated compound on the Red Sea coast in the province of Mecca, approximately 50 miles north of Jeddah.

As Saudi Arabia’s first and only co-educational university, KAUST relaxes the social taboo of gender mixing as it aims to catapult the Kingdom onto the international playing field of knowledge economies. For foreign universities, it represents an opportunity to be paid royally to share advice and curricula; for the adventurous early-career researcher, KAUST offers funding and opportunities unavailable anywhere else.

To execute his vision for a world-class research university, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud turned to Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil corporation. Aramco is experienced with research management, technology transfer, and attracting talented foreigners to extraterritorial compounds within the Kingdom. An all-star lineup of trustees, including former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, and international higher education advisors, including members of the Washington Advisory Group, provided advice on how to leverage the Kingdom’s resources to engage prestigious institutions and scientific minds abroad.

King Abdullah compares KAUST to the House of Wisdom, the great Baghdad research and education center of the Islamic Golden Age, situating the new university in the context of Islamic scientific achievement and regional welfare. Arab News stressed the House of Wisdom’s intercultural foundation:

Founded by the caliphs Harun Al-Rashid and his son Al-Ma’mun, Bait Al-Hikma or the House of Wisdom served as a library, research center and translation bureau in Baghdad from the 9th to 13th centuries. Acclaimed as an intellectual hub that highlighted the “Golden Age” of Islam by fostering nontraditional dialogue and alliances between those of different backgrounds, it attracted the likes of Jabir ibn Hayyan, Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khawarizmi and Badi Al-Zaman Ismail ibn Al-Razzaz Al-Jazari.

King Abdullah’s message: “as a new ‘House of Wisdom,’ the University shall be a beacon for peace, hope, and reconciliation and shall serve the people of the Kingdom and benefit all the peoples of the world in keeping with the teachings of the Holy Quran, which explains that God created mankind in order for us to come to know each other.”

KAUSTpressWhile the House of Wisdom scholars concerned themselves with topics from physics to philosophy, KAUST is not a comprehensive university. Rather, it concentrates on nine science and engineering areas expected to economically diversify Saudi Arabia (and Saudi Aramco) beyond oil. Its research may have practical applications such as water desalination, pollution remediation; the genetic engineering of more draught-tolerant plants, and the development of stable and cost-effective solar cells. At the inauguration day press conference, Ali Ibrahim Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees said, “Saudi Arabia aspires to export as much solar energy in the future as it exports oil now.”

Research breakthroughs and the transfer of these new technologies to regional companies are expected to lead to economic growth and high-paying jobs. President Choon Fong Shih likes to call KAUST “Stanford by the Sea.” “Intellectual property,” he told GlobalHigherEd, is “is not an issue”—all discoveries by KAUST researchers become the property of KAUST. For international partnerships, agreements have been made to share intellectual property rights.

International partnerships

Thanks to a phenomenal endowment (waqf) exceeding US$10 billion, KAUST has succeeded in enlisting prestigious partners. Regardless of whether or not these initial collaboration agreements grow into durable long-term partnerships, KAUST’s campaign to attract international partners is, as Robert A. Jones observes, “remarkable for its subtle understanding of how high-level science research proceeds.”

All KAUST research is to be incubated in the context of international partnerships. KAUST’s Academic Excellence Alliance program provides roughly $25 million to foreign universities (Berkeley, Cambridge, Stanford, University of Texas at Austin, and Imperial College London) to advise KAUST on hiring and curricula. In addition to supporting researchers based on its campus, KAUST also provides generous grants to researchers abroad, with expectations of collaboration and participation in researcher and student exchanges with KAUST. Its Global Research Partnership grants of up to $25 million over five years will support to centers at Cornell, Oxford, Stanford, and Texas A&M, and three other “centers-in-development.” KAUST also funds individual investigators’ research projects with grants of $10 million each. These professors will be expected to visit KAUST each year for three weeks to three months.

In addition to linking its external grants to researcher exchange, KAUST also uses scholarships to develop human capital for the region. This semester, 374 men and women begin their graduate work; another 443 will join in 2010. Only 15% are Saudi, but many others have ties to the Middle East. While the Kingdom has long sent talented Saudi students abroad to study, it can now attract foreign students as well, a long-term investment expected to yield a global network of industry and government leaders with ties to Saudi Arabia. It is a strategy similar to the U.S. Fulbright Program and more extensively employed by organizations such as the German Academic Exchange Service.

KAUSTlibraryRecruiting talented students and faculty

KAUST counts on exciting research opportunities and first-rate infrastructure to lure researchers. President Shih told GlobalHigherEd that KAUST is “not looking for a typical academic, but for someone who wants to do something big.” He wants intellectually and culturally adventurous “faculty who want to make a contribution to this part of the world, who want to learn something about this culture.” KAUST has successfully recruited many Middle Easterners based outside the region. How long KAUST will be able to retain faculty within its compound is another question.

KAUST has much to offer the research-focused. It boasts state-of-the-art facilities; “Shaheen,” the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer; and CORNEA, a 3-D “cave” that allows footie- and 3D-goggle-clad visualization researchers to walk inside models of spatial and acoustical environments, such as those underground. Although most of its holdings have yet to arrive, KAUST’s library will soon provide access to 2,000 journals and 10 online databases, interlibrary loan services, and a wide selection of general interest books. KAUST offers faculty competitive salaries (estimated at 1.5 to 2 times US salaries, tax-free, plus many benefits), and—perhaps more importantly—generous multi-year research grants.

