W13- Who Actually Receives Access to Online Learning?

As I was reading “Next Two Decades of Higher Education: A Developing Countries Perspective” by Pagan Agarwal, I immediately started questioning how certain systems work, especially in developing countries. One of the most talked about topics these days is the expansion of technology and online learning in higher education. Even though it can be extremely controversial, the arguments are generally pretty straightforward: is online learning cost-effective? Are learning outcomes successfully met? Is online learning as academically effective as in-person learning? These are all very tough questions to answer, but they are very common concerns. I would like to look into online learning in developing countries, and see what kind of questions are posed there.

The primary question I have pertains to access. It seems like a lot of people believe that because there is more and more technology these days, that more and more people have access to it. Is that necessarily true? I’m not so sure. Living in a first-world country means I am fairly privileged when it comes to being exposed to all the technology out there. If I live in a third-world country, or even India, for example, do I automatically have that exposure?Like I said, just because it exists, doesn’t mean everyone sees it. Bowen believes that online learning can be produce adequate learning outcomes because there is “Far greater access to the internet, improvements in internet speed, reductions in storage costs, the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, and other advances have combined with changing mindsets.” With all these advancements, everyone surely could benefit from online learning. Okay, yes, maybe in a developed country. I just can’t see the billion people in Africa reading articles on their phones and the billions of people in Asia writing papers on their laptops at the local coffee shops.

Agarwal seems to be on the same page as Bowen, despite living and working in India. He states, “Online platforms and learning will lead to democratization of knowledge and provide near universal access to higher education, even in the remotest areas and to the disadvantaged sections.” I’m just not convinced (okay, to be fair, I am slightly skeptical by nature). How is all that technology getting to the ‘remotest areas’? Is the government doing it? Is the government going to fund an initiative to provide computers and phones and other forms of technology to the poorest sections of the country? We’re talking about millions and millions of people. Perhaps non-profits or large corporations or wealthy HEI’s will help. Maybe. But do you think that they could provide for that many people? Doubtful. If they are able to help anyone, that’s great, and I am certainly not saying that any efforts are futile. I’m just not a fan of blanket statements- oh, online learning will lead to near universal access- let’s be realistic.

Life is different in third-world countries. The way people work and live their day to day lives is unlike anything we would understand here in the United States. Oftentimes, this lifestyle would make it difficult for these people to get an education, even if it were online. I attended an art event a few months ago in which a documentarian chronicled the lives of Indian migrant workers. For a couple months out of the year, the children of the workers are able to attend a local school, but once the crop cycle is over, they have to go somewhere new. These children will probably never get the opportunity to get a comprehensive elementary and secondary education. Maybe, miraculously, some of these workers are given computers and the opportunity for online learning. Maybe a few are able to learn something and leave that life behind; my suspicion, however, is that they are so entrenched in that tough life, that it would be almost impossible for them to escape. Perhaps I digress, but these are the people who everyone overlooks. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but if India loses a large amount of its workers in one of its major commodities, what happens to the economy? Who produces that commodity?

Anyway, I can’t help but ask questions. All I know is that is is easy to get caught up in these debates, and in my opinion, lose focus on some very important issues. Maybe the plight of the Indian migrant worker isn’t our concern, but maybe it is. If we’re going to study international higher education, I want to know how everyone in the world is affected by it, not just those who are privileged to have access to it.

W11- How to Present Survey Findings

The IAU 4th Global Survey so far has been my favorite reading of the semester. Its simplicity, organization, and approach is refreshing, especially when compared to some of the other long-winded, dense, or overly qualitative pieces we have read.

The first beneficial (and to me, necessary) method it follows is explaining how the survey was conducted and where its information comes from. Many of the other readings do not cite their content thoroughly, including the other one for this week. The ACE survey mentions percentages of its respondents, but it doesn’t clearly state who participated and how many (the information is at the bottom of the document). On the other hand, the IAU survey immediately states who participated, how many participated, and from where did they participate. Already, this document is more credible and easy to understand than most.

You might be reading this and thinking to yourself, ‘wait a second, is he really dedicating an entire blog to the format of the readings?’ I sure am. I think many people, even the most discerning among us, fall prey to the habit of believing whatever we read. As students, as educators, as critical thinkers, we cannot allow ourselves to become lazy. The reason I am commenting on this all is because earlier in the semester, the professor put up survey findings on the projector and I immediately became skeptical of their credibility. Perhaps you remember the information regarding the SIOs- who generally becomes one and what are their general qualities. While it seemed as if the information was legitimate, I remember seeing that a very small number of institutions took part in the survey- maybe around fifty. Sure, that may be several dozen colleges, but when there are thousands of schools in this country, I do not think those results accurately represented the whole.

The IAU survey wasn’t trying to sugarcoat anything or pull the wool over our eyes- it even expressed when numbers went down from the previous survey, such as the percentage of institutions with a dedicated budget for internationalization (p. 8). I think this is an important document for all of us in the class because it gives a more realistic look into the current status of internationalization in this country and the rest of the world. Despite my constant predilection for playing devil’s advocate, I truly do support internationalization and think it is a necessary component to HEIs overall strategy; however, I want to know the truth about it. What are its problems, what obstacles does it face, what are the major controversies. While this survey does not go excessively deep into any of those issues, it does provide a superficial, yet straightforward overlook on internationalization around the world.


W10- Buffer Bodies

As I was reading the pieces for this week, I kept on saying ‘oh, I want to talk about this in my blog” to pretty much every chapter. I found this odd, since I generally find the concept of governance dry and tedious. These readings, however, clearly and not-so-boringly described how authority and autonomy are implemented in different countries around the world.

The topic that I finally decided to discuss is buffer bodies. Governments delegate certain responsibilities to an adjoining organization. While some of these organizations, or councils, are purely advisory, others may have wide-ranging authorities, such as the allocation of funds, training, and research. The reading states that one of the benefits of this structure is that buffer bodies act as protection from micromanagement on behalf of the MOE (ministry of education). Even though other advantages are listed, to me, this may be one of the most important.

This stuck out to me because of how ubiquitous improper management is in large bureaucracies. Certain people or groups should not be sticking their noses in places they have no business. For example, high-level administrators at an HEI trying to run an on-the-ground operation even though they will never step foot in the place it’s being held. How can the MOE make efficient decisions when it knows nothing of what’s going on? The reading goes on to say that “The buffer body can recruit staff who are specialists in higher education and not career civil servants.” Employees in government are moved around so much, there is always the possibility that those in charge have no prior experience in the field they now manage. Even if the buffer body does not have any real power and only acts as an advisory board to the MOE, such as in South Africa, it can still play a significant role in making sure policies is prudent and beneficial to all constituents.

The Global Trends in University Governance piece does say that there are some possible drawbacks to this structure. It proclaims that a division between the MOE and the buffer body can emerge due to insecurities or distrust. The MOE might think that the latter is stepping on its toes, or perhaps doesn’t have the proficiency to implement policy. It could be even more trivial than that- since the minister and the chair of the buffer body work together, it could come down to a battle of egos. According to the reading, these instances have actually occurred before.

I don’t think that that is a convincing enough reason to believe that buffer bodies are a poor structural choice. In any branch of government or institution, there is the possibility for two different parties to have contrasting perspectives. Perhaps there needs to be a fourth party to watch over the MOE and the buffer body! That might be going too far, but a country shouldn’t risk bad policies being implemented because those involved don’t know how to work together. Just as we are learning in finance class, institutions can never be too safe when it comes to how things are controlled.

W9- Let’s look at the Stats

First of all, I would like to say that the global strategies laid out by Middlesex Community College and Ohio University are pretty impressive. To have such a focus on internationalization signifies that the states (Massachusetts and Ohio) have deep interest in promoting the concept of global citizenship. It is one thing for a private institution to have that type of support is one thing, but public institutions? And on top of that, a community college?

Reading BRIC Universities as Institutions in the Process of Change shed more light on the autonomy and structuring of educational systems in various countries around the world. Every country does things a little bit differently when it comes to funding by local, state, and federal governments. HEIs might thrive better depending on which level they are more closely tied to, if they have a choice at all. Learning about how other countries’ systems are constructed got me thinking about how things are done in the United States. The autonomy of a college varies so much state by state, whether it is a matter of money or mission. We see lots of controversy even in our own state of New York, where there are battled being waged between city and state governments. Conversely, other states have fewer problems, maybe because cities aren’t as big or educational systems as vast. Additionally, some states are experiencing major changes whose results are yet to be seen. The state of Connecticut has merged all its public colleges into one system, thus removing degrees of autonomy from each individual college.

What I really would like to talk about though goes back to the global strategies. Since I’m always looking to create some debate in this class, I’d like to comment on the purpose of the extensive global strategies of the two colleges being discussed. What I have to say is this: it makes sense for them. Throughout this course we are promoting and worshipping internationalization; it’s as if we are saying successful, smart colleges will encourage it and bad colleges don’t. I’m not on that bandwagon. I think internationalization is a choice, and it doesn’t HAVE TO BE a major focus of a college’s overall strategic plan or mission.

Let’s compare the demographics of Baruch with Middlesex Community College and Ohio University. If you look at Baruch’s numbers, they show that the college is extremely diverse. Lots of whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. As I’ve mentioned before, over half of these students are either from other countries or have parents who came from abroad. I just don’t see the purpose of pushing and pushing internationalization at a college like this. It’s internationalized enough as it is. Now, let’s look at Middlesex’s and Ohio’s numbers. Quite a different story! The former is 66% white and the latter is almost 82%! I think it makes sense why these colleges have such thorough plans- because they want to attract more diverse students. By encouraging study abroad programs, international students, IaH, these schools can become ‘better.’

To me, all a school like Baruch needs to do is celebrate what it already has. Clubs, events, representation- that’s more important. Show the students that they are wanted and respected. If some students want to study abroad, make sure a program exists. But, personally, I do not believe Baruch needs a global strategy like that of Middlesex or Ohio.

Strategizing International Partnerships

From the readings for this week, it can be gleaned that strategy is now at the forefront of international education policy, as well as higher education in general. Success is usually determined by whether an institute has developed and implemented a sound strategy. The desire for strategic planning can be found in all corners of education; in the finance class, we are learning how budgets are not as simple as adding and subtracting, but puzzles that need to be solved in order to place institutions in solid financial positions. In order for international education programs to get off the ground, and sustain themselves, those in charge must do a lot of analysis and looking to the future.

After reading the three pieces, one particular passage stood out to me, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. In the case study, the authors point out that choosing an international market is an extremely important decision. Sometimes a choice can be pretty obvious- an institution in a capitalism country probably isn’t going to try to develop a partnership with North Korea (not that it would be able to make any contact in the first place). More often than not, though, deciding which nations and the particular institutions within them to partner with could be a time-consuming activity.  The authors list “culture and languages, governmental regulations and policy, transactional costs, risk, opportunity and market size” as just some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration (p. 6). That’s a lot to think about!

The first example that popped into my head was the Confucius Institute. These centers purport to offer “language instruction, cultural immersion, teacher training, scholarships, and testing,” according to one of its sites in the United States. Unfortunately, Confucius Institutes are generally mired with controversy over their true purpose. In 2008, the Vancouver Sun released an article whose first paragraph sums up a lot of people’s opinions on the Chinese organization: “There are deeply divided views about the Confucius Institute in Vancouver: Some say it’s a goodwill gesture by Beijing to teach Chinese language and culture, while others believe it’s part of a plot by an emerging superpower to infiltrate and influence foreign citizens and their governments.” Whoa. That’s quite the accusation.

That’s a first-world country, though. It’s not too shocking that people in the wester world would be suspicious of Chinese activities. What about other parts of the world? Didn’t we learn at the beginning of the semester that the Confucius Institutes were pretty popular in Africa? Now that makes sense. Going back to strategies for international markets (which is the whole point of this blog), I feel like whoever decided for African-Chinese partnerships did his or her research.

A few weeks ago I mentioned in a blog about how relationships outside of the western world don’t even appear on our mental spectrum because we have absolutely nothing to do with them- but they do exist. The more I think about the Confucius Institutes operating in Africa, the more it seems so obvious. Many nations in Africa have long been subjugated to both colonialism and neocolonialism by European powers. In swoops China, another country that has been affected by the far-reaching grasp of western empires. The Institutes offer to operate in HEIs in various countries, accessing thousands of bright young minds (except for the students who were sent abroad to study). Now that is strategy at its finest- slowly create a generation of educated people who are more likely to associate with China due to their exposure to its language and culture. Why create ties with the western world when there are just as many opportunities to the east.

Perhaps the intentions of the Confucius Institutes are not quite as nefarious as I make them out to be, but still, partnerships in former colonies seem like a pretty good idea. In any case, this goes to show that determining the appropriate international market is a major step in creating a successful international education program.