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.

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-Strategic Plan Comparisons and BRIC Universities

This week’s reading expanded on our view into strategic plans, their value and effectiveness, and relevance in the development of global education at American Universities.  With three strategic plans to now inform a comparative analysis, it was definitely useful to see the diversity with which strategic plans can be approached in content, format and goal setting.  Having already read and discussed Baruch’s global strategic plan last week, it was eye opening to see the Global Education Strategic Plan for Middlesex Community College in MA and the Global Strategy & Internationalization at OHIO for Ohio University.

A few observations I noted while reading the Middlesex and Ohio strategic plans were that they certainly gave credence to the view that the Baruch strategic plan we reviewed was perhaps an initial draft and could benefit from further development and drafting.  Ohio and Middlesex seemed more evolved and sophisticated in their visions and supporting strategies.  They contained more data that was presented in more visually and organized ways which allowed a better understanding of where they stood vis a vis global education and where they needed to go.  To me, the Middlesex plan was the most effective of the three we have reviewed because I found it the most “user friendly” in being able to digest and process the material.  It also did not spend as much time as Ohio did on the introductory sections so you were able to cut right to the work they plan to do with specific deliverables and timelines.  It was a balance I thought between Baruch’s plan being not as developed and Ohio’s being perhaps too developed to the point of not being user friendly and a bit stilted.

The comparative analysis of the global strategic plans we were provided also made me realize how important planning and goal setting is in achieving successful and sustainable global education platforms.  Without a cohesive, data driven and clear path toward internationalization at the outset through solid and robust planning, internationalization with its  many facets and layers of necessary international collaboration and analysis will be on shaky ground.

Finally, the BRIC Universities as Institutions in the Process of Change shed interesting light on how higher education institutions in countries that US HEIs would need to work with for global expansion. The different trajectories of China, India, Russia, and Brazil were fascinating and made me wonder what sort of strategic planning goes into, or doesn’t go into, the HEI landscapes in those countries. Of particular interest to me was the example of rapid expansion of unaided privates which may be compromising quality for the sake of enrollment.  This observation was notable in light of quality control issues we have previously read about that exist in India which can hinder cross-border partnerships and internationalization efforts with India.

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.


W5-OECD Guide

This week’s readings, particularly the OECD Higher Education Programme:  Approaches to Internationalisation and Their Implications for Strategic Management and Institutional Practice, A Guide to Higher Education Institutions, brought some practical guidance and insight on the challenges of implementing internationalization whereas, to date, we have focused more on the evolution and theory of the concept.  I personally appreciated the guidance aspect of the readings, because tangible implementation strategies that have been tested and well formulated are key to internationalization initiatives succeeding.  While the European models of higher education reviewed in An analytical framework for the cross-country comparison of higher education governance (academic self-governance, state-centered model and the market-oriented model) were interesting and their intersections are instructive for non-European regions as well, I am not focusing on them for this blog post.

Instead, I take a closer look at the international branch campus (IBC) phenomenon as I thought the OECD paper had more concrete details on how to actually implement a successful IBC in an off-shore setting.  OECD suggests five actions for institutions to consider when contemplating off-shore campuses (see pp. 14-18).  First, the “genuine interests” of stakeholders in the higher education institution as well as the host country must be considered.  Not focusing on the host country can lead to gaps in understanding between the institution and host country and unsuccessful implementation.  Second, the host country’s legal and regulatory environment must be thoroughly vetted and the compliance costs must be analyzed.  Without this component, the very survival of an off-shore campus can be threatened.  Third, sustainable business models must be applied taking into account main divers.  Fourth, have a viable plan for quality faculty recruitment and retention.  Fifth, regularly monitor quality.

The above mentioned actions to consider may help mitigate some of the pause and caution with which off-shore campuses are progressing due to some high-profile failures and an earlier desire to be first to market without careful consideration of the OECD guide’s review of strategic management and institutional practice.  For example, see http://monitor.icef.com/2015/10/a-more-cautious-outlook-for-international-branch-campuses/ which discusses a recent survey of European universities which found that IBCs were the lowest priority among 15 prominent internationalization strategies but despite that figure, the number of branch campuses worldwide is rising although perhaps with greater awareness of the financial and quality assurance issues discussed in the OECD guide.  To me, a highlight of the OECD guidance was the observation that “in starting up and operating an off-shore campus, experience has shown that it is better to start small and expand incrementally.” (p. 14).  Interestingly, while India may not be fully willing to let IBCs infiltrate its own shores, I was surprised to learn that it seems to be taking the OECD guide’s advice to start small and expand one by one in bringing Indian branch campuses to other countries.  (see http://www.obhe.ac.uk/what_we_do/news_articles_reports/news_analysis/na_2015/news_analysis_3_22jan15).  Perhaps, India will be well served to learn lessons from its own regional off-shore expansion to allow for other countries to being IBCs to India with the above mentioned actions underpinning implementation.