Surveying the Construction of Global Knowledge/Spaces for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

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Surveying the Construction of Global Knowledge/Spaces for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

By Kris Olds October 17, 2011 3:00 am UTC

Our era of ‘global urbanization’ -- one where the majority of the world’s population now lives in ‘urban’ areas – raises some interesting opportunities and challenges for higher education systems and institutions. This issue came to mind today when Roger Keil (Professor and Director, The City Institute at York University) tweeted a link to this story ('How Cities Grow: Dispersion, not Densification') by Wendell Cox.

What Cox, Keil, Koolhaas, Kotkin, McGee, Sudjic, and many other urban analysts are pointing out is that we are seeing not just the growth of the proportion of the world’s population living in cities, but also the emergence of new spatial patterns and orders; ones associated with more dispersed and therefore less dense concentrations of people than in older (denser) ‘urban’ areas.

This emerging pattern is associated with terms like extended metropolitan regions, exurbs, edge city, borderless cities, megapolitan areas, megalopolis, the '100 Mile City,' and the like. There are some important differences between these terms and their origins (some of which go back many decades), but for the purposes of this blog entry we’ll leave the differences to the side.

Here are a few graphics to flag some dimensions of the global urban era. Graphic 1 is from UN Habitat's Global Report on Human Settlements 2011(p. 3), graphic 2 is from nordphil.com, and graphic 3 is from UN Habitat's State of the World's Cities 2010/2011:

And here are a few comments, from Cox's piece in newgeography, on the dispersal dimension of urbanization:

Analysts occasionally note that urban areas ("cities") are becoming larger and denser. This is only half right. It is true that most of the world's urban areas are becoming larger, with megacities like Delhi, Jakarta, Shanghai, Beijing and Manila adding more than five million people in the last decade and most other urban areas are growing, but not as fast.

Understanding Urban Areas: However almost without exception, urban areas are getting less dense. ....

1960-1990 Data: Historical urban population density is not readily available. Kenworthy and Laube were pioneers in this area, publishing estimates from 1960 to 1990 for a number of urban areas. That data indicates density losses in the more than urban areas for which they were able to develop comparable data. The world average decline was 20 percent, ranging from 15 percent in the United States to 29 percent in Europe and 33 percent in Australia. While Tokyo was doubling in population, its population density was dropping 17 percent between 1960 and 1990. While Zurich was adding 21 percent to its population, it was becoming 13 percent less dense.

Recent Data: The dispersion continues, which is indicated by these high-income world cases:

  • Today, the ville de Paris has 700,000 fewer people than at its peak, and inner London (generally the former London County Council area) has lost more than 1,500,000 people since its peak. All growth has been in lower density suburban areas in both the London and Paris urban areas.
  • In the United States, urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population more than doubled in population from 1950 to 2000 (2010 data not yet available), while the population density dropped by nearly one-third. Detailed analysis indicates that this trend has continued over the past decade in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, St. Louis and other major US urban areas.
  • The dense core city of Seoul has been losing population and all growth has been in the suburbs, which are lower density.
  • The dense urban core of Milan has experience substantial population losses, while the less dense suburbs have captured all the growth.

Dispersion is not limited to high income urban areas, with declining densities in evidence across lower and middle income nations as well. For example:

  • Nearly all of the growth in Jakarta has been in the suburbs for the last 20 years, while the core has gained little in population. The net effect is a less dense, but much larger urban area, because the suburbs are not as dense.
  • Nearly all of the growth for 30 years in Manila has been in the suburbs, while the core city. Again, the urban area has become much larger, but much less dense because the suburbs are much less dense.
  • The dense core of Shanghai has lost population and all growth has been in the suburbs, which are lower density.
  • The population in the dense core of Beijing has nearly stopped growing, with nearly all population in the suburbs, which are lower density.
  • The core of Mumbai has lost population in two of the last three census periods, while all growth has been in the suburbs, which are lower density.
  • The urban core of Mexico City has been declining in population since 1960 and all of the growth has been in the suburbs, which are less dense.
  • The dense core city of Buenos Aires has fewer people today than in 1947, while at least 8 million people have been added to nearly 1,000 square miles of lower density suburbs.

Urban growth continues to be overwhelmingly in less dense suburban areas, rather than in the more dense urban cores, and as a result even as urban areas grow, they become less dense. This is how cities grow.

