Graphic feed: CREATE – an international multi-institution research campus in Singapore/Asia

Source: National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Republic of Singapore.

Note: Further information on the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE) is available via the CREATE Project Brief.

IBM and collaborators open a new rail innovation centre in Beijing

As someone who loves taking the train, misses the TGV, Eurostar, and Thalys systems (having lived in France last year), and is perplexed why the world’s wealthiest country does not get serious about fast speed rail, this news story caught my eye.

I’ll paste in most of the accompanying text below, from IBM’s Smarter Planet website.  What is interesting, from a GlobalHigherEd perspective, is the nature of the array of institutions that have been brought together to create such space of innovation, and where it is based.

Today IBM opened a worldwide rail innovation center in Beijing, China.  We’re excited because it’s the first time rail companies, universities, government leaders and a wide range of rail experts are gathering to figure out what it will take to bring the best rail systems to every country in the world….

Already members include Tsinghua University, Michigan Technological University, Professor Joseph M. Sussman of MIT, Railinc, RMI, Motorola, Sabre, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and Olivier G. Maurel, CIO of ILOG (an IBM company) and former CIO of SNCF in France.

The kinds of things we’ll work on are advanced data analytics for scheduling and predictive maintenance, cell phone enabled passenger service, wireless sensors on bearings and axles, digital video systems that ensure a clear track ahead and automatically respond to danger — to create rail systems that will support economic vitality, improved quality of life through reduced road congestion, and environmental sustainability.

The idea is when the best minds get together, everyone benefits.  That means better, faster on-time performance, far more efficient scheduling, maximized equipment usage and fewer vehicles congesting cities.

Think about this:  A single freight train on a track can replace 280 trucks on a road, reducing fuel use, congestion and emissions.  And considering every year nine billion gallons of fuel is wasted in traffic congestion we need all the help we can get.

Here’s to breathing easier, relaxing more and getting from city center to city center in the most efficient way possible.

Kris Olds

Smaller classes, bigger science, and the increasing need to engage

In the middle of checking with colleagues at a variety of peer institutions about the evolving nature of teaching loads, yesterday’s New York Times distracted me with two fascinating articles about forces that are pushing educators and researchers to work with both smaller and larger groups of people.

Small groups and quality learning

On the downward push side, the article ‘At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard’ by Sara Rimer, explores how physicists at universities across North America are:

pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.

The article, which primarily focuses on MIT and the discipline of physics, notes that students still take basic introductory classes, but:

today they meet in high-tech classrooms, where about 80 students sit at 13 round tables equipped with networked computers.

Instead of blackboards, the walls are covered with white boards and huge display screens. Circulating with a team of teaching assistants, the professor makes brief presentations of general principles and engages the students as they work out related concepts in small groups.

Teachers and students conduct experiments together. The room buzzes. Conferring with tablemates, calling out questions and jumping up to write formulas on the white boards are all encouraged.

The article reminded me of a day I spent in the Wharton School‘s lavish building at the University of Pennsylvania (see the pictures below, taken in 2005).  I was impressed with the dialogue-oriented classrooms, and the small semi-private meeting spaces for student teams in the hallways (to the left of the corridor) with more public computer desks on the opposite side; spaces clearly designed from the ground up.

wharton1 wharton2


At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard’ resonates with debates underway in numerous quarters about the learning process, classroom technologies, pedagogical practices, and so on. Yet one cannot help but wonder how the effects of the current economic crisis will restrain most public universities from moving in this logical direction, one that our institutions have long known about (witness the praise for colleges like Harvey Mudd), yet have resisted or been unable to act upon.  Indeed, as I noted to one of my colleagues in Minnesota yesterday, long term underfunding of public higher education systems generates structural forces that see faculty-student enrollment number balances tilt the exact opposite way – away from small group quality learning – as witnessed in Australia and Canada in the 1980s and 1990s (see some indicators here in ‘Analysing Australia’s global higher ed export industry’). MIT and Penn have the resources to do the right thing, but does the average university in most continents?

Big science, research, and the centralization impulse

The 13 January issue of the same New York Times included a guest column by Aaron E. Hirsh titled ‘A New Kind of Big Science’. This article, which is also getting a lot of attention, discusses what Hirsh deems a “very broad trend” in scientific research: the creation of huge international teams of researchers, and associated research infrastructures, that are enabled by the forces of centralization:

Across many different fields, new data are generated by a smaller and smaller number of bigger and bigger projects. And with this process of centralization come changes in what scientists measure — and even in what scientists are.


