Unpacking the ‘flexibility’ mantra in US higher education

‘Flexibility’ is genuinely slippery concept, one that provides some sense of coherence with vagueness. It is also a concept that is a resource to be used in the pursuit of power.

I’m most familiar with the concept of flexibility in relationship to the changing nature of production systems. There has been a long debate in Economic Geography, for example, about phenomena like ‘flexible specialization’ and ‘flexible accumulation’. These interrelated concepts have helped scholars and industry analysts make sense of how production systems are evolving to cope with increasingly levels of competitive pressure, the emergence of global value chains, new forms of territorial development, and so on.

The concept of flexibility was also used, in abundance, when I lived and taught in Asia until 2001. It was frequently used in association with the corporatization (aka autonomy) agendas occurring at the same time as Asian higher education systems and institutions (HEIs) were expanding. Since then numerous systems of higher education (including Singapore, Malaysia, China) have seen expansion going hand in hand with rapid increases in funding, along with enhanced flexibility with respect to governance. Implementation problems exist, of course, and autonomy and flexibility mean different things to different people, but this was and still is the broad tenor of change.

It’s surely a sign of the times in America that we have also seen an expansion of the use of the concept of flexibility, though linked not to increased levels of funding, but to striking budget cuts. Given this, the concept of flexibility needs to be interrogated. This entry does that, though only in a very exploratory manner.

As noted above, flexibility is emerging as a keyword in some ongoing higher education debates in the US. For example, it is frequently used in in association with the ‘Charter University’ agenda in several states (e.g., Ohio). Closer to home (for me), flexibility was a mantra in deliberations and communications about the proposed ‘New Badger Partnership‘ (NBP) initiative put forward by the recently departed Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Carolyn ‘Biddy’ Martin) as well as the University of Wisconsin System alternative known as the ‘Wisconsin Idea Partnership‘ (WIP). If realized, the NBP would have led to the separation of UW-Madison from the UW System, along with numerous flexibilities and enhanced autonomy (from the System & the State). See here for an April 2011 summary of key elements of the NBP (vs the WIP), including proposed ‘flexibilities’ with respect to:

  • Budgeting
  • Tuition/Pricing
  • Human Resources
  • Capital Planning/Construction
  • Financial Management
  • Purchasing/Procurement
  • Governance
  • Accountability

In the end, the NBP was not supported by the State Government due to a complicated array of political factors, as well as a problematic planning process that generated ineffectual support on our campus.

Now, while the NBP is unlikely to be resurrected, some elements of it have been incorporated into the unfolding governance agendas reshaping both the future of the UW System and UW-Madison itself.  A state-appointed “Special Task Force on UW Restructuring and Operational Flexibilities” was recently established to consider the future of the UW System (it will report back by January 2013).

Given the debates about the NBP to date, and the announcement of even more budget cuts last week, it is inevitable that the  ‘flexibility’ mantra will continue to exist. Indeed last week we witnessed one Wisconsin politician (Alberta Darling) state that:

[U]niversities could use budget flexibilities passed by lawmakers in June as part of the budget. “It’s not going to be easy, but it can work out,” Darling said.

But what is the full meaning and significance of flexibility with respect to higher education? I’m not 100% sure, to be honest, but what I have noted is that there is more missing from the debate about ‘flexibility as solution’ than there is present. In short, there is a surprising absence of information about what flexibility is and can be defined as, what it can help achieve, and what its costs and limitations are.

There is also an absence of discussion about the long-term implications of relying on ‘flexibility’ to play a significant role in resolving what are in reality structural problems including the steady decline of state support for higher education, as well as the absence of a compact about optimal and necessary levels of support for public higher education. In other words the flexibility debate is a problematically truncated one.

In the interest of helping myself sort things out, I’ve put together a few thoughts and questions about flexibility. Please feel free to disagree with them, and/or add more to the list:

