Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?

The denationalization of higher education – the process whereby developmental logics, frames, and practices, are increasingly associated with what is happening at a larger (beyond the nation) scale continues apace. As alluded to in my last two substantive entries:

this process is being shaped by new actors, new networks, new rationalities, new technologies, and new temporal rhythms. Needless to say, this development process is also generating a myriad of impacts and outcomes, some welcome, and some not.

While the denationalization process is a phenomenon that is of much interest to policy-making institutions (e.g., the OECD), foundations and funding councils, scholarly research networks, financial analysts, universities, and the like, I would argue that it is only now, at a relatively late stage in the game, that the higher education media is starting to take more systematic note of the contours of denationalization.

How is this happening? I will address this question by focusing in on recent changes in the English language higher education media in two key countries – the UK and the USA (though I recognize that University World News, described below, is not so simply placed).

From a quantitative and qualitative perspective, we are seeing rapid growth in the ostensibly ‘global’ coverage of the English-language higher education media from the mid-2000s on. While some outlets (e.g., the Chronicle of Higher Education) have had correspondents abroad since the 1970s, there are some noteworthy developments:

2004/2005

2007

  • University World News (UWN) launched in October. This outlet is the product of a network of journalists, many formally associated with THES, who were frustrated with the disconnect between the globalization of higher education and the narrow national focus of ‘niche’ higher education media outlets. As with IHE, UWN’s free digital-only mode enhances the ability of this outlet to reach a relatively wide range of people located throughout the world.

2009/2010

  • Chronicle of Higher Education launches a virtual Global edition (similar in style to the New York Times’ Global edition) in May. A new $2 million strategic plan leads to the ongoing hiring of more Washington DC-based editorial staff, more correspondents (to be based in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Europe), enhanced travel for US-based sectoral experts, and the establishment of a new weblog (WorldWise).
  • Inside Higher Ed announces it is hosting three new weblogs (GlobalHigherEd; University of Venus; The World View), all with substantial globally-themed coverage. Reporter staff time retuned, to a degree, to prioritize key global issues/processes/patterns. IHE forms collaborative relationship with Times Higher Education to cross-post selected articles on their respective web sites.
  • Times Higher Education (THE) teams up with Thomson Reuters to produce the Times Higher Education/Thomson Reuters World University Rankings (2010 on). THE continues to draw upon guest contributions from faculty about ‘global’ issues and developmental dynamics: this is partly an outcome of seeking to meet the needs and conceptual vocabulary of their faculty-dominated audience, while also controlling staff costs. The digital edition of THE International launched in July 2010.

From a temporal and technological perspective, it is clear that all of these outlets are ramping up their capacity to disseminate digital content, facilitate and/or shape debates, market themselves, and build relevant multi-scalar networks. For example, I can’t help but think about the differences between how I engaged with the THES (as it used to be called) as a Bristol-based reader in the first half of the 1990s and now. In the 1990s we would have friendly squabbles in the Geography tea room to get our hands on it so we could examine the jobs’ pages. Today, in 2010, THE staffers tweet (via @timeshighered and @THEworldunirank) dozens of times per day, and I can sit here in Madison WI and read the THE website, as well as THE International, the moment they are loaded up on the web.

While all of these higher education media outlets are seeking to enhance their global coverage, they are obviously approaching it in their own unique ways, reflective of their organizational structure and resources, the nature of their audiences, and the broader media and corporate contexts in which they are embedded.

In many ways, then, the higher education media are key players in the new global higher education landscape for they shape debates via what they cover and what they ignore. These media firms are also now able to position themselves on top of hundreds of non-traditional founts of information via Twitter sources, select weblogs (some of which they are adopting), state-supported news crawlers (e.g., Canada’s Manitoba International Education News; Netherland’s forthcoming NUFFICblog; the UK’s HE International Unit site and newsletter), cross-references to other media sources (e.g., they often profile relevant NY Times stories), and so on — a veritable BP oil well gusher of information about the changing higher education landscape. In doing so, the higher education media outlets are positioning themselves as funnels or channels of relevant (it is hoped) and timely information and knowledge.

What are we to make of the changes noted above?

In my biased view, these are positive changes on many levels for they are reflective of media outlets recognizing that the world is indeed changing, and that they have an obligation to profile and assist others in better understanding this emerging landscape. Of course these are private media firms that sell services and must make a profit in the end, but they are firms managed by people with a clear love for the complex worlds of higher education.

This said there are some silences, occlusions, and possible conflicts of interest, though not necessarily by design.

