W13: The Future of International Higher Education- China Perspectives

Both readings for this week, International Higher Education‘s Spring 2015 issue and Bridges to the Future, cover the topic of the future of international higher education through essays from scholars in the profession. China was a subject for multiple IHE essays and a feature of the Bridges chapter.

The Bridges China feature, written by Futao Huang, covers some impressive internationalization efforts led by the Chinese government. Initiatives include the funding to send 5000 students annually to study at top foreign universities, the dispatching of 10,000 faculty and researchers abroad to conduct research each year, and the implementation of English language and bilingual programs at universities. There have also been great efforts from the Chinese government and individual institutions to implement joint programs and foreign partnerships.

Huang notes the issues China faces in its pursuit of internationalization, namely the conflicts between foreign institutions, Chinese institutions and the government over policies on internet restrictions, and concerns about the preservation of traditional culture and national identity while opening its doors to global educational opportunities. We have read and discussed these issues previously in class, but it was from a western perspective when discussing cultural clashes and academic freedom. This text was valuable for the insight it provides from a Chinese point of view.

The IHE essay, The Challenge Facing Chinese Higher Education in the Next Two Decades, author Weifang Min provides context for the reputation of higher education in China as “big but not strong”. While worldwide higher ed enrollment grew from 79 million in 1995 to 196 million in 2012, enrollment in China grew at a far higher rate, from 5.2 to 32.6 million. The government and institutions were unable to rep up with the expansion, resulting in crowded facilities, limited equipment and lower teaching quality. Institutions expanded lower cost majors rather than STEM fields, resulting in a mismatch between graduate abilities and the demands of the job market. The Ministry of Education realized their missteps and sought to scale back enrollment and improve programs. Also significant is the high numbers of college graduates entering a slowing economy, making employment a challenge. This essay provides valuable insight into the context of the large number of Chinese students studying abroad. In addition to the prestige of studying at a well regarded foreign institution and the leg up it can provide in the job market, Chinese students may not have access to a high quality education in their desired major at home. Among the policy measures proposed by Min is the promotion of international exchanges and cooperation, and to “assimilate high-quality programs such as NYU Shanghai”. This perspective stands out because NYU Shanghai and similar US-international ventures have been discussed in class, but the concerns were from the lens of US students/faculty/admin studying/teaching/working in China. The establishment of NYU Shanghai from a Chinese point of view may show such cooperations as filling a local need, with a rising middle class, a demand for  higher education, and a local infrastructure that cannot meet enrollment needs. Such partnerships may be an effective way to prevent brain drain.

W9-Melissa Fernandez

Central ministries for education in other countries have allowed higher education institutions to run effectively and united. Most countries have instated a department or central ministry for their higher education institutions to become a part of so they all must follow the same rules and regulation allowing for each institution to be held to the same standards. I was surprised to find out that China did not start with one central ministry and was originally multiple ministries. Though the government was in charge of funding and policies they still allowed they public and private intitutions to have a say on some internal regulations and quotas they would like to meet. I feel ministries like this make a difference in the function of higher education institutions because it is centralized with participation from all institutions. In India, it seems as though university examinations play a large role in the way an institution functions. There are private and public colleges but all must be part of a university who will grant a degree for them. Unaided private colleges were interviewed in this reading and surprisingly the faculty were teaching the bare minmum so they could focus on their students passing the exams. Most time private colleges are able to be flexible in what they are teaching but in this system, the trustees have a large amount of control over the autonomy of disciplines. On the contrary, Russia has a long history of allowing higher education be centralized then decentralized. In 1993 Law on Education allowed for institutions to self-govern and decentralize with introductions of private institutions. In 2000 this changed when Putin wished to centralize the autonomy and finances. Many administrators from institutions were also angered by the fact that financial support could only come from federal and not local governments. Local governments were willing to include higher education in their financial planning but the regulations only allowed federal. This is more for control than anything else as the central ministry in Moscow wanted the final say. Lastly, Brazil has between 65-70% of their students enrolled in private institutions, which is different than most countries. Most of these private institutions run like business making the autonomy contolled by faculty low in the academic sector. Brazil faces the conflict where they are a low income society but the majority of the college going students attend private schools so cost and budgeting play a major role in higher education. Faculty take a lot of responsibility by teaching undergraduate and graduate course work. The research showed that only 2% of faculty only taught graduate course work.

W9: The Future of BRIC Universities

When I enrolled in our class, I thought the class would be more of a comparative look at higher education institutions by country, rather than a broader theme of internationalization. While I think internationalization is very interesting and is extremely important for higher education professionals to study, I’m glad that we had an option to read more about the history and the day-to-day operating of universities abroad in Carnoy’s “BRIC Universities as Institutions in the Process of Change”.

I’ve always been interested in the BRIC countries and why (and how!) they’ve been lumped together. The main reason is that they are growing economies that have become increasingly important in the overall global economy. Other than that, though, they have very little in common culturally, politically, or, as we saw in the reading, educationally.