Students were recruited from their undergraduate institutions through the Institute of International Education (IIE), on the board of which KAUST advisor Karen Holbrook, also part of the Washington Advisory Group, serves. The KAUST Discovery Scholarship provides all students with paid housing, travel, and generous stipends. It was not only research and funding that attracted many to KAUST, but also the chance to study in an internationally rich context. Students reported activities including camel rides, regional excursions, and exercises to explore cultural differences in communication styles. Michelle Gatz, who graduated from UW-Madison’s mechanical engineering program in 2009, was recruited to do graduate work at KAUST. Gesturing with hands beautifully hennaed from a recent trip to Bahrain, Gatz exudes enthusiasm not only for the scientific opportunities she has at KAUST, but also the cultural ones. She is learning about Islam and Saudi Arabia, and meeting people from around the world. “Everyone here,” she said, “has been so nice.”

Together with KAUST staff, students and faculty form a small city with residents from 70 countries. A city, President Shih says, “with rich and diverse DNA.” Asked how KAUST’s diverse human resources will be engaged to promote understanding around issues of culture and gender, President Shih said he prefers to focus on KAUST’s exciting scientific challenges and how science brings people together: only “when there is nothing exciting, then we focus on differences.”

Culture and gender issues

Many observers are excited about the opening of Saudi Arabia’s first university that allows men and women to interact directly. All other Saudi universities are single-sex; when women are taught by male professors, contact is technologically mediated. A coeducational foundation was undeniably necessary for KAUST to engage prestigious foreign partners and compete for talent internationally, yet some Saudi-based critics object to KAUST’s relaxation of this social taboo. Other critics simply doubt that Saudi Arabia’s students and staff, trained in a secondary education system that emphasizes learning by rote, will be prepared for the demands of a modern, world-class research university. How will the Western academic model transfer into Saudi Arabia’s restrictive social context?

It was difficult to find KAUST officials and staff willing to address such questions. When asked if KAUST had provided training to address gender issues, a female professor replied, “there was a program—they called it a cultural program. It included this. Students had many questions about this.” KAUST divides the responsibility for student advising between a research advisor and an academic advisor who could address issues—including cultural ones—related to degree completion. If KAUST’s model of divided responsibility is not an effort to reduce research supervisor’ workload, but is rather an effort to broaden the network of senior advisors on whom early-career researchers rely, it could be a successful new model—perhaps one from which the West can learn.

Will KAUST be able to attract the most promising women scientists? At the press conference, Dr. Jasmeen Merzaban, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at KAUST said, “For me coming to Saudi Arabia has been an amazing experience.” She said she has encountered no barriers, in that research is “all based on science.” Her colleague Dr. Niveen M. Khashab, Assistant Professor of Chemical Science and Environmental Science and Engineering, cited the level of infrastructure and interest at the biggest attraction—KAUST has “everything that any assistant professor, regardless of gender, would look for.” She explained, “he—he or she—would look for interest in the research, funding, and just being in a successful environment.” Al-Naimi, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and Chairman of the KAUST Board of Trustees, implored the press to “focus on the great minds, rather than gender, please. Thank you.”

Clearly, KAUST’s architects have given careful attention to issues of culture and gender awareness within the university compound. Officials’ resistance to discussing these efforts publicly suggests the seriousness of the social pressure KAUST faces in Saudi Arabia, and attests to the extreme care being taken to safeguard this audacious scientific—and social—experiment.

Advancing Saudia Arabia, and the world

Already, KAUST is a remarkable achievement. It gives the striking impression that, in Saudi Arabia, anything is possible. One of the most important legacies of the House of Wisdom, as Jonathan Lyons explains in his new book, is “the notion that religion and science, faith and reason, could coexist.” KAUST aims to reflect this legacy for the advancement of Saudi Arabia and the world, making the region a hub for sustainable technologies and demonstrating the value of intercultural collaboration.

But it is also clear how strongly the KAUST vision is linked to King Abdullah. The King is 85 years old, and Saudi succession is uncertain. Ultimately KAUST’s success may depend on its ability to strike the right balance between protective control and open inquiry. Tangible technological and economic outcomes will be important in stirring the pride of the Saudi population as they turn to developing their rich human resources.

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Part II: Postcards from Saudi Arabia: The KAUST inauguration

Public photography was legalized in Saudi Arabia in 2006 by a royal decree, hailed as a step towards promoting tourism.

In spite of this, few tourists visit the Kingdom. Getting a visa is difficult, and most visitors are religious pilgrims, migrant workers, and foreigners who have family or business there. Yet some 2500 heads of state, business leaders, university officials, researchers, and prospective KAUST job candidates—and nearly 100 members of the media—poured into Jeddah last week for the KAUST inauguration.

Many of us looked for postcards to send to our friends and families, but there were none to be found! So for those interested in more informal impressions of the experience, I post a few here.

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Shopping malls are an important hub for public recreation in Saudi Arabia. Though in many “public” places, like at this Starbucks, there are semi-private areas for women and families. Some journalists and I visited this Jeddah mall to find gifts for our families. One colleague bought his daughter a Barbie-like doll. There were two categories to choose from: “indoor fashion” and “outdoor fashion” dolls.

