CHERPA-network based in Europe wins tender to develop alternative global ranking of universities

rankings 4

Finally the decision on who has won the European Commission’s million euro tender – to develop and test a  global ranking of universities – has been announced.

The successful bid – the CHERPA network (or the Consortium for Higher Education and Research Performance Assessment), is charged with developing a ranking system to overcome what is regarded by the European Commission as the limitations of the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS-Times Higher Education schemes. The  final product is to be launched in 2011.

CHERPA is comprised of a consortium of leading institutions in the field within Europe; all have been developing and offering rather different approaches to ranking over the past few years (see our earlier stories here, here and  here for some of the potential contenders):

Will this new European Commission driven initiative set the proverbial European cat amongst the Transatlantic alliance pigeons?  rankings 1

As we have noted in earlier commentary on university rankings, the different approaches tip the rankings playing field in the direction of different interests. Much to the chagrin of the continental Europeans, the high status US universities do well on the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Ranking, whilst Britain’s QS-Times Higher Education tends to see UK universities feature more prominently.

CHERPA will develop a design that follows the so called ‘Berlin Principles on the ranking of higher education institutions‘. These principles stress the need to take into account the linguistic, cultural and historical contexts of the educational systems into account [this fact is something of an irony for those watchers following UK higher education developments last week following a Cabinet reshuffle – where reference to ‘universities’ in the departmental name was dropped.  The two year old Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has now been abandoned in favor of a mega-Department for Business, Innovation and Skills! (read more here)].

According to one of the Consortium members website –  CHE:

The basic approach underlying the project is to compare only institutions which are similar and comparable in terms of their missions and structures. Therefore the project is closely linked to the idea of a European classification (“mapping”) of higher education institutions developed by CHEPS. The feasibility study will include focused rankings on particular aspects of higher education at the institutional level (e.g., internationalization and regional engagement) on the one hand, and two field-based rankings for business and engineering programmes on the other hand.

The field-based rankings will each focus on a particular type of institution and will develop and test a set of indicators appropriate to these institutions. The rankings will be multi-dimensional and will – like the CHE ranking – use a grouping approach rather than simplistic league tables. In contrast to existing global rankings, the design will compare not only the research performance of institutions but will include teaching & learning as well as other aspects of university performance.

The different rankings will be targeted at different stakeholders: They will support decision-making in universities and especially better informed study decisions by students. Rankings that create transparency for prospective students should promote access to higher education.

The University World News, in their report out today on the announcement, notes:

Testing will take place next year and must include a representative sample of at least 150 institutions with different missions in and outside Europe. At least six institutions should be drawn from the six large EU member states, one to three from the other 21, plus 25 institutions in North America, 25 in Asia and three in Australia.

There are multiple logics and politics at play here. On the one hand, a European ranking system may well give the European Commission more HE  governance capacity across Europe, strengthening its steering over national systems in areas like ‘internationalization’ and ‘regional engagement’ – two key areas that have been identified for work to be undertaken by CHERPA.

On the other hand, this new European ranking  system — when realized — might also appeal to countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia who currently do not feature in any significant way in the two dominant systems. Like the Bologna Process, the CHERPA ranking system might well find itself generating ‘echoes’ around the globe.

Or, will regions around the world prefer to develop and promote their own niche ranking systems, elements of which were evident in the QS.com Asia ranking that was recently launched.  Whatever the outcome, as we have observed before, there is a thickening industry with profits to be had on this aspect of the emerging global higher education landscape.

Susan Robertson

Ranking – in a different (CHE) way?

uwe_brandenburg_2006-005nl GlobalHigherEd has been profiling a series of entries on university rankings as an emerging industry and technology of governance. This entry has been kindly prepared for us by Uwe Brandenburg. Since 2006 Uwe has been project manager at the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) and CHE Consult, a think tank and consultancy focusing on higher education reform.  Uwe has an MA in Islamic Studies, Politics and Spanish from the University of Münster (Germany),  and an MscEcon in Politics from the University of Wales at Swansea.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Talking about rankings usually means talking about league tables. Values are calculated based on weighed indicators which are then turned into a figure, added and formed into an overall value, often with the index of 100 for the best institution counting down. Moreover, in many cases entire universities are compared and the scope of indicators is somewhat limited. We at the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHE) are highly sceptical about this approach. For more than 10 years we have been running our own ranking system which is so different to the point that  some experts  have argued that it might not be a ranking at all which is actually not true. Just because the Toyota Prius is using a very different technology to produce energy does not exclude it from the species of automobiles. What are then the differences?

uwe1

Firstly, we do not believe in the ranking of entire HEIs. This is mainly due to the fact that such a ranking necessarily blurs the differences within an institution. For us, the target group has to be the starting point of any ranking exercise. Thus, one can fairly argue that it does not help a student looking for a physics department to learn that university A is average when in fact the physics department is outstanding, the sociology appalling and the rest is mediocre. It is the old problem of the man with his head in the fire and the feet in the freezer. A doctor would diagnose that the man is in a serious condition while a statistician might claim that over all he is doing fine.

So instead we always rank on the subject level. And given the results of the first ExcellenceRanking which focused on natural sciences and mathematics in European universities with a clear target group of prospective Master and PhD students, we think that this proves the point;  only 4 institutions excelled in all four subjects; another four in three; while most excelled in only one subject. And this was in a quite closely related field.

uwe2

Secondly, we do not create values by weighing indicators and then calculating an overall value. Why is that? The main reason is that any weight is necessarily arbitrary, or in other words political. The person weighing decides which weight to give. By doing so, you pre-decide the outcome of any ranking. You make it even worse when you then add the different values together and create one overall value because this blurs differences between individual indicators.

Say a discipline is publishing a lot but nobody reads it. If you give publications a weight of 2 and citations a weight of one, it will look like the department is very strong. If you do it the other way, it will look pretty weak. If you add the values you make it even worse because you blur the difference between both performances. And those two indicators are even rather closely related. If you summarize results from research indicators with reputation indicators, you make things entirely irrelevant.

Instead, we let the indicator results stand for their own and let the user decide what is important for his or her personal decision-making process. e.g., in the classical ranking we allow the users to create “my ranking” so they can choose the indicators they want to look at and in which order.

Thirdly, we strongly object to the idea of league tables. If the values which create the table are technically arbitrary (because of the weighing and the accumulation), the league table positions create the even worse illusion of distinctive and decisive differences between places. They then bring alive the impression of an existing difference in quality (no time or space here to argue the tricky issue of what quality might be) which is measurable to the percentage point. In other words, that there is a qualitative and objectively recognizable measurable difference between place number 12 and 15. Which is normally not the case.