  • Flexibility as legitimacy vehicle: The discourse of ‘flexibility’ masks the scale of budget cuts by tying painful cuts to a hoped-for (and unbudgeted, see below) mediating factor. The chance of new flexibilities generating enough savings or new revenue streams to significantly cover the costs of proposed and actual budget cuts cannot be anything but marginal. The language of new forms of flexibility can let politicians off the hook in that they do not need to accept, in public and in private, responsibility for the full scale of the cuts they themselves are proposing.
  • Flexibility as reward: US politicians seem to be putting forth new flexibilities as a defacto reward of sorts if HEIs accept deep budget reductions. But why were these flexibilities held back for such a long time, including by politicians (Democrats as well as Republicans) who are ideologically predisposed to a constrained role for the state in the development process? And are these rewards indeed rewards for all? For example, flexibility on tuition can generate enhanced costs for students, or flexibility on governance can weaken the ability of some key stakeholders to participate in governance.
  • Flexibility as a means to enhanced governance: The offer of flexibility usually comes in association with significant budget cuts and new found demands regarding ‘accountability,’ ‘efficiency’, ‘transparency,’ and the like.  In most cases enhanced flexibilities come with enhanced forms of governance by Government, not less. These forms of governance can entail an attempt to reshape curricula, course offerings, program funding, faculty practices, etc. Agreements about some forms of flexibility have the capacity to enable Government to burrow more deeply, not less, into what happens within higher education institutions. The irony is that there is no correlation between declining levels of public funding and the desire to govern public HEIs.
  • Flexibility unbudgeted: Flexibilities are often put forward as a key solution to coping with budget cuts, but the potential cost savings associated with proposed changes are rarely (if ever) modeled in detail, nor in a transparent manner. This is arguably a politically-based ‘wish and a prayer’ approach to strategic planning.
  • Flexibility costs vis a vis implementation capabilities: The provision of many forms of flexibility involves shifts in the nature of governance, not its erasure. The recalibration process — pushing responsibilities up, or down (which is usually the case) — puts additional demands on the other units and officials. It is important to determine if these HEIs and officials have the capabilities to take on new responsibilities. If flexibility is distributed more widely, downwards, is there a ripple effect generated such that multiple units are now responsible versus the one before? Are proposed flexibilities more or less costly (in terms of labor costs) to implement in aggregate (e.g., across the campuses of a system)?
  • Flexibility’s power geometries: the application of ‘flexibilities’ in most institutional contexts involves the realignment of power relations at a state-HEI scale, and at an intra-institutional scale, with a planned breakdown of the status quo for good and bad. The realignment outcome often increases the power of some parties, and decreases the power of other parties. It is worth reflecting if this inevitable outcome is an implicit or explicit objective of proffered flexibilities, with an eye to the developmental agendas of various parties.

These are but six aspects I see associated with the emerging ‘flexibility’ agenda for public higher education in the US.

Who could be against flexibility? No one, really, and certainly not me (having worked in some very rigid systems of higher education)! But surely we need to be more critical about what the concept of flexibility really means given how frequently it is thrown around in this era of austerity. Given the nearly 200 years of building up a world class public higher education system in the US, the stakes are simply too high to allow concepts like flexibility be accepted at face value, especially if they mask agendas that are facilitating the decline of said system. This is the era of the ‘knowledge economy,’ after all, and higher education is a critically important dimension of the systems of innovation we are dependent upon for future prosperity.

Kris Olds

Economic benefits of international education to the United States

jason1Editor’s note: this guest entry was kindly prepared by Jason Baumgartner (pictured to the right) of Indiana University in the United States. Jason has worked for the Office of International Services at Indiana University since 1999.  He is the lead software developer of the iOffice application suite, which is a comprehensive immigration case management solution to enable staff to proactively assist international students and scholars in maintaining their lawful stay without interruption.  This software is utilized by international offices throughout the Indiana University system and is licensed to other universities throughout the country.  He is a member of NAFSA.  He developed the current algorithm and conducts the annual analysis (since 2000) for the NAFSA Economic Impact of International Students.  He has a Master’s in Information Science from Indiana University.

As regular readers of GlobalHigherEd will notice, this is another in a series of entries (see ’Measuring the economic impact of ‘export education’: insights from New Zealand‘; Making sense of the economic contribution of international students in Australia (up to 2008)) that attempt to shed light on how countries calculate the economic impact (and ‘export earnings’) of foreign students.  I encourage you to read Jason Baumgartner’s entry below for its own sake, but also to begin comparing how the US (and this is really as close to an official view as one could get in the complex US higher education landscape) frames this issue in comparison to other countries, including New Zealand and Australia.

As I’ve noted before, we welcome guest entries on this issue from people studying the issue in any country, be they government officials, academics, consultants, or graduate students.  The issue of understanding the economic impact of foreign students is severely underdeveloped, with little reflection on how different analytical models (and associated assumptions) can generate very different findings.  Our thanks to Jason Baumgartner for his help in moving thinking about this issue forward.   Kris Olds


NAFSA’s annual economic impact statements estimates the amount of money international students bring to the United States to support their education and stay.  For the 2007-2008 academic year it is estimated that international students contributed approximately $15.54 billion to the U.S. economy.   The following graph outlines the growth of this economic impact over the last 30 years:


The economic impact is defined as the amount of money that international students collectively bring into the United States to pay for their education and to support themselves while they (and in some cases, their families) are here.

The methodology used to calculate the economic impact has been greatly refined over that last three decades with the current model in place since 2000.  The current algorithm in use was developed by Jason Baumgartner and Lynn Schoch at Indiana University – Bloomington’s Office of International Services.  The analysis of the dataset has been conducted each year since 2000 by Jason Baumgartner.

