The Rise of the Global University: 5 New Tensions
Randal Enos for The Chronicle
By Simon Marginson
Some scholars date the beginnings of globalization from the first move of people out of Africa. Some date it from the spread of world religions—Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Others date it from the imperial European empires, the Napoleonic wars, or the expanded trade and migration in the second half of the Victorian era. But one thing is certain: In the last two decades, the Internet and cheaper air travel have created such closer integration and convergence that, for the first time, a single world society is within reach—and higher education, ranging beyond the nation-state, is a central driver.
The "multiversity"—the university with multiple constituencies and demands that Clark Kerr, the former president of the University of California identified in the 1960s—has given way to the Global Research University, or GRU. The Global Research University is the multiversity with much more mobility, more cross-national research and learning, and more global systems and rankings.
Indeed, in almost every country, research universities are among the most globally connected of all sectors. Knowledge, the free currency of higher education, flows anywhere and everywhere, like quicksilver on a metal table. At the same time, global connections; global comparisons and rankings; and global flows of people, ideas, knowledge, and capital are transforming higher education.
In that transformation, three trends have come together:
Networking. Almost a third of the world's population now has fast Internet access. An incredible more than half—including some people identified by the World Bank as living on a dollar a day or less—use mobile phones. Those numbers are climbing fast. And the parts of society already networked are much more intensively connected than before—universities are a prime example.
Every research university is a major user of networked communications for complex data transfer and real-time collaboration. The annual Webometrics ranking traces the explosive growth of Web work, led globally by Harvard University. Second is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, driven by the traffic through its OpenCourseWare project. For researchers, offshore relations are often more compelling than local connections. Across all OECD countries, between 1988 and 2005 the proportion of scientific papers that involved international collaborations jumped from 26 percent to 46 percent. In the United States it rose from 10 percent to 27 percent of papers.
The ever-growing role of knowledge. As Kerr predicted in The Uses of the University (Harvard University Press, 2001), knowledge and research have become central to nations' economies and cultures. Governments have long been fascinated by the potential of science and technology to drive global competitiveness, but in the last decade the preoccupation with application and commercialization has been joined by a new faith in the power of state policies and support to encourage creativity itself. A main preoccupation of the emerging research nations in Asia is with fostering "creative cultures" in a range of ways—including speeding visas for foreign researchers and building new urban precincts in which innovators in the arts and sciences are brought together to cross-fertilize one another's thinking and kick-start lateral inventions.
The expanding access to education. As more nations modernize and middle classes grow, participation in higher education has grown significantly and continuously almost everywhere. According to data from Unesco, between 1991 and 2004, enrollments in higher education increased more than 8 percent annually in East Asian and Pacific countries, about 7 percent annually in Africa, and 5 percent annually in Central Europe and Latin America. As Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize winner and professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University, has remarked, the augmentation of human capability though education is unstoppable because it meets public, industry, and private needs at the same time.
Those three trends coming together—global networking, research power, and mass participation—make higher education more crucial today than ever before. At the same time, the convergence of those trends, and the emergence of the Global Research University, has created a new set of tensions:
The tension between national perspectives and global perspectives. Governments and some institutions focus on their own agendas—which are usually local or national. But GRU's have global visions and ambitions. They see themselves, rightly so, as leading the emerging global civilization. They want to draw top-flight students and faculty membersprofessors who will position them at the peak of the international rankings. They want to cut larger figures in the world—and to be financially supported accordingly.
Here the motives of Global Research Universities are not just selfish but also altruistic. They create global public goods—the knowledge that we as a global society need to tackle climate change, water and food shortages, and epidemic diseases. Basic research to further scientific knowledge is itself a global public good.
But will GRU's be allowed to just get on with making the world a better place? Now that knowledge has become vital in so many areas, the instinct of national or state governments is to design financial support and management systems that enable them to shape the forms of research, plan research outcomes, and more closely focus how we use knowledge. The objective here, which at bottom is flawed, is not simply to reduce economic waste. It is to make research inquiry, which by its nature is a journey into the unknown, more predictable and perhaps less dangerous. The fallacy is the notion that states, using administrative processes, can control the future by controlling new knowledge. The risk is that they suppress the essential autonomy of the creator in trying to do so.
Moreover, many national governments are less than fully sympathetic toward the global research agenda. The outcomes of basic research in the scientific literature are open to all. But as the national policy maker sees it, "These global public-knowledge goods are all very well, but what's in it for us? Why should we pay for everyone's free benefits?" Or "What's the use of us paying for basic research if the resulting innovations are all captured by foreign companies and the national economy gets zip?" That mentality is short-sighted and self-centered, but nations are still the site of higher-education policy and will remain so for a good time to come. Political and financial support for universities nearly all comes from within national boundaries, except for foreign-student fees and some research money.
