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All around the world, higher education - while highly valued and acclaimed by all - faces great challenges at the millennium. It is incumbent upon the academic community and its leaders, therefore, to take stock of its present status, explore the challenges of the future and evaluate promising initiatives to meet these challenges. Turning to credible scenarios of the future educational environment, a number of issues stand out. They include large increases in the number of students to be educated, demand for different forms of higher education and for institutions that will meet these demands, supply of financial resources to support this sector and the globalization of higher education.         

Keywords: higher education, globalization, change, competition, knowledge.

Historic changes are transforming the lives of people in the developed countries and most developing ones. National economies and even national cultures are globalizing. Globalization means more competition, not just with other companies in the same city or the same region. It also means that national borders do not limit a nation’s investment, production and innovation. Everything, including relations among family and friends, is rapidly becoming organized around a much more compressed view of space and time.

The term “globalization” represents the international system that is shaping most societies today. It is a process that is “super charging” the interaction and integration of cultures, politics, business and intellectual elements around the world[1].

Two of the main bases of globalization are information and innovation and they, in turn, are highly knowledge intensive. Internationalized and fast-growing information industries produce knowledge goods and services. Today’s massive movements of capital depend on information, communication and knowledge in global markets. And because knowledge is highly portable, it lends itself easily to globalization.

If knowledge is fundamental to globalization, globalization should also have a profound impact on the transmission of knowledge. Its effect, felt throughout the educational system, is that globalization increases the demand for education - especially university education - and this increases pressure on the whole system for higher quality schooling. Higher education systems, policies and institutions are being transformed by globalization, which is “the widening, deepening and speeding up of world wide interconnectedness”. Higher education was always more internationally open than most sectors because of its immersion in knowledge, which never showed much respect for juridical boundaries[2].

Higher education has now become central to the changes sweeping through the OECD and emerging nations, in which worldwide networking and exchange are reshaping social, economic and cultural life. In global knowledge economies, higher education institutions are more important than ever as mediums for a wide range of cross-border relationships and continuous global flows of people, information, knowledge, technologies, products and financial capital. At the same time, globalization is not a single or universal phenomenon. It is nuanced according to locality (local area, nation, world region), language of use, academic cultures and it plays out very differently according to the type of institution. In a networked global environment in which every university is visible to every other and where the weight of the global dimension is increasing, it is no longer possible for nations or for individual higher education institutions to completely seal themselves off from global effects.

            Globalization can also vary according to policy, governance and management. Nations, as well as institutions, have space in which to pilot their own global engagement. But this self-determination operates within limits that constrain some nations and institutions more than others and, in this conditions, complete abstention by national systems of higher education is no longer a strategic choice.

In any consideration of the future of higher education, the international and global aspects must be taken into account. In this era globalization combines economic and cultural change. On the one hand globalization entails the formation of world-wide markets, operating in real time in common financial systems and unprecedented levels of foreign direct investment or cross-border mobility of production. On the other hand, it rests on the first world-wide systems of communications, information, knowledge and culture, tending towards a single world community. Higher education is implicated in all these changes. Education and research are key elements in the formation of the global environment, being fundamental to knowledge, the take-up of technologies, cross-border association and sustaining complex communities. Though higher education institutions often see themselves as objects of globalization they are also its agents[3].

The globalization of higher education institutions is both an opportunity and a challenge that must be dealt with today. Study results indicated that university leaders understand and embrace this point and feel an urgency to deal with it. Those in charge of programs, curricula and initiatives are looking for solutions to the challenges of this phenomenon. The realities of globalization (greater competition, relentless pressures to innovate, new worldwide markets and production options, growing concerns over cultural and environmental degradation) have resulted in a common perception that “knowledge societies,” those that constantly develop new ideas, technologies, methods, products and services are crucial for future prosperity. This has resulted in even greater demands on universities to develop deep rooted entrepreneurial cultures that are international in scope, such that the creation, transfer and use of knowledge is ongoing and evolving. Likewise, the growing competition among universities and other entities that now develop, distribute and market education are compelling academic leaders to seek unique ways to differentiate their own programmes from others’ programmes.

To meet these challenges, institutions of higher education are seeking ways to further connect their faculties, students and outside communities in a strategic infrastructure where ideas flow, new initiatives blossom, flexibility abounds and global reputations expand[4]. Knowledge development and the commercialization of this knowledge in the international context are seen as the primary work of 21st century universities.

