Higher Education, Internationalisation, and the Nation-State

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Abstract

'Internationalisation' became a key theme in the 1990s, both in higher education policy debates and in research on higher education. The process is accompanied by a European policy that seems to favour a de-nationalisation of higher education, a growing responsibility of individual institutions of higher education and an increasing popularity of managerialism. This paper addresses the traditional controversial role of higher education as regards internationalisation and the nation-state, comparing the mainland European and the Anglo-Saxon approach. Assessing the different impacts of internationalisation as a challenge to European and German higher education, it analyses the role of the European Union and the Bologna process, as well as the icebreaker function of internationalisation for higher education reform in Germany. A closer look at the complex and dynamic multi-level set-up of internationalisation in European higher education reveals that it not only means varying border-crossing activities that are on the rise, but rather substantial changes towards systematic policies and a growing awareness of international cooperation and competition in an increasingly global higher education market.

Introduction

Three major developments occurred in the higher education systems in Europe during the last two decades:

- Higher education institutions, but more specifically higher education systems at their institutional level, became more important actors. We can observe many initiatives and debates on institutional management in higher education, institutional evaluation, funding of universities and other related tools for institutional adaptation to changing environments.

- Secondly, we note a variety of changes, which can be termed 'internationalisation' of higher education. Two different types of phenomena are frequently referred to in this context: on the one hand, a growth of specific visible international, border-crossing cooperation and operations, such as student and staff mobility, foreign language teaching or cooperative research activities; and, on the other, a trend towards internationalisation, regionalisation or globalisation of the substance and structures of higher education, e.g., convergence of systems in terms of institutional patterns, study programmes or curricula.

- Last but not least, both developments--the emphasis on the institutional level, as well as on the international level of higher education--seem to reflect and to contribute to a loosening of traditional ties between the university and the nation-state that some may welcome as the new freedom of universities, while others may see the university in this context as capitalism's final frontier.

Thus, the restructuring of the nation-state and the rise of internationalisation run parallel to the reform and transformation of universities. A paper prepared for the meeting in Salamanca of European rectors and institutional managers responsible for higher education provides an example of this new secular religion of institutional autonomy as a tool for the empowering of universities in a competitive global order: "Universities need and want autonomy. In many countries in Europe, over-regulation inhibits progress and innovation and constitutes a serious handicap in the European and worldwide environment. Universities request the power to plan their own futures, striking the right balance between autonomy and responsibility and between diversity and organisation" (Convention of European Higher Education Institutions 2001: 7).

The Nationalisation of Higher Education: contrasting assumptions and significant differences

In talking about a trend towards internationalisation or de-nationalisation, we claim that higher education in the past has not been--or has been less--international than today, and more so in comparison with the anticipated future. …