Universities must now operate in all three dimensions at the same time: global, national, local. They must become smarter about managing the balance between those three dimensions and, where possible, work them in synergy, not conflict. For example, universities successful in global research can increase the gravitational pull of the cities and nations in which they are housed by attracting creative talent and industry investment from around the world—providing they are effectively engaged at the local level.
The tension between elite research and mass teaching. Some Global Research Universities, such as the University of Toronto, with close to 75,000 students, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, with more than 300,000, are both elite research institutions and mass teaching institutions. Other universities focus primarily on research, are highly selective in whom they enroll, and steer clear of mass teaching. Only some countries seem to manage a workable division of labor. Others unduly dilute research or weaken the resources given to mass education, or both. Both kinds of institution can work. What matters is the balance of functions within a national system.
The tension between sameness and diversity. Global comparisons, systems, and the Anglo-American model are making universities more similar—and penalizing those that are not, including nonresearch institutions, and all universities using languages other than English. But global convergence also brings us in touch with all manner of diversity. Already there are 12 languages with 100-million speakers or more in the world: English, Mandarin, Hindu-Urdu, Spanish-Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Bengali, Malay, Indonesian, Japanese, French, and German. As the list of top research universities becomes pluralistic, perhaps other languages will join English as global languages. We might also see the emergence of more-pluralist global rankings, with separate tables for the different kinds of institutions: GRU's, vocational-technical, mass providers, small and specialist colleges, and so on.
The tension within the hierarchy of the most-competitive global universities. America dominates Shanghai Jiao Tong University's 2009 international rankings of top-100 research universities. The United Kingdom is No. 2, and Australia, Canada, Japan, and Western European countries occupy the other places in the top 10. English-speaking countries make up 73 percent of the top 100. We are at the historic high point of the Anglo-American university.
But not for long. As everyone knows, the East is rising—in particular, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and especially China. Perhaps India will become a major world player, as well, if the government carries out a new wave of national investment in a coherent fashion.
In China, government support has been crucial to the amazing growth of research and participation in higher education. Between 1995 and 2007, the average annual growth of science papers in English, according to U.S. National Science FoundationBoard data, was 16.5 percent in China, 14.1 percent in South Korea, and 10.5 percent in Singapore. That compares with just 0.7 percent in the United States and 0.3 percent in the United Kingdom—perhaps not surprising, given public investment in America and the United Kingdom has been relatively flat or declining.
The ascendency of Asian higher education, of course, worries some people in the Anglo-American world, especially as Western European universities are strengthening too. But it is a boon to those of us in the Asia-Pacific and indeed for everyone. The growth of research anywhere generates common benefits via the flows of knowledge, innovations, and people—and it broadens and deepens the reach of intellectual culture, while adding to the conversation distinctive new voices. It also expands the potential for global agreement.
The tension between those inside the hierarchy and those outside it. As Manuel Castells, professor of communication at the University of Southern California, points out, networks are always incomplete in coverage unless prolonged efforts are made to bring everyone in. Many nations, especially in Africa, have no Global Research Universities at all. Research programs at their higher-education institutions are rudimentary. Institutions are underfinanced or unstable. Student participation rates are low—in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, it is only 5 percent. Long lines of people are waiting for opportunities that those in developed and emerging Asian countries now take for granted. Many millions of lives are being blighted by the global knowledge gap.
A major public role that leading Global Research Universities in developed countries should play is to form long-term partnerships with institutions in emerging higher-education systems. Those partnerships should be designed to build capacity, especially research capacity.
There are strong examples of such partnerships. For example, several departments of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in fields of science and business education, are working with their counterparts at Vietnam National University to overhaul the curriculum, with due regard for both academic standards and the Vietnamese context. The work involves short courses of training and program development in both countries. It is fostering new teaching methods, encouraging research publishing, and transforming the academic program in Vietnam.
But we need more such efforts. The goal should be to establish top GRU's everywhere, to extend knowledge-based cooperation across the whole world—moving beyond the limits of nation-states toward a more inclusive global society.
The tensions that I've described are endemic to GRUs but are not impossible contradictions. Not all tension is destructive. Throughout its history, the university has combined differing and even opposing missions and forces. The secret of its long historical continuity is that from time to time it finds new ways of reinventing itself. It devises new combinatory models and strategies, changes its inner culture, and renovates its external mission. Thus we moved from the liberal academy of J.H. Newman to the scientific and professional university to Clark Kerr's multiversity and now to the Global Research University.
The GRU must resolve the tensions running through it, harnessing the energy of paradox as a creative force. If it can do so, it will meet its key challenges: to be locally and globally effective at the same time. To move forward on both elite research and democratic education, whether within the same institutions or by bringing different institutions into conjunction. To devise common systems and methods of standardization which broaden creativity rather than narrowing it. And to further lift the stellar universities, while spreading the research function across the whole of higher education, contributing to the knowledge economy throughout the world.
Simon Marginson is a professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne.