31 Oct 2013

What does globalisation really mean for higher education?

Award story_Maurits van RooijenMultinational Universities are set to dominate the future. Whilst the rest of the world is being ‘globalised’, higher education is still focusing on internationalisation. Of course the two are related, but the globalisation process is much more challenging or – as Maurits van Rooijen, winner of the 2013 EAIE Constance Meldrum Award for Vision and Leadership, sees it – much more exciting.

 
 
 

Commercialisation of higher education

It is easy to understand why some see globalisation mainly as a threat to higher education.

  • No doubt quite soon the Laureate company will acquire its 100st higher education institution as part of its global network.
  • One government after the other withdraws taxpayers’ funding for non-nationals, telling foreign students to cover their own costs.
  • Well-known foreign institutions set up branches in other countries and many upset the status-quo of national systems by allowing institutions to offer their programmes in franchise.
  • E-learning is now being offered at a global scale and hence can through its economies of scale become highly competitive in terms of price/cost whilst being more convenience for especially more mature students.

Should we be afraid?

Protectionism in higher education

The Pavlov reaction to globalisation is protectionism. In higher education that means making it difficult or even impossible for foreign institutions to enter a national system, whether virtually or physically, through de facto highly protective regulations.

 
There are many examples of national protectionism in higher education, mostly implicit but also explicit. And interestingly, there are even examples where effectively state-sponsored institutions are discouraged to enter the globalised higher education arena, eg the Dutch rule that students cannot get a Dutch degree unless they have done a substantial part of their study in country. At one level, an understandable measure, yet at the same time totally out of touch with the realities of the globalising higher education sector.

Private sector in higher education moves faster

Globalisation in economic terms refers to moving goods and services across borders, moving consumers across borders or engaging with virtual movement of goods and services. The private sector has been faster in seeing the commercial opportunities of globalisation than institutions that operate with public funding and which are primarily tasked to serve the national systems of education. That is quite understandable.

 
Internationalisation for most institutions is primarily about quality enhancement (preparing students for employment in a globalised world, attracting best students, attracting best academic staff, etc). But in some countries of course, recruiting international students or delivering programmes abroad at a fee, whether as a franchise or through a full branch campus style development, has become a condition for financial as well as academic health.

 
The key question is not whether education should be public or private or whether globalisation is good or bad, since these are questions that have been made irrelevant by reality.  It is impossible to make higher education immune to the globalisation processes. One can only try to delay the inevitable through regulation or inertia, but that is a risky strategy. Like in every aspect of our modern society, we will create losers and winners, not just in regard to individual universities but even to entire national systems. In my view, it makes more sense to see globalisation as a real opportunity, worth engaging with sooner rather than later.

The multinational university: more and more a reality

Precisely a decade ago now Stephen Adam, David Jones and I wrote an EAIE Occasional Paper about the multinational university. We suggested that the world of higher education would create a new breed of higher education institutions. In the public sector these have emerged only slowly, though in the UK there are now more students on transnational programmes than international students in-country, which is quite revealing given its position as one of the global leaders in international student recruitment. In the publication I defined a multinational university not so much as an institution with students or campuses in various countries (which is only one model), but as an institution fully engaged with the international markets, producing over 25% of revenue for international sources. In that definition now many multinational universities and higher education groups/companies do exist.

 
I still stand by my prediction that multinational universities (and I should add: university groups) will dominate the future of high profile high quality provision in higher education. But globalisation in higher education is not just something for the future, it is something that already is quite prominently present and the question is how your university or college responds to it: with excitement or fear?

 
Author: Maurits van Rooijen, CEO (academic) of Global University Systems BV, Rector and CEO London School of Business and Finance, acting Rector GISMA-Hannover Germany