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.

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.

 

 

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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