The goal of this economic impact formula is to use data already collected for other purposes to provide a reasonable estimate of the economic resources that international students import to the United States to support their education here each year.  The following figure outlines the algorithm:


The data sets used for this analysis comes from the following two sources:

  1. The Institute of International Education annual Open Doors report, funded by the Department of State, provides numbers of foreign students at universities and colleges throughout the United States during the academic year.  In many cases, this data provide separate totals for undergraduate, graduate, and non degree students.
  2. Peterson’s provides cost figures for tuition, living, and miscellaneous expenses at U.S. institutions for the academic year.  In some prior years this information came from College Board.

The extensive data provided by these two sources (which collect it directly from surveys of the institutions involved) allow us to make our estimates sensitive to differences between institutions.  However, there are still areas where our estimates and formulas could be improved.  For example, we compute economic impact only for students reported in Open Doors.  Universities that do not provide information to the Institute of International Education are not represented.  Also, enrollment reports represent peak enrollment, and not necessarily enrollment levels throughout the year.

To estimate expenses we use tuition, fees, and living expenses estimates derived from Peterson’s data collected on surveys completed by institutions every year.  We try to make our calculations sensitive not only to differing costs at institutions, but differing costs for ESL students, undergraduates, graduate students, and students on practical training as follows:

  1. Undergraduates and English Language Programs: The number of undergraduate students at an institution is specified by Open Doors data.  Peterson’s data provide undergraduate tuition and fee amounts, on-campus room and board amounts, and miscellaneous expenses.  These categories are sometimes broken down into averages for international, out-of-state, flat rate, and in-state, students.  When multiple averages are available, we choose averages in the order given above.
  2. Graduate Students: The number of graduate students at an institution is specified by Open Doors data.  Peterson’s data provide graduate tuition and fee amounts, on-campus room and board amounts, and miscellaneous expenses.  If there are no differentiated graduate expenses provided by an institution in the Peterson’s data then the undergraduate expenses would be applied.
  3. Students on Practical Training: We assume these students earn enough in their U.S. jobs to pay living and educational expenses for the year, and so import no funds for their support.  Therefore, net economic impact of students in practical training is zero.

Economic impact of an international student equals tuition and fees, plus room and board, plus miscellaneous figured at 50 percent of room and board, less U.S. support.  We assume that spring enrollment figures are the same as the fall figures reported, that all students are enrolled full time for two semesters or three quarters a year, and that students live on campus for the full year.  The miscellaneous expenses, enumerated in Peterson’s data, average about 40 percent of room and board expenses.  We use a 50 percent figure as an approximation that includes all extra expenses except for travel.

The amount of U.S. support given to international students is calculated to subtract from the expenses in order to establish a greater sense of the export dollars flowing into the U.S. economy.  For this analysis the Open Doors survey is used; which asks schools to report the percentage of their students who are self-funded, the percentage who have U.S. source income, etc.  The U.S. support percentage includes funding from a U.S. college or university, the U.S. Government, a U.S. private sponsor or current employment.  For this analysis the percentages are calculated based upon the institution’s Carnegie classification and the academic career of the student.  For example, this process will differentiate the level of support between undergraduates and graduates at a particular research institution while it also differentiates between a baccalaureate classified institution from an associate’s classified institution.

This model represents the export dollars brought in to each institution, state, and the overall U.S. economy that can be tracked over time.  This provides a good measure for comparisons to other export data, such as data published by the Department of Commerce.  This estimate also takes into account any U.S. funding or employment the international students may be receiving in an effort to best represent these export dollars flowing into the U.S. economy.  This provides for an algorithm that identifies and estimates for this large U.S. export, provides a political argument for support of international education at both the national and university level, provides a trend of this data going back many years, and is very sound to hold up to the political nature of critiques of this statistical analysis.

There is no multiplier effect calculated within this analysis which may provide an even greater representation of the end result of these export dollars in terms of the additional revenue generated by the flow of these dollars throughout the overall U.S. economy.  Instead this model focuses on core export dollars as a result of international students studying within the United States.

For more information please refer to the NAFSA Data & Statistics.

Jason Baumgartner

Editor’s update: link here for the press release of the newest US report (‘International Students Contribute $17.6 Billion to U.S. Economy‘) which was released by NAFSA on 16 November 2009. The report was also produced by Jason Baumgartner.

‘Tuning USA’: reforming higher education in the US, Europe style

Many of us are likely to be familiar with the film An American in Paris (1951), at least by name. Somehow the romantic encounters of an ex-GI turned struggling American painter, with an heiress  in one of Europe’s most famous cities — Paris, seems like the way things should be. lumina-13

So when the US-based Lumina Foundation announced it was launching Europe’s ‘Tuning Approach within the Bologna Process’ as an educational experiment in three American States (Utah, Indiana and Minnesota) to  “…assure rigor and relevance for college degrees at various levels” (see Inside Higher Ed, April 8th, 2009),  familiar  refrains and trains of thought are suddenly shot into reverse gear. A European in America? Tuning USA, Europe style?

