How to create a model of global Higher Education fit for post-recession world?
This is not about private equity initiatives spanning the world, the kinds that the American majors such as Apollo and Laureate do: That is about global finance capital buying out assets in different geographies. Nor this should be about what the Academic community dubs as TNE, Trans-National Education, which is essentially about exporting degrees from metropolitan centres to the hungry nations in the periphery.
Indeed, global is, in common use, all about finance capital buying out assets in poorer countries, and extending the cultural influences of the metropolitan centres. But that model is coming under pressure lately: The 'Global' steamroller has perhaps gone too far. The richer nations are increasingly wary of the immigrants, and the poorer nations are facing existential crisis as its 'comprador bougeois', the ones that collaborate and benefit from global finance capital, has lost all sense of balance and making too many people disenfranchised. So, it is not just Britain that voted for Brexit and America is flirting with Trump, India has taken a jingoistic turn with Mr Modi, Russia appears nostalgic and China, while still enthralled with the dated doctrine of socialist extraction (which they do in Africa), is creating a doctrine of assertive nationalism.
Therefore, the benefits of globalism can no longer be taken for granted, and its claims are being questioned now. The euphoria, so real only a few years ago, about opening offshore campuses and digital higher education, looks well past its prime, and uncomfortable questions, real but so unexpected, about whether a degree from an university abroad is good value are being questioned. And, often the answer is negative, primarily for two reasons: Immigration is increasingly difficult and with export demands have ceased to be the job engine that it had been in the past. Local demands drive the enterprise, as it does in India and increasingly in China, and employers are increasingly wary of those people with degrees from abroad who grudgingly work in the home country and often resent the work practises there.
However, in theory, Global Higher Education was supposed to be more than global capital and fancy degrees from Western Universities. It was about a frame of mind, openness to experience, world class expertise. Those attributes are still in high demand, as they ought to be, even for jobs serving local markets: We may not be a flat world of production and distribution and globalism may have become politically toxic, but the intervening years have unified consumer aspirations, and technologies have raised the bar on skills even in the local markets. So, serving Indian market needs a connection to the Indian consumer, a sort of flexibility and humility global degrees may not easily confer, but an understanding of technologies of electronic commerce, digital distribution and the skills to service a rights-aware customer are all in high demand.
The model of Global Higher Education, in this context, needs a reset. This needs to go beyond hawking degrees and imbibing foreign habits and accents, but creating truly open, culturally aware and flexible mindsets, along with world-class technical expertise and networks. This is a paradigm shift, requiring a change of language from mere franchising of degrees, or student exchanges, or worse still, online diploma giving. This needs to be around creating a globally minded ecosystem on the ground in different countries, engaging the local employers, local and global educators, innovating a new language altogether and re-imagining the role of the university in the context.
So, imagine this: A network of learning centres across countries, backed by technologies of remote learning and collaboration, that connect local employers and global knowledge and practises, through online and hands-on work. I have been working on building such a model for last several years, first in my role in a private institution in London, then in my start-up that engaged with universities in China to set up learning centres offering competency-based qualifications and finally, for the last two years, engaging with local employers, primarily in India, to create global-local frameworks. Each of these experiences were valuable, but each, so I think, were limited in a sense, an evolutionary step towards what the model could be: Something that brings together local and global universities, local and global employers and practises, and the associated ecosystems together.
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