From rhetoric to reality: unpacking the numbers and practices of global higher ed

ihepnov2009Numbers, partnerships, linkages, and collaboration: some key terms that seem to be bubbling up all over the place right now.

On the numbers front, the ever active Cliff Adelman released, via the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), a new report titled The Spaces Between Numbers: Getting International Data on Higher Education Straight (November 2009). As the IHEP press release notes:

The research report, The Spaces Between Numbers: Getting International Data on Higher Education Straight, reveals that U.S. graduation rates remain comparable to those of other developed countries despite news stories about our nation losing its global competitiveness because of slipping college graduation rates. The only major difference—the data most commonly highlighted, but rarely understood—is the categorization of graduation rate data. The United States measures its attainment rates by “institution” while other developed nations measure their graduation rates by “system.”

The main target audience of this new report seems to be the OECD, though we (as users) of international higher ed data can all benefit from a good dig through the report. Adelman’s core objective is facilitating the creation of a new generation of indicators, indicators that are a lot more meaningful and policy-relevant than those that currently exist.

Second, Universities UK (UUK) released a data-laden report titled The impact of universities on the UK economy. As the press release notes:

Universities in the UK now generate £59 billion for the UK economy putting the higher education sector ahead of the agricultural, advertising, pharmaceutical and postal industries, according to new figures published today.

This is the key finding of Universities UK’s latest UK-wide study of the impact of the higher education sector on the UK economy. The report – produced for Universities UK by the University of Strathclyde – updates earlier studies published in 1997, 2002 and 2006 and confirms the growing economic importance of the sector.

The study found that, in 2007/08:

  • The higher education sector spent some £19.5 billion on goods and services produced in the UK.
  • Through both direct and secondary or multiplier effects this generated over £59 billion of output and over 668,500 full time equivalent jobs throughout the economy. The equivalent figure four years ago was nearly £45 billion (25% increase).
  • The total revenue earned by universities amounted to £23.4 billion (compared with £16.87 billion in 2003/04).
  • Gross export earnings for the higher education sector were estimated to be over £5.3 billion.
  • The personal off-campus expenditure of international students and visitors amounted to £2.3 billion.

Professor Steve Smith, President of Universities UK, said: “These figures show that the higher education sector is one of the UK’s most valuable industries. Our universities are unquestionably an outstanding success story for the economy.

See pp 16-17 regarding a brief discussion of the impact of international student flows into the UK system.

These two reports are interesting examples of contributions to the debate about the meaning and significance of higher education vis a vis relative growth and decline at a global scale, and the value of a key (ostensibly under-recognized) sector of the national (in this case UK) economy.

And third, numbers, viewed from the perspectives of pattern and trend identification, were amply evident in a new Thomson Reuters’ report (CHINA: Research and Collaboration in the New Geography of Science) co-authored by the data base crunchers from Evidence Ltd., a Leeds-based firm and recent Thomson Reuters acquisition. One valuable aspect of this report is that it unpacks the broad trends, and flags key disciplinary and institutional geographies to China’s new geography of science. As someone who worked at the National University of Singapore (NUS) for four years, I can understand why NUS is now China’s No.1 institutional collaborator (see p. 9), though the why issues are not discussed in this type of broad mapping cum PR report for Evidence & Thomson Reuters.

Table4

Shifting tack, two new releases about international double and joint degrees — one (The Graduate International Collaborations Project: A North American Perspective on Joint and Dual Degree Programs) by the North American Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), and one (Joint and Double Degree Programs: An Emerging Model for Transatlantic Exchange) by the International Institute for Education (IIE) and the Freie Universität Berlin — remind us of the emerging desire to craft more focused, intense and ‘deep’ relations between universities versus the current approach which amounts to the promiscuous acquisition of hundreds if not thousands of memoranda of understanding (MoUs).

IIEFUBcoverThe IIE/Freie Universität Berlin book (link here for the table of contents) addresses various aspects of this development process:

The book seeks to provide practical recommendations on key challenges, such as communications, sustainability, curriculum design, and student recruitment. Articles are divided into six thematic sections that assess the development of collaborative degree programs from beginning to end. While the first two sections focus on the theories underpinning transatlantic degree programs and how to secure institutional support and buy-in, the third and fourth sections present perspectives on the beginning stages of a joint or double degree program and the issue of program sustainability. The last two sections focus on profiles of specific transatlantic degree programs and lessons learned from joint and double degree programs in the European context.

It is clear that international joint and double degrees are becoming a genuine phenomenon; so much so that key institutions including the IIE, the CGS, and the EU are all paying close attention to the degrees’ uses, abuses, and efficacy. Thus we should view this new book as an attempt to both promote, but in a manner that examines the many forces that shape the collaborative process across space and between institutions. International partnerships are not simple to create, yet they are being demanded by more and more stakeholders.  Why?  Dissatisfaction that the rhetoric of ‘internationalization’ does not match up to the reality, and there is a ‘deliverables’ problem.