For Bologna watchers, Tuning is no new initiative. According to its website profile, Tuning started in 2000 as a project:

…to link the political objectives of the Bologna Process and at a later stage the Lisbon Strategy to the higher education sector. Over time Tuning has developed into a Process: an approach to (re-)design, develop, implement, evaluate and enhance quality in first, second and third cycle degree programmes.

Given that the Bologna Process entails the convergence of 46 higher education systems across Europe and beyond (those countries who are also signatories to the Process but how operate outside its borders), the question of how comparability can be assured of curricula in terms of structures, programmes and actual teaching, was clearly a pressing issue.

Funded under the European Commission’s Erasmus Thematic Network scheme, Tuning Educational Structures in Europe emerged as a project that might address this challenge.  tuning-31

However, rather like the Bologna Process, Tuning has had a remarkable career. Its roll-out across Europe, and take up in countries as far afield as Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has been nothing short of astonishing.

Currently 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries (181 LAC universities) are involved in Tuning Latin America across twelve subject groups (Architecture, Business,  Civil Engineering, Education, Geology, History, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Nursing and Physics).  The Bologna  and Tuning Processes, it would seem, are  considered a key tool for generating change across Latin America.

Similar processes are under way in Central Asia, the Mediterranean region and Africa. And while the Bologna promoters tend to emphasise the cultural and cooperation orientation of Tuning and Bologna, both are self-evidently strategies to reposition European higher education geostrategically. It is a market making  strategy as well as increasingly a model for how to restructure higher education systems to produce greater resource efficiencies, and some might add, greater equity.


Similarly, the Tuning Process is regarded as a means for realizing one of the ‘big goals’ that  Lumina Foundation President–Jamie Merisotis–had set for the Foundation soon after taking over the helm; to increase the proportion of the US population with degrees to 60% by 2025 so as to ensure the global competitiveness of the US.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (May 1st, 2009), Merisotis “gained the ear of the White House”  during the transition days of the Obama administration in 2008 when he urged Obama “to make human capital a cornerstone of US economic policy”.

Merisotis was also one of the experts consulted by the US Department of Education when it sought to determine the goals for education, and the measures of progress toward those goals.

By February 2009, President Obama had announced to Congress he wanted America to attain the world’s highest proportion of graduates by 2020.  So while the ‘big goal’ had now been set, the question was how?

One of the Lumina Foundation’s response was to initiate Tuning USA.  According to the Chronicle, Lumina has been willing to draw on ideas that are generated by the education policy community in the US, and internationally.

Clifford Adelman is one of those. A  senior associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington, Adelman was contracted by the Lumina Foundation to produce a very extensive report on Europe’s higher education restructuring. The report (The Bologna Process for U.S. Eyes: Re-learning Higher Education in the Age of Convergence) was released early this April, and was profiled by Anne Corbett in GlobalHigherEd. In the report Adelman sets out to redress what he regards as the omissions from the Spellings Commission review of higher education.  As Adelman (2009: viii)  notes:

The core features of the Bologna Process have sufficient momentum to become the dominant global higher education model within the next two decades. Former Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings’ Commission on the Future of Higher Education paid no attention whatsoever to Bologna, and neither did the U.S. higher education community in its underwhelming response to that Commission’s report. Such purblind stances are unforgivable in a world without borders.

But since the first version of this monograph, a shorter essay entitled The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction (Institute for Higher Education Policy, May 2008), U.S. higher education has started listening seriously to the core messages of the remarkable and difficult undertaking in which our European colleagues have engaged. Dozens of conferences have included panels, presentations, and intense discussions of Bologna approaches to accountability, access, quality assurance, credits and transfer, and, most notably, learning outcomes in the context of the disciplines. In that latter regard, in fact, three state higher education systems—Indiana, Minnesota, and Utah—have established study groups to examine the Bologna “Tuning” process to determine the forms and extent of its potential in U.S. contexts. Scarcely a year ago, such an effort would have been unthinkable.

Working with students, faculty members and education officials from Indiana, Minnesota and Utah, Lumina has now initiated Tuning USA as a year-long project:

The aim is to create a shared understanding among higher education’s stakeholders of the subject-specific knowledge and transferable skills that students in six fields must demonstrate upon completion of a degree program. Each state has elected to draft learning outcomes and map the relations between these outcomes and graduates’ employment options for at least two of the following disciplines: biology, chemistry, education, history, physics and graphic design (see report in InsideIndianabusiness).

The world has changed. The borders between the US and European higher education are now somewhat leaky, for strategic purposes, to be sure.

A European in America is now somehow thinkable!

Susan Robertson

Science and the US university: video lecture series by editor-in-chief of Science and former (1980-92) Stanford University president

The Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the more active centres of its type in North America. They sponsor an excellent working paper series (e.g., see ‘Universities, the US High Tech Advantage, and the Process of Globalization’ by John Aubrey Douglass. CSHE.8.2008 (May 2008)), workshops, seminars, and so on.