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KAUST arranged a tour to the Altayebat International City for Sciences and Knowledge, where the knowledgeable staff explained their impressive collections of regional art and artifacts. This architectural engineer designed some amazing exhibitions of Saudi Arabia’s natural regions and heritage. While enjoying the air conditioning, I was completely surrounded the sand, water, wildlife, culture, and sky of the Red Sea! KAUST CORNEA 3-D visualization team–you guys should check this out!

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As the KAUST campus cannot yet support big groups of visitors, we stayed in Jeddah hotels and made the hour-long escorted bus trip each day. As we approached the campus, we passed giant billboards heralding KAUST, flags from around the world, multiple security checkpoints, and workers landscaping the roadside.

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The campus was stunning! The journalists would have liked to have toured more of it, but our access was restricted to a few buildings.

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The library has the most inspiring view of the Red Sea. Most of its holdings have not yet arrived, but it already had an impressive collection of general books. Works by Edward Said and Noam Chomsky were subtly displayed. The media spent many hours here drinking coffee while security was ensured for King Abdullah’s visit.

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Catching a ride back to Jeddah with a staff member, I managed to catch a glimpse of a finished condo, thoughtfully furnished with everything from Internet access to frying pans—the cupboards were even stocked with food. We stopped to fill the tank–gas at KAUST would have cost 0.60 Saudi Arabian riyal/liter, except that it, too, was free.  (I calculated $0.61/gallon and realized—the riyal is pegged to the dollar at the liter/gallon ratio!)

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Guests filled a gigantic air-conditioned tent specially erected for the KAUST inauguration. Just as striking as the research exhibitions was the mix of guests: Saudi men in tailored white thobes, Western men in smart dark suits, Saudi women in abayas and hijab, Western women in colorful skirt suits or long evening gowns peeking out from underneath their abayas. The PR firm had suggested I wear a suit, but I felt more comfortable in my elegant borrowed abaya.

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Eight curvy plasma screens spanned the massive auditorium. The lights dimmed, and short film segments introduced KAUST’s mission, philosophy, and people. Each film chapter was introduced with a proverb. “Hearts filled with faith,” one read, “are the foundation of each vision and the source for all truth.” KAUST students, clustered in the back of the auditorium, whooped and applauded when their friends appeared on screen.

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Following speeches by KAUST officials and the Saudi Arabian national anthem, King Abdullah took the podium. In his speech, the King compared KAUST to the “House of Wisdom” and extolled the value of international collaboration in education and research.

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After King Abdullah’s address, the plasma screens parted and receded to reveal the Red Sea. Massive fireworks erupted over KAUST’s signature “Breakwater Beacon,” and were joined by dancing fountains (easily surpassing the Bellagio in Las Vegas). Beaming Saudis and world-weary foreign correspondents smiled at each other, pleased to be sharing this experience.

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Following the banquet, we waited for hours for our assigned buses back to Jeddah. University leaders and journalists lingered over Arabic sweets and cans of 7-up with Saudi Aramco and KAUST employees. I finally made it back to the hotel at 4 a.m., nearly 22 hours after the media security check began. The scrappier correspondents, on breaks from demanding Middle Eastern posts, had elbowed and cajoled their way onto earlier buses.

Kimberly Coulter

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Editor’s note: see below for a YouTube clip of the noted fireworks segment:


Deliberating about bridging the gap between industry and universities in a global knowledge economy

Deliberations about the meanings and uses of higher education continue apace.  The global economic crisis has exasperated the significance of this centuries old debate, in part because of serious fiscal pressures, but also because of the perception that higher education is now becoming the ‘railroad of the 21st century’.

Why is the ‘railroad of the 21st century’ perception emerging, rightly or wrongly? In part because a structural transformation to a ‘knowledge-based economy’ is underway; one dependent upon related shifts, including the emergence of a ‘knowledge society’. And which institutions are critically important to producing a knowledge society? Well, many, but a key one is, undoubtedly, the university.

Now the ‘uses of higher education’ debate is taking place on many levels, only one of which (university-industry linkages) we’ll flag today.  Other debates centre on views that higher education should be considered as an ‘export-earning industry’ (and issue we have discussed in GlobalHigherEd), or the logic of opening new types of higher education institutions (e.g., KAUST and Amsterdam University College, both of which celebrated their openings last week) with unique missions. [Note: we’ll be posting coverage of both openings over the next several days]

Bridging the perceived gap between universities and industry in the UK/Europe

Given the structural pressure to create a knowledge society/economy, and the patently obvious decline of government income per student in most countries, we are witnessing drives in many countries to create and/or deepen university-industry linkages. The logic is to generate (a) more innovation within the economic development process, (b) new streams of revenue for fiscally challenged universities via the commercialization of select forms of knowledge production, and (c) more entrepreneurial students who will become the tangible drivers of the knowledge economy.  I’m being simplistic here, of course, but this is the broad tenor of the argument.

This drive is focused on, albeit unevenly across space and time, bridging the perceived gap between universities (as represented by faculty, researchers, and students) and industry. Bridging activities include patenting, licensing, spinning-off firms, consultancy, contract research, on-demand training, new forms of formal and informal advisory relationships, and so on.

Now the drive to enhance transformation of the mission of universities comes from many quarters. In some countries and city-regions it comes from within the universities themselves, while in other contexts industry is the key driver. In yet other contexts the push comes from national governments, as well as regional (e.g., the European Commission) or international organizations (e.g. the World Bank).  In all cases an ‘innovation’ agenda underlies the push.