Now, we have seen the growth of tertiary enrollment at the same time that we have seen the emergence of the era of global urbanization. The numbers evident below (in a graphic from p. 11 of UNESCO's Global Education Digest 2009) also point to the rapid growth of enrollment numbers and levels outside of the West, albeit unevenly. I don't have the data available about the proportion of these students enrolled in tertiary institutions located in 'urban' areas, but it would be safe to assume they are in the majority.

The questions I’d like to raise are these:

  1. Can and should the core ideas associated with the sociospatial structure of the university (including proximity; a unified administrative structure; substantial in-situ infrastructure investment; a primary (and for most, singular) office for faculty & staff; stable classroom locations for courses throughout a term) hold firm while the sociospatial structure of societies around the world is spreading horizontally across an increasing scale?
  2. Can we carry on assuming that people should/will come to a campus to receive all or a majority of their formal higher education? Or should higher education funders and providers progressively adjust institutional infrastructures, pedagogical practices, and broad ways of operating, to better serve people IN PLACES, versus drawing people to A PLACE?
  3. Do the locations of branch campuses that have been established in fast changing world regions (e.g., East Asia, the Gulf) reflect the distortion-creating draw of state-provided subsidies, or the potent (albeit unrealized) demands of qualified students scattered across much space within these regions? Does a base deep in the heart of global urbanization (e.g., coastal China, as evident above in graphic 2) offer unprecedented opportunities to reach humankind like never before?

On these points, I can’t help but think that the rise of the on-line for-profit higher education providers (e.g., Laureate International Universities), or the providers with smaller offices scattered through metropoli around the world (and indeed across parts of some metropolitan regions), reflect not just their ability to identify and serve new demographic segments of society, but perhaps in ways that also reflect the emerging new geographies we see in this era of global urbanization. In other words perhaps these higher education providers are less fixed in space since fixity is not one of their core objectives. I’m not suggesting that this stance is necessarily desirable, but it is worth thinking about carefully.

It is also worth questioning if traditional providers of higher education are built for the much more stretched out spatial era emerging in almost all of our world regions. And if not, what are the options -- technological, organizational, etc. -- for addressing a provider-society disconnect that will surely deepen over time?

By Kris Olds & Susan Robertson October 6, 2011 12:15 am UTC

Well, it’s ranking season again, and the Times Higher Education/Thomson Reuters World University Rankings (2011-2012) has just been released. The outcome is available here, and a screen grab of the Top 25 universities is available to the right. Link here for a pre-programmed Google News search for stories about the topic, and link here for Twitter-related items (caught via the #THEWUR hash tag).

Polished up further after some unfortunate fall-outs from last year, this year’s outcome promises to give us an all improved, shiny and clean result. But is it?

Like many people in the higher education sector, we too are interested in the ranking outcomes, not that there are many surprises, to be honest.

Rather, what we’d like to ask our readers to reflect on is how the world university rankings debate is configured. Configuration elements include:

  • Ranking outcomes: Where is my university, or the universities of country X, Y, and Z, positioned in a relative sense (to other universities/countries; to peer universities/countries; in comparison to last year; in comparison to an alternative ranking scheme)?
  • Methods: Is the adopted methodology appropriate and effective? How has it changed? Why has it changed?
  • Reactions: How are key university leaders, or ministers (and equivalents) reacting to the outcomes?
  • Temporality: Why do world university rankers choose to release the rankings on an annual basis when once every four or five years is more appropriate (given the actual pace of change within universities)? How did they manage to normalize this pace?
  • Power and politics: Who is producing the rankings, and how do they benefit from doing so? How transparent are they themselves about their operations, their relations (including joint ventures), their biases, their capabilities?
  • Knowledge production: As is patently evident in our recent entry 'Visualizing the uneven geographies of knowledge production and circulation,' there is an incredibly uneven structure to the production of knowledge, including dynamics related to language and the publishing business. Given this, how do world university rankings (which factor in bibliometrics in a significant way) reflect this structural condition?
  • Governance matters: Who is governing whom? Who is being held to account, in which ways, and how frequently? Are the ranked capable of doing more than acting as mere providers of information (for free) to the rankers? Is an effective mechanism needed for regulating rankers and the emerging ranking industry? Do university leaders have any capability (none shown so far!) to collaborate on ranking governance matters?
  • Context(s): How do schemes like the THE's World University Rankings, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), and the QS World University Rankings, relate to broader attempts to benchmark higher education systems, institutions, and educational and research practices or outcomes? And here we flag the EU’s new U-Multirank scheme, and the OECD’s numerous initiatives (e.g., AHELO) to evaluate university performance globally, as well as engender debate about benchmarking too. In short, are rankings like the ones just released 'fit for purpose' in genuinely shed light on the quality, relevance and efficiency of higher education in a rapidly-evolving global context?

