A 2013 report published in the United Kingdom proposed the image of “an avalanche” to describe the radical changes affecting tertiary education in many parts of the world (Barber, M., Donnelly, K., and S. Rizvi, 2013).  Indeed, a growing number of rupture factors are at play in transforming the ecosystem in which tertiary education institutions are operating, drastically influencing how they perform their teaching and research functions.  Among these rupture factors are technological innovations such as flipped classrooms for interactive learning, mass online open courses (MOOCS) reaching hundred of thousands of students all over the world, new forms of competition from for-profit and corporate universities that provide professional qualifications closely linked to labor market needs, and new accountability modalities like the global rankings, which allow to measure and compare the performance of universities across all continents.

Despite their methodological weaknesses, the rankings are the principal tool that has helped identify the most outstanding universities in the world with objective criteria, and that has allowed to identify the main factors that explain their success. Governance, in particular, has come out as one of the key determinants of high performance universities.

In the past decade, many countries have undertaken significant reforms to modernize the regulatory framework in which their tertiary education institutions operate, moving from a centralized control model to a decentralized system where universities enjoy substantial autonomy. Autonomous universities are characterized by the existence of an independent board with a majority of representatives of external stakeholders, professional criteria and procedures for the selection of the leadership team, and flexible human resource rules and policies for the recruitment and retention of staff and the determination of salaries.

However, universities in the Ibero-American world are not at the forefront of these reforms, quite the opposite. They tend to suffer from serious limitations because of their populist traditions, characterized by the democratic election of university presidents or rectors by the entire academic community, high levels of inbreeding, and a lack of international outlook, as can be seen in Spain and most of Latin America.

In the Spanish case, the absence of internationally recognized universities and the low scientific output of the country is as source of concern, as pointed out by a recent study prepared by a group of leading academics at the request of the Spanish government. No Spanish university appears among the top 200 universities in the world in the latest Shanghai ranking of Shanghai, while other large European countries such as the UK, France or Germany or even small economies such as Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden have a strong presence in the group of top universities.

Of particular importance in improving the Spanish public university system is the need for reforming the composition and role of the governing bodies as well as the selection process of rectors and deans. The reality is that the current governance model supports the collective decision-making process that imposes the immediate interests of stakeholders over the academic excellence that society needs … the processes are always too long, complex and riddled with bureaucracy and inefficiencies (Report of the Expert Committee on the Reform of the Spanish University System, 2013).

In the second case, although Latin America has 8.5% of the world’s population and produces 8.7% of global GDP, its universities represent only 2.2% of the top 500 in the Shanghai ranking, less than 1.5% of the top 400 in the Times Higher Education rankings, and 2.6% of the top 500 universities in the bibliometric ranking of Leiden. The performance of Brazil and Mexico (respectively sixth and fourteenth economies in the world) compares poorly with the impressive achievements of small countries like Israel, with three universities among the top hundred in the world in the Shanghai ranking, or Netherlands with two universities. In both cases, these modest results can be attributed to the lack of high-quality leadership, internal politics and a populist platform that does not leave room for in-depth reforms .

Recently, the Prime Minister of the Canadian province of Ontario traveled to Minnesota and gave a speech in which he observed that “in today’s world all countries are alike, you can borrow your capital you can copy technology, you can buy raw materials. There is only one thing left to make a difference and that is talent”. This belief is clearly reflected in the priority that the dynamic of nations of East Asia and Scandinavia have given to the development of its education system at all levels. By contrast, Spain and most Latin American countries have not yet managed to put human resources at the center of their efforts for economic growth and social transformation. The present economic and financial crisis makes it more difficult to look to the long term investment required in higher education.