It’s not only scientific instruments, but also the scientists themselves who are transformed by centralization. If the 19th century was an age of far-flung investigators alone in the wilderness or the book-lined study, the 21st century is, so far, an age of scientists as administrators. Many of the best-known scientists of our day are men and women exceptionally talented in herding the resources — human and otherwise — required to plan, construct and use big sophisticated facilities.

In a way, centralization seems unavoidable. The governments that fund research have themselves become far more centralized, so perhaps science has been pulled along in the process. But even without that prevailing wind, science would, I think, head in the very same direction.

A young discipline is bound to move first through the data it can gather most easily. And as it does, it also defines more exactly what it must measure to test its theories. As the low-hanging fruit vanish, and the most precious of fruits are spotted high above, bigger investments in harvesting equipment become necessary. Centralization is a way to extend scientists’ reach.

I quote at length, here, for he raises some important issues worth pondering for those interested in the construction of new knowledge spaces. These include:

  • the degree to which collaboration and partnerships (many international) are becoming indispensable to the research endeavor.
  • the need to extend and guide heterogeneous networks to enable such research to be undertaken, and the double-edged role of centralization in enabling this extension/guiding process to function.
  • the rarely examined effects such collaboration, and such centralizing impulses, have upon the subjectivity of researchers (and of administrators, I might add).
  • the difficulties that exist in building an emotional attachment to what Hirsh calls Big Science, an issue ‘outreach’ and development planners in universities (including my university) are also concerned about.

Hirsh’s column, especially his idea of a national initiative in Citizen Science – to complement Big Science – in the US, has generated 100+ comments, some of which are insightful.

In closing, I can’t help but note that both pushes – smaller groups of people when teaching, and larger groups of people when researching – require greater, not less, social engagement, and of both virtual and face-to-face forms. Resource constraints aside, do we have the quality institutions, structures, technologies, programs, etc., in place, and knowledge about them, to enable and facilitate better quality social engagement in the local spaces of the classroom, and the broader spaces of Big Science?  Citizen Science might help resolve some problems associated with Big Science, yet we are arguably lacking up-to-date support systems to enable us to engage better, to be better partners, in the worlds of teaching and research.

In a future entry I’ll come back to the issue of inter-university consortia and associations (e.g., the US’ Committee on Institutional Cooperation) in providing one element of these needed support systems. Enough procrastination for today though…I have syllabi to finish writing!

Kris Olds

Do young ‘innovators’ flourish in universities?

After nearly a year in existence, one of the regular themes we have been profiling in GlobalHigherEd is the relative weight, or presence, of universities in the global research landscape. See, for example, the 4 August entry ‘Globalizing research: forces, patterns, and collaborative practices‘. Of course universities matter – as they should and always will – but the broad trend that we have noted is that firms, think tanks, NGOs, multilateral organizations, topic-specific expert groups, and so on, are playing an increasingly important role in the production of knowledge, of innovation, of creative impulses.

Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting story (‘Fewer University-Based Researchers Appear on 2008 List of Young Innovators‘) which highlights the fact the Technology Review (published by MIT) only lists 17 out of 35 “Young Innovators Under 35” with affiliations to universities.  This number is down from 22 out of 25 in 2007. The other 18 “young innovators” in 2008 are based in firms including Drupal, ICx Technologies, Thatgamecompany, and Twitter. The Technology Review article includes video interviews with other winners as well.

Now, it is easy to be be critical or suspicious regarding this pattern, and even more so as this is but one US-based technology-focused magazine (as proxy measure). Yet universities are becoming, according to increasing numbers of analysts (e.g., Arjun Appadurai), merely one of many sites of knowledge production; a diversification trend that begs the question why?

Is it because of relatively low pay, or rigid institutional structures and lack of opportunity for career progression? Or is it because of ever increasing demands on faculty as mission mandates widen? Or is it due to morale challenges in the context of limited (or declining) levels of state funding? My own university, for example acquires a mere 18% of its budget from the State of Wisconsin despite being a public university with significant state-focused responsibilities.

Or is it because the carrots associated with firms and NGOs, for example, are all too obvious to young researchers? I recently returned from a year in Paris, for example, and was shocked at the lack of opportunity for genuinely brilliant young PhDs. Why wait 10-15 years, if one is lucky, to get the position and space to be somewhat independently creative, when this space is on offer, right now, outside of academe? The creation of an attractive and conducive context, especially for young researchers, is a challenge right now in numerous higher ed systems.

The position of the university as a significant space of knowledge production is not to be taken for granted.

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