This newly posted lecture series, that the CSHE organized, should be of interest to GlobalHigherEd‘s audience. The speaker is Donald Kennedy (pictured to the left), the current editor-in-chief of Science, and former president (1980-1992) of Stanford University, amongst many other titles and responsibilities. The Clark Kerr Lecture Series on the Role of Higher Education in Society has been running since 2001.

I will paste in the CSHE summary of the Kennedy lectures below. The first two lectures were given in November 2007, while the third (and final) lecture was given in March 2008. If you click on any of the three titles you will be brought through to the UCTV site where the recorded videos can be accessed. Kris Olds


Clark Kerr Lecture Series on the Role of Higher Education in Society sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation and the Center for Studies in Higher Education

Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief, Science Magazine

Science and the University: An Evolutionary Tale, Part 1: The Endless Frontier

In which President Roosevelt asks Vannevar Bush and others,-including may helpers and some revisionists, to transplant the federal governments apparatus for wartime science into the infrastructure for growth of research in the nation’s universities. The result is not what Bush originally hopes — a single Foundation responsible for all of the nation’s science — but it ushers in a period of extraordinary growth and transformation. Universities deal with the challenges of allocating and rebalancing new resources of unexpected scope, but the twenty days after war’s end resource growth flattens and new challenges appear: federal support brings more control, and a new generation has new questions about the value of science.

Science and the University: An Evolutionary Tale, Part 2: Bayh-Dole and Enclosing the Frontier

In which universities, having been partly weaned from federal support, are recognizing new sources of help. Their quest is assisted by a new concern from the government: the money being spent on basic research is producing more prizes then patents. Congress finds a solution: in the Bayh-Dole Amendments of 1980 it forswears collection on intellectual property rights resulting from university research it supports. The result is a dramatic growth in academic centers devoted to patenting and licensing faculty inventions. This brings in new money, accompanied by new challenges: should the university go into business with its faculty? Can it retain equity of treatment across disciplines. Perhaps most significant, had the enclosure of the Endless Frontier created economic property rights that will change the character not only of science but of academic life?

Science and the University: An Evolutionary Tale, Part 3: Science, Security, and Control

In which science and its university proprietors confront a new set of questions. Whether in the later phases of the Cold War or in the early phases of the Terror War, universities find themselves witnessing a replay of the old battle between science, which would prefer to have everything open, and security, which would like to have some of it secret. Struggles in the early 1980’s regarding application of arms control regulations to basic data resulted in some solutions that some hoped would be permanent. But after 9/11 a host of new issues surfaced. Not limited to arms control considerations, the new concerns included the publication of data or methods that might fall into the wrong hands. At the same time, science was confronting a different kind of security problem: instead of being employed to decide policy, science was being manipulated or kept secure in order to justify preferred policy outcomes.

New coverage of Western universities in the Middle East and South Korea

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s forthcoming 28 March issue has another profile of globally-oriented higher ed development initiatives in the Middle East. The relevant (subscription required) entries are:

One week earlier South Korea received similar thematic attention via:

While it is beneficial to see all of this coverage, it is worth noting that such articles (often the most intensely circulated of all if you watch the ‘most emailed’ lists) repetitively generate anxiety in many Western university campuses that are revising their internationalization strategies, but with no substantial ‘overseas’ presence. Coverage gets circulated, debates ensue, and positions emerge including:

  • is this a modern higher ed variant of the Klondike gold rush (serious anxiety…)?
  • is this fool’s gold (yes, no, yes, no…)?
  • is this an unreachable destination (look at that list…)?

and so on.

At another level, some within deliberating universities might argue that this phenomenon is the outcome of authoritarian ‘developmental states’ luxuriating on the top of a structural wave, fueled by the intertwined effects of a global fossil fuel boom and the conflict in Iraq. These are states, though, that are cognizant of the fact that fossil fuels (and economic boom times) will not last forever.

Regardless of views on this phenomenon, these new global knowledge spaces reflect the diffuse effects of the attractiveness of the US higher education system, in particular, to elites in countries that are seeking to rapidly transform their societies and economies for the knowledge economy, while concurrently branding said societies and economies. The attractiveness of this model is also, in a fascinating way, quite disconnected from the turmoil associated with other elements of US geostrategic maneuverings in the same region.

Kris Olds

ps: the Chronicle helpfully included the following list of initiatives in the Middle East, though the list is not comprehensive.