Moreover, small mathematical differences can create huge differences in league table positions. Take the THES QS: even in the subject cluster SocSci you find a mere difference of 4.3 points on a 100 point scale between league rank 33 and 43. In the overall university rankings, it is a meager 6.7 points difference between rank 21 and 41 going down to a slim 15.3 points difference between rank 100 and 200. That is to say, the league table positions of HEIs might differ by much less than a single point or less than 1% (of an arbitrarily set figure). Thus, it tells us much less than the league position suggests.

Our approach, therefore, is to create groups (top, middle, bottom) which are referring to the performance of each HEI relative to the other HEIs.

uwe3

This means our rankings are not as easily read as the others. However,  we strongly believe in the cleverness of the users. Moreover, we try to communicate at every possible level that every ranking (and therefore also ours) is based on indicators which are chosen by the ranking institution. Consequently, the results of the respective ranking can tell you something about how an HEI performs in the framework of what the ranker thinks interesting, necessary, relevant, etc. Rankings therefore NEVER tell you who is the best but maybe (depending on the methodology) who is performing best (or in our cases better than average) in aspects considered relevant by the ranker.

A small, but highly relevant aspect might be added here. Rankings (in the HE system as well as in other areas of life) might suggest that a result in an indicator proves that an institution is performing well in the area measured by the indicator. Well it does not. All an indicator does is hint at the fact that given the data is robust and relevant, the results give some idea of how close the gap is between the performance of the institution and the best possible result (if such a benchmark exists). The important word is “hint” because “indicare” – from which the word “indicator” derives – means exactly this: a hint, not a proof. And in the case of many quantitative indicators, the “best” or “better” is again a political decision if the indicator stands alone (e.g. are more international students better? Are more exchange agreements better?).

This is why we argue that rankings have a useful function in terms of creating transparency if they are properly used, i.e. if the users are aware of the limitations, the purpose, the target groups and the agenda of the ranking organization and if the ranking is understood as one instrument among various others fit to make whatever decision related to an HEI (study, cooperation, funding, etc.).

Finally, modesty is maybe what a ranker should have in abundance. Running the excellence ranking in three different phases (initial in 2007, second phase with new subjects right now, repetition of natural sciences just starting) I am aware of certainly one thing. However strongly we aim at being sound and coherent, and however intensely we re-evaluate our efforts, there is always the chance of missing something; of not picking an excellent institution. For the world of ranking, Einstein’s conclusion holds a lot of truth:

Not everything that can be counted, counts and not everything that counts can be counted.

For further aspects see:
http://www.che-ranking.de/cms/?getObject=47&getLang=de
http://www.che-ranking.de/cms/?getObject=44&getLang=de
Federkeil, Gero, Rankings and Quality Assurance in Higher Education, in: Higher Education in Europe, 33, (2008), S. 209-218
Federkeil, Gero, Ranking Higher Education Institutions – A European Perspective., in: Evaluation in Higher Education, 2, (2008), S. 35 – 52
Other researchers specialising in this (and often referring to our method) are e.g. Alex Usher, Marijk van der Wende or Simon Marginson.

Uwe Brandenburg

The role of the university in city/regional development: a view from a Vice-Chancellor in Bristol

ericthomaspic1The entry has been kindly prepared for us by Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol.  Professor Thomas has been Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol since 2001.  Prior to that he was  Head of the School of Medicine, and later Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Biological Sciences, University of Southampton.  Professor Thomas is currently a member of the Board of the South-West Regional Development Agency. He is Chair of the Research Policy Committee of Universities UK and a member of its Board.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The United Kingdom is the classic high added-value, knowledge economy. We don’t dig anything out of the ground anymore and we don’t make anything in any great quantity anymore. Our economic success depends upon us providing high intellectual and creative skills, and on technological and service innovation.

Universities are at the heart of that in both providing the intellectual workforce and in technological innovation. It is said that in medieval times villages and towns were built around the manor house, in the Victorian era they were built around the factories and that, if we were building new towns and villages now, they would be built around universities. Certainly when the UK Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) put out a call for locations without higher education to apply for a new facility,  the 35 who applied would support the thesis.

I often compare the City of Bristol in 1961 with the City today. In 1961 Bristol was dominated by heavy engineering and manufacturing industry. The aerospace industry employed tens of thousands of people as did both tobacco and Fry’s chocolate. At that time, the University of Bristol had about 3000 students and 300 academic staff. It was a small consideration in the economy of Bristol and could exist, almost as an ivory tower, up the hill in Clifton and unengaged with the ambitions of the city.

bristol2If you now fast forward to 2009, all that industry except aerospace has gone. And yet, the University of Bristol is the largest independent employer in the city, responsible for 5500 jobs and a further 4500 from indirect employment. A study some years ago in the South West Region reported the economic impact of a university as 1.74 times turnover. A more recent study of London South Bank University by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which took into account the economic impact of the added value from the graduates through their lifetime, concluded that the impact was approximately six times turnover. Viewed like this, it would make the University of Bristol’s impact on the local and national economy in excess of £2 billion per year and higher education in general in the UK in the order of £100 billion per year or over 8% of GDP.

Of course, such figures will provoke dispute. However the general message of the importance of higher education to the local and national economies is now, I would argue, beyond question. How, therefore, does a university like Bristol respond to such a role which is relatively new?

The first important action is to ensure that working with the city is right at the center of your current public strategy. This is so for the current University Strategy, and will be strengthened in our Plan for 2009–2016.

Secondly the head of the institution must articulate that ambition clearly and become personally engaged with the city and region. For example, I am a member of the Partnership Board for the Bristol City Council which advises the Leader and Chief Executive. For six years I was a member of the Board of the South-West Regional Development Agency. I have been a trustee of an important local charity. Perhaps most importantly I assiduously attend all city social events and network with the other key players in the city and always articulate our desire to assist the city-region. I have also opened up the university for the use of many partners and organizations in the city.

More practically, we have a large Research and Enterprise Directorate which works closely with local businesses. Their aim is to ensure the most rapid transfer of knowledge and technology generated in the university and the easiest access possible for businesses to our skills and technical expertise. This is not only for big businesses. We have set up the Bristol Enterprise Network to assist knowledge transfer among the high tech, high growth SMEs in the Bristol sub-region. This currently has 1500 members. This not only provides networking opportunities but also news and information and training in business skills.

We need to work with key partners in the city particularly the National Health Service. The university provides nearly 200 medical staff for health care in the city and must work very closely with local health trusts, not only to ensure the best health care but also the best teaching and research opportunities for our professionals.