An example of a push from ‘industry’ was clearly evident last week in the UK. The industry push came via the UK-based Confederation of British Industry (CBI), under the leadership of Richard Lambert. Lambert is the CBI’s director-general, author of the Lambert Review of Business-University Collaboration (2003), and co-author (with Nick Butler) of The Future of European Universities: Renaissance or Decay? (2006). Lambert has also acted as the University of Warwick’s Chancellor since 2008.

CBIcoverThe CBI’s Higher Education unit stirred up the debate via the release of a major report titled Stronger Together – Businesses and Universities in Turbulent Times. Let me quote, extensively, from the press release, including a lead-off quote from Sam Laidlaw, Chairman of the CBI Higher Education taskforce and CEO of Centrica:

“Effective collaboration between the higher education sector, business and government will be critical to the UK’s economic recovery and sustainable international competitiveness. Business must also make a sustained effort in supporting higher education. To this end, I am pleased that as a Task Force we have made a strong commitment to provide the support needed to help students build the employability and technical skills that are so important.”

The report proposes that more businesses should work with universities to:

  • Sponsor students studying subjects relevant to business, such as science and technology.
  • Provide financial support to new graduates, through bonuses when they sign on with the firm.
  • Offer more opportunities for internships, placements, work experience or projects.
  • View working with universities as part of core innovation activity.

Richard Lambert, CBI director-general, said:

“Maintaining a world-class higher education system is vital to the UK’s future competitiveness, and we should sustain current levels of investment in teaching and research, which are low by international standards. Strong leadership is also needed to minimise the risk of long-term decline.

“Business should engage more with universities, both financially and intellectually. More firms should help design and pay for courses for the benefit of the current and future workforce, and more firms should offer students practical work experience.

“In return for this extra investment of time and money, business will want to see more emphasis given to certain subjects, such as science, technology, engineering and maths. Languages are also seen to be important, and the taskforce argues that more should be done to prepare students for the world of work, and teach them the generic skills that will help smooth their pathway into employment.”

Needless to say, this report has been both praised and criticized over the last week. Some are concerned that the UK government is turning higher education into a training unit for private firms, while others are praising the call for greater focus (the ‘do less better’ mantra) and the report’s recognition that there is a disconnect between society’s ambitions for its universities and the funding base that currently exists.

The report’s findings are likely to feed into deliberations about the new proposals (launched last week as well) regarding the UK’s proposed Research Excellence Framework (REF), which will replace the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

Two contrarian views in the US

The timing of this push by industry, one largely supported by the UK’s Labour Government, coincided with two broadly critical arguments regarding such a development agenda.

Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, published a widely read 9 September article in the New York Times about the problems with such a development agenda. In her article (‘The University’s Crisis of Purpose’), Gilpin Faust argues that:

Higher education is not about results in the next quarter but about discoveries that may take — and last — decades or even centuries. Neither the abiding questions of humanistic inquiry nor the winding path of scientific research that leads ultimately to innovation and discovery can be neatly fitted within a predictable budget and timetable….Universities are meant to be producers not just of knowledge but also of (often inconvenient) doubt. They are creative and unruly places, homes to a polyphony of voices. But at this moment in our history, universities might well ask if they have in fact done enough to raise the deep and unsettling questions necessary to any society.

As the world indulged in a bubble of false prosperity and excessive materialism, should universities — in their research, teaching and writing — have made greater efforts to expose the patterns of risk and denial? Should universities have presented a firmer counterweight to economic irresponsibility? Have universities become too captive to the immediate and worldly purposes they serve? Has the market model become the fundamental and defining identity of higher education?

Since the 1970s there has been a steep decline in the percentage of students majoring in the liberal arts and sciences, and an accompanying increase in preprofessional undergraduate degrees. Business is now by far the most popular undergraduate major, with twice as many bachelor’s degrees awarded in this area than in any other field of study. In the era of economic constraint before us, the pressure toward vocational pursuits is likely only to intensify.

As a nation, we need to ask more than this from our universities. Higher learning can offer individuals and societies a depth and breadth of vision absent from the inevitably myopic present. Human beings need meaning, understanding and perspective as well as jobs. The question should not be whether we can afford to believe in such purposes in these times, but whether we can afford not to.

Drew Gilpin Faust’s argument complements a full-length piece (‘Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school’) by Mark Slouka in the September 2009 issue of Harper’s Magazine. Slouka’s article focuses on education (versus just higher education) but it reflects the tenor of debates in higher ed in the US. His article, which is worth contrasting with the CBI report noted above, reflects a concern that the linkage agenda needs to be halted for it has already gone far too far, especially with respect to the valorization of select disciplines, specific forms of knowledge, and particular ways of knowing. Thus, the sense of urgency that the CBI constructs (in the UK) is turned upside down, and effectively viewed as an attempt to finish off what has been a long running and lost (or won, from an industry perspective) battle. Slouka’s sense is that:

[I]t’s about the increasing dominance—scratch that, the unqualified triumph—of a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value. It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production.

Slouka’s argument is primarily situated in the American context, but resonates with debates going on in many other countries, both on university-industry linkages, but also on the challenges the Humanities are currently facing.