Doha, Qatar

Carnegie Mellon University
Opened: Fall of 2004
Offers: B.S. degrees in computer science, information systems, and business

Georgetown University
Opened: Fall of 2005
Offers: B.S. in foreign service

Northwestern University
Opens: Fall of 2008
Will offer: B.S. in journalism and communication

Texas A&M University
Opened: Fall of 2003
Offers: B.S. in chemical, electrical, mechanical, and petroleum engineering. In 2007, added master’s programs in engineering and science.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Opened: Fall of 1998
Offers: B.F.A. in communication design, fashion design, and interior design

Weill Cornell Medical College
Opened: Fall of 2001
Offers: A two-year pre-med program, followed by a four-year medical program, under separate application, leading to an M.D.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

INSEAD Business School
Opened: Centre for Executive Education and Research in the fall of 2007
Offers: Executive-education courses

Johns Hopkins University
Opens: Summer of 2008
Will offer: A graduate program in public health

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, affiliated with MIT, will recruit faculty members, train instructors, and design curricula.
Opens: Fall of 2009
Will offer: Graduate education and research, with a focus on science and technology, particularly alternative energy

New York University
Opens: Fall of 2010
Will offer: Full liberal-arts curriculum, undergraduate and graduate

Opened: Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi in October 2006
Offers: License, master’s, and doctorate degrees (following the European system) in 10 departments

Dubai, UAE

Boston University Institute of Dental Research and Education, Dubai
Opens: July 2008
Will offer: Graduate dental training

Harvard University
Opened: 2004
Offers: Continuing-medical-education courses through the Harvard Medical School Dubai Center Institute for Postgraduate Education and Research

London School of Business & Finance
Opened: December 2007
Offers: Executive M.B.A. and executive-education programs

Michigan State University
Opens: Fall of 2008
Will offer: Full liberal-arts curriculum

Rochester Institute of Technology
Opens: Fall of 2008
Will offer: Initially, part-time graduate courses in fields like electrical engineering, computer engineering, finance, and service management. By 2009, graduate offerings will be full time and will include applied networking, telecommunications, and facility management. By 2010, expects to welcome undergraduates.

Ras al Khaymah, UAE

George Mason University
Opened: 2005
Offers: B.S. degrees in biology; business administration; economics; electronics and communications engineering; geography; and health, fitness, and recreation resources

Sharjah, UAE

American University of Sharjah
Opened: 1997, originally operated by American University (in Washington, D.C.), now independent
Offers: Bachelor’s degrees in the College of Arts and Sciences, College of EngineerIng, School of Architecture and Design, and School of Business and Management, as well as eight master’s programs

Has higher education become a victim of its own propaganda?

eh.jpgEditor’s note: today’s guest entry was kindly written by Ellen Hazelkorn, Director, and Dean of the Faculty of Applied Arts, and Director, Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU), Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland. She also works with the OECD’s Programme for Institutional Management of Higher Education (IMHE). Her entry should be read in conjunction with some of our recent entries on the linkages and tensions between the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy, the role of foundations and endowments in facilitating innovative research yet also heightening resource inequities, as well as the ever present benchmarking and ranking debates.


councilpr.jpgThe recent Council of the European Union’s statement on the role of higher education is another in a long list of statements from the EU, national governments, the OECD, UNESCO, etc., proclaiming the importance of higher education (HE) to/for economic development. While HE has long yearned for the time in which it would head the policy agenda, and be rewarded with vast sums of public investment, it may not have realised that increased funding would be accompanied with calls for greater accountability and scrutiny, pressure for value-for-money, and organisational and governance reform. Many critics cite these developments as changing the fundamentals of higher education. Has higher education become the victim of its own propaganda?

At a recent conference in Brussels a representative from the EU reflected on this paradox. The Lisbon Strategy identified a future in which Europe would be a/the leader of the global knowledge economy. But when the statistics were reviewed, there was a wide gap between vision and reality. The Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities, which has become the gold standard of worldwide HE rankings, has identified too few European universities among the top 100. This was, he said, a serious problem and blow to the European strategy. Change is required, urgently.

sciencespo.jpgUniversity rankings are, whether we like it or not, beginning to influence the behaviour of higher education institutions and higher education policy because they arguably provide a snap-shot of competition within the global knowledge industrial sector (see E. Hazelkorn, Higher Education Management and Policy, 19:2, and forthcoming Higher Education Policy, 2008). Denmark and France have introduced new legislation to encourage mergers or the formation of ‘pôles’ to enhance critical mass and visibility, while Germany and the UK are using national research rankings or teaching/learning evaluations as a ‘market’ mechanism to effect change. Others, like Germany, Denmark and Ireland, are enforcing changes in institutional governance, replacing elected rectors with corporate CEO-type leadership. Performance funding is a feature everywhere. Even the European Research Council’s method of ‘empowering’ (funding) the researcher rather than the institution is likely to fuel institutional competition.

In response, universities and other HEIs are having to look more strategically at the way they conduct their business, organise their affairs, and the quality of their various ‘products’, e.g., educational programming and research. In return for increased autonomy, governments want more accountability; in return for more funding, governments want more income-generation; in return for greater support for research, governments want to identify ‘winners’; and in return for valuing HE’s contribution to society, governments want measurable outputs (see, for example, this call for an “ombudsman” for higher education in Ireland).