The university also provides most of the local teacher training and thus a very important set of professionals for the future of Bristol. Over a period of ten years or so, the University will have invested over £500 million in infrastructure which has knock-on effects in the local planning, architectural, building and legal services, to name but a few.

bristol11However it is not only in business that the university works with the city. Many of our staff are school governors or trustees of charities. We are working very closely on the development of a new school which opened in 2008,  Merchants’  Academy Withywood, in South Bristol. We have enormous numbers of cultural events and lectures which are open to the public. It is often overlooked that our academics travel all over the world. The people most commonly putting up Powerpoint presentations with the word ‘Bristol‘ in the title are the staff of the University.

Furthermore, our staff are massively networked internationally not only with other academics but also business and government. I get at least four “Google Alerts” a day about the University of Bristol from press all over the world. Stories about the University carry the name Bristol to all parts of the globe and all that PR and advertising comes free.

To some observers, the pressure on universities to increasingly be more global in ambition comes at a price.  However, I do not see any essential or intrinsic conflict,  between being an international, outward facing organization, and working to ensure that the local society gains as much as possible from its university. The two ambitions can be made to be completely compatible, though as I have argued above, both need to be championed and advanced together.

However, I would say that the role of the university in its local city and sub-region is one of the most enjoyable parts of leading a great university in 2009.

Eric Thomas

The UK India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI): reflections on ‘the complexities of global partnerships in higher education

gore221This entry has been kindly prepared by Tim Gore, Director of The Centre for Indian Business, University of Greenwich, London, UK. Tim has worked closely with educationalists, institutions, companies and governments to improve bilateral and multilateral educational links in Hong Kong, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and India over a 23 year period. His most recent role was Director, Education at the British Council in India, where he was responsible for growing the knowledge partnership between India and the UK. Tim also led the establishment of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) that is profiled in this blog entry.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Building sustainable global partnerships

Partnership is a word that is often used but difficult to define. Many claim to have meaningful partnerships but in reality I suspect good partnerships are rare. Partnerships between academic institutions across national and cultural frontiers are especially challenging. In the first place, the institutions themselves are complex, multi-dimensional and resistant to being led in the traditional sense. On the other hand, there is language, the subtle nuances of unspoken cultural expectations and distance! UKIERI – the UK India Education and Research Initiative – was established with the aim of rebuilding the lapsed educational relationship between the UK and India. It was to focus on building academic partnerships that were meaningful and sustainable.

India and the UK

India emerged from its colonial period according to some commentators with the newfound national pride as the growth of their economy and their nuclear and space sciences established their national credibility (see Mohan, 2006). Since the economic reforms of 1991, India had opened its doors and witnessed a dizzying growth. But to fuel this growth, education became more important and with it an interest in partnership with amongst others the UK. The UK also recognised the need of knowledge to fuel its growth and set up several institutions such as the Science and Innovation Council to achieve this. India and China were obvious partners with their rapidly growing academic and research capabilities.

ukierilogoThe UK government put the initial funds into UKIERI to start it up closely followed by industry sponsors and later as trust was built, the Indian Government. A number of consultations in India and UK gathered views from the sector about how to achieve the goals. The result was a carefully balanced funding mechanism that encouraged competitive bids across a range of academic collaborations but with similar criteria of impact, relevance, high quality standards and sustainability. The funding was mainly mobility money to break down the difficulty of distance and encourage partners to spend time together. Bids needed to demonstrate that the activities of the partnership were of strategic importance to the institutions involved and that matching funding was available.

The concept of ‘strategic alliances’ has quickly evolved over the last few decades from a position where they were little mentioned in strategy textbooks. Michael Porter, for example, in his work on market forces in the seventies and eighties was more concerned with firms as coherent entities in themselves made up of strategic business units but conceptually sealed from competing firms in the market. Since then, alliances have become crucially important to the extent that a product such as the iPod is the product of a very complex set of strategic relationships where its brand owner, Apple, does not directly produce any part of the iPod or its content.

A variety of writers have looked at alliances from different perspectives. Economic and managerial perspectives see alliances as ways of reducing risk or exerting power and influence in a market. However, social capital and network analyses are far more subtle and see alliances as ways of accessing complex tacit knowledge that is not easy to build or acquire in other ways. Here, the concept of trust plays a big role and we come back to human interaction.

Academic institutions could be concerned with market share and can definitely be concerned about costs. So an analysis such as’ resource based theory’ or ‘transaction cost analysis’ may describe their motivations for partnership well. However, such institutions are complex and exhibit complex goals.

Studies in Norway (see Frølich, 2006) have shown that academic ambition and status is the main driver for researchers seeking overseas links rather than financial or institutional inducements which are merely facilitative. In this analysis, knowledge is power. Knowledge is difficult to acquire and especially those parts of knowledge that are not easily coded and where even the questions are difficult to frame let alone the answers that are sought. Trading in knowledge of this type is done only under conditions of trust.

However, this is only part of the picture. Institutions do have a role. In studies of the success of innovation in the Cambridge innovation cluster, the success was attributed to two sorts of social capital – structural and relational. The individual researchers can easily create the relational capital at conferences and other academic encounters but the structural capital comes by virtue of institutional links such as shared governors on a board. If we can create conditions of both structural and relational capital we can expect a more robust and productive alliance. It is this that UKIERI was trying to achieve.

Buying a stake in the process

bangalore-015UKIERI insisted that institutions buy a stake in the process at the same time as encouraging academics to create their partnerships. Funding was deliberately limited so that the institution had to contribute or find extra funding from a third party. This ensured that the strategic interests of the institution were taken into account. Many universities asked all their staff with an interest in India to attend a working group and prioritise their own bids into UKIERI. At the same time, UKIERI looked for evidence of synergy within the teams and evidence that the partnership would yield more than the sum of the parts. UKIERI arranged a two stage process of peer review to look at the academic strengths followed by a panel review to look holistically at the partnership.

Trust was built at many levels in the Initiative. The Indian Government demonstrated their trust by co-funding the second year after having satisfied themselves that there was genuine mutuality. Many partnerships had to deal with trust issues especially over funding which was channelled through the UK partner in the first year according to UK audit requirements. In a few cases trust broke down and partnerships did not work out but in the overwhelming majority the partnerships are doing well and producing strong research and academic outputs. The Initiative has been favourably reviewed by a number of institutions including the UK’s National Audit Office and a Parliamentary Select Committee.

‘Good’ communication sustains partnerships

In my experience, many partnerships run into difficulties because there is not enough contact between the partners, communications are sparse and often responses are slow or do not happen at all. Universities can give the appearance of being rather fragmented in their approach to partnerships as authority for the various components lies in different parts of the university.

Additionally, very often aspects of the partnership are agreed but then need to be ratified by academic councils or other internal quality processes and this again can cause delays. Very often, the partner is not told about the reason for delays and from the outside it is hard to understand why responses are so slow. This is accentuated when we are dealing across cultures and delays can be interpreted as lack of interest or even a lack of respect. In some cultures, it is not normal to say ‘no’ and a lack of response is the way of communicating lack of interest! All these communication issues erode the trust in the relationship and can be damaging.

