Rights and Responsibilities: Globalization and the International Research University

By Coclanis, Peter A. | International Educator, July/August 2011 | Go to article overview

Rights and Responsibilities: Globalization and the International Research University


Coclanis, Peter A., International Educator


EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD OF HIGHER EDUCATION TODAY one sees signs of globalization and hears the so-called G word invoked. Globalization connotes among other things, of course, a relative increase in transnational ftows ot'one sort or another- flows of people, capital, diseases, products, crime, terrorism, news, ideas, whatever - and withal, "the death of distance" or, as some put it, a "radical compression of space and time." This being the case, it is hardly surprising that the modern research university, arguably the greatest institution to have emerged over the course of what the distinguished British historian Eric J. Hobsbawm calls the "short twentieth century" (1914-1991), has also witnessed and experienced such flows and such compression in powerful ways. Think about it. The modern research university is all about transnational flows, and exchanges, links, networks, loops, matrices, etc., not to mention international strategies, metrics, and, inevitably, league tables and ranking schemes.

Id like to spend a bit of time on one such transnational exchange: A joint-undergraduate degree program (JDP) the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill launched with the National University of Singapore (NUS) in spring 2007. For this is a globalization story par excellence, one that conveys not only the abundant opportunities accompanying the globalization of academe, but also certain civic and moral responsibilities that accompany the same.

A Brief Background

NUS traces its history back to 1905 with the founding of the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States Government Medical School. From an outsider's perspective, the school's subsequent history seems as fascinating as it is complex, what with several name changes to the medical college, the establishment of Raffles College in 1938, the merger between King Edward VII College of Medicine and Raffles College in 1949 to form the University of Malaya, the school's subsequent transformation into the University of Singapore in 1962, and, finally, the creation of the National University of Singapore in 1980 through a merger with Nanyang University, which had been established in 1955.

Since 1980, NUS-at once underpinning and reflecting the trajectory of the Republic of Singapore-has risen to become one of the leading universities in the world. Its standing in the very top tier of schools worldwide is made manifest in widely publicized rankings and benchmarking exercises, in the company it keeps- that is to say, in its impressive partnerships and alliances - and perhaps most importantly, in its "deliverables": knowledge discovery and the dissemination of the knowledge delivered to an array of intramural and extramural constituents, all in service to society. For NUS, like UNC-Chapel Hill, is first and foremost a public institution.

Indeed, UNC-Chapel Hill, founded in 1793 and enrolling its first students in 1795, is the oldest public university in the United States. The university grew slowly over the course of the nineteenth century, remaining open during the Civil War, but closing between 1870 and 1875, during the traumatic period of social reconstruction after that conflict. In 1897 the first female student was admitted, and by 1900 the university's enrollment was 512 with 35 faculty members. By that time the university had awarded 31 master's degrees and seven doctorates, the first of which was conferred in 1883.

From these modest beginnings UNCChapel Hill has grown into one of the most distinguished institutions of higher education in the United States. In many ways, its rise to prominence dates from the 1920s and 1930s, when its faculty, its research, its press, and its public service made it the preeminent public institution devoted to economic development and progressive social change in the American South.

The school's reputation in the United States continued to grow in the post- World War II era, and today UNC-Chapel Hill is considered in almost every ranking scheme one of the top five public universities in America, along with Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, and Virginia.

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