European governments are moving from an egalitarian approach – where all institutions are broadly equal in status and quality – to one in which excellence is promoted through elite institutions, differentiation is encouraged through competitive funding, public accountability is driven by performance measurements or institutional contacts, and student fees are a reflection of consumer buoyancy.

But neither the financial costs nor implications of this strategy – for both governments and institutions – have been thought through. The German government has invested €1.9b over five years in the Excellence Initiative but this sum pales into insignificance compared with claims that a single ‘world class’ university is a $1b – $1.5b annual operation, plus $500m with a medical school, or with other national investment strategies, e.g., China’s $20b ‘211 Project’ or Korea’s $1.2b ‘Brain 21’ programme, or with the fund-raising capabilities of US universities (‘Updates on Billion-Dollar Campaigns at 31 Universities’; ‘Foundations, endowments and higher education: Europe ruminates while the USA stratifies‘).

Given public and policy disdain for increased taxation, if European governments wish to compete in this environment, which policy objectives will be sacrificed? Is the rush to establish ‘world-class’ European universities hiding a growing gap between private and public, research and teaching, elite and mass education? Evidence from Ireland suggests that despite efforts to retain a ‘binary’ system, students are fleeing from less endowed, less prestigious institutes of technology in favour of ‘universities’. At one stage, the UK government promoted the idea of concentrating research activity in a few select institutions/centres until critics, notably the Lambert report and more recently the OECD, argued that regionality does matter.

Europeans are keen to establish a ‘world class’ HE system which can compete with the best US universities. But it is clear that such efforts are being undertaken without a full understanding of the implications, intended and unintended.

Ellen Hazelkorn

Overseas campuses: American views and photographs

cmumap.jpgThe Sunday New York Times published a general overview (‘Universities rush to set up outposts abroad’) today regarding the phenomenon of overseas campuses. This article (the first of a series this week – see the bottom of this entry for links to all of the articles when they have been published) focuses on US campuses in the Middle East, especially universities that have ‘home’ bases in New York (it is the New York Times after all!), Pittsburgh and Washington DC, though reference is made to developments in other parts of the world. An explicit US-centric view is developed in the article.

The article is particularly worth perusing for the accompanying slideshow of campuses including Carnegie Mellon in Qatar, New York Institute of Technology Abu Dhabi, Texas A&M University at Qatar, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, and George Mason University – Ras Al Khaimah Campus, as well as the teaching rooms of the University of Washington’s certificate programs in Abu Dhabi.

klec.jpgThis story, on top of news last week that Royal Holloway, University of London, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC) to establish the University of London’s first overseas campus by 2011, is a reminder that venturing abroad is an internationalization option more and more universities are deliberating about.

With opportunity comes confusion, this said. Some universities are simply overwhelmed with options, as the University of Washington (in Seattle) outlined in the article:

The demand from overseas is huge. At the University of Washington, the administrator in charge of overseas programs said she received about a proposal a week. “It’s almost like spam,” said the official, Susan Jeffords, whose position as vice provost for global affairs was created just two years ago.

And yet the article implies, as does the American Council on Education’s report Venturing Abroad: Delivering US Degrees Through Overseas Campuses and Programs (2007), that the opportunity/risk/implication calculus is only in the early stages of a sophisticated conceptualisation. Indeed our own research leads us to believe that the calculus is remarkably unsystematic with universities incrementally ad-hocing it through the deliberative process. Little systematic information is available regarding how to plan the planning process, optional models for overseas campuses, legal innovations (e.g., regarding the protection of academic freedom), best and worse cases, and so on.

Some universities have also not recognized the importance of closely relating core principles and objectives to the idea of accepting or rejecting an overture to open an overseas campus. Interestingly, one university that has is the University of Pennsylvania, and their stance on overseas campuses is an unequivocal no. In the New York Times article Amy Gutmann, president of Penn, is quoted as saying “the downside is lower than the upside is high” especially because the:

risk is that we couldn’t deliver the same quality education that we do here, and that it would mean diluting our faculty strength at home.

New York University (NYU), also the focus of some attention in the article, is clear that their network university model simply requires campuses in other countries; an issue we discussed in some detail in our entry on NYU Abu Dhabi.

Interestingly, both NYU and Penn are active in Singapore. NYU has developed one independent arts school (the Tisch School of the Arts Asia), while Penn is present via intellectual engagement (and some associated secondment activities) with key Singapore-based actors shaping the development of a new university (Singapore Management University) . Thus Penn’s clear principle is to deeply internationalize (including by bringing Penn’s intellectual power to the development of new campuses in countries like India and Singapore), but in a manner than strengthens their one and only campus while concurrently reducing financial and brand name risk.

