Global regionalism, interregionalism, and higher education

The development of linkages between higher education systems in a variety of ‘world regions’ continues apace. Developments in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Gulf, and Latin America, albeit uneven in nature, point to the desire to frame and construct regional agendas and architectures. Regionalism -– a state-led initiative to enhance integration to boost trade and security — is now being broadened out such that higher education, and research in some cases, is being uplifted into the regionalism impulse/dynamic.

The incorporation of higher education and research into the regionalism agenda is starting to generate various forms of interregionalisms as well.  What I mean by this is that once a regional higher education area or research area has been established, at least partially, relations between that region, and other regions (i.e. partners), then come to be sought after. These may take the form of relations between (a) regions (e.g., Europe and Asia), (b) a region and components of another region (e.g., Europe and Brazil; Latin America and the United States; Southeast Asia and Australia). The dynamics of how interregional relations are formed are best examined via case studies for, suffice it to say, not all regions are equals, and nor do regions (or indeed countries) speak with singular and stable voices. Moreover some interregional relations can be practice-oriented, and involve informal sharing of best practices that might not formally be ‘on the books.’

Let me outline two examples of the regionalism/interregionalism dynamic below.

ALFA PUENTES

The first example comes straight from an 8 July 2011 newsletter from the European University Association (EUA), one of the most active and effective higher education institutions forging interregional relations of various sorts.

In their newsletter article, the EUA states (and I quote at length):

The harmonisation agenda in Central America: ALFA PUENTES sub-regional project launch (July 07, 2011)

 EUA, OBREAL, HRK and university association partners from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Mexico gathered in Guatemala City on 27-28 June both to discuss and formally launch the sub-regional project ‘Towards a qualifications framework for MesoAmerica’, one of the three pillars of the European Commission supported structural project ‘ALFA PUENTES’ which EUA is coordinating.

Hosted by sub-regional project coordinator CSUCA (Consejo Universitario CentroAmericana), and further attended by the sub-regional coordinators of the Andean Community (ASCUN), Mercosur (Grupo Montevideo), partners discussed current higher education initiatives in Central America and how the ALFA PUENTES project can both support and build upon them.

CSUCA, created in 1948 with a mission to further integration in Central America and improve the quality of higher education in the region, has accelerated its agenda over the past 10 years and recently established a regional accreditation body. This endeavour has been facilitated by project partner and EUA member HRK (in conjunction with DAAD) as well as several other donors. The association, which represents around 20 public universities in Central America, has an ambitious agenda to create better transparency and harmonisation of degrees, and has already agreed to a common definition of credit points and a template for a diploma supplement.

Secretary General Dr Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria stated in a public presentation of the project that ALFA PUENTES will be utilised to generate a discussion on qualifications frameworks and how this may accelerate the Central America objectives of degree convergence. European experience via the Bologna Process will be shared and European project partners as well as Latin American (LA) partners from other regions will contribute expertise and good practice.

ALFA PUENTES is a three-year project aimed at both supporting Latin American higher education convergence processes and creating deeper working relationships between European and Latin American university associations. Thematic sub-regional projects (MesoAmerica, Andean Community and Mercosur) will be connected with a series of transversal activities including a pan-Latin American survey on change forces in higher education, as well as two large Europe-LA University Association Conferences (2012 and 2014).

This lengthy quote captures a fascinating array of patterns and processes that are unfolding right now; some unique to Europe, some unique to Latin America, and some reflective of synergy and complementarities between these two world regions.

TUNING the Americas

The second example, one more visual in nature, consists of a recent map we created about the export of the TUNING phenomenon. As we have noted in two previous GlobalHigherEd entries:

TUNING is a process launched in Europe to help build the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). As noted on the key TUNING website, TUNING is designed to:

Contribute significantly to the elaboration of a framework of comparable and compatible qualifications in each of the (potential) signatory countries of the Bologna process, which should be described in terms of workload, level, learning outcomes, competences and profile.

The TUNING logic is captured nicely by this graphic from page 15 of the TUNING General Brochure.