The Top 400 outcomes will and should be debated, and people will be curious about the relative place of their universities in the ranked list, as well as about the welcome improvements evident in the THE/Thomson Reuters methodology. But don't be invited into distraction and only focus on some of these questions, especially those dealing with outcomes, methods, and reactions.

Rather, we also need to ask more hard questions about power, governance, and context, not to mention interests, outcomes, and potential collateral damage to the sector (when these rankings are released and then circulate into national media outlets, and ministerial desktops). There is a political economy to world university rankings, and these schemes (all of them, not just the THE World University Rankings) are laden with power and generative of substantial impacts; impacts that the rankers themselves often do not hear about, nor feel (e.g., via the reallocation of resources).

Is it not time to think more broadly, and critically, about the big issues related to the great ranking seduction?

By Kris Olds September 24, 2011 2:15 am UTC
By Kris Olds September 21, 2011 8:15 pm UTC

The OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011: Innovation and Growth in Knowledge Economies report was released on 20 September. While I've only seen the summary (which is the source for the first three images below) and an informative entry ('A Changing Landscape: University hotspots for science and technology') in the OECD's Education Today weblog, it is interesting to see a now common pattern and message emerging in these types of reports, and in a series of like-minded conferences, workshops, and associated reports (e.g. the Royal Society's excellent Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global Scientific collaboration in the 21st century, March 2011):

(a) relative stasis or decline in the OECD member countries (though they still do dominate, and will for decades to come);

(b) relatively fast growth within the so-called BRIC countries; and

(c) increased international collaboration, both as outcome and as aspiration.

And it is the aspiration for international collaboration that is particularly fascinating to ponder, for these types of scoreboards -- analytical benchmarking cum geostrategic reframing exercises really -- help produce insights on the evolving 'lie of the land,' while also flagging the ideal target spaces (countries, regions, institutions) for prospective future collaboration. National development processes and patterns thus drive change, but they interact in fascinating ways with the international collaborative process, which drives more international collaboration, and on it goes. As Alessandra Colecchia of the OECD puts it:

What does this [the changing landscape, and emerging 'hotspots'] mean and why is it important? As students and researchers become more mobile, new sets of elite universities outside of the US could materialize. Whether or not we call it the “Banyan” or “Bonsai” League is yet to be determined, but it is clear that OECD countries may no longer have the monopoly on scientific excellence in higher education.

Luckily for us, education is generally not a zero-sum game. When others gain important insights and breakthroughs in science and technology, the entire field benefits. So wherever you are in the world, you can wear your college sweatshirt with pride.

True, though questions remain about the principles/missions/agendas driving international collaboration. For example, there is an ongoing scramble in Europe and North America to link up with research-active Brazilian institutions of higher education; an issue nicely summarized in today's OBHE story titled 'Brazil leads the charge from Latin America.'

As noted in the fourth image below (which was extracted from the Royal Society's Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global Scientific collaboration in the 21st century), the nature of coauthor-based collaboration with Brazil is changing, with some countries edging closer because scholar-to-scholar ties are deepening or thinning. The reconfiguration is most likely deepening from 2008 on as a slew of new policies, programs and projects get promoted and funded in both Brazil and actual or potential partner countries.

Some of the questions that come to my mind, after participating in some workshops where relations with Brazil are discussed include:

  • What values drive these new initiatives to reach out across space into and out of Brazil?
  • What disciplines are factored in (or not), and what types of researchers (junior? senior? elite? emerging?) get supported?
  • What languages are they dependent upon, and what languages will they indirectly promote?
  • Are these international collaboration drives built on the principle of 'you are only as strong as your weakest link' (i.e. an exclusive one), or are they attendant to the need for capacity building and longer time horizons for knowledge development?
  • Are these international collaboration drives built upon implicit and explicit principles of reciprocity, or otherwise?
  • What about the territorial dimensions of the development process? Will we see hotspot to 'emerging hotspot' linkages deepen, or will hotspots be linked up with non-hotspots and if so how, and why? Can an archipelago-like landscape of linked up hotspots 'serve' nations/regions/the world, or is it generative of exclusionary developmental tendencies?