In a recent article entitled “let’s go Denmark”, the UK weekly magazine The Economist (2013) analyzed the strength of the political culture in the Scandinavian countries. A strong tradition of negotiated compromises, coupled with the ability to undertake audacious change at the same time, has allowed these nations to evolve smoothly into dynamic knowledge-based economies without eroding their social fabric characterized by a high degree of cohesion and inclusion.  In the same vein, being able to undertake reforms consensually designed and accepted as long-term State policies, rather than as the program of a given government driven by short-term electoral considerations, may be the biggest challenge in most Ibero-American countries where there is little tradition of bi-partisan decision-making.
Note: This text was initially posted on the Inside Higher Education blog at http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/world-view/governance-challenge-ibero-american-universities

The last time the world took notice of higher education in Myanmar, it was in the aftermath of the brutally repressed student uprising of August 1988, which resulted in thousands of deaths and arrests and stronger sanctions from the international community.

The political transition that started in 2011 has triggered the resumption of international collaboration in the higher education sector and the launch of a comprehensive education sector review led by the government of Myanmar with strong support from development partners.  The purpose of this analytical exercise is to pave the way for increased external assistance based on an objective diagnosis of the current situation and needs, to help the government and other stakeholders formulate a strategy for the future development of higher education.

Aung San Suu KyiThe first higher education policy dialogue workshop in Myanmar since the beginning of the political transition took place in Naypyitaw on 29 June 2013, with a focus on “Empowering Higher Education: A vision for Myanmar’s universities”.  It was convened by the British Council with strong participation and support from AusAID, the Asian Development Bank and UNESCO. I was invited as an advisor to AusAID.

The two-day meeting brought together representatives of the various ministries overseeing the operation of higher education institutions, rectors and academics, student leaders, and members of parliament, including the Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.  The workshop offered a unique platform for policy dialogue around the main issues facing higher education in Myanmar, allowing many stakeholders who had not had a voice for several decades – especially students from all over the country – to participate actively in the deliberations.

The official opening statement by Deputy Union Minister of Education Myo Myint outlined changes the government had already made to improve education as well as plans to revitalise higher education and intensify international partnerships.

Suu Kyi’s four guiding principles

It was of great significance and symbolic value that this was followed by a speech delivered by Aung San Suu Kyi in her role as chair of the parliamentary committee for revitalisation of Yangon University.

In her inspirational speech about the role of education in constructing a democratic Myanmar, the Nobel laureate spoke about the priorities for restoring universities, articulating four dimensions of empowerment as the organising principles that should guide higher education development in the current reconstruction phase.

The first one is empowerment through autonomy, which would allow universities to manage their academic activities in an effective manner, as opposed to the present situation of strict government control.

The second is inclusiveness, a basic requirement to ensure equal opportunities for all groups in Myanmar society in terms of access and success in higher education. This emphasis on equity is all the more important as large segments of the population have been excluded from higher education since the 1988 crackdown.

The third principle is empowerment for change, referring to the ability of each university to transform itself into an innovative institution.

And the last one is empowerment for the future, through reforms of the curriculum and pedagogical practices with the purpose of better preparing the young women and men of Myanmar who will be responsible for creating a more democratic society and building a more productive economy.

Review and priorities for action

After the presentation of the preliminary results of the sector review – indicating major performance gaps in terms of coverage and equity, quality and relevance, financing and governance – I urged the workshop participants to consider five key points as Myanmar moves forward to reconstruct its higher education system with possible support from several donor agencies: opportunities, challenges, vision, consensus-building and coordination.

First of all, the political transition represents a unique opportunity to ‘get it right’ – to construct a sound and balanced higher education system for the long term.  Many, if not most, countries in the world are hampered in their efforts to improve higher education by the weight of tradition and the reluctance of stakeholders to embrace change.  The current situation offers a unique opportunity to undertake courageous reforms that are often not possible in other countries because of vested interests and entrenched positions that block meaningful change.

JAMIL&AUNG SAN SUU KYISecond, the national authorities and university leaders face a perplexing dilemma as they work on reconstructing the higher education system. On the one hand, they are faced with a myriad of immediate tasks to get the system to operate properly again. On the other hand, they should devote, as a matter of priority, sufficient time to thinking seriously about the future of higher education in preparation for the long-term transformation that is needed.  Balancing the resolution of urgent problems and the careful preparation of future developments is a major challenge that must be addressed effectively.

