How will the global higher education sector evolve?
I recently gave a plenary address to the Berlin OEB conference, and tested out some ideas on the audience. I’d like to expand on them here. Specifically, I want to share two scenarios for how higher education’s international nature could change.
In the year 2029 we see the advent of Planetary University, a globally distributed higher education system. It is accessible to students just about everywhere, especially virtually. It produces and shares research across all national borders.
How does this work?
There are several bricks and mortar Planetary Universities around the world. On each one the majority of faculty, staff, and students are from nations other than the host country. At the same time the supermajority of non-PU universities and colleges support students in transferring studies and credits. Students typically take classes from multiple institutions worldwide – French language from one, Python from another. The majority of students engage in study abroad either through formal programs or simply by transferring between nations.
Research is transnational by default. Project teams typically consist of researchers from multiple nations, collaborating via digital technology. The majority of scholarly publishing is open access, which enables researchers from the developing world to partake and contribute more than they can now.
Support staff and administration normally think in an international context. For example, senior admin lobby for global faculty, staff, and student applications. IT departments are keenly aware of tech developments and threats from around the world. Staff respond to regulatory changes in countries other than their own.
This scenario is based on the past generation of rising international study (for example). Also, in a sense this is a neoliberal higher education order, as Planetary University echoes the movement of money, ideas, and people across borders.
In contrast the National College focuses itself on its country of original, with little international engagement.
NC teaching and research has certain national characteristics, depending on political currents. Curricula and publications may celebrate, critique, or ignore local or distant ethnic groups. Select sciences may be downplayed or emphasized. Humanities topics are especially reshaped accordingly. There is strong emphasis on national pride and tradition, especially as solutions for contemporary problems.
Administratively, regulation and accreditation are essentially national, more so than today. Campuses may or may not have strong faculty/staff unions. Governmental agencies can have a strong institutional presence than they do now.
The drivers here include populist, nationalist movements, especially, but not exclusively, on the political right. Antiglobalization plays a role. Another force is recent controversies over selecting universities’ language of instruction, with calls to either teach a global language – i.e., English – or to teach in a local tongue. We’ve also seen it in the Hungarian government’s successful expulsion of a very international university.
…these are scenarios. They are not predictions of likely futures. They are models of possible futures, based on present day trends, designed to help you think through where higher ed can be headed.
We might not see a bricks and mortar Planetary University formed, although it’s possible, especially in a partial sense. National Colleges may be more likely, especially in some polities (think Poland, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey). We could also see both of these scenarios play out, with different countries picking one or the other path. Indeed, within a given nation or even a city we could see both scenarios in play.