These are but a few of many questions to ponder as we observe, and jointly construct, emerging 'hotspots' in the global higher education and research landscape.

~~~~~~~

By Kris Olds & Susan Robertson September 14, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

As noted in a previous entry (‘Visualizing the globalization of higher education and research’), we’ve been keen to both develop and promote high quality visualizations associated with the globalization of higher education and research. On this note, the wonderful Floating Sheep collective recently informed me about some new graphics that will be published in:

The visualization and analysis for the images below (three of many!) was conducted by Dr. Mark Graham, Scott A. Hale and Monica Stephens, in collaboration with Dr. Corinne M. Flick and the Convoco Foundation.

Many thanks to Mark Graham for permission to post these fascinating visualizations on GlobalHigherEd.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Location of Academic Knowledge (journals by country)

Academic Knowledge & Language (journals by language/country)

Academic Knowledge & Publishers

By Kris Olds September 14, 2011 1:30 pm UTC

Education at a Glance 2011 was released today by the OECD. The report is replete with data about education systems, patterns, trends, etc., and is well worth reading.

Free copies of the full report (497 pp) and the highlights version (98 pp) are available in PDF format via the links I provided in this sentence. An on-line summary is available here too, with links to country notes for Brazil (in English; in Portuguese, Chile, Estonia, France (in French), Germany (in English; in German), Greece, Italy (in English) (in Italian), Japan (in English, in Japanese), Korea, Mexico (in English; in Spanish), Spain (in English; in Spanish), and the United Kingdom.

While all of the sections are worth reading, I always find the data regarding international student mobility too hard to resist glancing at when the report first comes out. These six graphics, and associated highlights (all but the first extracted from the highlights version of Education at a Glance 2011) will give you a flavour of some of the noteworthy student mobility trends. Further details regarding mobility trends and patterns can be found in the full report (pp. 318-339).

How many students study abroad?

  • In 2009, almost 3.7 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship, representing an increase of more than 6% on the previous year.
  • Just over 77% of students worldwide who study abroad do so in OECD countries.
  • In absolute terms, the largest numbers of international students are from China, India and Korea. Asians account for 52% of all students studying abroad worldwide.

Where do students go to study abroad?

  • Six countries – Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States – hosted more than half of the world’s students who studied abroad in 2009.
  • The United States saw a significant drop as a preferred destination of foreign students between 2000 and 2009, falling from about 23% of the global market share to 18%.
  • The shares of foreign students who chose Australia and New Zealand as their destination grew by almost 2%, as did that in the Russian Federation, which has become an important new player on the international education market.

How many international students stay on in the host country?

  • Several OECD countries have eased their immigration policies to encourage the temporary or permanent immigration of international students, including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, New Zealand and Norway.
  • Many students move under a free-movement regime, such as the European Union, and do not need a residence permit to remain in their country of study.
  • On average, 25% of international students who did not renew their student permits changed their student status in the host country mainly for work-related reasons.

Other complementary reports released over the last month include:

The reworking of the global higher education landscape continues to generate a wide array of ripple effects at a range of scales (from the local through to the global). While not perfect, the OECD’s annual Education at a Glance 2011 does an excellent job providing much of the available data on these trends, and on a wide array of issues and phenomenon that help to shape these mobility outcomes. A comparative perspective, after all, helps to flag the place of individual countries’ in the broader and ever evolving landscape; a landscape that countries play a significant role in both constructing, and reacting to.

By Kris Olds July 23, 2011 12:15 pm UTC

Editors' note: the statement below was issued by participants at the end of the International Conference on Decolonising Our Universities conference at Universiti Sains Malaysia (June 27-29, 2011, Penang, Malaysia). We've posted it here as it facilitates consideration of some of the taken-for-granted assumptions at play in most debates about the future of higher education right now. This statement, most of the talks presented at it, and this memorandum to UNESCO, reflect an unease with the subtle tendencies of exclusion (of ideas, paradigms, models, options, missions) evident in the broad transformations and debates underway in most higher education circles, including in rapidly changing South and Southeast Asia. Our thanks to the organizers, especially Vice-Chancellor Professor Tan Sri Dato’ Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, and Emeritus Professor Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Faruqi, for information about the event. Kris Olds & Susan Robertson

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Another World is Desirable

We – people from diverse countries* in four continents – met in your lovely city of Penang for three days from June 27-29, 2011. We were invited by Universiti Sains Malaysia and Citizens International to discuss the future of our universities and how we could decolonise them. Too many of them have become pale imitations of Western universities, with marginal creative contributions of their own and with little or no organic relation with their local communities and environments. The learning environments have become hostile, meaningless and irrelevant to our lives and concerns.

