Pacific Rim views on global education: Hong Kong+Seattle

Editor’s note: this guest entry was kindly produced by Gray Kochhar-Lindgren (pictured to the right), Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, as well as Director of the First Year Experience, at the University of Washington, Bothell. During 2009-10, Gray served as a Fulbright Scholar in General Education based at the University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong America Center. With Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, he is currently working on a book entitled Designing the Global University. Our sincere thanks to Gray for a tantalizing entry that sheds light on some of the opportunities and challenges of fashioning deeper forms of internationalization, especially those of a partnership nature.  This is an issue that Nigel Thrift also addressed in a recent blog entry (‘Internationalization is difficult‘) in the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as via recent comments he made in the Times Higher Education (‘Global future: together alone‘), and one that I will deal with via a series of entries about international collaborative (e.g., dual and joint) degrees this coming September.   Kris Olds


Having spent September 2009-June 2010 serving as a Fulbright Scholar in General Education in Hong Kong , I have now returned to my responsibilities at the University of Washington, Bothell, as a Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Director of the academic side of our First Year Experience. All the universities in Hong Kong are moving from three to four year degrees and UW Bothell started first and second year programs in 2006 and is now rapidly expanding its degree options. On both sides of the Pacific, curricular and administrative structural reform are moving forward at a sometimes dizzying, but always invigorating, pace. What are the connections and asymmetries involved in such an effort?

As in other parts of the world, a very similar language is emerging in both Seattle and Hong Kong around curricular reform, including the familiar rhetoric of student-centeredness; outcomes-based assessment; interdisciplinarity; writing, quantitative, and IT literacies; cross-cultural competencies; interactive pedagogies; and the development of new administrative structures that can serve the university as a whole instead of reproducing only department or College level concerns.

The most difficult challenges include how best to shape faculty participation in governance, teaching, and administration of the curricular shifts; how to change the culture of the university so that teaching is valued as highly as research productivity in promotion and tenure decisions; how to change faculty behavior toward more interactivity in and beyond the classroom; what forms trans- or interdisciplinarity teaching and research take; and, of course, how best to resource the curricular changes in terms of money and people.

In addition to these similarities, each site has its material and cultural specificities. It is, for instance, much easier to do student projects on different moments of urbanization in Hong Kong and on biodiversity of wetland habitats in Bothell.  The University of Hong Kong, where I was based last year, is an English-language institution, but the language politics of Hong Kong as a whole, which has Cantonese as its primary language and the use of Putonghua growing quickly, involves issues quite different than in the Pacific Northwest of the US. The global position of the US and the “one country, two systems” of Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, create different sets of questions for teaching, learning, and university reform in each case.

As an outsider-insider in Hong Kong there were always, and inevitably, blind spots I did not even recognize as well as a torrent of learning from daily life, reading, conversation, teaching, and the curricular work itself.  As we all learn to work more effectively across global sites, we would do well to think much more rigorously about our theories of cultural translatability.

Finally, there is the formation of interdisciplinary and cross-cultural research groups. I am in the very beginning of this process, so I am immensely curious about how it will unfold. I am collaborating with scholars in Hong Kong, Seattle, Macau, and elsewhere to collect a series of essays on Global Noir, with its affiliations with cities, political economy, the tradition of the genre, and a reconceptualization of the concept of noir.

On a larger scale, I, along with Robert Peckham, the Co-Director of the Centre for Humanities and Medicine at HKU, are forming a research project called “Transnational Asian Cities: Health, Virtualities, and Urban Ecologies” that will involve scholars from multiple disciplines in Hong Kong, Seattle, Shanghai, and Mumbai.  How will we construct the object of study? How will we stay in touch? What types of new understandings will we produce and in what media? How will such effort be judged and assessed? Such questions must, in our globalized but still localized contexts, be asked time and time again.

All of these efforts, which are part of redefining the contemporary globalized university, require leadership, visibility, inventiveness, collaboration, faculty and staff development, and consistency of effort over time.  We will all have to learn to articulate spatial-temporal consistencies and asymmetries, a host of rapidly shifting variabilities of culture and language, and a series of nodes of Intensity where we collect, share, and move our work ahead. What, in other words, does “Seattle+Hong Kong” signify? How do we actualize the links as new curriculum and new university structures? How do we move back and forth across the Pacific? As with any organizational change at such basic levels, there are difficulties, frustrations, and successes, but the necessity for change is clear.  Ready or not.

Gray Kochhar-Lindgren

GATS, TRIPS and higher education: projects, politics and prospects

The World Trade Organization (WTO) and two of its agreements, the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Services (TRIPS), have emerged as important features of the global higher education landscape.

However, despite the importance of the WTO and its Agreements, many of us working in the sector have either very little, or at best very sketchy, knowledge about GATS and TRIPS as projects, their politics and what might be the likely prospects for the future. Even our sketchy knowledge tends to be shaped by media images largely around the biennial Ministerial Meetings for the WTO; from clashes with riot police in Seattle in 1999 (see below) to more recent arrests in Hong Kong in 2005.

GlobalHigherEd will carry a series of feature pieces on the WTO’s GATS and TRIPS Agreements, beginning here with a brief outline of the World Trade Organization and the emergence of the GATS and TRIPS Agreements in 1995.

Although the WTO is a new international organization, its origins are rooted in the General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs (GATT) of 1947. In the Uruguay Round of the GATT (1986-1994), it was decided that the international trade rules should pay more attention to the trade of “invisibles”, such as intellectual property, services and knowledge. These elements were more and more important for the world economy and were not covered by the GATT’47. To manage these new complexities, a single trade agreement was not enough. So, it was necessary to create an international organization, the WTO, which contemplated new trade agreements to fill the GATT gap: the TRIPS and the GATS. Currently, the WTO has 151 member countries. These countries have committed themselves to respect the norms and disciplines of the WTO agreements, as well as to promote progressive trade liberalization in the areas covered by the agreements. wto-logo.jpg

In addition to the scope, another important difference between the GATT and the WTO is related to the dispute settlement procedure. The dispute settlement system of the WTO is regarded as much more efficient than the old system because of new procedural innovations. This also makes the WTO more powerful in enforcing trade agreements and consequently obliges member countries to be careful about respecting the content of the trade agreements.

Finally, another important difference between the GATT and the WTO can be found in its political character. In the framework of the WTO, the liberalization principle is stronger than in the original GATT. This Agreement, created in the post-WWII context, instituted a commercial regime of Keynesian embedded liberalism. But the WTO, created in a moment of neoliberal climax, clearly breaks the balance between the global liberalization objective and the capacity of states to deliver their legitimate social purpose. The fact that the WTO covers public services, such as health and education, as well as other public goods such as knowledge, significantly increases the social implications of this political shift in the international trade regime and one that GlobalHigherEd will be exploring in detail.

Both the presence and the politics of the WTO and its embrace of education–including higher education–as a new tradeable services sector is not only far reaching, but has important implications for academics’ everyday work and for how the sector is constructed and regulated. For these reasons, those working in the sector should have at least a working knowledge of the GATS and TRIPS processes so that they can either mediate or intervene in debates. We hope this series  will help you contribute to this debate.

Susan Robertson and Antoni Verger