The Imperfect University: Truly Transnational

There is something close to a genuinely international university

Last year Andrew Stewart Coats, commenting on his appointment and the interesting plans for the new partnership between Warwick and Monash Universities, asserted that in higher education:

there has been little or no globalization in how we organize ourselves; no global entity runs viable universities in multiple countries and no truly transnational offering for students and academics exists

He also noted what he described as the “outposts” of universities in China, South East Asia and the Middle East and questioned whether this could “in itself create a truly global university?”

As a member of a global university, with three truly international campuses, I have to disagree. I drafted this piece late last year at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia Campus (UNMC), home to some 4,500 students and over 450 staff, located at the edge of Kuala Lumpur in a breathtakingly beautiful setting. After meetings with a range of senior staff and bumping into our UK-based Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Internationalisation who was visiting the campus prior to taking over as Provost I then headed off to the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) campus (5,000 students, over 400 staff). As anyone who has visited either campus will attest, these are no outposts. Both campuses are larger than a good number of UK HE institutions and are already, despite their relative youth (UNMC became the first overseas campus of any UK university some 12 years ago and UNNC was founded in 2004), they are already punching significantly above their weight in both research and teaching in their host countries.

Campus at University of Nottingham Ningbo China

Campus at University of Nottingham Ningbo China

OBHE, in its most recent report, identifies some 200 or so branch campuses around the world with another 37 at least in the pipeline.

However, very few of these are of the scale, breadth or depth of the Nottingham developments and many are the outposts Coats describes with teaching delivered in rented office accommodation by staff who fly in for a few weeks before flying back home again.

Nottingham actually has three international campuses at present; as well as those in China and Malaysia there is the original campus in the UK which is also strikingly international with over 9,000 international students from 150+ countries. The international ethos is embraced in all that we do and is strongly articulated in the University’s mission:

At the University of Nottingham we are committed to providing a truly international education, inspiring our students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around our campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia. Our purpose is to improve life for individuals and societies worldwide. By bold innovation and excellence in all that we do, we make both knowledge and discoveries matter.

Our academic staff on all campuses are international in composition (25% are international) and outlook too. One in five of our undergraduates undertakes international mobility. 17% of published research outputs are internationally co-authored and 37% of our research funding is obtained internationally. We have strategic partnerships with other leading universities in over 25 countries and one of the largest scholarship programmes for students from the developing world.

University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

When universities make claims about their global outlook and deep internationalization there is a tendency for the rhetoric significantly to oustrip the reality. Nottingham is, I think, a bit different. The evidence for the range and depth of the internationalization is pretty much everywhere and is now part of the fabric, culture and practice across the University.

Internationalisation both drives and supports our teaching and research mission, provides wider benefits for staff and students as well as facilitating access to a broad international talent pool. Internationalisation at Nottingham has many facets: it means an extraordinarily diverse staff and student body, outstanding campuses, significant staff and student mobility, a distinctive curriculum, unique international research activity (including, for example, field scale tropical crop trials as part of the Crops for the Future initiative which would simply impossible in the UK) and partnerships as well as the new collaborative Knowledge Without Borders Network which seeks to learn from and build upon all of these developments.

Can Nottingham claim to be a genuinely international institution? I think so. At the very least we are, as the Sunday Times observed, “the closest Britain has to a truly global university”. It is not enough simply to have outstandingly successful and growing international campuses or to host visits from the British and Malaysian Prime Ministers or the then Chinese Premier (as happened at UNMC and UNNC respectively last year) it has to permeate the institution from top to bottom. In short, it is all about delivery and Nottingham has delivered and continues to deliver real international higher education. This is the experience at our global institution. It’s not perfect and there is still a long way to go to develop fully the potential of all three of our international campuses in Malaysia, China and the UK but I think it is real, meaningful, deep and sustained internationalisation. I wish Warwick and Monash well in their collaboration; I am sure we would be delighted to welcome Professor Coats to any of our campuses to see our truly transnational offering and experience a real global University.

More global goings on

Differing global view points

In a recent post I offered some comments on views about internationalisation’s mid-life crisis. Reports of two other recent conferences in Canada offer different perspectives on the globalisation of higher education. First, the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education has a report on its Global Forum which took place in Vancouver:

The overall theme was ‘Levelling the international playing field’ which, for our purposes, was expressed in the rise of new countries in international higher education and transnational education (TNE), the rise of private providers, the use of immigration controls in traditional education-export countries (which makes the new national players comparatively more attractive), and in how HE is applied as a policy tool for social and economic goals and in national development strategies.

In his welcome remarks, Observatory Director William Lawton sounded a few cautionary notes. He reminded participants that in spite of global and borderless ideals, senior scholars from Iran, India and the Democratic Republic of Congo were absent from their number because they could not get visas to enter Canada. He further noted that while economic and political power were hurtling eastwards, the ‘international playing field’ was still well short of level for poor countries and regions.