I would recommend that each partnership always has a clear lead person who leads on communications and keeps in touch with all the processes on both sides of the partnership. It is important to be transparent about internal mechanisms and how long processes are really likely to take as well as what the processes are. The lead person can also coordinate visits to and fro and ensure that these are fairly regular. If there is a gap, there may be a relevant academic in the area who could take an extra day visiting the partner and keeping the relationship ‘warm’.

We often forget in our efforts to be both effective managers and academics that human relationships are at the core of all our enterprise and that these relationships need nurturing. Without this basic trust effective management of a project and high quality standards will not be enough.

Additional Reading

Frølich, N. (2006) Still academic and national – internationalisation in Norwegian research and higher education, Higher Education, 52 (3), pp. 405-420.

Gore, T. (2008) Global Research Collaboration: Lessons from Practice for Sustainable International Partnerships, October, London: Observatory of Borderless Higher Education.

Heffernan, T. and Poole, D. (2005) In search of the ‘vibe’: creating effective international education partnerships, Higher Education, 50 (2), pp. 223-45.

Mohan, C.R. (2006) India and the balance of power, Foreign Affairs, 85 (4), pp. 17-32.

Muthusamy, S. K. and White, M. A. (2007). An empirical examination of the role of social exchances in alliance performance, Journal of Management Issues, 19 (1), pp. 53-75.

Myint, Y, Vyakarnam, S. et al (2005) The Effect of Social Capital in New Venture Creation: the Cambridge High Technology Cluster.

Tim Gore

US/Turkish collaborations: bringing vocational schools into the global education sector

In the past three years I’ve had the great opportunity to give invited lectures, teach a graduate summer school course, and run research workshops at Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey.

This has been a wonderful occasion for me to listen to, and engage with, lively and committed scholars and students around processes of globalization, Turkey’s application to the EU for accession, and the geo-strategic role of Turkey situated as it is between Asia and Europe.

So it was with great interest that I read in the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education’s (OBHE) latest bulletin; that Turkey had signed a deal with the US-based Community Colleges for International Development, Inc. An Association for Global Education to put into place an exchange between US and Turkish vocational schools.

The OBHE report was based on a lead article carried in the World Bulletin. For the Turkish Higher Education Council (YÖK), these collaborative partnerships will be instituted in 7-8 Turkish vocational schools in an attempt to improve the curriculum in Turkish vocational schools.

According to the Chairperson of YÖK, Professor Yusuf Ziya Ozcan:

Vocational schools are the engines of our economy. If these schools train the work force needed by our economy and industry, most of the problems in Turkey will be solved. If we can guide some of our high-school graduates to get further education at vocational schools instead of universities, this will diminish the crowds waiting at the doors of universities as well.

Operationalizing the program means that Turkish students would spend their first year in Turkey and get their second-year education at a U.S. vocational school, whilst US students would have a chance to spend a year in Turkey.

But, why the US and not Europe, as a model for vocational education? And why build student mobility into a vocational school program?

According to Professor Ozcan:

…the best thing to do on this issue was to get support from a country where vocational education system functioned smoothly, and therefore, they decided to pay a visit to USA.

This move by the Turkish Higher Education Council to collaborate on vocational education might be read in a number of ways. For instance, Turkey’s education system has historically had close links to US, particularly through its (former) private schools and universities. This is thus business as usual, only applied to a different sector – vocational schools.

Turkey is also a popular destination for US students studying abroad as part of their undergraduate program (see Kavita Pandit’s entry on dual degree programs between Turkey and SUNY/USA). The university residence where I stayed whilst teaching at Bogazici in 2007 was buzzing with undergraduate students from the US. Thus, this new exchange initiative might be viewed as further strengthening already existing ties along channels that are already established.

Adding a component of student mobility to vocational education in Turkey might make that sector more attractive to prospective students, whilst generating the kind of knowledge and demeanor global firms think is important in its intermediary labor force. This would give Turkey’s intermediary labor a competitive advantage in the churn for flexible skilled workers in the global economy.

This deal can also be read as the outcome of an ambivalence by Turkey and its education institutions toward Europe and its regionalizing project, and vice versa. And while there are serious moves in Turkish universities, toward implementing Europe’s Bologna Process in higher education, it seems Turkey–like a number of countries around the world–is weighing up its response to the globalizing education models that are circulating so that they keep a foot in both camps – the USA and Europe.

Susan Robertson

OECD’s Education at a Glance 2008: a ‘problem/solution toolkit’ with problems?

Last week, or to be precise – on the 9th September at 11.00 Paris time, the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development (OECD), launched its ‘annual snapshot’ of the sector, Education at a Glance 2008. Within hours, the wheels of the media industry around the globe were pouring out stories of shame, fame, defeat and victory, whilst politicians in their respective countries were galvanized into action – either defending their own decisions or blaming a previous regime.

As previous entries in GlobalHigherEd (see here and here and here, as examples) argue, global indicators increasingly matter, not because they are always able to tell us much that is useful, but they work as a powerful disciplinary tool on nations. This, in turn, provides the issuing agent, in this case the OECD – ostensibly a ‘collective learning machinery’ – with an important mechanism for influencing the form and scope of education policies and programs around the globe. This is the tangible stuff of globalization – but this problem/solution toolkit is not without its own epistemological problems. Let’s take a look at two countries reported on this week – which headlined the OECD’s Report in the following way.

In the UK, the BBC and the Telegraph focused on the graduate league table, and the fact that the UK has not fared particularly well. The evidence? In 2000, the UK ranked 4th in the world in the number of school-leavers going to university. By 2006, this had plummeted to 12th.

Graeme Paton of the Telegraph reported on an interview with Andreas Schliecher, the OECD’s architect of Education at a Glance. According to Dr. Schliecher, the UK has major problems in producing school leavers with sufficient quality of credentials, whilst other countries have managed to sort out these problems and were already in the fast lane, leaving the UK behind.

Ministers canvassed by the Telegraph, however, insist that they were tackling the shortfall by encouraging more pupils to go to university and by pointing out the OECD good news story for the UK, that university graduates in the UK aged 25-64 earned 59 per cent more than other people – well above the national average.

In Canada, the influential Macleans magazine reported that in the OECD Education at a Glance comparisons, Canada was one of the few countries with the highest percentage of its population having completed post-secondary education. However, we are also given another statistic, and that is that the earnings advantage gained from completing post-secondary education in Canada had decreased in recent years and was quite low compared to other OECD countries. This is reflected in the lower average private rate-of-return on investment in post-secondary education relative to other nations in the OECD.