First, English is clearly the lingua franca associated with this new media landscape. This is not surprising, perhaps, given my selective focus and the structural forces at work, but it is worth pausing and reflecting about the implications of this linguistic bias. Concerns aside, there are no easy solutions to the hegemony of English in the global higher education media world. For example, while there is no European higher education media ‘voice’ (see ‘Where is Europe’s higher education media?‘), if one were to emerge could it realistically function in any other language than English given the diversity of languages used in the 47 member country systems making up the European Higher Education Area?

Second, these outlets, as well as many others I have not mentioned, are all grappling with the description versus analysis tension, and the causal forces versus outcomes focus tension. Light and breezy stories may capture initial interest, but in the end the forces shaping the outcomes need to be unpacked and deliberated about.

Third, the diversification strategies that these media outlets have considered, and selectively adopted, can generate potential conflicts of interest. I have a difficult time, for example, reading Washington Post-based stories about the for-profit higher education sector knowing that this newspaper is literally kept afloat by Kaplan, a major for-profit higher education firm. And insights and effort aside, can THE journalists and editors write about their own rankings, or other competitive ranking initiatives (e.g., see ‘’Serious defects’ apparent in ‘crude’ European rankings project’), with the necessary distance needed to be analytical versus boosterish? I’ll leave the ‘necessary distance’ question for others to reflect about, and assume that this is a question that the skilled professionals representing the Washington Post and the THE must be grappling with.

Finally, is it possible to provide The World View, be WorldWise, or do justice to the ‘global’, in a weblog or any media outlet? I doubt it, for we are all situated observers of the unfolding of the global higher education landscape. There is no satellite platform that is possible to stand upon, and we are all (journalists, bloggers, pundits, academics, etc.) grappling with how to make sense of the denationalizing systems we know best, not to mention the emerging systems of regional and global governance that are being constructed.

All that can be done, perhaps, is to enhance analytical capabilities, encourage the emergence of new voices, and go for it while being open and transparent about biases and agendas, blind spots and limitations.

Kris Olds

Note: my sincere thanks to the editors of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, Times Higher Education, and University World News, for passing on their many insights via telephone and email correspondence.  And thanks to my colleagues Yi-Fu Tuan and Mary Churchill for their indirectly inspirational comments about World views this past week. Needless to say, the views expressed above are mine alone.

Kaplan’s importance grows in keeping the Washington Post Company afloat

Further to our 8 April 2008 piece on Kaplan and the Washington Post Company (‘Pulitzer Prizes and the global higher ed industry‘), the news today reinforces the significant role of Kaplan in keeping the Washington Post Company (and its newspaper) afloat.  The press release is here, while a related story in the Washington Post newspaper puts it this way:

The Washington Post Co. today reported an 86 percent decline in third-quarter earnings compared with the same period last year, as a significant loss at the flagship newspaper offset gains at the company’s education and cable divisions.

For the quarter, The Post Co. had net income of $10.3 million ($1.08 per share) on $1.1 billion in revenue, compared with net income of $72.5 million ($7.60) on $1 billion in revenue in 2007.

The company’s newspaper division — which includes The Post, the Everett (Wash.) Herald and several community papers — reported an operating loss of $82.7 million for the quarter, largely resulting from a $59.7 million goodwill impairment charge at the Herald and the small papers, reflecting their diminished value. The loss also includes $12.5 million in accelerated depreciation of The Post’s College Park printing presses….

Kaplan Inc., The Post Co.’s education division, which now provides 53 percent of company revenue, reported $603 million in third-quarter revenue, a 17 percent gain over last year, and $51 million in operating income, a 36 percent gain over the same period last year.

The numbers above, and the Kaplan specific numbers below (from the press release), speak for themselves.

Kris Olds

The media, universities, and Higher Ed Cabinets: Or, why doesn’t Harvard buy the New York Times?

A potentially symbiotic relationship between the ‘quality’ media in the USA, and institutions of higher education, has been discussed from time to time in a variety of fora. Fiscal stress in the print media, for example, has led some to suggest that the well endowed (e.g., Harvard, with nearly $40 billion in interest generating capital) should rescue outlets like the New York Times, or actually facilitate the creation of a quality newspaper in Chicago (the Chicago Tribune is shockingly bad for a city of eight million). Instead, we see a significant component of the New York Times being sold off to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú last week, or the Washington Post dependent upon the profits being generated by Kaplan.

