Are we witnessing a key moment in the reworking of the global higher education & research landscape?

ACEissuebriefOver the last several weeks more questions about the changing nature of the relative position of national higher education and research systems have emerged.  These questions have often been framed around the notion that the US higher education system (assuming there is one system) might be in relative decline, that flagship UK universities (national champions?) like Oxford are unable to face challenges given the constraints facing them, and that universities from ’emerging’ regions (East and South Asia, in particular) are ‘rising’ due to the impact of continual or increasing investment in higher education and research.

Select examples of such contributions include this series in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

and these articles associated with the much debated THE-QS World University Rankings 2009:

EvidenceUKcoverThe above articles and graphics in US and UK higher education media outlets were preceded by this working paper:

a US report titled:

and one UK report titled:

There are, of course, many other calls for increased awareness, or deep and critical reflection.  For example, back in June 2009, four congressional leaders in the USA:

asked the National Academies to form a distinguished panel to assess the competitive position of the nation’s research universities. “America’s research universities are admired throughout the world, and they have contributed immeasurably to our social and economic well-being,” the Members of Congress said in a letter delivered today. “We are concerned that they are at risk.”….

The bipartisan congressional group asked that the Academies’ panel answer the following question: “What are the top ten actions that Congress, state governments, research universities, and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper, and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment, and security in the global community of the 21st century?”

Recall that the US National Academies produced a key 2005 report (Rising Above the Gathering Storm) “which in turn was the basis for the “America COMPETES Act.” This Act created a blueprint for doubling funding for basic research, improving the teaching of math and science, and taking other steps to make the U.S. more competitive.” On this note see our 16 June 2008 entry titled ‘Surveying US dominance in science and technology for the Secretary of Defense‘.

RisingStormTaken together, these contributions are but a sample of the many expressions of concern being expressed in 2009 in the Global North (especially the US & UK) about the changing geography of the global higher education and research landscape.

These types of articles and reports shed light, but can also raise anxiety levels (as they are sometimes designed to do).  The better of them attempt to ensure that the angsts being felt in the long dominant Global North are viewed with a critical eye, and that people realize that this is not a “zero-sum game” (as Philip Altbach puts it in the Chronicle’sAmerica Falling: Longtime Dominance in Education Erodes‘). For example, the shifting terrain of global research productivity is partially a product of increasing volumes of collaboration and human mobility across borders, while key global challenges are just that – global in nature and impossible to attend to unless global teams of relatively equitable capacities are put together. Moreover, greater transnational education and research activity and experience arguably facilitates a critical disposition towards the most alarmist material, while concurrently reinforcing the point that the world is changing, albeit very unevenly, and that there are also many positive changes associated with a more dispersed higher education and research landscape.

We’ll do our best to post links to new global mappings like these as they emerge in the future.  Please ensure you let us know what is being published, be it rigorous, critical, analytical, alarmist, self-congratulatory, etc., and we’ll profile it on GlobalHigherEd.  The production of discourses on this new global higher education and research landscape is a key component of the process of change itself.  Thus we need to be concerned not just with the content of such mappings, but also the logics underlying the production of such mappings, and the institutional relations that bring such mappings into view for consumption.

Kris Olds

The National Academies’ International Visitors Office: strategic communications while institutionalizing mobility

nalogo.jpgThe National Academies is a US-based institution that is made up of representatives from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. This institution was created by Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and has evolved into a key stakeholder in debates about the globalization of higher education, especially with respect to science and technological matters. The activities of the Policy and Global Affairs Division should be of particular interest to GlobalHigherEd readers. Approximately 1,100 staff work at the National Academies’ offices in Washington DC.

ivo-bisologo.jpgThe National Academies’ Board on International Scientific Organizations has just released a podcast that explains what role their International Visitors Office plays in facilitating the movement of scientists and foreign students to the United States in the “fundamentally” transformed post-9/11 era.

The office, which was set up in 2003, seeks to facilitate human mobility but in a manner that is less problematic when the “national security interests” of the US can sometimes “alienate” the “skilled migrants” who play a critically important role in meeting the science and technology needs of the US. Thus the initiative also has diplomatic (aka strategic communications) objectives associated with it. The podcast is approximately five minutes long.

Kris Olds