What are universities for?The contributions of both Slouka and Gilpin Faust remind me of elements of the argument of Geoffrey Boulton and Colin Lucas in What are universities for? (League of European Research Universities, September 2008):

It is our contention that slipshod thinking about the roles that universities can play in society is leading to demands that they cannot satisfy, whilst obscuring their most important contributions to society, and, in the process, undermining their potential. It is wrong, in our view, to expect … that universities will be dynamos of growth and huge generators of wealth, leading to economic prosperity and enhanced quality of life on anything like the scale that is implicit in such language. In a European context, where governments are principal funders of universities, the assumption is that they are a lever which, when pulled, will gush forth the tangible effects of economic prosperity into which public money has been transformed. In reality, universities can only be one part of the process of producing a successful knowledge economy. The oft-quoted example of Silicon Valley and Stanford University is far more subtle and complex than a simple reading allows. It is a compound of capitalist enterprise, technical and legal services, skilled labour, a broad range of social provision in the public domain, local and state government policy, the appetites of an historically entrepreneurial culture, and maybe even climate.

Mission creep is to be expected for universities are embedded in a services-dominated knowledge economy (in the Global North, at least): it would be foolish not to expect universities to be asked to play a stronger role in the development and innovation process. But such mission creep needs to be interrogated, debated about, contextualized (as Boulton and Lucas hint at), and viewed in other than simple B&W ways. Broader factors, too, like the largesse Harvard University sits on needs to be flagged, for this multi-billion dollar endowment arguably provides Gilpin Faust with at least some of her desired latitude.

I’ll close off by noting that the UK’s CBI is being remarkably open about their objectives.  This is to be welcomed and it contrasts sharply with what happens in many other countries. The CBI (via the CBI Higher Education taskforce) seems ready for a debate, and they are systematic and strategic about their agenda. Yet the critics of the CBI agenda seem to primarily gripe from the edges, at least as perceived from my distanced perspective. We await a more formal and systematic critique to emerge in the UK; one that is equally formed, as coherently put together, and as openly circulated, as is the CBI viewpoint. The unruly process of innovation depends upon it.

Kris Olds

Finland’s Aalto University (est. 2010): institutionalizing interdisciplinary thinking for innovation in the knowledge economy

Yesterday’s Financial Times included an informative story (‘Merger with innovation at its heart‘) on the development process of Aalto University in Finland.  Aalto University is being created through the merger of three existing institutions – the Helsinki School of Economics, the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the Helsinki University of Technology – and will formally open in January 2010.

As the FT puts it:

Across the world, business people, creative types and technology geeks struggle to understand each other. Their education and training, even much of their work, is carried out in separ­ate silos, with exciting collaborations the exception rather than the rule.

Now Helsinki’s business school, art college and technology school have come up with a radical plan: a three-way merger to create what they claim will be a unique, integrated seedbed for innovation. The new institution, Aalto University, will offer joint courses later this year and will be open fully at the beginning of 2010 as the flagship project in a national shake-up of higher education.

The government, academics and Finland’s business community, which is strongly represented on Aalto’s board, are hoping to capitalise on the country’s record in industrial and product design and to create an internationally competitive, business-focused institution that takes inter-disciplinary working to an extreme not seen anywhere else in the world.

tuulateeri1The website for Aalto University (named after Alvar Aalto) suggests that the new university will have (based on aggregate statistics from 2007) 19,200 students (1,140 of them foreign) and 4,150 staff (53% in teaching and research), with an annual budget of EUR 296 million (61% from the Ministry of Education, 39% from external financiers). The first president will be Professor Tuula Teeri (pictured here), currently Vice President, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden.

This approach to higher education formalizes and institutionalizes (at a scaled up level) what some programs or schools are currently attempting to do in many countries (see, for example, Susan Robertson’s entry ‘A creative combination: adding MBAs and art schools together to increase innovation‘). Yet there are also historical precedents: one of my European Commission colleagues noted, for example, the similarity of Aalto University’s development agenda to the origin ideas behind the MIT Media Lab.  And I can’t help but think that the merge will also reposition these universities (or, university) in the European and global rankings exercises…while not the reason to ever do anything as bold as a merger, the rankings factor is unlikely to be irrelevant.

While the development process for Aalto University will probably not be as seamless as the FT article implies, despite being guided by a well thought through “Transformation Organisation“:

aaltotransformationorg

Aalto University is shaping up to be a fascinating experiment; one well worth examining, and also comparing to smaller scale initiatives in other contexts, or different foci initiatives such as the new (built from scratch) King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, see below for a 22 page slide show produced by Aalto University, which is available here in PDF format.

Kris Olds

Recruiting faculty for a “new house of wisdom” in Saudi Arabia

kaustvideo

Source: King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Link here to examine a 7m19s long recruitment video titled ‘About KAUST‘. The publicity and recruitment function (one of many) of the International Advisory Council, which includes senior officials from European and US universities, becomes clear in this video.

A unique semi-territorialized live-work-play message is also developed in the video that encourages some grounding (live-work) in the new state-of-the-art campus, while simultaneously ensuring that regional and global mobility (work-play) will be a likely condition of life for KAUST faculty members. It will be interesting to see how the university’s leaders deal with the deterritorializing impulse that will inevitably emerge, and ensure that KAUST speaks to and serves people living in this region of Saudi Arabia, the entire country, and the Middle East. This is a clear and worthwhile objective; one underlying the creation of KAUST.  Yet, as the recruitment video conveys, the target audience is a mobile “world class” faculty base, people primarily holding US and European PhDs, and engaged in elite scholarly knowledge networks that have highly variable geographies associated with them.