Let’s dwell, and not just ‘glance’, at these figures for a moment, and ask what is being reported here by the OECD:

  • competitive economies need a more highly educated workplace to perform more demanding work;
  • all countries need to encourage their young people to go to university and complete a degree; and
  • the incentives for this expenditure (which is increasingly being paid by families) are that there will be a higher rate-of-return to the student than if the student had not gone to university.

However, as we can see from our example above, countries with high levels of graduation (which the OECD says is good) report increasingly lower returns to graduates (ah…and is this not bad?).

Now, this is where the underlying human capital/homo-economicus rationale underpinning the OECD’s Education at a Glance begins to falter – for it cannot explain why it is that following the OECD’s prescriptions – of a high level of enrolment in higher education – reduces the overall earnings to the individual rather than increasing it.

While not one that is acknowledged in the repertoire of the OECD’s ‘problem/solution toolkit’ approach, this is where a sociological analysis is particularly helpful. As sociologists of education (see Phil Brown and Simon Marginson) have shown using Fred Hirsch’s insights on ‘positional goods’ tied to social status in his book The Social Limits to Growth, an advantage will only have economic value when no-one else has it. That is, its value depends on its scarcity. In other words, if we all have a graduate degree, then its value is diminished in the marketplace compared with when only half of us have one. This is part of the dynamic, for example, underlying degree inflation.

There’s also another issue, and this is the assumption that jobs in the ‘new knowledge economy’ will require us all to have graduate qualifications. However, the Confederation of British Industries (reported in the UK Guardian newspaper on the 17th Sept), disagrees, arguing that universities were producing far too many graduates leaving more than a million people in jobs for which they were overqualified. They argue that there are currently 10.1 million graduates in the UK, but only 9 million graduate jobs.

The deeper, and more tricky, question for policymakers now becomes: do we encourage everyone to hop onto the same credential treadmill with fewer and fewer returns and potentially higher levels of indebtedness? To be sure, there are important outcomes for individuals of a university education. However this experience is becoming more and more expensive, and the promised lifetime earnings are likely to be less and less. And who will shoulder the cost? Families? Employers? The State? And, how might the state and interrnational organizations, like the OECD, legitimate more and more credential inflation when the current ‘knowledge economy’ discourse is showing it to be somewhat hollow?

Or, ought we not think through what a range of trajectories might be that distributes talent/skills/training and investments over a wider portfolio of education/training/career options than is currently being presented to us?

Susan Robertson

Education cities, knowledge villages, schoolhouses, education hubs, and hotspots: emerging metaphors for global higher ed

Introduction

One of the rationales for the establishment of the GlobalHigherEd blog last September was to highlight and then archive information (e.g., see ‘Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes‘) about the construction of new globalizing knowledge spaces, especially when multiple institutions (and often firms) from different countries are brought together within one space. These may take the form of a branch/overseas/foreign campus, a joint research centre, or perhaps relatively deep transnational linkage schemes (e.g., joint and dual/double degrees, or international consortia of universities).

Examples of such knowledge spaces include:

  • Dubai Knowledge Village (which is hosting Boston University, Harvard University, London School of Business & Finance, Michigan State University, Rochester Institute of Technology)
  • Bahrain Higher Education City (announced December 2006)
  • Kuala Lumpur Education City (which is working with, in the first instance, Royal Holloway, University of London)
  • Singapore’s ‘Global Schoolhouse’ (which is hosting or collaborating with Johns Hopkins University, MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Pennsylvania, INSEAD, University of Chicago, Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Technische Universität München, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, Cornell University, Duke University, Karolinska Institutet, University of New South Wales (RIP, 2007), ESSEC, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, IIM Bangalore, SP Jain Centre of Management, New York University, DigiPen Institute of Technology, Queen Margaret University)
  • Incheon Free Economic Zone (which is working with, in the first instance, State University of New York at Stony Brook and North Carolina State University)
  • Education City Qatar (which is hosting Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, Northwestern University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Weill Cornell Medical College). See this flyover of Education City Qatar to give you one sense of the nature of such a space.

There are other such centres of actual or planned knowledge production (including Abu Dhabi, which is hosting INSEAD, Johns Hopkins University, MIT, New York University, and the Sorbonne), but these will have to suffice as a basis for today’s entry.

It is important to note that in addition to these knowledge spaces, individual university campuses of significant scale (e.g., King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)), and associated developments that are more geographically dispersed (e.g., foreign university campuses in China and Vietnam), are increasingly receiving attention from stakeholder organizations, such as the American Council of Education (ACE), the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (OBHE), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), and media outlets including the Chronicle of Higher Education, Insider Higher Education, and the New York Times. In all cases these observers have, more often than not, taken to using terms like “hotspots” (e.g., in the ACE report pictured to the right) when describing the emergence of new spaces of knowledge production, regardless of whether they are functioning or not.

Over the last several years both of us have noted the intense interest in these new knowledge spaces, especially from traditional knowledge producers (and associated stakeholders) who have dominated the global higher education landscape. People and the institutions they represent are curious and concerned, and in the process they react to, and they produce, novel concepts including metaphors like “hotspots” as they make sense of the fast changing context.

Even developing a basic mapping of this changing context is a challenging task, a point Kavita Pandit made in Boston this week at a conference one of us (Kris) is attending. Tangible developments aside, it is also easy to miss “seeing” these initiatives for they tend to sit outside of our geo-politico/economic and methodological nationalist (and statist) frameworks for understanding higher education, a point Arjun Appadurai has insightfully made in speeches and writings. This said, a small number of scholars are doing their best to break down the national holdings, if we can use this term, that guide our analytical and research imaginations, with respect to higher education (broadly defined).

In this relatively long entry we want to highlight one fascinating dimension of the development process that we have been taken for granted – the metaphors that are associated with many of these new knowledge spaces.

Metaphors and their uses

Metaphors such as education city, or global knowledge hub, are tropes that enable us to “reduce the unfamiliar to the familiar” (Smith and Katz, 1993: 69). Familiar examples of economic metaphors that guide our economic imaginaries include trickle down, rising tides, trade wars, rollercoaster, flat earth, invisible hand, and creative destruction.

Metaphors are key elements in the production of discourses, including discourses about the changing nature of higher education, urban and regional development processes, and so on. Yet we take metaphors for granted.

While some scholars have spent their lives analyzing the nature of metaphors, there are three basic points we would like to emphasize when thinking about the metaphors associated with the types of globalizing knowledge spaces we briefly highlighted above.

First, everyone uses metaphors because metaphors are effective and necessary in projecting views, in constructing arguments, in enabling the transformation of the thinking of others, and in generating anxiety. As Cornelissen et al (2008: 9) suggest, in relationship to thinking about organizational behavior:

Metaphors connect realms of human experience and imagination. They guide our perceptions and interpretations of reality and help us to formulate our visions and goals. In doing these things, metaphors facilitate and further our understanding of the world.