Over time, lessons learned about integration and educational reform via these types of mechanisms/technologies of governance have come to be viewed with considerable interest in other parts of the world, including Africa, North America, and Latin America. In short, the TUNING approach, an element of the building of the EHEA, has come to receive considerable attention in non-European regions that are also seeking to guide their higher educational reform processes, and as well as (in many cases) region-building processes.

As is evident in one of several ‘TUNING Americas’ maps we (Susan Robertson, Thomas Muhr, and myself) are working on with the support of the UW-Madison Cartography Lab and the WUN, the TUNING approach is being taken up in other world regions, sometimes with the direct support of the European Commission (e.g., in Latin America or Africa). The map below is based on data regarding the institutional take-up of TUNING as of late 2010.


Please note that this particular map only focuses on Europe and the Americas, and it leaves out other countries and world regions. However, the image pasted in below, which was extracted from a publicly available presentation by Robert Wagenaar of the University of Groningen, captures aspects of TUNING’s evolving global geography.

Despite the importance of EU largesse and support, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the EU is foisting TUNING on world regions; this is the post-colonial era, after all, and regions are voluntarily working with this European-originated reform mechanism and Europe-based actors. TUNING also only works when faculty/staff members in higher education institutions outside of Europe drive and then implement the process (a point Robert Wagenaar emphasizes). Or look, for example, at the role of the US-based Lumina Foundation in its TUNING USA initiative. Instead, what we seem to have is capacity building, mutual interests in the ‘competencies’ and ‘learning outcomes’ agenda, and aspects of the best practices phenomenon (all of which help explain the ongoing building of synergy between the OECD’s AHELO initiative with the European/EU-enabled TUNING initiative). This said, there are some ongoing debates about the possible alignment implications associated with the TUNING initiative.

These are but two examples of many emerging regionalisms/interregionalisms in the global higher education landscape; a complicated multiscalar phenomenon of educational reform and ‘modernization,’ and region building, mixed in with some fascinating cases of relational identity formation at the regional scale.

Kris Olds (with thanks to Susan Robertson & Thomas Muhr)

Bologna: beyond 2010 and over the Ocean – but where to? On new Bologna reports and C. Adelman’s last essay

PavelZgagaEditor’s note: this guest entry is by Pavel Zgaga, Professor, Faculty of Education, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Pavel began his academic career at the University of Ljubljana in 1978. In 1990-92 and 2001-2004 he was a member of the University Senate; in 2001-2004 he was Dean of the Faculty of Education. He is Director of the Centre for Education Policy Studies, a R&D institute of the University of Ljubljana established in 2000. In the 1990s, in the period after political changes in Slovenia, he was engaged for several years in the Slovenian Government. In 1992-1999 he was State Secretary for Higher Education. In 1999-2000 he was Minister of Education and Sports. He was also the head of the working group “Education, Training and Youth” in the negotiation process for Slovenian accession to the EU (1998-1999). On behalf of Slovenia, he signed the Lisbon Recognition Convention (April 1997) and the Bologna Declaration (June 1999). After his return to university he has remained closely connected to the Bologna process.  In the period 2002 – 2003 he was the general rapporteur of the Bologna Follow-up Group (Berlin Report) while in the period June 2004 – June 2005 he was a member of the Board of the Bologna Follow-up Group. He also the author of Looking out: The Bologna Process in a Global Setting (2006) and Higher Education in Transition: Reconsiderations on Higher Education in Europe at the Turn of the Millenium (2007).

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The end of April was again very important for the emerging European Higher Education Area (EHEA): the sixth ministerial conference of the 46 Bologna countries was held in Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Yet, we are not going to discuss its outcomes (though we will briefly discuss the Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve Communiqué later), but the “background” lead-up to the conference. In this context, April was not only an important but also a productive month: productive in terms of reports, surveys and analyses on the Bologna Process and higher education in Europe in general which really deserve some attention. Most of them are available at the official Bologna website.

First of all, there is a traditional – and official – 2009 Stocktaking Report (the third in line since 2005), this time on 100+ pages and focusing on progression of the new degree system implementation across Europe, quality assurance, recognition and mobility issues as well as at the “EHEA in a global context” and Bologna “beyond 2010”.