Kris Olds

Searching for KAUST: of salaries and future insights

Auriele Thiele loaded up an entry three days ago in her insightful blog (Thoughts on business, engineering and higher education) that reminded me how amazed I am when I see what search terms bring people to GlobalHigherEd.  As Auriele notes, people use a wide array of approaches to searching, primarily via Google, and not all of them make sense. This said something is happening, hence the traffic to our site. Google’s algorithms send people to us, though I have no idea how this formally works.

Now the search terms that people use are interesting in that they arguably identify key concerns, and emerging debates, in the world of global higher ed. “Global university rankings” is clearly an issue of concern, and while we do not have many entries on this theme, the hunger for material on this phenomenon is striking.

Another topic we get a lot of traffic on is KAUST (also known as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), pictured to the right in June 2008 (courtesy of KAUST). We’ve developed a few entries on the new knowledge spaces emerging in the Middle East, including KAUST in Saudi Arabia, as have other higher ed media outlets like the Chronicle, Insider Higher Ed, and the Times Higher.

Let’s unpack the nature of the KAUST search terms bringing traffic to us, though, for this is what is most fascinating.

Over time the terms have shifted from “KAUST”, and “King Abdullah University of Science and Technology”, to a significant concern with KAUST + salaries, and now, most recently, KAUST + criticism. I might be over interpreting things, but KAUST’s development strategy seems to have been an enormous success on a number of levels, with the recent KAUST-IBM supercomputer announcement but the latest release stirring up attention in the global higher ed world. In other words KAUST has become a presence before it has become a real university (in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia).

The contrast with places like Quest University – Canada’s first secular private university (and pictured to the left) – is breathtaking, for Quest’s backers, while well connected, have had to incrementally push their new initiative forward, maneuver through several funding-related twists in the development path, and be ultra-efficient and effective to survive. There is no King Colombie-Britannique to secure this new university’s existence.

Now, is the volume of searches regarding salaries at KAUST a worrisome indicator regarding the base priorities of academics who seem to be in search of mammon, much like Daniel Plainview in There Will be Blood (2007)?

Or is this a sign of the challenging reality of constructing new knowledge spaces that generate an impact, and fast. The corollary here is if Canada, or British Columbia, were as serious as the Saudis and the Singaporeans (e.g., see Singapore Management University) about diversifying the higher education system, they would have seriously endowed Quest University from Day 1 to propel it into action even though it is ‘private’.

A third view is that this a sign of what is needed to draw globally mobile faculty and staff to places like Saudi Arabia where rigid social rules cannot help but guide academic life, limits on freedoms (including freedom of female faculty to drive, or fly out of the country to conferences without first receiving the approval of their husbands) will exist, and machine guns will never be far from sight on the protective borders of the KAUST campus. As with the National University of Singapore (where KAUST’s current president, Shih Choon Fong, used to be based), high salaries are a recognized mechanism to tempt ‘quality’ faculty to become more mobile, and transplant, if only temporarily.

But I do wonder what the fixation with salaries will lead to, on the ground, when all of the faculty and some of their families start arriving and living in the Seahaven of Saudi Arabia.  These people will be surfing on top of the oil-fueled development boom, yet never far from the surface, including in the compound being built, a different reality will emerge; a more complex reality of happiness and/or angst about international schooling, relative salary positioning, social cleavages (on the basis of race, ethnicity, and pedigree), leave of absence strategizing (for the tenured), contract renewal uncertainties (for the untenured), transnational family strategizing (inevitably many will leave spouses and children back ‘home’), dual career challenges, competitive pressures to perform, gripes about the time it takes to fly back to city X or city Y, what to do on the one day off per week, the bubble effect, the maid (domestic help) dynamic, teenagers (not) running amok, and so on.

KAUST will continue thrusting ahead given that it is a defacto sovereign wealth fund, prospective faculty will continue sniffing around GlobalHigherEd for salary details (sorry, this is the wrong place to check!), and a new manufactured world will unfold over the next decade. Yet I hope some of the faculty and their families get active weblogs going from the land of KAUST, for we need far more than official representations to really understand what is needed to construct these type of knowledge spaces. It would be a shame if KAUST micro-managed the production of reflective insights on the development process, for this is an experiment worth not only promoting (as they clearly must do), but also rigorously analyzing.

And at another level, is it not time for agencies like the ESF and the NSF to get more strategic, and bring together research teams, to assess the KAUST development process? The pace of change is too fast with respect to this type of initiative – more of a global assemblage than a national university – to merely stand by and wait for proposals from faculty.  The cranes are up, but not for much longer…

Kris Olds

The “new global wealth machine” and its universities

Further to our most recent entry on the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), the Financial Times notes, today, that KAUST’s endowment could swell to a level that would make it the world’s second largest endowment (after Harvard), and it has not even finished building its first building!

As the FT suggests, this is setting off a scramble in the fund management world:

The King Abdullah University of Science & Technology will not open until 2009 but it is already holding talks on its endowment with fund managers such as BlackRock and private equity firms including Bain Capital, people familiar with the matter say.

The university has received $10bn for its endowment from King Abdullah, which would make it the sixth biggest university endowment in the world, said a university spokesman based in Washington.

People familiar with the endowment negotiations say they have been told the fund could grow to as much as $25bn, which would make it the world’s second biggest university endowment after Harvard’s $35bn nest egg.

