What is global about higher education…?

The Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE) held a seminar titled ‘What is Global about Higher Education, and why does it matter?’ at the University of Lancaster on the 24th of April. CGHE is the UK’s largest higher education research centre, being jointly funded by the ESRC and HEFCE, and is based at UCL Institute of Education, but with partners elsewhere in the UK and overseas. Catherine O’Connell and Richard Budd attended the event. Here is Richard Budd’s report…

The first session included video compilations from senior figures from the private and HE sector on how they saw globalisation. These were then responded to by several panel members: Professor Rosemary Deem (Royal Holloway), Dr Chris Muellerleile (Swansea), Dr Pauline Ravinet (Lille), and Dr Sam Sella (MMU). As was identified by the panel, those in the private sector seemed to focus on the opportunity that globalisation gave for them to offer consultancy services, but common to all were the familiar themes of mobilities of knowledge, influence, finance and people. This presented opportunities for further-reaching collaboration and influence, but also created winners and losers as weaker organisations (states, universities, companies, social groups) could be increasingly marginalised or undermined. This was one of the main forces which lead to the inequality and resultant populism of the current political period.

Professors Bob Jessop and Roger Dale then provided more theoretical perspectives. Bob Jessop reminded the group that globalisation has varied shapes and forms, and means different things to different people and organisations. At one level it operates as a justification for policies, as a threat or opportunity for national or international territories. From an analytical point of view, though, it is somewhat nebulous, having many centres, scales of operation, time frames and rhythms, and agents of varying size and influence. This means that it is both hard to define and at times becomes catch-all for everything. Roger Dale’s focus was on the dangers, as he saw it, of global citizenship education as contributing to the divide between the elite and non-elite that underpins the emergence of populism. Populism, he argued, was nation-state centred and protective of ‘traditional’ culture, which contrasted with internationally-oriented, more articulate social groups who may have a tendency to look down on others.

The intention of the day, which was very successfully achieved, was to foster and generate a more interdisciplinary conversation than perhaps exists in the higher education literature at present. In addition to the usual sociological/political studies approaches which dominate this field, fresh insights were provided from geography, business/organisation studies, economics, history, and beyond. This will, it is hoped, begin to allow us to better understand what globalisation is and means, both in general and for universities in particular.

Dr Richard Budd is Lecturer in Education Studies at Liverpool Hope whose research focuses on higher education policy and inequality. With Dr Catherine O’Connell he is co-Director of the Centre for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA).


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