The Stocktaking Report is again accompanied by a Eurydice study Higher Education in Europe 2009: Developments in the Bologna Process.

Within a package of “official Bologna” reports we can also find – now for the first time – a comprehensive study with Key Indicators on the Social Dimension and Mobility provided by Eurostat and Eurostudent (commissioned at the previous London 2007 Conference, and the source of the map pasted in below).

BolognaMapThere are a number of other interesting reports, mainly from various Bologna working parties but we simply can’t check all of them at once. Perhaps we should add a new Eurobarometer Survey (No. 260) on Students and Higher Education Reform which provides very interesting insights on basis of responses from 15,000 randomly-selected students from 31 European countries.

With previous Bologna biannual conferences we learnt that reports and surveys provided by two leading “Bologna partner organizations” – the European University Association (EUA) and the European Students’ Union (ESU) – are always very instructive and may also bring very critical comments. Yet, this year there is no “Trends” report. The fifth one was presented at the London Conference in 2007 and the sixth is planned only for the next conference (to be hosted jointly by Vienna and Budapest in 2010) which will officially declare that the Bologna train has reached its main station and that the EHEA is “finally constructed”. However, in April EUA published another survey, Survey of Master Degrees in Europe (by Howard Davies) which is extremely interesting with its findings about the implementation of the Bologna “second cycle”. On the other hand, a new volume of the Bologna With Student Eyes 2009 report – a presentation of student views on ongoing European higher education reforms – was produced again by ESU.

At this point, a list of new publications is not exhausted at all. We will mention only one more – a monograph which fully deserves not only to be mentioned here but to be taken into a serious consideration. There is a special reason: it is a non-Bologna Bologna study. It is not the “independent review” which the Process put on its agenda for the next year; in Europe it was received in a rather unexpected way. As its author says openly, the title of his monograph “is a deliberate play on the title of the biennial reports on the progress of Bologna produced by the European Students’ Union”: it is The Bologna Process for U.S. Eyes by Clifford Adelman (2009, IHEP) which has been already discussed in GlobalHigherEd by Anne Corbett (see ‘A European view of the new Adelman report on the Bologna Process‘).

Reading Adelman “essay”, as he also calls it, we soon notice that it is more than just a play on the title “intended to pay tribute to student involvement in the massive undertaking that is Bologna”. It is obviously also “a purposeful slap at both former U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education and the U.S. higher education community in its response to the report of that commission— neither of which involved students in visible and substantive ways, if at all.” Even more than that, no attention whatsoever was paid in the Spellings’ initiative to developments in European higher education and the Adelman’s conclusion is simple: “Such purblind stances are unforgivable in a world without borders”. Therefore, there is a clear “polemic side of this essay” as we can read in the concluding part of his essay.

This side is, most probably, intended “for U.S. eyes” only. However, when reading Adelman’s essay in the atmosphere of the last Bologna Conference I was really surprised how gentle its melody may sound to “European ears”. One should not forget that both the Sorbonne and the Bologna Declaration contain – besides other important elements – some hidden resentment about the global standing of American higher education, indicative in comments like “Universities were born in Europe”, the stressing of “a world-wide degree of attraction equal to our extraordinary cultural and scientific traditions” and a continuous call that European higher education should increase its “international competitiveness”.

Ten years after the Bologna initiative was raised it is really fantastic for European ears to listen to sentences like this one: “While still a work in progress, parts of the Bologna Process have already been imitated in Latin America, North Africa, and Australia. The core features of the Bologna Process have sufficient momentum to become the dominant global higher education model within the next two decades.” It is not a matter of politeness; there are arguments for such a statement.

zgaga-coverIn fact, it is indeed surprising that such a long time was needed to receive a real response from across the Ocean, from the US. In 2006 when I was working on a study on the “External Dimension” of the Bologna Process (see Looking out: The Bologna Process in a Global Setting) it was already obvious that “echoes” were emerging from all over the world – but not from the US. Referring to Margaret Spellings’ Commission Draft Report I wrote: “Surprisingly, from a European perspective, and probably from a non-American perspective in general, the document does not make any detailed reference to the issue of internationalisation and globalisation of higher education, which is high on agendas in other world regions!” However, on the other side it was already possible to listen to first warnings coming from academic people. I remember Catharine Stimpson who said at the ACA Hamburg conference (Germany) in Autumn 2004: “Ignorance is always dangerous, but the United States ignorance of the Bologna Process – outside of some educational experts – may be particularly dangerous.”