The theme in the reading that I was most interested in was how each country is responding to increased demands from a growing number of students — or, in the case of Russia, a decrease in demand. In the case of India, China, and Brazil, their expanding economies have created a large middle class that is seeking greater higher educational opportunities. Thus, the challenge for these countries in the last few decades has been to meet the increased demand while maintaining quality. In the case of China, India, and Russia, it seems like the larger emphasis has been on accessibility rather than quality. This is not to say that these countries are not concerned about quality — their public research universities are still highly esteemed and only reserved for their very top students — but right now they seem to be more focused on pumping more and more students through the semester by any means necessary. This is not unlike the immediate postwar expansion of HEIs in the U.S. and the rise of community colleges in the 1950s-1970s.

Another theme from the reading is the organization and hierarchy of different types of universities. The main thing that stuck out to me was the large proportion of private, for-profit universities in Brazil. The target students for these for-profit institutions are generally lower-income students (similar to the U.S.). While I am skeptical about for-profit universities in the United States, it seems to make more sense in Brazil since they are better able to set tuition prices to market demands and are actually the more cost-effective option for cash-strapped students. The reading did not mention this specifically, but I am curious if Brazil has ever considered a U.S. public community-college model to serve these students.

So while these three countries are struggling to keep up with the rising demands for HEIs, Russia is having the opposite problem. “In Russia, mass universities will not be expanding, so their main role is to ‘survive’, adjusting to a host of new realities” (Carnoy, 2013, pp. 177). While the other three countries seem to be adopting a more market-oriented approach to higher education, Russia seems to be going back to a more Soviet-approach (or, at the very least, very much resisting a more market-approach to its higher education system).

This makes sense, given their very recent history. As the reading explains, many of the leaders and faculty in Russian universities were also there during the Soviet Union, when universities were heavily regulated by the state and the main curricular emphasis was on STEM disciplines to try to get an advantage in technology and science over the U.S. in the Cold War. While China has made many innovations to its higher education system, it, too, is still a product of its recent history, with the Chinese government still playing a strong role in shaping certain curricular matters (for instance, even graduate students in engineering still study political philosophy with an emphasis on communism), as well as the overtly political appointments of university administrators.

The last area I wanted to discuss was India’s emphasis on affirmative action for its disadvantaged castes. I was pleased to read of the Indian government’s financial investment in groups of people who continue to face extensive discrimination. Unfortunately, I am skeptical how much this will do to really improve conditions for these individuals if they will still face discrimination in other areas of their lives, but at the very least it is encouraging that the government is acknowledging the inequalities and is (at least somewhat) committed to improving things.

As BRIC countries have become increasingly important in global affairs, I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about their higher education systems. While the BRIC countries have one thing in common — they all have rapidly expanding economies — they have vastly different cultural, political, and economic environments, which also impacts their system of higher education. As the countries continue to expand their global influence, it will be interesting to monitor changes and innovations in their higher education systems.


W6-ACE Report (International Partnerships)

The ACE Report this week, International Higher Education Partnerships:  A Global Review of Standards and Practices, focuses again on nuts and bolts of internationalization with a focus on global international partnerships between higher education institutions in different countries.  The report lays out best practices in how to achieve successful global partnerships and also warns against practices that stunt implementation efforts for these partnerships.  The second reading, IIE’s Report entitled A Process for Screening and Authorizing Joint and Double Degree Programs, provides a very useful guide on how to vet and implement the growing trend of these two types of programs so that they are effective and not prone to phenomenon such as double counting of credits.

The ACE Report attacks the subject of international partnerships through bifurcation of the types of issues that come up.  First, the report discusses the Program Administration and Management components of international partnerships analyzing them through four themes:  transparency and accountability; faculty and staff engagement; quality assurance; and strategic planning and the role of institutional leadership.  Second, the report discusses Cultural and Contextual Issues in international partnerships analyzing them through four themes as well:  cultural awareness; access and equity; institutional and human capacity building; and ethical dilemmas and “negotiated space.”

For me, theme 1 of the first framework was the most interesting this week, that being the role of legal requirements, documentation and policies and procedures in the transparency and accountability in the successful implementation of international partnerships.  Given my role as General Counsel at a college, I understand the importance of good structure and memorialization of relationships.  Without these fundamental building blocks, there is bound to be inefficiency and a lack of productive paths forward.  It was nice to see the ACE report give such importance to this phase of the process.  For example, in addition to strong mission statements, memorandum’s of understanding (MOUs) are a key component of the “how to” portion of the parameters set forth in the ACE report.  MOUs memorialize the understanding of the parties in terms of the goals of the partnership as well as the operational details necessary to carry out the goals.  A well written MOU can make the difference between a successful relationship that is guided by a strong foundational written agreement between the parties or the breakdown of communications because there is no clear documentation of the parties intent.  Legal input in the drafting of MOUs can also help vet unclear language and help anticipate future liability issues that are bound to arise, particularly in the international context.