Indeed, we hosted some senior Chinese university officials here in Madison several months ago and they used the term “ghost MoUs”, reflecting their dissatisfaction with filling filing cabinet after filing cabinet with signed MoUs that lead to absolutely nothing. In contrast, engagement via joint and double degrees, for example, or other forms of partnership (e.g., see International partnerships: a legal guide for universities), cannot help but deepen the level of connection between institutions of higher education on a number of levels. It is easy to ignore a MoU, but not so easy to ignore a bilateral scheme with clearly defined deliverables, a timetable for assessment, and a budget.

AlQudsBrandeisThe value of tangible forms of international collaboration was certainly on view when I visited Brandeis University earlier this week.  Brandeis’ partnership with Al-Quds University (in Jerusalem) links “an Arab institution in Jerusalem and a Jewish-sponsored institution in the United States in an exchange designed to foster cultural understanding and provide educational opportunities for students, faculty and staff.”  Projects undertaken via the partnership have included administrative exchanges, academic exchanges, teaching and learning projects, and partnership documentation (an important but often forgotten about activity). The level of commitment to the partnership at Brandeis was genuinely impressive.

In the end, as debates about numbers, rankings, partnerships, MoUs — internationalization more generally — show us, it is only when we start grinding through the details and ‘working at the coal face’ (like Brandeis and Al-Quds seem to be doing), though in a strategic way, can we really shift from rhetoric to reality.

Kris Olds

Higher education and collaboration in a global context: a new UK/US (Atlantic) perspective

UK-US-reportThe global higher ed world is associated with a variety of novel initiatives that mix and mingle players operating at a range of scales, while forging and deepening new networks. The rationale and timing for each of these initiatives varies, of course, as does each initiative’s potential for “success” when it comes to the implementation phase.

Today marks the release Higher Education and Collaboration in a Global Context, a noteworthy report published by the UK/US Study Group, which is made up of:

United Kingdom

  • Rick Trainor, Principal, King’s College London and President, Universities UK. Trainor serves as co-chair of the UK/US Study Group
  • Shaun Curtis, Head of the UK Higher Education International Unit
  • Dame Janet Finch, Vice-Chancellor, Keele University
  • Christopher Snowden, Vice-Chancellor, University of Surrey
  • Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol
  • Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor, Warwick University

United States:

This report was commissioned by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the Spring of 2008, and was completed in January 2009 (though not released until today).

The authors of Higher Education and Collaboration in a Global Context make the case for a much deeper transatlantic relationship; one institutionalized in a strategic sense via the creation of:

  • The Atlantic Trust (a foundation)
  • The Atlantic Scholars (enhanced student mobility)
  • The Atlantic Researchers (enhanced collaborative research initiatives with at least one UK and one US partner)
  • The Atlantic Partners (a public service scheme)

In a future entry I will examine the content of the report, and put this content (and the report’s development process) into greater context.  For now, though, see below for a copy of the summary of the report, link here for the press release, and link here (Higher Education and Collaboration in a Global Context) for a copy of the full report.

Summary

This report makes the case for a new model for UK/US collaboration, one that will develop multilateral partnerships and bring the longstanding UK/US partnership in higher education to bear in third locations. It argues that if the UK and the USA are to continue to assert their primacy in the realm of higher education (HE) within an increasingly competitive global context, they will best do so collaboratively. The emergent global HE picture represents a challenging but ultimately promising framework for newly-envisioned UK/US collaboration.

Now, more than ever, collaboration across borders among our leading universities is absolutely necessary. The strength of the UK/US partnership, the longstanding preeminence of the two countries in the HE sector, and, more recently, the unfolding of the global economy, validate the case for deepened – and internationalised – collaboration. Furthering the UK/US collaborative HE relationship can no longer have as its sole goals mobility and partnership between the two, nor the advancement only of UK and US interests. The biggest challenge ahead is to focus on ways of extending the UK/US model to third locations. This will enrich immensely the universities of both countries, foster the growth of an open, competitive and accessible HE sector in other nations, and constitutes a vitally important form of soft diplomacy and power. Most critically, it will foster – if framed by ambitious initiatives – the development of a ‘global civil society’ which will bind universities and countries together through common values and principles, and counter the centripetal forces of the globalised era.

The report provides an account of the origins and purpose of the group that produced it; assesses the history of UK/US higher education partnership, its strengths and weaknesses, and current context; and gives a forecast of developments with which the partnership must engage. Most critically, it makes a case for the absolute centrality of higher education in this emerging world, and provides ideas that capitalise on that centrality and begin to orient the longstanding UK/US partnership toward the globalised world before us for the creation of a global civil society.