Much has changed within only one year (not only in higher education) – and this change should be now reflected upon, including on this side of the Ocean. We remember Adelman’s previous study (The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction, May 2008) which perhaps already made Bologna more popular in US, but what came as really surprising news for many people in Europe was information about Lumina Foundation plans (in association with the states of Indiana, Minnesota, and Utah) to establish study groups to examine the Tuning process (see Susan Robertson’s entry ‘Tuning USA’: reforming higher education in the US, Europe style‘ on this issue, as well as this Lumina press release).

I have been personally involved in the “European” Tuning process: it has been a truly excellent experience in international collaboration. Adelman is right: if you are working in a group of, say, 15 colleagues who speak 12 different languages and are coming from 15 different academic, cultural, political, economic, etc., environments, then you are really privileged. This has been an extremely productive way of modernizing our institutions, our courses and our work with students. Since colleagues from Latin America and Caribbean joined Tuning, since Tuning was spread also to Central Asia etc., our common privilege has been only increasing. But it should be made clear: the success of Tuning is not because of a supposed “European win” in the “international competitiveness game”; this would be too simplistic a conclusion. In the globalising higher education of today we need partners, as many as possible. Not only to learn new ideas from them but also to watch your own face in mirrors they can offer you. Therefore: Indiana, Minnesota, and Utah – welcome!

Adelman aims at clarifying “for North American readers, what Bologna is and what it is not”; however, it seems to me that results of his work are broader and that they can generate new ideas not only with American but also with European and, hopefully, global readers as well. (Last but not least: it could be read as a useful ‘textbook’ also for Europeans.) Yet, not in the same line for all; contexts are obviously different. He urges Americans “to learn something from beyond our own borders that just might help us rethink our higher education enterprise” but also gives a mirror to Europeans enabling them to leave working on implementation aside for a moment and to reflect upon what they have been doing so far and where are they going now.

At this point we are back in post-April 2009 Europe. In their Communiqué, Ministers shifted the landmark from Bologna 2010 to Bologna 2020. Its very first sentence makes us realise that the story is not finished. “In the decade up to 2020 European higher education has a vital contribution to make in realising a Europe of knowledge that is highly creative and innovative.” Of course, “over the past decade we have developed the EHEA”; there is no doubt that “greater compatibility and comparability of the systems of higher education” has been achieved and that “higher education is being modernized” but “not all the objectives have been completely achieved” and, therefore, “the full and proper implementation […] will require increased momentum and commitment beyond 2010.”

StocktakingCoverReports and surveys produced and presented in Leuven/Louvain-la-Neuve give additional insights. When one has to mark – in a complex situation like this one – a further way on, it is not so important to factor in has been already been left behind. The real question is a vague path and possible crossroads in the foreseeable future. The 2009 Stocktaking Report openly admits that the deadline to have completed the implementation of National Qualifications Frameworks by 2010 “appears to have been too ambitious” (the Communiqué postponed this task “by 2012”) and that “there is not enough integration at national level between the qualifications framework, learning outcomes and ECTS”. Similarly, “a learning outcomes-based culture across the EHEA still needs a lot of effort, and it will not be completed by 2010”. These deficiencies warn that tasks have been taken perhaps in too formal a manner and that there is quite a lot of further work which demands a conceptual and not only “technical” expertise.

On the other hand, there are a lot of concerns with the employability of new Bachelor graduates after the Bologna first cycle. With regard to the Master – i.e., the Bologna second cycle – and the issue of employability, Howard Davies (EUA) made another crucial comment in his Survey of Master Degrees in Europe: “The Bologna three-cycle system cannot be said to be in place until this process is complete. In other words, until all 46 countries have evolved beyond the position in which the Master is the sole point of initial entry into the market for high-skilled labour.” In short: “the definition of the Bologna Master awaits the full fleshing out of the Bologna Bachelor.”