Third, preparing for the future requires elaborating a vision and formulating a strategic plan to guide the harmonious development of Myanmar’s higher education system.  This would involve setting clear targets in terms of quantitative expansion and the reduction of social and ethnic disparities and defining the desirable institutional configuration of the system; that is, the types of institutions – universities and non-university institutions – that are needed to satisfy demand for higher education, as well as the specific mission of each category of institution.  The plan would include identifying the conditions necessary for the proper functioning of all institutions from the viewpoint of supporting quality assurance mechanisms, appropriate governance and sustainable funding.

Fourth, the development of a vision and strategic plan should not be a technocratic exercise rigidly controlled from the top. It will only become meaningful if prepared in a participatory mode as a consensus-building process, bringing together the diverse constituents of the higher education community and allowing for a high degree of tolerance for controversies and disagreements around the content of the needed reforms and the proposed changes.  Achieving consensus on higher education policies requires a transparency of approach and creating confidence among all stakeholders.

Last but not least is the need for effective donor coordination. Countries in transition like Myanmar, emerging from a long period of international isolation, often become the donors’ latest darling. Offers for university partnerships abound all of a sudden; many projects are being prepared concurrently.  But these concrete manifestations of good intentions are not always coordinated, and carry the risk of pulling the higher education system in several directions. The onus is on the government and parliament of Myanmar to make sure that donor support is consistently and coherently anchored in the country’s vision, plan and priorities.

As Myanmar moves forward to reconstruct its higher education system, all stakeholders should bear in mind the notion expressed by the president of the University of Maryland, at the beginning of the financial crisis in the United States, that “a crisis is an opportunity not to be wasted”.  I would paraphrase his observation by stating that, in the case of Myanmar, the political transition is too good an opportunity to be missed, as the country commits itself to establishing the basis for a strong higher education system.

A tribute by Hans de Wit, Patti McGill Peterson and Jamil Salmi

On April 5, 2013, a large group of colleagues, students and friends gathered in Boston to honor the career of  Philip Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) and J. Donald Monan SJ Professor of Higher Education at the School of Education of Boston College.  He will retire from his professorship but continue as director of CIHE.  The global gathering was organized to honor Philip for his enormous contributions over almost 50 years as a teacher, scholar, advisor and author of many books and articles on international higher education. During a one-day seminar, key topics in international higher education were addressed by scholars and higher education policy leaders from around the world (including China, India, Africa, Russia, Europe, Latin America and Northern America): national and regional challenges for higher education; the international pursuit of excellence; and international imperatives, initiatives and risks. Philip Altbach, who does not like to put himself on a pedestal, made one condition to accept this surprise honor: the seminar had to be substantive and its results will be published by the Center. Look for its future publication as together the presentations provided a comprehensive overview of developments in international higher education over the past twenty years.

The study of higher education, and the role of Philip Altbach in this field, cover many themes: higher education, in particular the study of national systems, cultures and developments; comparative education, international education, and their combined approach ‘comparative and international education’; internationalization and globalization of higher education; and the new overarching theme of ‘International Higher Education’.

Philip Altbach over the past five decades has been one of the few leading scholars with a continuing interest in these themes, and his research and publications, as well as his editorship of several journals, have been and continue to be highly relevant to define and orient the theory and practice of international higher education.

His drive, as he stated in a recent portrait in the Boston College Chronicle (April 3, 2013) :

“Over the course of almost 50 years, I’ve tried to contribute to understanding the nature of the university and how it affects human, economic and social development. These institutions are critical to societies, whether they’re in developing countries or developed, industrial nations. To have spent so much time learning about universities in America and other countries and picking up new perspectives has been exceedingly interesting and fulfilling. It’s what I care about and it’s what I feel is important.”  That was his drive for studying student unrest in the US and elsewhere at the start of his academic career. The focus of his doctoral work on India at the University of Chicago served as an important platform for his interest in higher education in the rest of the world, especially developing countries.  Before others he did work on higher education developments in India, China, Russia, Africa and the Middle East, now at the centre of everybody’s attention but still building to a large extent on his work over the past years, such as the recent collection of his work on India, edited by Pawan Agarwal.