The endowment would be one of several significant Saudi investment bodies. So far, the Saudi approach has been to refrain from giving any one arm too much money in the hope of maintaining a low profile and preventing a foreign backlash, bankers say.

“The Saudis under-represent both the amount of their reserves and the investments they make overseas,” said the head of the Dubai branch of one large Wall Street firm. “The last thing the Saudis want is to attract attention.”

Noteworthy, of course, was the visit by US President George W. Bush to Saudi Arabia last week, where he pleaded with the same King Abdullah to open the spigots a little wider.

News items like this are reminders that some of the so-called ‘hotspots‘ in the global higher ed world are linked, in quite fascinating ways, to the people controlling political regimes in countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Singapore.

On this note, the New York Times graphic below, which was recently profiled by the Center for Graphic Facilitation, hints at the fact that several of the key people behind Singapore’s Global Schoolhouse development initiative (which we will be writing about in the next 1-2 weeks) are also managing the Government of Singapore’s Government Investment Corporation (GIC), a sovereign wealth fund worth at least $330 billion.

As the same FT article notes:

Money from endowments is considered particularly desirable by fund managers because universities have such a long-term investment focus. Some sovereign funds in the Gulf, such as the Kuwait Investment Authority, have adopted the endowments of leading universities such as Harvard and Yale as their role models.

The new political economy of such development initiatives is complicated in nature, yet prising key elements of them apart is a challenging and entirely worthwhile task.

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

Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes: opportunities and challenges in early 2008

The establishment of overseas/branch/foreign campuses, and substantial international university linkage schemes, continues to generate news announcements and debate.

Over the last two months, for example, Queen Margaret University in Scotland announced that it would be Singapore’s first foreign campus set up by a UK university (a fact that received little media coverage in Singapore).

The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) announced that their Singapore-based campus would be doubling in size by 2009 (a fact that received much media coverage in Singapore), while the University of Chicago’s Financial Mathematics Department announced it would establish a graduate program in Singapore, likely in association with Chicago’s Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics. Further details are available here.

Finally, on the Singapore front, MIT and Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) jointly announced the establishment of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre (SMART), a “complex of research centres set up by world-class research universities and corporations working collaboratively with Singapore’s research community”. As MIT describes it:

SMART is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) largest international research endeavor and the first research center of its kind located outside Cambridge, Mass. It will offer laboratories and computational facilities for research in several areas, including biomedical science, water resources and the environment, and possible additional research thrusts that encompass such topics as interactive digital media, energy, and scientific and engineering computation.

Besides serving as an intellectual hub for robust interactions between MIT and global researchers in Singapore, the SMART Centre will also provide MIT and Singapore new and unique opportunities to perform interdisciplinary experimental, computational and translational research that takes advantage of MIT’s long-standing collaborations in Singapore.

The joint press release can be downloaded here. Needless to say this was also a high profile media item in Singapore.

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the Chicago and MIT initiatives in Singapore involve regular (versus contract) base campus faculty and researchers, reflecting core principles guiding their respective internationalization agendas. This is clearly enabled by direct and indirect Government of Singapore support, and relatively high tuition fees.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East and East Asia, the University of Calgary-Qatar (a joint venture between the University of Calgary and the Hamad Medical Corporation), and the University of Nottingham Ningbo, have both been busy searching out faculty (contract/contingent/secondment/visiting only, it seems) for their respective campuses.

nottningboroom.jpgEmployment sites always provide insights into how these types of ventures are represented, and how the transnational staffing dimension is handled, so check out what is on offer at Calgary-Qatar and Nottingham-Ningbo. I must admit, however, that the sterile curtained room on offer to three year-long contract faculty in Ningbo (photo to the left) does not exactly look appealing, exciting though China (and Ningbo) are. Perhaps they just hired a bad photographer:)

Over in Saudi Arabia the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which we have written about before, is filling media outlets like the Economist with full page advertisements for senior and mid-level administrative staff. The largesse available to KAUST, and the Singaporean influence on its development model, was also evident when it announced, incrementally in globally circulated press releases, that it was moving forward on substantial collaborative ventures, at an institutional scale, with the American University in Cairo, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Imperial College London, Institut Français du Pétrole, National University of Singapore, Stanford University, Technische Universität München, University of California, Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. These are substantial and lucrative linkages, according to Changing Higher Education, with Berkeley’s Mechanical Engineering Department (the lead linkage unit at Berkeley), for example, receiving US $28 million to participate in this scheme between 2008 and 2013.

KAUST is also attempting to leapfrog in the development process by buying in individual scientific support via their Global Research Partnership (GRP) Investigator competition. This scheme, which will initially support 12 “high caliber researchers” from the “world’s leading research universities”, allows KAUST greater flexibility to target individual researchers in fields or universities that might not be enabled via institutional linkage schemes like the ones mentioned above.

kaustcampus.jpgInterestingly KAUST’s graphic design consultants have worked very hard to create a sunny high tech image for the campus, which is still being developed, though they actually have less to work with (on the ground) than does Nottingham in Ningbo, not to mention significant security concerns to plan for when foreigners (especially US citizens) are involved. It just goes to show you how much work good or bad graphics (still & video, including the fascinating five minute long campus profile below) can do in creating distinctive representations of campuses such that they might appeal to mobile faculty and researchers living outside of the host country.