Kris Olds

International partnerships: a legal guide for universities

Greetings mid-July.  Susan and I have been travelling a lot via our respective jobs, so please excuse the slow pace of updates to GlobalHigherEd.

CoverMy return to Madison a few days ago corresponded with an embargoed (until today) press release from the UK Higher Education International Unit.  The press release relates to a new report (International Partnerships: A Legal Guide for UK Universities) that was published today.  The UK Higher Education International Unit is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Department for Employment and Learning (Northern Ireland), Guild HE and Universities UK.  The press release notes:

International Partnerships: A Legal Guide for UK Universities, written by international law firm Eversheds, is designed as a practical ‘route map’ which gathers together in one place all the issues that need to be considered by a university serious about doing business abroad and getting it right from start to finish.

Key features of the guide include:

* Chapters on managing and documenting a partnership, including laying the groundwork, due diligence, troubleshooting and risk assessment with accompanying lists of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’.
* Guidance on what to do if things go wrong.
* Country-specific case studies detailing legal and higher education jurisdiction, (Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Qatar, UAE and USA)

Professor Rick Trainor, President of Universities UK, said, ‘International activities should protect and enhance a university’s brand, reputation and mission. Getting an international academic relationship right at the outset is always preferable to fixing mistakes later. It is my belief that this guide will prove to be of considerable and lasting practical use to our colleagues in the HE sector who are charged with establishing and running the full range of collaborative ventures with our counterparts abroad.’

Glynne Stanfield, partner and head of international education at Eversheds, said: ‘Having been involved in providing legal support to the International Unit at Universities UK since its inception, we are delighted to have produced a guide for the sector on international activities. We have seen a major increase in the international activities of universities over the last few years; we expect that trend to accelerate and we hope the guide assists universities to do so. As an international law firm we fully recognise the increasing importance to the UK of international activities particularly in education, one of the UK’s key export markets.’

International partnerships have, to date, been a success story for UK universities, but gone are the days when the terms of collaboration could be agreed between Vice-Chancellors on no more than a handshake. UK universities are sophisticated international collaborators and are increasingly taking account of legal issues when entering overseas partnerships.  The guide conveys the complexities of the law in an accessible and readable format.

A fuller summary of the report is available in their newsletter (International Focus: 15/07/09), which includes the ‘lifecycle’ image below.

lifecycle

The UK Higher Education International Unit has been attempting, over the last several years, to support UK universities in the “internationalization” process through a range of activities, including:

  • Assembling timely and high quality data and information about international developments and movements in higher education, and adding value to them through research and analysis designed to develop foresight about international trends and their potential impact on UK HEIs;
  • Making the results of this work readily available to UK HEIs and providing a meeting point for the sharing of information about globalisation, and the discussion of issues that arise;
  • Helping to ensure that there is joined-up thinking and appropriate co-ordination between the range of UK organisations involved in international activity related to higher education, thereby increasing its impact and helping to advance the reputation of UK higher education in overseas countries.

This institution emerged in the context of the increasing dependency of UK universities on foreign student-derived revenue, the enhanced involvement of UK universities abroad (with respect to both teaching and research), and the desire of the UK higher education sector to ensure that UK universities are strategic in the context of the emergence of the European Higher Education Area.

It is interesting to note that this detailed 196 page report can only be read by officials representing UK universities, who can access it at this password-protected site.  Following a 12 month UK uni-only phase, the report becomes available for general consumption, and is free.

The issue of general access to informative reports like this one, or reports commissioned by similar organizations in other countries, is shaped by actual and perceived needs to service stakeholders who fund the commissioning agency, the competitive impulse, and historical policy legacies regarding distribution.  Yet we have detected a broad trend towards free, immediate, and open access to these types of reports, in part because of the administrative costs of printing, charging and distributing lengthy reports, but also recognition that the global higher ed landscape is evolving so fast that everyone can benefit from enhanced understandings of how to (re)shape the development process.  International partnerships are, after all, about partnership. This is a long-winded way of suggesting that organizations like the UK Higher Education International Unit, and the American Council on Education’s Center for International Initiatives, should seriously consider adopting an open access policy for relevant reports. Such an approach would enhance the nature of the collaborative development process, and better ensure institutions in other countries understand the logics and rationales — the modi operandi — associated with UK and US partners. There might be some forgone revenue or other costs, yet the broader benefits of sharing knowledge, in a timely and open fashion, as well as the symbolic messages sent out, are well worth considering.

Kris Olds

ps: I should add that the UK Higher Education International Unit kindly sent me a copy of the report, so this is not a whinge to get a copy, but an indirect note of appreciation regarding the quality of the report. :)