Yet quality newspapers play a critically important role in the higher education process, let along the broader socio-economic development process. Many professors (including myself) use newspaper articles in courses, and we require term-length newspaper subscriptions to complement more traditional readings. Newspapers are also important outlets for the circulation of knowledge that is produced in universities, and they help observers of the world of higher ed (including global higher ed) keep up on what is happening.

In this context, it is worth noting that the New York Times teamed up with the Chronicle of Higher Education today to host the USA’s:

first Higher Education Cabinet, comprising presidents, trustees and leaders from 76 colleges, universities and higher-education associations. The goal of the cabinet is to identify trends and direct discussions about the most pressing issues facing higher education today.

The first meeting of the cabinet will be held today at The New York Times Building. The welcome address will be given by Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company, followed by remarks from Jeffrey Selingo, editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Topics to be discussed at the cabinet meeting included e-learning, internationalization [“Internationalization” – How will you compete globally?], financing models, assessment and accountability.

“The New York Times is committed to fostering discussion about the changing landscape of higher education,” said Felice Nudelman, executive director, education, The New York Times. “We are delighted to be hosting the inaugural Chronicle of Higher Education/New York Times Higher Education Cabinet meeting and look forward to continued opportunities to facilitate creative and collective discussions about the key topics in higher education.”

Today’s ‘Cabinet meeting’ is apparently the first of many (to be held on an annual basis), and will be supplemented by quarterly online meetings “conducted via the EpsilenTM environment, an e-learning and meeting platform”, which is:

the result of six years of research and development within the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI.  Epsilen Products and Services are commercially available through BehNeem LLC, the holding company created in Indiana to commercialize, market and further develop the Epsilen Environment. The New York Times is an equity and strategic partner in the company.

The bringing together of institutions of higher education and the quality general and higher ed media cannot help but generate positive benefits. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if the leaders of the many well resourced universities participating in this scheme – people focused on generating maximum annual returns off of endowments, or selling their innovative learning technologies like Epsilen to the media (or to universities and colleges) – reflected much, if at all, about the structural problems facing media companies like the New York Times Company.

Autonomy of university foundation offices and administrators aside, imagine if just a few of these universities decided to pool parts of their endowments, and preserve if not enhance the quality media in the USA, a country desperately in need of better news and analysis. So, instead of Columbia’s Bollinger working for the Washington Post Company, imagine if the Washington Post worked for Bollinger, or the Chicago Tribune worked for Penn’s Guttman, or the New York Times worked for Harvard’s Gilpin Faust. Not ideal, perhaps, but better than watching these important media firms get ravaged by the forces of socio-economic and technological change. But, might this be expecting too much of inward looking universities in the era of the marketplace?

Kris Olds

Pulitzer Prizes and the global higher ed industry

News that the Washington Post‘s excellent journalists just won six Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, including for Public Service, Breaking News Reporting, Investigative Reporting, National Reporting, International Reporting, Feature Writing, and Commentary, should serve to remind GlobalHigherEd‘s readers that the Washington Post Company is being bankrolled by Kaplan, by far the Post’s most profitable unit. Kaplan, for those of you who do not know, is a global education company, with approximately 50% of its revenue derived from the higher ed sector. It serves over 1,000,000 students per year in over 600 locations, and employs 27,000 staff according to Kaplan sources. The numbers below speak for themselves:

And in the Washington Post Company 2007 Annual Report, the company had this to say “to our shareholders”:

At The Washington Post Company, every single one of our businesses has dramatically changed over the past 15 years. In some cases, the changes were for the better.

Fifteen years ago we were accurately described as a media company. Over that time Kaplan has grown into a powerhouse, a multidisciplinary and increasingly international education business unlike any other education company in the world. For the last six months of the year, Kaplan’s revenue was almost half of the company’s, at 49%. Kaplan will continue to grow stronger in 2008. The Washington Post Company is now an education and media company (this isn’t “re-branding”; it’s reality), and the accent on education could get a lot stronger in the future.

On the media side, the financial and operational results at Cable ONE have been exceptional. Profits have bounded up during years when not all cable companies have performed as well. Customer service is at an all-time high in an industry not known for that quality.

Elsewhere in the company, the news is not as good.

This is a further sign of the increasingly significant role of private for-profit education at a global scale, and how higher education companies are perceived to be partial counter-cyclical mediators for revenue and profitability. However such trends cannot help but lead to the reallocation of capital away from the media (even despite such prestigious prizes), and towards education, at an intra-firm level.

Kris Olds