Thus, the development of metaphors like education city, knowledge hub, knowledge village, and global schoolhouse, imply an initiative that is associated with (a) the production of knowledge (which is more than information), (b) education providers (broadly defined), and (c) geographical proximity (up to the scale of “the city”). These metaphors reflect the relativization of scale (see one previous entry on this in GlobalHigherEd), where higher education systems are increasingly being denationalized; reshaped, as it were, by forces and actors that are thinking at, and operating at, scales other than the national. Thus these new development initiatives are imbued with territorial development objectives; objectives associated with the building of knowledge economies and societies

In conveying a message, such metaphors simultaneously serve as vehicles to destabilize our taken-for granted assumptions, to create the shock of the new, to generate anxiety. As Don Miller (2006: 64) notes, for example:

The face of the metaphoric new is one of strangeness, even of disconcerting incongruity. It upsets the established order. New metaphors may well enthuse those ready to pursue difference; but they frighten others wanting to maintain some existing order of things.

The target of such a message includes the media, and especially universities that have not yet stretched their institutional fabrics out across space, either in the form of joint/dual/double degrees, or branch campuses. Senior international officers for Western universities, for example, are increasingly being asked to reflect upon the pros and cons of linking into these new knowledge spaces. The presence of such metaphors creates a legible and identifiable target for concern, for deliberation.

Second, metaphors need to do work, they need to struggle, and they can be left open to critique and ridicule, incomprehension, or internal contradiction, if not effectively developed. This ties into a more general point about the production of hegemony, of truth. As Nietzsche (1909: 173-188; cited in Miller, 2006) puts it:

What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthromorphisms – which, after long usage, seem to a nation fixed, canonic and binding: truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions.

Leaving aside debates about the construction of ‘truth’, it is clear that some of the metaphors developed and circulated, to date, have done more work than others in creating a legible and coherent understanding of what is going on, or what might be on offer. Thus we see some highly effective metaphors (e.g., Qatar Education City), which have come to be accepted, and legible in higher education circles in the targeted West, while others are ineffective, and perhaps far too broadly constructed. Incheon Free Economic Zone, for example, is a state planned development zone which is supposed to include a:

global center for cultural and intellectual exchange,” explains Hee Yhon Song, founder and former head of the College of Northeast Asian Studies, in Incheon City, and a key broker in the new agreements.

Mr. Song predicts that Incheon could eventually play host to more than 40 research institutes and at least seven foreign campuses, luring students from across the region. Eventually, he and others believe, South Korea could be the center of a regional government, along the lines of Brussels in the European Union.

Incheon, though, lacks a knowledge-based economy metaphor. “Free economic zone” smacks of export processing activities (factories), yet another ‘iconic’ world trade centre building, and somewhat sterile industrial landscapes. This said, these are early days in the Incheon’s development process, both materially and discursively. And on another level, might Free Economic Zone be a more accurate metaphor for what is going on in this era of academic capitalism, at least in some of the development initiative that are bubbling up around the globe?

Other metaphors that are perhaps too vague, and not legible at a transnational scale, include “global schoolhouse”. “Schoolhouse” is an troublesome metaphor in many countries for it implies primary level education only. Another common metaphor, “education hub” (as in Hong Kong Education Hub) is left open to critique for it can just as easily imply flow through, and tunnel/vacant/vacuous just as much as its other meaning (centrality of “activity, region, or network”).

Yet one place – Singapore – that has employed both of these problematic metaphors, succeeded in achieving its discursive objectives when it created an exemplary metaphor: “Boston of the East”. As Rear RADM (NS) Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, put it in 2000:

Our vision, in shorthand notation, is to become the Boston of the East. Boston is not just MIT or Harvard. The greater Boston area boasts of over 200 universities, colleges, research institutes and thousands of companies. It is a focal point of creative energy; a hive of intellectual, research, commercial and social activity. We want to create an oasis of talent in Singapore: a knowledge hub, an “ideas-exchange”, a confluence of people and idea streams, an incubator for inspiration

In short, metaphors are necessary, but not all metaphors work equally well in attempting to bring to life such development initiatives.

Third, metaphors are political, in the broadest sense of political. They are strategically deployed to structure and interpret events, development processes, development projects, and so on (Kelly, 2001). This leads the human geographer, Trevor Barnes (1996: 159), to argue that:

The more general point is that we must continually think critically about the metaphors we use—where they come from, why they were proposed, whose interests they represent, and the nature of their implications. Not to do so can lead us to be the slaves of some defunct master of metaphors.

So, while metaphors provide “color and entertainment” (Czarniawska-Joerges and Joerges, 1988), while they are designed to convince, and while they work (and fail), they also conceal as much, if not more, than they profile.

Take Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC), for example. KLEC builds upon the successes of Education City Qatar in generating a legible space for the siting of foreign universities in Malaysia, in and around the national capital and the Multimedia Super Corridor that Timothy Bunnell has so ably assessed. KLEC, though, is primarily a property development vehicle. KLEC’s key strategic partner TH Properties Sdn Bhd., a national property development firm is a subsidiary of Lembaga Tabung Haji, an established financial institution. As KLEC notes:

TH Properties’ most significant development to date is Bandar Enstek. Bandar Enstek is strategically located just 8 minutes from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) and 10 minutes away from the Main Terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). It is only 38 minutes from the Kuala Lumpur City Centre via the ERL and a mere 5 minutes from the Sepang F1 Circuit. It is a RM9.2 billion integrated township set over 5,116 acres of prime land. Expected to be fully completed in 2025, Bandar Enstek will be home to 150,000 residents who will enjoy high quality communications infrastructure, fixed and wireless connections included, to support unlimited broadband applications provided by TH Properties’ technology partner, Telekom Malaysia Bhd.

Education and property development, or education for property development? How many other education cities are in reality for-profit residential or industrial property development vehicles, first and foremost?

Other exclusions from, or obfuscations generated by the education/knowledge production metaphors include the fact that some of the so-called hotspots, especially in Saudi Arabia, have substantial security infrastructure to prevent attacks on faculty by Al Qaeda. Or exclusions related to the gendered or disciplinary structure of such knowledge spaces, for they are, and will inevitably be relatively masculine, and selective with respect to disciplinary offerings. But a more (perhaps!) accurate metaphor like Science and Engineering Dudes from the US Ivy League Hub just does not do it.

Or take the case of Qatar and Singapore, two ambitious global education hubs that proudly include highly ranked universities like MIT and Carnegie Mellon University, while (by accident or design) letting universities like Calgary and Queen Margaret fend for themselves in the producing their own global identities via their concurrent attachments to these two fast developing knowledge spaces. What forms of strategic selectivity are at work? Or in other terms, who is flying pre-paid business class to the Boston of the East, and the Boston of the Middle East?