In his scholarly work, Phillip Altbach does not only describe trends and developments, but also points to unintended and negative aspects of higher education development: its commercialization; examples of fraud and corruption; degree and diploma mills; the use of agents, and so on.  It has not always made him popular in university circles, as reflected in the sometimes heated debate about the use of agents in the US context, but that has made him even more convinced of the necessity to address also the more controversial sides of international higher education.

 His  ‘Center for International Higher Education’ over the past 20 years has been the amazing nucleus of innovative activities and individuals: publications, phd and master students, visiting scholars and so on. The small office of CIHE is always crowded with doctoral students, visiting scholars and other international visitors from different parts of the world who make the Center a friendly and vibrant community of international scholars and students, a global think thank on international higher education. The large number of books published under the auspices of the Center, and the widely acclaimed newsletter  ‘International Higher Education’, published in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Russian, capture the collective result of this international community of scholars. Together – as Philip Altbach himself observed during the seminar in his honor – they have established this new field of international higher education:  the study of higher education in a comparative and comprehensive way, moving from a focus on higher education in a national context to a more international context, reflecting the globalization of our societies and the increasingly important role of knowledge and higher education in that process, and addressing not only western but in particular other contexts and concepts of higher education in the world.

The Center, under his direction, has focused on critical global higher education issues and the international factors that have shaped them such as: massification, privatization, internationalization and globalization; the emergence of international rankings and  the phenomenon of world class universities.  Through his own scholarly work and working with other scholars across the globe he has given us a deeper understanding of the changing role of the academic profession; access and equity; higher education and social cohesion; the public – private mix; student circulation; emerging global models of the research University; and the positive and negative dimensions of these changes.

We can identify issues, trends and developments worthy of monitoring but we cannot predict the future of international higher education.  That is why we need the microscope of the scholar and the critical observer.  This is the unique contribution of Philip Altbach over the course of his incredibly productive academic career.  His legacy lives on through our understanding of higher education globally.  He will retire as professor but we are delighted that he will continue his work through the Center of International Higher Education at Boston College.

Hans de Wit is Professor of Internationalization of Higher Education, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, and Director of the Centre of Higher Education Internationalization, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan

Patti McGill Peterson is the Presidential Advisor on global Initiatives, American Council on Education 

The article was first published by University World News on 14 April 2013.

A study of recent university mergers in Russia confirms some of the findings presented in my 2009 book “The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities” about the difficulties of constructing top institutions following the merger approach.  Igor Chirikov, senior researcher at the Moscow School of Economics, reports that the various programs of excellence launched by the Russian government since 2005, which “encouraged” many universities to merge, have achieved mixed results.

For the past 7 years, the Russian government has actively sought ways of enhancing the performance and contribution of its leading universities.  It initiated the Federal University program in 2005, followed by the Innovative University program in 2006, and the National Research University program in 2009.  In many cases, setting up the new federal universities involved mergers.

The study on “identity formation” conducted by the Higher School of Economics through in-depth interviews and surveys at four of the new federal universities reveals serious post-merger dysfunctions linked to tensions between the formal regional nature of these universities before the merger and the expectations of a global focus in their new configuration.

In my book, I stressed the challenge of blending in a harmonious manner the institutional cultures of the two or more universities involved in any merger.  The Higher School of Economics Study finds that, in the Russian case, the more significant difficulties have not appeared in the initial phase but rather in the post-merger period.  These difficulties reflect resistance from academics concerned about losing their disciplinary identity and having to compete in an unfamiliar academic environment, fear of students not familiar with the new university brand, ambivalent messages from the State on what becoming “world-class” entails, insufficient institutional autonomy to operate as an entrepreneurial university, and a more complex administrative structure to manage the reconfigured university.  As Tatiana Jean, a renowned IFRI researcher with expertise on Russian universities suggests, “in order to obtain full ownership from all stakeholders, the State and the concerned university leaders need to offer clear and consistent messages to explain the global stakes of these mergers and their concrete implications.”

