GLOBALIZATION clearly affects every aspect of our lives. What does it have to do with universities? Quite a bit. It affects curriculum, faculty recruitment, student recruitment, sources of food for the dining halls and of funds for the endowment, and the value of investments. These are all important, but the biggest implication is that, in this global era, education at all levels, and especially at the tertiary level, has become a tradable commodity. It is a service that can be priced, paid for, and provided.
Education is included in the agreements between nations brokered under the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) framework. This fact allows governments to recognize education as a trade "good" and to enter into agreements with other nations with regard to market access. More than 50 nations have commitments covering different aspects of education, and at least half of those agreements cover higher education.
The idea that higher education is a commodity no different from milk or a Norah Jones CD may be offensive to scholars who see commoditization as antithetical to the true mission of the university. Some commentators worry that business motivations will "lure" universities away from their "core responsibilities." Others worry that competition will "undermine the capacity of domestic suppliers" and threaten national education systems. (1)
But we need to understand that higher education does not have to become a passive victim of globalization. Universities are creators and disseminators of knowledge; they shape globalization as much as they are shaped by it.
Certainly this comes as no surprise to scholars of higher education. The university has been a global institution since the beginning, originally serving a small cadre of the elite. Philip Altbach points out that universities functioned in a common language (Latin), served at least a small international clientele, and had a faculty that came from different lands. (2) Graduates of these first universities took ideas, values, and scientific knowledge to other nations and, as rulers and members of the elite, changed those nations.
What is different today is the ease with which educational services, a large number of students, many faculty members, and lots of intellectual property move between nations. This change has generated five challenges for universities, particularly for institutions in the U.S., and these challenges also present critical areas of investigation as well as opportunities for greater international cooperation.
1. Growth in global demand. The global demand for higher education is projected to grow from 97 million students in 2000 to 263 million in 2025. At least seven million of those students will be studying outside their home nations--a 400% increase. For example, 9.1% of Irish students in higher education were studying abroad in 1995; in 2000, the figure was 16.2%. For China, the comparable figures were 2.1% in 1995 and 2.9% in 2000. (3)
Using the 2004 average total cost of acquiring a first degree in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, a cohort of students numbering seven million could represent an exchange of $640 billion. Contemplating numbers of that magnitude, governments develop a keen interest in getting education services into GATS agreements.
For universities contemplating this increase in global demand, there is a temptation to look at it simply as a growth opportunity, a chance to increase the size of the institution. Of course, there will be fractious debates about the "right size" of the university if it is to maintain its culture, about commitment to teaching excellence, and about the quality of students and faculty.
Some may view this growth in international demand as a chance to form strategic alliances with like institutions in other nations. Beyond contributing to enrollment growth, such alliances could lay the groundwork for richer academic exchanges, shared research projects, shared resources,
and an exchange of students that would benefit both nations. …