CHE Consult - Partner
The last two decades have seen the concept of internationalisation move from the fringes to the heart of the institutional agenda. Nowadays, we encounter the hype words “internationalisation”, “international recruitment”, “global player”, etc. in nearly every strategy plan, mission statement or target agreement in higher education institutions. Virtually no university feels it could do without. As a result one could argue that the advocats of internationalisation of the earlier days have finally succeeded in their mission, and the author feels to be one of them. Well: Did we?
With its transition from the fringes to the core, internationalisation has experienced the same metamorphosis experienced by other concepts and ideas. By becoming mainstream, a concept becomes accepted as standard and develops into a tradition1. With this move (from innovation to tradition) comes a substantial change in attitude. Traditions are to be accepted, to be defended, not to be argued with. And suddenly, what began as a new, exciting approach, full of challenges and risks to overcome, becomes a common concept whose pros and cons are better not discussed. Or as it was put by a conference speaker at the beginning of his speech: “We of course all agree that mobility is good”.But is it? By nature? Necessarily? I do not think so. We know of many cases of mobility which are neither for the benefit of the traveler, nor for the host or the country of origin (Aneas is one them), not every student becomes a better person and less stereotype-driven just by travelling. Furthermore, the PRIME report of the ESN2 tells us that many students still do not get recognition for their credits earned abroad. In addition, German officials like to boast about recruiting thousands of international students but in fact in some subject areas about 65% of them do not finish their degree and instead drop out. Mobility... a good thing in itself? No, I think that it can be good and that every student should have an option to study abroad but this has to be combined with much more responsibility and accountability. Do we know enough about learning outcomes of international mobility? Do we all have useful indicator-based monitoring systems in place to see whether mobility has achieved what we wanted it to achieve (and do we even know what we want)?
And yet, internationalisation today is the white knight, the positive concept as such. Whereas globalisation is the black knight, the evil concept, the neo-liberalism in flesh. Why is that? Who decided that the term is defined by one and not the other? If we look at the word itself, globalisation seems to be much more applicable and modern (embracing the world as such) than internationalisation (talking about relations between states: inter nationes). Thus one might argue, as internationalisation moved from innovation to tradition, the metalevel paradigm has to move from internationalisation to globalisation. Reality seems to indicate that this indeed is taking place: English has become the new lingua franca of the world, we see a global strive for harmonisation of quality levels and structures (Bologna and beyond), European as well as global accreditation increases, mobility numbers rise (with all the problems attached as mentioned above), HE is seeing a tendency towards commercialisation and even commoditisation. Last but not least, we see a shift from cooperation to competition or at least cooptition.
This bears consequences for international work. We need less belief and more knowledge, as well as less input focus and more outcome orientation. If internationalisation as a term has a future, then perhaps based on Hudzik’s concept of “comprehensive internationalisation”3.
All this takes place beyong the boundaries of the old nation state. Of course, the state still often represents quality and provides – to a substantial if though decreasing degree – the core funding of HE. But essentially, we see a withdrawal of the nation state on many fronts: some examples are the reduction of state budgets (where still applicable) e.g. in Germany, UK (Brown report), the diversification of portfolios of HEIs, their recruitment activities, franchising or offshore campuses.
On a theoretical level, what we can observe might be nothing other than Sassen’s concept of de-nationalisation4 , which is usually not applied to universities but cities, companies and alike. A strong indicator for this trend could be the development of international networks or clubs of HEIs whose numbers have been growing exponentially in the last three decades.
HEIs obviously start to act more and more on a global scale – without ignoring the local settings of course – and in order to survive on that level they form clubs (in complete accordance with the Theory of Voluntary Clubs5) . It is not effective to boast about being the “best German” university but rather “a global player”. Even if methodologies are weak, a rank within the top100 of any of the rankings of the day is increasingly more relevant than the position in any given country. The nation state is therefore increasingly more of a nuisance and hinderance rather than a focus point for identity and branding: legislation makes joint degrees difficult and offshore earnings hard to transfer, can create conflicts between national regulations (no fees) and activities on global markest (fees a must). To put it provocatively: one could argue that the nation state insures that inter-nationality is still needed nowadays and that globalisation is restricted and the individual HEIs – each to a different level – look for ways out by de-nationalising themselves (through networks, fund diversification, etc.).