Of course, students (i.e., ESU in their Bologna With Student Eyes 2009) raise this issue even more critically: “inadequate understanding of the purpose of these reforms has negatively affected students, pressuring them to follow longer periods of study in order to reach a position of sustainable employment”. They are “impatient” as students should be: “Although processes appear to be moving in the right direction, they are doing so at something of the pace of a snail.” They complain on “the level of ‘divergence’ in the perceptions of national ministries, higher education institutions and students themselves”. Their report starts with “Repetition is deeply dissatisfying” (meaning that there is often not much difference between their critical statements of this year and of previous reports) and this is good: students are still here to push rectors and ministers forward.

In their Communiqué Ministers strived to pour some new fuel for the next period. They decided to amend, a little, the organisational structure. In the future “the Bologna Process will be co-chaired by the country holding the EU presidency and a non-EU country”. Thus, the first of the missing elements that Anne Corbett warned about just few days before the last conference (Bologna as “modelled on the EU Presidency system […] excluded 19 countries”; The Guardian, 21 April) seems to be settled, at least partly. On the other hand, in the most ambitious sentence of the Communiqué they set a new mobility target: “In 2020, at least 20% of those graduating in the EHEA should have had a study or training period abroad.” This is absolutely great; however, some more ambitious targets would not harm the future “beyond 2010”.

But it is necessary to warn also about new targets: “Repetition is deeply dissatisfying” students may say. “Action lines” in policy documents necessarily request implementation – and implementation is the really hard job. However, are the open questions about Bologna close to its goal line (2010) just about its “full implementation” – or are they more than that? I would opt for the later: implementation of a given principle always comes into trouble when it is taken just as a matter of a “technique”. What is needed for its “full implementation” – e.g. during the next decade – it is a strong momentum, a (new) vision which hits at the heart of reality. Do we have it?

Bologna has produced world-wide attention and, perhaps, its new momentum and its new vision could also start from this source. Forgetting this fact would be unforgivable in a world without borders: in Europe as well as in the US or any other global region.

Pavel Zgaga

Changing higher education and the claimed educational paradigm shift – sobering up educational optimism with some sociological scepticism

If there is a consensus on the recognition that higher education governance and organization are being transformed, the same does not occur with regard to the impact of that transformation on the ‘educational’ dimension of higher education.

Under the traveling influence of the diverse versions of New Public Management (NPM), European public sectors are being molded by market-like and client-driven perspectives. Continental higher education is no exception. Austria and Portugal, to mention only these two countries, have recently re-organized their higher education system explicitly under this perspective. The basic assumptions are that the more autonomous institutions are, the more responsive they are to changes in their organizational environment, and that academic collegial governance must be replaced by managerial expertise.

Simultaneously, the EU is enforcing discourses and developing policies based on the competitive advantages of a ‘Europe of knowledge’. ‘Knowledge societies’ appear as depending on the production of new knowledge, its transmission through education and training, its dissemination through ICT, and on its use through new industrial processes and services.

By means of ‘soft instruments’ [such as the European Qualification Framework (EQF) and the Tuning I and II projects (see here and here), the EU is inducing an educational turn or, as some argue, an emergent educational paradigm. The educational concepts of ‘learning’, ‘knowledge’, ‘skills’, ‘competences’, ‘learning outcomes’ and ‘qualifications’, re-emerge in the framework of the EHEA this time as core educational perspectives.

From the analysis of the documents of the European Commission and its diverse agencies and bodies, one can see that a central educational role is now attributed to the concept of ‘learning outcomes’ and to the ‘competences’ students are supposed to possess in the end of the learning process.

In this respect, the EQF is central to advancing the envisaged educational change. It claims to provide common reference levels on how to describe learning, from basic skills up to the PhD level. The 2007 European Parliament recommendation defines “competence” as the proven ability to use knowledge, skills and personal, social and/or methodological abilities, in work or study situations and in professional and personal development”.