The report gives two revealing examples of the role of legal documents and MOUs in partnerships between global higher education institutions.  The first is the Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) review of hundreds of MOU’s it had with institutions abroad that were inactive or outdated (p.20).  A review of the MOUs allowed VCU to vert which partnerships were worth pursuing because they had the parameters documented.  The memorialization of partnerships allowed VCU to target fifteen institutions for strategic collaborations that would yield real results.  This exercise of the review of unusable MOUs is also seen in the example of the relationship between Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Kenya’s Moi University (p.34).

The second is Wellesley College’s task to create templates for partnership agreements to mitigate against issues of academic freedom controversies it encountered during a partnership with a Chinese institution (p.33).  (see http://www.wellesley.edu/news/2013/01/node/32424).  To protect against the type of controversy it faced with China, Wellesley now has an institutional-level MOU and an “international activity agreement” which is for individual departments or faculty and counterparts abroad.  According to the report, “both include language in the preamble—modeled on a statement used by Cornell University (NY) in its partnership agreements—stating that all parties agree to adhere to commonly observed standards for academic freedom in all educational and research activities entailed in the agreement (p.33).”  Wellesley has been able to implement these agreements through its International Study Committee  (see http://www.wellesley.edu/news/2013/01/node/32424) formed to monitor and facilitate international partnerships.  The committee reviews all of the MOUs or agreements before they are signed and feels that “it is much better to have the conversation about them in advance of the program than after the fact (p.33).  For a lawyer, it is gratifying to see the effective of use of legal structures and documents to pave the way for stronger global international partnerships, both transactional and transformational, to contribute to the growth of internationalization.

W 6: The limits of academic freedom

Academic freedom is one of the most prized assets of American higher education. Yet despite the flowery rhetoric, U.S. higher education has a tenuous history with academic freedom, largely due to its governance structure. Unlike countries whose higher education institutions follow the Humboldt model, where the faculty control most areas of governance (as was detailed in last week’s readings), U.S. higher education has always concentrated power towards the administrative leadership, such as the university president and chancellor. This power dynamic has occasionally challenged the integrity of academic freedom. From McCarthyism to the adjunctification of the teaching force, there have constantly been limits to academic freedom in U.S. higher education.

The issue of protecting the integrity of academic freedom becomes even more complicated when applied to an international context, as this week’s ACE/CIGE reading shows. While the reading glosses over the domestic limits of academic freedom, there is still much more academic freedom in the U.S. than many other countries. Because of this, the American Association of Universities developed its Principles and Guidelines for Establishing Joint Academic Programs and Campuses Abroad. A notable passage includes: “When establishing campuses abroad or joint academic programs, agreements between universities and foreign partners should strive to include a commitment to commonly accepted principles of academic freedom. Members of the academic community should be able to ask questions and engage in discussion, and write and publish without the fear of punishment of intrusion by governments or authorities holding public, private, or institutional power” (ACE/CIGE, 2014, pp. 31).

While these are important guidelines, they are difficult to enforce, especially in countries with different political and cultural histories. “Even if a partner institution is supportive of academic freedom in theory, encouraging or allowing discussion of certain topics could lead to considerable problems for the institution, as well as the individual faculty and students involved” (ACE/CIGE, 2014, pp. 32).

This made me think about the newly-launched Schwarzman Scholars program that I wrote about briefly a few weeks ago. The program, funded by U.S. businessman Stephen Schwarzmann, consists of fully-funded master’s degrees in Public Policy, Economics and Business, or International Studies in China. Its inaugural class will begin their coursework this upcoming fall and consists of 45% Americans, 20% Chinese, and 35% international students. While it is hosted by Tsinghua University in Beijing, courses will be held on Schwarzman College, which is a subset of the larger university. Since classes will be conducted on a U.S. campus within a foreign university, I imagine that academic freedom will be more prevalent than in other Chinese universities. However, I imagine this could prove to be a tricky aspect to overcome when trying to sell this program to top-U.S. students, who might also pursue their degrees in the U.S. or other western countries with a more traditional understanding of academic freedom.

One program that the report deemed a success between two countries with very different cultures and values was the partnership between Kabul University in Afghanistan and Boston College/Hunter College in the U.S. This partnership, “funded by UNICEF through a grant administered by the Afghan government (ACE/CIGE, 2014, pp. 28)”, set out to develop a social work program at Kabul University. The project included two phases: “the development of standards and curricula, then implementation of Afghanistan’s first bachelor’s level social work program at Kabul University” (28). While the project was only funded through the first initiative, overall it was a success because faculty from each institution were able to stay in contact with one another when the program was finally ready to be implemented.

Frankly, I was surprised to read about this kind of success given the rocky political relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan. My intuition tells me that academic partnerships and initiatives in the hard sciences will have more success than those with a more liberal arts/socio-political component, like social work, since there tends to be much more cultural, religious, and political debate around those disciplines than the hard sciences. It was encouraging to read that is not always the case, and that some degree of academic freedom can exist between countries with very different political and cultural histories.