Book Review: The Globalization of Higher Education

For anyone interested in understanding the profound impact of globalization on mass higher education and vise versa, The Globalization of Higher Education, edited by Peter Scott, is a good place to begin. Indeed, this is the first book to really address some of the underlying trends and developments that are currently reshaping the structure of international education.

According to some recent UNESCO statistics, international student mobility has increased by more than 300 percent in the last 25 years. In 1994/95, there were 1,502,040 students in the top 50 host countries, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. In the United Kingdom alone, tuition fees from overseas students and associated spending add up to more than 1 billion pounds each year and have generated between 35,000-50,000 jobs.

However, many experts are saying the surge in student mobility is a relatively recent phenomenon that may soon be coming to an end. The technology revolution and the recent commodification of knowledge and students are in the process of transforming higher education in new and different ways. For the time being, though, academics and non-academics alike can only speculate as to how these forces will impact international education in the long run.

Will economic globalization enhance or inhibit student exchange around the world? Is there a contradiction between mass higher education with its “populist mission” and recent attempts to internationalize campuses? Is the post-colonial globalization of today different from neo-colonial internationalization, or is it merely old wine in new bottles?

Peter Scott and the other contributors of The Globalization of Higher Education set out to answer these questions and, in the process, attempt to shed some light on the interrelation between “massification,” internationalization and globalization in higher education.

John Urry, professor of sociology at Lancaster University, looks at how new information technologies have enhanced global network flows like the Internet, international business and distance learning. He finds that the nation-state, the “core institution in all modern societies,” is increasingly becoming irrelevant in what he sees as a “new golden age of borderlessness.”

Tom Bruch, secretary general of the Lutheran Council of Great Britain; Allison Barty, counselor with special responsibility for international students at South Bank University in London; and David Elliott, who heads the British Council’s office in Israel, all see international education as the wave of the future. If British universities intend to become more competitive in the burgeoning overseas student market, they will have to intensify international promotion, foreign student recruitment and fund-raising activities. In addition to undertaking these measures they will also need to establish more links with institutions in other countries.

Roshen Kishun, president of the International Education Association of South Africa, examines how his country’s system of higher education is adapting to the many changes engendered by globalization with the help of the government. While South African universities are in the process of mapping out a strategic plan for the internationalization of higher education, the ministries of foreign affairs, education, and home affairs are playing an important role in developing a national policy (immigration laws, study permits, etc.).

Professor Michael Gibbons, secretary-general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, discusses the role of the Commonwealth in the process of globalizing higher education. He argues that the globalization of higher education will not come about through enhanced student mobility. If anything, the recent proliferation of distance-learning programs, the rising cost of overseas study and the consolidation of local systems of higher education will all encourage more students to study at home. Hence, globalization will actually reduce the number of students who go abroad for higher education, according to Gibbons.

Jan Sadlak from UNESCO maintains that there are other trends besides globalization that are fueling social and economic development in the world today. These include democratization, regionalization, the widening gap between rich and poor, and fragmentation. He further argues that globalization is a multi-faceted phenomenon that doesn’t necessarily threaten cultural diversity.

Professor Ulrich Teichler, vice-president of the Society for Research into Higher Education, and Hilary Callan, director of the European Association for International Education, examine Europe’s involvement in facilitating student mobility. Policy measures aimed at harmonizing Europe’s diverse systems of higher education include: curricula reform, research cooperation, discipline-based networks, open- and distance-learning programs, cross-border partnerships, credit recognition and transfer, as well as the promotion of multi-lingualism.

In the final chapter, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University Peter Scott distinguishes between internationalization and globalization. While neo-colonial internationalization presupposes the existence of nation-states, the globalization of today is largely market-driven and transcends national laws and boundaries. Scott further suggests that the approach to international education in the post-colonial era is more “entrepreneurial” than it was in the past. Overseas student recruitment is now looked at and talked about as a market, which must be exploited. So while globalization is often diametrically opposed to the internationalization of the past, it is entirely compatible with mass higher education in this respect.

The Globalization of Higher Education succeeds in showing how the university is adapting to a worldwide trend and what that holds for the future of international education. However, for a book that deals specifically with globalization, its collective outlook isn’t particularly global. On the contrary, with the exception of Roshen Kishun from South Africa and UNESCO’s Jan Sadlak, the contributing authors are writing from a European — and predominantly British — perspective. Three of the world’s biggest exporters of higher education — the United States, Australia and Canada — are not at all represented here. Likewise, if globalization is far from being a Western movement, as Scott contends, it seems strange that some of the largest consumers of international education who happen to be non-Western (Asians and Latin Americans, for example) are also not accounted for.

In short, this is primarily a book about Europe. Several chapters, in fact, are devoted to the “Europeanization” of higher education, which some would argue has nothing to do with globalization. Perhaps the book should be re-titled The Globalization of European Higher Education.