This week’s readings discussed the various paths for international higher education to take in the future. Since the field itself is so new — and much of the rapid expansion and development has occurred in the last decade or so — it’s hard to say with any certainty that we can predict where international higher education will go and what the biggest challenges will be in the future. Yet the authors this week did highlight various areas that will continue to present challenges as international higher education becomes more interconnected across the globe.
I agree with Roberta Malee Bassett that equity and access is “the single, most important challenge facing global higher education for the foreseeable future” (Bassett, 2015, pp. 5). While we in the U.S. have quite a bit of work left to do to increase access to higher education for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the gap between the higher education “haves” and “have nots” is even wider in other areas of the world.
Globally, only 1% of people have access to higher education (Deardorff, de Wit, Heyl, 2012, pp. 463). Much of this gap is in the developing world, where inequality is much starker than in developed countries (although the developed world is seeing increasingly high rates of inequality that are approaching that of many developing countries). “In the francophone countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the children of the richest quantile account for 80 perfect of higher education enrollment, while those from the poorest 40 percent of the population group represent only 2 percent of the student population” (Bassett, 2015. pp. 6). Higher education in most areas of the world is still reserved for the wealthy elite, and until access truly expands to the rest of the world’s population, the global community will continue to miss out on millions of possible innovators and contributors to solutions to some of today’s most pressing global challenges.
Another trend to look out for is which path international higher education will take: soft power vs. knowledge diplomacy. We’ve spent a lot of time this semester discussing how governments look at internationalization of higher education not just as an economic opportunity, but also as a way to spread national influence to other ends of the world. While I support many of these initiatives, it’s hard to deny that the ultimate reason why these many internationalization initiatives are implemented is pure national self-interest.
This type of mindset pits nations and universities in competition with one another, rather than in collaboration. “Are the values of self-interest, competition, or dominance going to effectively address issues of world-wide epidemics, terrorism, failed states, the bottom billion in poverty, and climate change? The answer is no. This is based on the reality that solutions to worldwide challenges cannot be achieved by one country alone” (Knight, 2015, pp. 9). Instead, as Jane Knight argues, a model of knowledge diplomacy, which “…focuses on negotiation, mediation, collaboration, compromise, and facilitation” would be a better model for the future of higher education internationalization than the soft power approach, which is “…attached to power dominance, authority, command, and control” (Knight, 2015, pp. 5).
The last theme I want to touch on is the danger of overly commercializing higher education. Unfortunately, a perfect example of this can be traced back to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. UW-Madison is perhaps most famous in U.S. higher education circles for the “Wisconsin Idea”, which states that “the mission of the UW System is to solve problems and improve people’s lives beyond the classroom. That mission encompasses teaching, research, outreach and public service.” This is why Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker trying to change the language of the University of Wisconsin mission away from the “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” to a mission to “meet the state’s workforce needs” caused such an uproar among Wisconsin residents and alumni.
While Walker ultimately backed off on the proposed change, this mindset towards the university solely existing to serve economic needs has become more dominant both in the U.S. and abroad — and has especially extended to the realm of international higher education. As Christine Musselin argues, the social and knowledge benefits of higher education — rather than just the economic benefits — are “all the more important because obscurantism, ignorance, intolerance, and fanaticism are unfortunately expanding.” The frightening rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., along with the increasing nationalism and identity politics throughout the rest of the world, proves the need for there to be an an increased importance on the social and knowledge benefits of education. As Musselin wrote, “Knowledge is not only important for its economic value but for society” (Musselin, 2015, pp. 13).
These are just a few of the major trends to look out for as international higher education continues to expand. While there are many challenges facing higher education throughout the globe, I’m ultimately optimistic about where we seem to be heading. Thank you, everyone, for such an insightful and engaging semester — I wish you all the best!