And on the analytical news front, Inside Higher Ed, and the New York-based Social Science Research Council’s new Knowledge Rules blog, both posted critical articles on the overseas campus institutional development model by Andrew Ross, a professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University (NYU), a university we profiled with respect to institutional strategic issues last autumn. Finally, Inside Higher Ed provided coverage of one initiative that had California Polytechnic State University, working with Jubail University College in Saudi Arabia, to develop approximately $6 million worth of programs for Jubail’s male only student population. But, as Inside Higher Ed notes, moving forward on this initiative might rub against (in a dejure or defacto way) core elements of Cal Poly’s internal code of conduct, and the national legal system it is embedded within (in this case U.S. equal employment laws that bar discrimination). The issue was put this way:

Faculty skeptical of the project — and by some accounts there’s plenty of skepticism on campus — wonder: Will opportunities truly be equally available to all Cal Poly faculty? Would women feel they can apply for an on-site director position in a country where they, unlike their male colleagues, would be barred from driving? What about homosexual faculty? Would they see good professional options in a country where sodomy is punishable by death? What about Jewish faculty in an Islamic country without religious freedoms?

The administration says that the bulk of the work to develop the programs would likely happen on the California campus. But site visits and long-term director positions abroad would be available. And there aren’t just opportunities, but also money, at stake here: The proposed base annual salary for a senior faculty member working on the project is $180,000.

Transnational complications, indeed.

Entangling institutional infrastructures from different countries cannot help but generate some inter-cultural and institutional conflict: indeed this is sometimes the rationale for supporting the concept of overseas campuses. But the Ross articles, the Cal Poly-Saudi debate, and Amy Newhall’s entry in GlobalHigherEd last autumn (‘Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East‘), are but a few reminders that much more thinking is required about the underlying forces facilitating the development of such ventures, the nature of the deliberative processes on campuses that are considering such ventures (which has been, to date, driven in a top down fashion, for good and for bad, by what I would deem administrative entrepreneurs), and the nature of the memorandum of understandings (MoUs) and legal agreements that lock in such linkage schemes (usually for a five year period, in the first instance).

The evidence, to date, suggests that there is incredible diversity in drafting overseas campus and linkage arrangements, ranging from the unsophisticated and opaque to the sophisticated and transparent. It is perhaps time for some systematic rules and guidelines to be developed by international organizations like UNESCO and the OECD (extending the UNESCO/OECD guidelines on “Quality provision in cross-border higher education”). It is also worth pondering why publicly supported institutions are not active, and indeed sometimes hostile to, the public release of relevant MoUs and legal agreements. Public release clauses could, after all, even be built into the MoUs and agreements in the first place; a “non-negotiable” item in the terms of participants at a recent American Council of Education Leadership Network on International Education meeting. One of many unfinished debates about this emerging global higher ed phenomenon…

Kris Olds

From Singapore to Saudi Arabia with an eye on Malaysia

One of the interesting aspects of running a blog is seeing what entries generate relatively high hit levels, and what search engines generate links to GlobalHigherEd. One issue that is receiving significant attention is anything written on Malaysia. Interest is clearly being spurred on by problems and policy shifts being debated about with respect to this Southeast Asian country’s higher education system. A case in point are four popular entries (including a very simple graphic feed entry):

shihkaust.jpgI raise the issue in part because the debate about where Malaysia stands, and where it should go, is being stirred up this week by higher ed news in two countries that matter a lot for Malaysia, albeit in very different ways: Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The topic of discussion in the informative Education in Malaysia blog is the announcement that Professor Shih Choon Fong (pictured above, third from the left), President of the National University of Singapore (NUS), will become Founding President of King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) in Thuwal, near Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia. We briefly profiled KAUST, a university with a $10 billion endowment before opening its gates in 2009, in an entry on 26 October. As Tony Pua of Education in Malaysia puts it, Shih’s appointment raises issues about the politics of how senior leaders of Malaysian universities are appointed. It is his view that:

Malaysian universities, to achieve any form of “greatness” has to first start by recognising that we need world-class leaders (as opposed to jaguh kampungs labelled as “world-class”).

I’ve called not only for local vice-chancellor position to be “opened” up to competition from non-bumiputeras, but also to widen our search for talent globally. Only then, can our academia take their blinkers off, increase competitiveness and see the chasm separating our local institutions from top-notch colleges….

Hence the million dollar question is whether the Ministry of Higher Education in Malaysia can summon the necessary political courage to do the same for the local higher education system or will it choose to ignore international academic leadership which can bring real positive changes in place of a parochial race and nationality pride.

KAUST’s approach, then, is turned back on Malaysia, and used to shed light on the factors shaping critically important appointment procedures for leaders of national/public institutions. The fact that this is happening in Saudi Arabia, and Singapore (including at Singapore’s fast expanding Singapore Management University), leads some to ask why not in Malaysia too, especially given that Malaysia has very similar higher education goals to both of these countries. As someone who worked in Singapore (1997-2001), and continues to conduct research on the global city-state, I am aware of the dangers of elevating the foreigner (and the overvalorization of people with PhDs from elite American universities) as someone with intrinsic higher ed leadership qualities. This said, the argument in Education in Malaysia is clearly worth thinking about. This news item also reminds us that the denationalization of faculty and university leadership labour markets is continuing apace, though the mix of experience/identity/pedigree/salary politics in hiring procedures is a complex one, and it also varies across space and time.

Kris Olds

kaustflyover.jpgps: check out this video flyover of the design for the KAUST campus