In all humility, we wish to convey to you the gist of our discussions.

We agreed that for far too long have we lived under the Eurocentric assumption – drilled into our heads by educational systems inherited from colonial regimes – that our local knowledges, our ancient and contemporary scholars, our cultural practices, our indigenous intellectual traditions, our stories, our histories and our languages portray hopeless, defeated visions no longer fit to guide our universities – therefore, better given up entirely.

We are firmly convinced that every trace of Eurocentrism in our universities – reflected in various insidious forms of western controls over publications, theories and models of research must be subordinated to our own scintillating cultural and intellectual traditions. We express our disdain at the way ‘university ranking exercises’ evaluate our citadels of learning on the framework assumptions of western societies. The Penang conference articulated different versions of intellectual and emotional resistance to the idea of continuing to submit our institutions of the mind and our learning to the tutelage and tyranny of western institutions.

We leave Penang with a firm resolve to work hard to restore the organic connection between our universities, our communities and our cultures. Service to the community and not just to the professions must be our primary concern. The recovery of indigenous intellectual traditions and resources is a priority task. Course structures, syllabi, books, reading materials, research models and research areas must reflect the treasury of our thoughts, the riches of our indigenous traditions and the felt necessities of our societies. This must be matched with learning environments in which students do not experience learning as a burden, but as a force that liberates the soul and leads to the upliftment of society. Above all, universities must retrieve their original task of creating good citizens instead of only good workers.

For this, we seek the support of all intellectuals and other like-minded individuals and organisations that are willing to assist us in taking this initiative further.

Thank you for hosting us, the Delegates of the International Conference on Decolonising Our Universities, June 27-29. 2011, Penang, Malaysia

For more information please access www.multiworldindia.org

*Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda

By Kris Olds July 19, 2011 4:30 pm UTC

One notable challenge for many universities is moving beyond the superficial rhetoric of internationalization. Of course every university, and its leaders, are in favor of internationalizing: the signs are everywhere, from refashioned mission statements, to the building of some institutional capacity to understand and support internationalization, to the inclusion of the rhetoric of internationalization in speech after speech by university leaders.

Yet, in the end, the process of enhancing the territorial spread of institutional networks, and sometimes architectures, is not so simple: it requires the initiation and implementation of a strategic planning process, and the subsequent bringing to life of new linkages, partnerships, programs, and projects. For some this involves a top-down led process of almost turning the university inside out (e.g., NYU), while for others it involves the slow and steady development of an infrastructure of support to enable units within a university to go at their own speed, in their own ways, free of formal managerialism where one unit (and often person) is deemed the defacto czar of internationalization.

Regardless of approach, one of the noteworthy aspects of this phenomenon is its formalization. What I mean by this is institutions of higher education are increasingly attempting to become more strategic in a comprehensive and legible way. Audits of international teaching and research activities are being conducted, and universities are ramping up their coordination capabilities via advisory councils, task forces, and ad-hoc working groups. The best universities build in accountability and outcome measures to see what is really happening over time. This sometimes involves more staff versus additional resources for faculty and students, for good and for bad (see, for example, the vigorous debate about the rise of ‘deanlets’ and ‘deanlings’ in 'The Fall of the Faculty', Inside Higher Ed, 14 July 2011).

In any case, the effort to become more strategic, and formal, about internationalization is abundantly evident in a new report released yesterday by the UK Higher Education International and Europe Unit. This report -- A Guide to UK Higher Education and Partnerships for Overseas Universities -- is designed to serve as a “starting point for overseas institutions interested in establishing collaborations with UK higher education institutions." As noted in the report’s executive summary:

Partnerships between academic institutions have tended to be the product of working relationships between individual academics; but more recently, as the potential benefits and risks from overseas collaborations have increased, universities and colleges have begun to manage their international partnerships portfolio more effectively.

Increasing competition is affecting the way UK universities think about their aspirations and how to maintain their international competitiveness. A strategic shift is underway – away from a focus on international student recruitment (at which the UK sector has been successful) and toward a longer-term and more partnership based conceptualisation of internationalisation.

Governments around the world are increasingly encouraging their universities to embrace the international agenda and to internationalise their institution. They are doing this by supporting and facilitating their higher education sectors to engage at an institutional level with global partners through teaching and research collaboration.