This blog entry was first published by Inside Higher Education.  See  http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/world-view/university-mergers-russia-not-easy-route-success#ixzz2PvSFVwvL

 

This article was written by Simon Marginson on the occasion of the appointment of a new Minister of Education in Australia. Simon Marginson is Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. A shorter version of this article was first published on 6 February 2013 by The Australian.

The top global expert on higher education, the individual who knows more than anyone else about living breathing university systems, is Moroccan economist and former World Bank coordinator for tertiary education, Jamil Salmi.

It seems that Salmi has written reports for, and provided consultancy advice to, every second government across the world. Recently he has focused on a question preoccupying many countries, whether emerging from poverty, or wealthy and with established education systems: how to make a ‘World-Class University’ (WCU)?

As Salmi notes in a recent paper, many governments are most concerned to know whether their top universities are operating at the cutting edge of intellectual and scientific development.

The Australian government, which last October set itself the ambitious target of ten universities in the world’s top 100, has a direct interest in the WCU question.

In the current policy context, ‘World-Class Universities’ are not those that provide the best programs or educate the most diverse set of citizens.

WCUs are not necessarily the most intellectually creative or far-sighted institutions, and they are not the most socially equitable. Nor are they the institutions that best address the common problems of humanity.

WCUs are the institutions that pump out the most global science, attract and hold the top scientists, generate lucrative research applications for industry, and lead in the rankings. For better or worse, that is the present global standard.

So how do nations and universities make their WCUs, according to Salmi?

He identifies three essential elements in a WCU strategy, elements being put in place by dynamic higher education systems such as Singapore.

First, a high concentration of talented staff and students, sourced from anywhere in the world—the most crucial element.

Second, abundant resources from public and private sources, especially for research.

In rare cases where universities have risen quickly to WCU status, for example the Hong University of Science and Technology, mechanism one and two are combined. Governments concentrate resources for research in selected centres of excellence. This is also the principal strategy used by Germany in its program to establish a globally strong university system.

Third, governance that encourages vision, initiative, flexibility, responsiveness and continuous organizational learning. Autonomous university leaders and researchers that can apply resources quickly without being constrained by custom or regulation.

Salmi also notes a number of ‘accelerating factors’ that promote more rapid WCU development.

Using incentives to bring back high quality nationals working abroad. Extended intensive international benchmarking and recruitment.

The fostering of strong niches in emerging fields of research.

Support programs for young researchers, especially at post-doctoral stage, which is a highly productive part of the career cycle. Young researchers are a primary source of new lines of research. They cost less. Some stay and make a stellar long-term contribution

High quality innovations in teaching or the curriculum that demarcate the institution and build more productive links between teaching and research.

Salmi also remarks that successful institutions ‘maintain a sense of urgency in order to avoid complacency’. They continually monitor the environment and themselves. They root out dysfunctions. They keep nimble and stay humble.

So there you have it. All Canberra has to do to double our number of WCUs is cut the red tape, boost resources, fund centres of excellence on German or Chinese scale, throw its weight behind emerging talent, and persuade our universities to be humble. New Minister Chris Bowen should find all that a piece of cake!

 

Teaching and learning will look very differently in 2050.  We can imagine a single teacher giving a course to more than 100,000 students at the same time, online.  We can imagine a robot teaching a small group of students.  We can imagine students learning from each other without any teacher involvement.  Or we can imagine a student learning on her/his own, guided by an educational software using artificial intelligence…

Are these images outlandish dreams?  Actually, they are real-life examples of the radical transformation that tertiary education is undergoing today in a few institutions at the vanguard of innovative practices.  While teaching approaches and modalities have seen very little improvement in the past decades—unlike the rapid transformation that medicine has gone through—, we are likely to witness drastic changes in the near future under the combined influence of two key factors.  First, progress in education technology (online learning, simulation robots, gaming-like software, etc.) is opening new avenues for interactive and problem-based learning.  Second, tertiary education institutions are faced with the challenge of preparing young people for jobs that do not exist yet.  The traditional approach where teachers impart their knowledge to students in the classroom must imperatively be replaced by a dynamic learning model where students acquire generic competencies that prepare them to identify their own learning needs and advance their skills throughout their working life.