‘Mathabo Tsepa, Lesotho’s High Commissioner to Ottawa, kicked off proceedings with an inspirational and moving account of the transformative power of higher education in her country. She and Daniel Schwirtz, an engineering postgraduate at the University of British Columbia, recounted the role of students who participated in a sanitation and clean water project in rural Lesotho.

Joseph Duffey, Senior Vice-President of Laureate International Universities and a former senior official with three US Presidents, spoke of the casual uses of the word ‘globalisation’ and suggested that the nature of public diplomacy had moved on from its roots in ‘winning hearts and minds’. Duffey noted the difference between building branch campuses and working with other countries as partners. The implication was the emergence of new models, as expressed by the Liverpool-Laureate partnership through which Laureate makes the university’s programmes available online and provides personal student support.

At a separate conference, this time in Toronto, reported in the  Times Higher Education, a strikingly different view was offered:

Powerful public universities are manipulating the “desperation of people whose university systems [have been] completely demolished” to make a “fortune” from overseas branch campuses, a senior university leader has claimed.

Adam Habib, deputy vice-chancellor of research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg, told a conference in Toronto on 16 June that on a recent tour of American universities, he was struck by how many were setting up campuses overseas.

“I was struck by how many really manipulate the desperation of people whose university systems are completely demolished and utilise that opportunity to make a fortune so that they can pad the balance sheets,” he said.

Professor Habib said that this was “not simply an American problem”, but one that afflicted all unequal relationships across and inside continents. He pinned the blame on the move away from state support for higher education around the world.

What are we to make of these very different perspectives? First, the overall picture remains a very messy and confused one. Lots of universities are engaged in a wide range of transnational partnership activities at varying levels of intensity. Secondly, there are major national interests at play here; it’s not just one way traffic and many countries are seeking rapidly to develop their HE systems with international support. Thirdly, while there may be some institutions seeking to establish branch campuses purely for financial gain it is questionable whether such a mission is sustainable or indeed whether there is really money to be made from such activity in the way suggested here. International partnership activity can be a genuine force for good and should be seen as a serious long term mutually beneficial arrangement rather than a vehicle for making a quick buck.

The Globalisation of Higher Education: Conference at The University of Nottingham

The Globalisation of Higher Education

Lord Dearing died in 2009 having left an indelible mark on UK higher education with his landmark 1997 report Higher Education in the Learning Society. He also had particular impact on The University of Nottingham, having been Chancellor from 1993 to 2000.

In recognition of Lord Dearing’s contribution to higher education, and to give others the opportunity to shape the debate on its future, The University of Nottingham will host the “Annual Dearing Higher Education Conference”. In 2011 the conference will take place at the East Midlands Conference Centre on Thursday 17 February.

Keynote speakers include David Willetts and Alan Langlands.

Details of the conference and registration arrangements can be found at the Globalisation of Higher Education site.

The global higher education revolution

‘Tracking the higher education revolution’

A really good article by Philip Altbach, Liz Reisberg and Laura Rumbley in Change Magazine.

A global revolution has been taking place in higher education during the past half-century that is at least as dramatic as the one that happened when the German research model fundamentally changed the nature of the university worldwide in the 19th century. And the transformation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is more extensive than the earlier one, due to the sheer numbers of institutions and people involved.

In our view, four fundamental and interrelated forces have impelled the current academic revolution: the “massification” of higher education, globalization, the advent of the knowledge society and the importance of research universities within it, and information technology (including distance education). These forces have presented nations with enormous funding challenges and fueled the rise of the private sector and the privatization of public colleges and universities, the accountability movement (including today’s imperative to measure the outcomes of higher education), and deep changes in the nature and role of the professoriate.

The article gives a comprehensive overview of global changes in universities across a wide range of activities before addressing some of the consequences of the financial crisis:

The crisis is likely to have the following consequences worldwide:

* In many cases, the priority will be to allocate funds to ensure that access to the higher education system is not dramatically cut. But at the same time, universities will face pressures to establish or increase tuition fees for students, and higher education is likely to become increasingly unaffordable to marginalized populations. In countries where student loan programs exist, either in the public or private sectors, they may be severely limited.
* Research universities are likely to see significant constraints on their budgets, since governments will be unable to provide the resources needed for their continued improvement.
* Cost-cutting practices at many universities will result in a deterioration of quality. More part-time faculty are likely to be hired, class sizes increased, and other savings implemented that potentially threaten the overall health and effectiveness of higher education.
* We are likely to see freezes on hiring, the construction of new facilities, improved information technology, and the purchase of books and journals.

It’s a grim prospectus but a realistic one. The piece overall is an excellent take on global changes in higher education and one of the best pieces of this kind I’ve seen recently. Well worth reading.