The shift from ‘knowledge content’ as the organizer of learning to ‘competences’, with a focus on the capacity to use knowledge(s) to know and to act technically, socially and morally, moves the role of knowledge from one where it is a formative process based on ‘traditional’ approaches to subjects and mastery of content, to one where the primary interest is in the learner achieving as an outcome of the learning process. In this new model, knowledge content is mediated by competences and translated into learning outcomes, linking together ‘understanding’, ‘skills’ and ‘abilities’.

However, the issue of knowledge content is passed over and left aside, as if the educational goal of competence building can be assigned without discussion about the need to develop procedural competencies based more on content rather than on ‘learning styles’. Indeed it can be argued that the knowledge content carried out in the process of competence building is somehow neutralized in its educational role.

In higher education, “where learning outcomes are considered as essential elements of ongoing reforms” (CEC: 8), there are not many data sources available on the educational impact of the implementation of competence-based perspectives in higher education. And while it is too early to draw conclusions about the real impact on higher education students’ experiences of the so called ‘paradigm shift’ in higher education brought by the implementation of the competence-based educational approach, the analysis of the educational concepts is, nonetheless, an interesting starting point.

The founding educational idea of Western higher education was based on the transforming potential of knowledge both at the individual and social level. Educational categories (teaching, learning, students, professors, classes, etc.) were grounded in the formative role attributed to knowledge, and so were the curriculum and the teaching and learning processes. Reconfiguring the educational role of knowledge from its once formative role in mobilizing the potential to act socially (in particular in the world of work), induces important changes in educational categories.

As higher education institutions are held to be sensitive and responsive to social and economic change, the need to design ‘learning outcomes’ on the ‘basis of internal and external stakeholders’ perceptions (as we see with Tuning: 1) grows in proportion. The ‘student’ appears simultaneously as an internal stakeholder, a client of educational services, a person moving from education to labor market and a ‘learner’ of competences. The professor, rather than vanishing, is being reinvented as a provider of learning opportunities. Illuminated by the new educational paradigm and pushed by the diktat of efficiency in a context of mass higher education, he/she is no more the ‘center’ of knowledge flux and delivery but the provider of learning opportunities for ‘learners’. Moreover, as an academic, he/she is giving up his/her ultimate responsibility to exercise quality judgments on teaching-learning processes in favor of managerial expertise on that.

As ‘learning outcomes’ are what a learner is expected to know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate on completion of learning, and given these can be represented by indicators, assessment of the educational process can move from inside to outside higher education institutions to assessment by evaluation technicians. With regard to the lecture theater as the educational locus par excellence, ICT instruments and ideographs de-localize classes to the ether of ‘www’, ‘face-to-face’ teaching-learning being a minor proportion of the ‘learner’ activities. E-learning is not the ‘death’ of the professor but his/her metamorphosis into a ‘learning monitor’. Additionally, the rise of virtual campuses introduce a new kind of academic life whose educational consequences are still to be identified.

The learner-centered model that is emerging has the educational potential foreseen by many educationalists (e.g. John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, among others) to deal with the needs of post-industrial societies and with new forms of citizenship. The emerging educational paradigm promises a lot: the empowerment of the student, the enhancement of his/her capacity and responsibility to express his/her difference, the enhancement of team work, the mutual help, learning by doing, etc.

One might underline the emancipatory potential that this perspective assumes – and some educationalists are quite optimist about it. However, education does not occur in a social vacuum, as some sociologists rightly point out. In a context where HEIs are increasingly assuming the features of ‘complete organizations’ and where knowledge is indicated as the major competitive factor in the world-wide economy, educational optimism should/must be sobered up with some sociological scepticism.

In fact the risk is that knowledge, by evolving away from a central ‘formative’ input to a series of competencies, may simply pass – like money – through the individuals without transforming them (see the work of Basil Bernstein for an elaboration of this idea). By easing the frontiers between the academic and work competencies, and between education and training, higher education runs the risk of sacrificing too much to the gods of relevance, to (short term) labor market needs. Contemporary labor markets require competencies that are supposed to be easily recognized by the employers and with the potential of being continuously reformed. The educational risk is that of reducing the formation of the ‘critical self’ of the student to the ‘corporate self’ of the learner.

António M. Magalhães