First published in Handshake Issue No. 8, January 2013.

 

 

Today we in India are experiencing the benefits of the reverse flow of income, investment and expertise from the global Indian diaspora. The problem of “brain drain” has been converted happily into the opportunity of “brain gain.”

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India

 As colonized nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the first decisions of the new governments was usually to establish a national university. In each country, the flagship university was expected to train the cadre of professionals and leaders needed to build the new nation. Fifty years later, the results have been discouraging. With a few exceptions, such as the National University of Singapore (NUS), the top public universities in many parts of the developing world have failed to meet these auspicious expectations.

Persuaded by a combination of push factors (low salaries, lack of meritocracy, political instability) and pull elements (attractive remuneration, favorable visa policies, active recruitment), thousands of professionals continue to leave their home countries every year. Some of the countries that can least afford it have suffered tremendous loss of local capacity in fields critical to development, with debilitating effects on national governing structures, management capacities, productive sectors, and tertiary institutions.  At the receiving end, migrants from the developing world contribute significantly to the economic and social progress of industrial nations. Estimates indicate that the proportion of adult migrants with tertiary education leaving developing countries and moving to industrial nations grew four times between 1975 and 2000.

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As I was bidding farewell to the World Bank earlier this year, I received an invitation from Green Templeton College, Oxford University, to attend the Emerging Markets Symposium – an initiative that convenes leaders from government, academia and the private sector to address the major policy challenges facing emerging market countries.

The policy theme for this year’s Symposium was tertiary education and I delivered the opening lecture. This came before my last week with the Bank and, with several former colleagues in the audience, it could have been tempting to look back at my Bank work over the past twenty-five years. Instead, I did something more important, challenging, and pressing: I speculated about the future.

“Let’s try to picture it,” I told the audience, and I listed some scenarios.  “In the future, students will take all their exams online and their degree will only be valid for five years.”
“Those in need of financial aid will participate in eBay auctions to apply for a scholarship.”
“Graduates will be reimbursed the cost of their studies if they don’t find a job within six months.”
And, to give a final example, “in countries where it’s difficult to attract engineering students to study engineering, universities will go straight to kindergartens to motivate candidates.”

Do these sound outlandish? They shouldn’t. As I then pointed out to the audience, all of the above are actually taking place somewhere in the world today. The question, of course, is what it means- and what the implications are for emerging market countries.

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Written with Jennifer Pye

Globally the disabled population continues to be the most disadvantaged and marginalized group within society with limited access to educational opportunities. According to UNESCO’s Global Education for All Monitoring Report 2010, “disability is one of the least visible but most potent factors in educational marginalization.”  On December 3rd, every year,  the U.N. celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

As part of an ongoing policy research activity, together with my colleagues Roberta Malee Bassett and Jennifer Pye, we have been looking at what is known about equity of access and success in tertiary education for people with disabilities.  It did not take our team long to appreciate how little international research and reliable data exist on the situation of students with disabilities in World Bank client countries. Gaining an accurate insight turned out to be a challenging undertaking; but little evidence available, most of it still anecdotal at this stage, suggests wide disparities in educational access and success at all levels of education.

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Written with Phil Altbach

The latest accoutrement of world-class universities, or those aspiring to world-class status, is  an international advisory group. The useful goals of such committees, which meet on an occasional basis to review and evaluate the institution’s plans and performance, include bringing new ideas and analysis from the experience of academia beyond the borders and especially from the pinnacles of higher education globally, and hopefully assist the institution to understand itself and to improve. The committee members have a continuing relationship with the university and, presumably, a commitment to its welfare and improvement. They can be called on for occasional advice, generally on a pro bono basis. Prestige is part of the game. It can’t do any harm to have a Nobel Prize winner or two, prominent university rectors, and other luminaries associated with the university.

Advisory committee members have many motivations to serve. They generally focus on service to overseas colleagues and assisting other universities. Many enjoy a bit of academic tourism, and some wish to learn some useful lessons from the university or committee colleagues. Few, if any, are able to devote a significant amount of time to the enterprise.

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