The Böll Foundation Delphi on Higher Education 20306 came to similar conclusions: by 2030 the state will still have its functions but the major music will be played on a global level and HEIs will de-nationalise themselves more and more (although this word was not used).
So what then is the vision for 2050: Maybe the (virtual) network university? The role of HEI clubs today and the recent development of a sort of meta-level clubs (clubs of clubs, although so far only in the form of cooperation agreements), distributed learning and distributed campuses and the digital global citizen as both the main actor in an HEI as well as the increasingly typical recipient of its activities, products and services all seem to suggest that.
And yet the nation state is still there and we hear on conferences the caveats of the danger of globalization, although in each and every case we can also argue for the positive: Brain drain or brain gain can be – and is – contrasted by the idea of brain train. To loose the brightest can also mean to create new productive links and gain new export connections, to find ways to overcome the demopgraphic challenges etc. In the end, it comes back to the problem of innovation and tradition. Looking at these aspects from a traditionist’s perspective means they become threats and you have to defend yourself against them probably by covering up your weaknesses and boast about your perceived strengths. Looking at them from an innovator’s position means they become opportunities but only if you improve your weaknesses and use your real strengths.
In such a situation we may rightfully ask: If HEIs are de-nationalising themselves, is inter-nationalisation still the concept with which to grasp this development? Or do we not need to regain ownership of definition for the term globalisation, free it from neo-liberal biases and use it in its pure meaning: the concept of inter-dependence of everything and everyone in the bio-system Earth regardless of place, time, age or nation?
Does moving from inter-nationalisation to globalisation in terms of HEIs mean that Fukuyama is right, at least in the case of HE, in that the end of history has come with the end of the nation state?7 I would argue that as much as he withdrew from this revolutionary idea at the end of his famous contribution this is also doubtful in the case of HE which has to do with some misconceptions (the role of the state reduced to that of a financial contributor, limitations on national responsibilities, less focus on national interests on a global scale, etc.) and one might argue that the role of the nation state will not so much disappear as change. I envision the nation state of the year 2050 much more in the role of one important but not by far the only stakeholder of an HEIs, a partial financial contributor and demander challenging the HEIs much stronger than today to deliver in return for the finances received solutions for issues such as demographic change, diversity, or energy sustainability. In short, to me the nation state 2050 will be this: the network state.
The de-nationalisation of higher education itself and universities as its main actors will lead to a change of the rules of the game and this calls for the terms of trade being redefined between HEIs and the nation state. With both actors turning into network actors, there will be a need for a new concept of state-HEI interaction.
1 see (Brandenburg and de Wit 2011)
2 see (Apsalone, et al. 2009)
3 see (Hudzik 2011)
4 see (Sassen 2008)
5 see (Potoski and Prakash 2009)
6 a project in 2006 for which the author was acting as one of the experts: results see http://www.institutfutur.de/docs/Hochschuldelphi2030_Leipzig_Handout.pdf
7 see (Fukuyama 1992)
- Apsalone, M., T. Bort, St. Friedrich, T. Filoni, J. Panny, and D. Scherer. PRIME 2009. Problems of Recognition in Making ERASMUS. Brussels: ERASMUS Student Network, 2009.
- Brandenburg, U., and H. de Wit. "End of Internationalization." International Higher Education, no.62 Winter 2011: 15-17.
- Denman, B. The Emergence of international consortia in higher education. Camperdown NSW: University of Sydney, PhD thesis, 2001.
- Fukuyama, F. The end of history and the last man. London: Penguin Books, 1992.
- Hudzik, J. Comprehensive Internationalisation. From Concept to Action. Washington D.C.: NAFSA, 2011.
- Potoski, M., and A. Prakash. Voluntary Programs. A Club Theory Perspective. Cambridge, Masschusetts; London, England: MIT Press, 2009.
- Sassen, S. Territory Authority Rights. From Medieval to Global Assemblages. Princeton: Princeton University Press: updated edition, fourth printing, 2008.