Concluding comments

The globalization of higher education is continuing apace, and metaphors are being produced, projected, and consumed; they reflect, guide and construct our economic and higher ed imaginaries. And there is no sign we can do without them.

But if the “world needs a multitude of new metaphors leading us to a better future” though “metaphor, like life, is full of risks” (Miller, 2006: 65), are we happy with the existing metaphors that exist in relationship to these globalizing knowledge spaces? If metaphors have to work, perhaps we should also be doing more work on the metaphors too, for they are important dimensions of this fascinating development process.

References

Barnes, T. (1996) Logics of Dislocation: Models, Metaphors, and Meanings of Economic Space, New York: Guilford.

Cornelissen, J.P., Oswick, C., Christensen, L.T., Phillips, N. (2008 ) ‘Metaphors in organizational research: context, modalities, and implications for research – introduction’, Organization Studies, 29(7): 7-22.

Czarniawska-Joerges, B., and Joerges, B. (1988 ) ‘How to control things with words. On organizational talk and organizational control’, Management Communication Quarterly, 2(2): 170-193.

Kelly, P.F. (2001) ‘Metaphors of meltdown: political representations of economic space in the Asian financial crisis’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 19(6): 719-742.

Miller, D. (2006) ‘The politics of metaphor’, Theory, Culture and Society, 23(2-3): 63-65.

Smith, N and C.Katz (1993) ‘Grounding metaphor: towards a spatialized politics’, in M. Keith and S. Pile (eds.) Place and the Politics of Identity, London: Routledge.

Kris Olds and Susan Robertson

New UK report: ‘How Knowledge is Reshaping the Economic Life of Nations’

The London-based Work Foundation released a new 92 page report on 11 March titled The Knowledge Economy: How Knowledge is Reshaping the Economic Life of Nations.

wfreportcover.jpg Report highlights include:

  • Work: knowledge-based industries and knowledge-related occupations have provided most of the new jobs over the past decade.
  • Trade: The UK has emerged as a world leader in trade in knowledge services with the biggest trade surplus of the major OECD economies. While the City of London and financial services remain important, two thirds of this trade comes from business services, high tech, and education and cultural services.
  • Innovation: innovation in the knowledge economy comes from both the successful exploitation of R&D undertaken in the UK and overseas and from wider forms of innovation — design and development, marketing and organisational change.

The report includes this fascinating map of the public vs private geographies of the knowledge economy (or economies, to be more precise) in the UK.

ukkbemap.jpg

More food for fodder in the ongoing attempt to understand exactly what the ‘knowledge economy’ is, and what its development means for economy, society and space.

Kris Olds

EUA launches ‘Council for Doctoral Education’ to strengthen Europe’s global competitiveness

This week Georg Winckler, President of the the European Universities Association (EUA), launched what is billed as the first organization of its kind across Europe – the Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) committed to the development of Europe’s doctoral degrees.

According to Winckler, the purpose of the EUA-CDE is to develop greater levels of cooperation and exchange of good practice between the various univereua-2007-doctoral-programs.jpgsities of Europe in delivering doctoral degrees. A doctoral degree, it seems, is the sine qua non qualification for participating in, and delivering on, a more competitive European knowledge-based economy.

In 2007 the EUA tabled its report Doctoral Programmes in Europe’s Universities: Achievements and Challenges directed at the European Ministers and universities. In it the EUA showed that across Europe there had been a rapid expansion in the numbers of doctoral graduates along with a mushrooming of different kinds of doctoral programmes.

Similarly, the EUA Trends V Report (2007) reported that 30% of European higher education institutions surveyed said that they had some kind of doctoral, graduate or research school. This difference, however, as the table below illustrates, is of concern to the EUA who believe that such variation is symptomatic of chaos rather than ‘requisite variety’.

Reviewing and restructuring Europe’s doctoral programmes then– the 3rd cycle of the Bologna Process– is seen as crucial in the construction of the European Research Area. The mandate for the EUA-CDE is to bring doctoral programmes into line with each other by introducing more structured doctoral programmes, developing transferable skills, and ensuring quality.

While the Bologna Reform of the 1st and 2nd cycle of degrees (Bachelors and Masters respectively) has been a remarkable success, it remains to be seen whether the various Member States of Europe will cede some of their autonomy in order to bring the 3rd cycle – doctoral programmes – into line. It is also not clear whether structural conformity will generate the much sought after excellence and innovation for the economy rather than simply uniformity and possible mediocrity amongst doctoral programmes per se. After all, having a competitive edge means offering something new and different.

The problem for higher education institutions is that they are tied to the economy in two ways: on the one hand as engines for the new economy, and on the other as academic capitalists looking for new opportunities to generate funds to augment institutional finances.

Institutions need to be both different and similar at the same time – a paradox if ever there was one in the global higher education market.

Susan Robertson

Diaspora strategies for the knowledge economy

Governments around the world are beginning to think about their expatriate populations in new ways. Rather than expatriate business, cultural, scientific and policy actors being understood as ‘lost’ to their countries of origin, active efforts are now being made to identify and link highly skilled offshore citizens to national economic development projects through initiatives such as formal mentoring programmes, international advisory boards, and investment programmes. Diaspora Strategies are most often found in those countries that have experienced ‘brain drain’ and so are having difficulty accessing the capital and skills needed to succeed in the global economy. Today these countries include not only the developing countries of the so-called ‘South’ in which diasporic relationships have long been part of development strategies, but also ‘middling’ developed countries of the so-called ‘North’ such as New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Canada, Australia, Singapore and Ireland.

toktenrwanda.jpg

The active building of formal relationships between expatriate experts and economic development projects originated in developing countries during the post-war period, and was subsequently institutionalised in the UNDP initiated Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals (TOKTEN) programme. Still in operation, this programme has projects in over thirty countries, and involves experts who volunteer to go back to their countries of origin for periods usually ranging from one to six months. A more economistic understanding of the role of expatriates began to emerge in the 1960s, marked most notably with the emergence of the term ‘brain drain’ based on the human capital approach of Gary Becker (Meyer and Brown 1999). So-called ‘brain drain’ policies involve efforts to prevent or regulate flows of scientific and technological expertise from developing to developed countries. The challenge for policy makers was how to run ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain’ by encouraging highly skilled migrants to return home.