The outcomes that we read about in such articles, and that we see in such photographs, are dependent upon a suitable mesh between the principles guiding universities as they seek to internationalize, and the territorially-specific development objectives of host governments. One of these territorial objectives is capacity building, an issue we will explore in some detail over the next several months. Now back to those Sunday papers…

Kris Olds


11 February Update:

Charles Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar responded to a selection of 57 questions submitted by New York Times readers at this site. His responses were posted here.

The second article in the series (‘In Oil-Rich Mideast, Shades of the Ivy League’) was published in the New York Times. This article focuses on the student experience in overseas campuses in the Middle East. Readers of the article have been submitting questions here.

The globally engaged institution: insights via the American Council on Education

Editor’s note: GlobalHigherEd has been inviting select universities (e.g., the University of Warwick), associations, and agencies to profile how they are attempting to understand, navigate through, and therefore help construct, the emerging global higher education landscape. We have also focused our own eyes on institutional strategy from time to time (e.g., see Lily Kong’s very popular entry on international consortia). Today’s guest entry has been kindly developed by Jill Wisniewski, Program Associate, Center for International Initiatives, American Council on Education (ACE). The entry profiles ACE’s Leadership Network on International Education, an annual forum for chief academic officers and presidents to discuss issues and trends in international higher education. The Leadership Network is hosted by the Center for International Initiatives at ACE and is open to all ACE members.

aceii.jpgHow do institutional leaders navigate the increasingly complex world of global partnerships, joint degrees, and branch campuses? During the 2007 annual meeting of the Leadership Network on International Education, more than 130 institution presidents and provosts discussed the intricacies of partnering with institutions and organizations around the globe. The expanding international opportunities open to institutions require leaders to make sound decisions about how to have a global presence, whether or not to partner, and with whom; how to develop a strategy to pursue global connectivity; and how to ensure quality and assess potential benefits and risks. The meeting focused on the strategic decisions institutional leaders must make in developing a strategy for global engagement.

In a session on U.S. campuses and degree programs delivered abroad, panelists described their experiences and lessons learned in providing a U.S. education for students in their home countries. The remarks of John A. Elliott, dean of the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, The City University of New York; Jim Baker, vice president for research and economic development, Missouri State University; and Mark Kamlet, provost, Carnegie Mellon University (PA), illustrated that while some issues are country-specific, there are common strategic concerns. Among them are questions of alignment with mission, financial and reputation risk, and the cultural and legal intricacies of working in another country.

There was consensus among panelists that presidents and provosts must seriously consider the institution’s strategic mission before making a commitment to engage in the development of a branch campus or degree program abroad. The question, “why are we engaging in this partnership?” should be among the first asked by institutional leaders. Institutional leaders may answer the “why” question differently, but motivations that were repeated include the education of globally competent students, benefits to the sending institution and the host country, and enhancing mobility of students, faculty, and staff. Panelists stressed that branch campus agreements should not be entered into for perceived financial or reputational benefit, but rather that an institution should have a strategic mission grounded in the value added to students and society.

The speakers also described the challenges of providing degree programs abroad. The legal issues alone can create major hurdles. Balancing foreign government regulations with the demands of US laws can be challenging in unforeseen ways. Difficult questions include: What are the tax implications of working in a foreign country? Is there a financial framework in place to process tuition and other payments on the home campus? What are the capacities of US institutions to implement US regulations (such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements) in a foreign country? These legal complexities arise within the context of foreign cultural practices, and seemingly simple decisions and transactions can produce unanticipated consequences. The panelists suggested that institutional leaders need to decide which policies and practices are non-negotiable, and be able to think creatively to arrive at mutually acceptable solutions.

Other issues that were discussed include quality assurance concerns, faculty participation, and board and administration support. All of the panelists agreed that in order to maintain quality control over programs, the institution must retain control over the curriculum. Indeed, many partnership arrangements have the actual curriculum spelled out and included in the agreements or Memorandum of Understandings (MOU’s) with partner organizations. Panelists also shared best practices in increasing faculty involvement. Some suggestions included:

  • Have faculty spend time on the home campus to maintain ties between the home and branch campus
  • Have research facilities abroad and incentives to conduct research there
  • Make the location and amenities appealing for faculty: provide “high end” living and cultural experiences
  • Build international experience into promotion and tenure guidelines.

One panelist described the extensive discussions with the board surrounding the decision to authorize the establishment of a branch campus. The board was quite skeptical and asked for detailed information and plans. Among the suggestions for garnering and maintaining board support were:

  • Help the board feel invested in the campus by describing in detail the potential benefits for students, faculty and staff
  • If possible, invite Board members to do a site visit to the branch campus location.

This day-long meeting only scratched the surface in describing the benefits, problems, pitfalls, and lessons learned in international engagement. The continuation of annual forums such as the Leadership Network can help advance the field in supplying information and best practices to institutional leaders looking to expand global partnerships.

Jill Wisniewski, Program Associate, Center for International Initiatives, American Council on Education. For more information on the Leadership Network, please contact <jill_wisniewski@ace.nche.edu>.