The free 52 page report, which is available in PDF format in English, Arabic and Chinese, is worth reading for even if you are not interested in partnering with UK universities the report helpfully sets out a series of issues worth thinking about in general at both the university level (i.e. how to frame and implement partnerships) as well as the larger system-wide scale.

For example, the report prompted me to reflect on the issue of what associations of universities could do to better communicate about, in summary form, the taken-for-granted factors shaping the national systems of higher education and research their own universities are embedded in. And if this were to happen, what language(s) should this form of communications occur in? What format should these types of ‘primers’ be available in, and at what cost (if any)? And whom should we be communicating with as we lay out some of the groundwork for the hoped for formation of partnerships? Similarly, do we, at the university scale, provide sufficient analytically oriented information, in one place on our websites, about the history, nature of, and entry points (with respect to governance), regarding our universities that prospective overseas partners would find beneficial to read prior to visits and negotiations?

Of course partnerships, in the end, need to be brought to life at the university to university level, but keep it in mind that the diversity of systems out there mean that many universities need approval from ministries or government departments before they can engage in partnerships, especially if year-on-year resource expenditures are to be factored in. Given this many government officials, ministers (or equivalents), and some unexpected others, have power to shape relationship building outcomes even though they frequently do not have an understanding of issues like academic freedom, quality assurance, institutional governance, research and teaching outcome expectations, etc. All the more reason for communicating about who we are, and are not.

While hardly perfect, my read of A Guide to UK Higher Education and Partnerships for Overseas Universities leads me to believe that its authors and sponsors are attempting to provide a primer of this type; one for ‘overseas universities’ as well as the other actors who will have an impact on the partnership relationship building process. It is also a reflexive piece; one reminding those guiding UK universities to think about the taken-for granted factors that shape their practices and expectations. In the end these kinds of communications objectives cannot but be positive for failed or unrealized partnerships (and there are many the higher education sector) generate ample opportunity costs that we can scarcely afford.

By Kris Olds July 13, 2011 3:28 pm UTC

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)

By Kris Olds July 1, 2011 5:45 pm UTC

A cold summer ale on the Memorial Union Terrace (or 'the Terrace' as it is known) at UW-Madison is a genuinely glorious experience. I was down there the other evening with my family, observing students, faculty, visiting conference types, as well alumni and members of the public. The Terrace functions like a defacto community center, alongside all of the functions typically associated with student unions (including food services, the weak link in an otherwise splendid set-up). UW-Madison is facing some serious challenges right now, but it has basically nailed the student union experience like few other universities have.

The wonders of the Terrace became clearer a few weeks ago when I drove up to Ottawa to give a talk at an Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) workshop on Canada-Brazil higher education relations. I brought my two sons with me, and we stopped at a number of universities in Ontario and Quebec. And while I know of Canadian universities first-hand as a University of British Columbia (UBC) alum (BA & MA), this was the first time I wore the parental hat given that my eldest son is now thinking of which universities to apply to.

Canadian university campuses are generally well-planned contexts for a high quality education. Yet many (not all!) of them continue to segregate social spaces on the basis of identity/status (undergraduates, graduate, faculty, staff), with a curious concrete bunker-like ambiance provided for undergraduates when they become old enough to have that cold summer ale. This is a pattern I’ve also seen in a variety of other countries with respect to their on-campus or university-affiliated establishments.

Of course I recognize that over-drinking is a serious problem on university campuses, and that there are significant cultural-regulatory matters to factor in, but does segregating the university community into broad bands of social drinkers help, or hurt? I’d argue that creating more socially mixed settings, complete with alumni and members of the host city/town, engenders more mature behavior, and creates the kind of ambiance that makes a campus an even more valuable contributor to social life in the place it is situated in.

For example, I loved my UBC experiences as an undergraduate, but did they really have to relegate us to ‘The Pit’, a windowless basement bunker, when we wanted to have an on-campus social gathering with a few beer. That kind of experience, fun as it was (and it was fun!), cannot match the wonders of the Terrace, or the beer gardens associated with the University of Vienna, for example.

Despite what I've said, attention to the undergraduate experience is significantly changing on campuses in Canada, and elsewhere. And these experiences are being improved, not worsened. Undergraduates become, after all, alumni and universities everywhere will be depending upon alumni for streams of revenue like never before. And judging from what I detect here in Madison, the intangibles of warm summer breezes, joyous conversations, tasty summer ales, and being treated with respect, cannot but help deepen the positive memories and social ties that engender support for a university down the line.

Happy Canada Day & Happy Independence Day!

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