Today it is argued that ‘brain gain’ strategies have largely failed (World Bank 2005). Consequently many governments have begun to explore new policy measures that encourage expatriates to participate in their countries of origin without requiring them to return home. No longer is the diaspora simply the concern of migration officials, rather economic development agencies have become central, assisted in some cases by the efforts of international organisations. For example, the World Bank recently held a technical workshop in Latin America that focused on the design of Diaspora Strategies and contextualised these in the need for new forms of industrial policy predicated on high productivity employment. The result is active mobilisation of expatriates through initiatives such as investment conferences, industry and sector specific web links, the creation of expert databases, direct appeals by national leaders, short term visits by academics, mentors and industry specialists, and the explicit targeting of financial, market and technical expertise. It is in this context that expatriate presence in all OECD countries has also been measured for the first time (Dumont and Lemaitre 2005).

Unlike earlier diasporic networks that privileged cultural and educational relationships (such as embassy groups and alumni programmes), the primary aim of the formal Diaspora Strategies is to facilitate the transfer of advice, technical skills, finance, and market knowledge (market standards, financial practices, corporate governance) allowing more ready access into offshore markets. There is an explicit discussion about the need for Diaspora Strategies to distinguish between ‘alumni models’ that involve mass mobilization and the ‘overachievers model’ that focus on elite actors and target those who can influence corporate investment and decision making processes. In many cases, efforts to use Diaspora Strategies to help build a ‘knowledge based economy’ are also explicitly linked to new understandings of the role of universities and the establishment of business incubators in which connections can be made between fledgling businesses and expatriate networks (Lalkaka 2003).

The rise of Diaspora Strategies is significant because it demonstrates how state agencies, policy makers and individual citizens themselves have begun to think beyond national borders and are make efforts to generate non-territorial forms of organisation. However, to date the vocabulary of these strategies is that of the knowledge economy. Expatriates are being cast as new sources of financial, human and social capital. It is competitiveness, growth, skills, entrepreneurship and innovation that is privileged, and only rarely community and identity. Whether or not this in sustainable longer term remains to be seen.

References

Dumont J-C and G Lemaitre 2005 Counting Immigrants and Expatriates in OECD Countries: A New Perspective. OECD Directorate for Employment Labour and Social Affairs.

Lalkaka R 2003 Business Incubators in Developing Countries: characteristics and performance. International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management 3(1/2), 31-55.

Larner, W 2007 Expatriate experts and globalising governmentalities: the New Zealand diaspora strategy. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 32 (3), 331–345.

Meyer J-B and M Brown 1999 Scientific Diasporas: A New Approach to the Brain Drain. Paris: UNESCO MOST Discussion paper No 41.

World Bank 2005 Transforming Brain Drain into Brain Gain: Diaspora networks of highly skilled for the benefits of countries of origin Workshop for public and private sector leaders, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 26-27 April.

Wendy Larner

Producing the global knowledge economy: the World Bank and the KAM

What it means to either talk about, or indeed ‘produce’, a knowledge-based economy (KBE) is a bit like nailing jelly to the wall; it is dam slippery stuff! Part of the problem, of course, is that like all powerful metaphors, the KBE has a lot of political work to do, and it is powerful precisely because it can do that political work. It has something in it for everyone, whatever one’s politics.

Over 2008, GlobalHigherEd will run a series of analytical pieces making sense of the various players, projects and politics who seem to be involved in the production of a knowledge-based economy–from programs being developed by the World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum, to knowledge spaces that include knowledge incubators such as Futurelab, local art spaces and cyberspace. Contributions to this theme from fellow bloggers out there, as always, are more than welcome.

We begin this series with the World Bank who, since 1998, have been busy undergoing a major ‘makeover’ – re-representing itself not as a ‘development bank’ but a ‘knowledge bank’. This move, under the leadership of Bank President James Wolfensohn, took seriously the idea that how we managed knowledge was important, and that knowledge was a key factor in technological creation, adoption and communication.

One outcome of the Bank’s move was the Knowledge For Development (or K4D) Program aimed at helping developing countries capitalize on the ‘knowledge revolution’. Specifically, developing (and also developed) countries are challenged to plan appropriate investments in human capital, effective institutions, relevant technologies, and innovative and competitive enterprises.

These challenges are then translated into the four pillars of a knowledge-based economy comprising:

  • an ‘economic and institutional regime’ which values efficiency and entrepreneurship
  • an ‘educated’ population
  • an efficient ‘innovation’ system
  • an ‘information and communication technology’ infrastructure

The four pillars feed into the Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology – or KAM – an interactive benchmarking tool which now consists of 83 structural and qualitative variables for 140 countries around the globe to measure performance on the KE pillars against an imagined perfect score.

A Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) is generated giving an overall score, though scores can be broken down around each of the four pillars. Development advice is then fed out around a series of ‘product lines’.

The simplest ‘product line’ is a ‘do-it-yourself’ assessment of your economy in relation to either; all countries, others in the region, income, and so on. The user is also able to either generate a Basic Scorecard using around 14 key variables, or move to more complex representations that are based on respectively combinations of the 81 variables, the performance scores of all countries, comparisons over time, cross country comparisons, and so on. us-china-india.jpg

Other ‘product lines’ include the Bank doing policy reports for specific countries (for example, El Salvador, Turkey, Morocco), comprehensive assessments (for example India, China, Korea, Chile, the African region), and running learning events to exchange best practice. GlobalHigherEd’s blog on the reform of the Malaysian higher education system following a World Bank’s 2007  review is a good example of how the KAM is being used to reshape higher education policy and practice.

At one level this is fun. However this is a very serious business – as the benchmarking works like a learning tool. You learn where you are in this imagined perfect knowledge economy, and then strategize as to how to get to your preferred position using the pillars as policy guides and levers. top-ten-country-comparison.jpg

Benchmarking, ranking and other kinds of league tables are becoming more and more popular as tools for promoting particular kinds of learning among institutions, nations and regions. GlobalHigherEd has been profiling some of these – for instance PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the OECD’s Innovation Scoreboard, and University Rankings.

Like all of these systems of ranking and benchmarking, the most interesting issue with the World Bank’s Knowledge Assessment Methodology is what is being measured, why, and with what likely outcomes? Leaving aside the thorny issue of the efficacy of the indicators for the moment (such as the Human Development Index which is one of the 83 indicators making up the KAM), as we run through all 83 indicators, we get a quick sense of the political nature of the project; the production of a world order that values global trade, has few bans on imports and licensing, strong protections in place for intellectual property (IP), a system for ensuring payments for royalties and IP across borders, high levels of adult literacy, landlines and computers to support global connectivity, and so on. Absent in this list of indicators are ways of representing unpaid labor, alternative systems of knowledge production, cultural knowledges, and so on.

The developed Western economies are more likely to be advantaged by this kind of economy – given their interest in extending their services sectors globally and securing greater returns from the high end of the value chain. However, in areas like education, the policy levers are still rather crude. It is difficult to see, for instance, how investments in higher education per se will generate those innovative, creative and entrepreneurial individuals who are regarded as the engines of this new economy.

Susan Robertson