Students are central to the success of any university’s attempt to globalize its campus and community and they are also the primary reason why a university should embrace internationalization. If students are to fully assume positions of leadership and responsibility in specific organizations and in society as a whole, then they must be prepared to deal with the global environment that confronts them today and will continue to challenge them in the future. Institutions with outstanding international programmes are those that cultivate an underlying philosophy of providing an international environment and international experience for all their students. This requires a concerted focus on both international students studying on campus and domestic students studying abroad. It also requires dedicated efforts by faculty and administrators to create innovative on-campus courses, programs and events of learning that allow both international and domestic students to interact with one another and to think outside their regional or national “boxes.” It also requires strategic alliances with the outside communities that envelop a university and bring a “real world” dimension to the initiatives and programs undertaken on behalf of students. Most understood that making their students receptive to this view depended on what they offered in the way of globally relevant education and experience opportunities and how they catered to and provided services related to their global education.

Partnerships and alliances are also critical components of international educational development and a global focus. The value of university partnerships (whether they are developed by the university as a whole, or contained within various colleges, schools, departments or programs) with local, regional, national and international communities is well understood by leaders in higher education. Partnerships or alliances can take on many forms including those with other institutions of education, within a framework of a consortium of universities, with a university and its alumni and with a university and various for-profit, non-profit, governmental, non-governmental and other types of organizations. The list of possibilities is truly only limited by a university’s vision and corresponding goals.

Globalization is having significant impact on knowledge formation because it revalues different types of knowledge, particularly the knowledge associated with higher levels of education.

One of the major impacts of globalization on higher education is increased pressure to improve the quality of schooling. This is the result of the increased pressure on economies to be more productive in the face of greater competition. Part of the formula for increasing educational quality pushed by international organizations has been the decentralization of educational administration, including promoting competition in the higher educational sector from private education and through personal choice of schooling for students[5]. There are important political reasons for local control of educational decision-making, but unless there is an even distribution of capacity to manage and deliver education at the local level or among schools, there is a high probability that decentralization would contribute to greater inequality in the quality of schooling. The goals of university-community alliances can vary widely, including enhancing the content and array of educational offerings, recruiting new students and raising funds or developing streams of revenues to support mutual aspirations such as building a shared global reputation as a progressive and engaged community.

Despite the common image of isolated ivory towers, universities have long embraced the world beyond their national horizon[6]. Initially scholars travelled from country to country in search of a student audience. Now students are internationally mobile in search of university degrees and cross-cultural experiences. Yet globalization is a deeper and more profound phenomenon, implying integration into the world economy and extending far beyond economics to include culture and politics. Market forces driven by global competition have reshaped many aspects of higher education as businesses, while rapidly evolving information and communications technologies are obliterating the constraints of space, time and monopoly to enable the emergence of entirely new paradigms for learning. It was noted that nothing provides clearer evidence of global competition in higher education than the recent popularity of worldwide rankings of universities.

Yet, while some economic sectors such as industry have been restructuring their processes and work flows to forms better suited to a globalized world, universities are only at the beginning of their comparable journey. Concerns were raised not only about the ability of universities to adapt to the rapidly changing, highly entrepreneurial and aggressively competitive nature of the global economy, constrained as they are by tradition, culture and campuses, but also about whether in their efforts to adapt - to globalize - universities would leave behind some of their most important roles such as serving as critics of society or sustaining their regional cultures.

It was stressed that in their efforts to globalize, universities should resist the tendency to adopt colonial strategies, in which their outreach activities were primarily designed to attract new resources - students, faculty, fee income - for their home campuses[7]. Instead, they should attempt to be not only responsive but also responsible in their globalization efforts by accepting responsibility for enhancing the development of higher education systems elsewhere along with a broad commitment to enabling sustainable societies in all their facets: environmental, economic and political. Here there was also the caution raised that universities were most effective and constructive when they focused on their traditional roles of education and scholarship within academic communities based upon academic freedom and democratic processes.

Economic and cultural globalization has ushered in a new era in higher education. Cross-border dealings and strategies have become more important than before for all governments and systemic agencies, for all research universities and for some non-research institutions. For the first time in history, every university is part of a single world-wide network and the world leaders in the field have an unprecedented global visibility and power. Higher education is more globalized than before and the mobility of doctoral students and faculty has increased, particularly within the United States Europe. In many nations and regions, especially in Europe and East Asia, governments are focusing on policies designed to concentrate research fire-power and this is likely to aggregate into an upward movement in worldwide investment in university research. Global higher education is more ontologically open than are national systems, with a complex range of opportunities for innovations, alliances and markets. To maximize effectiveness in the global environment, it is essential to retain a strong sense of identity and purpose; on the other hand, it is crucial to be open to and engaged with others. One reason why American higher education is so globally successful is its particular combination of decentralization and centralization. Its institutions are engaged in a multitude of exchanges with institutions throughout the world, maximizing the scope for American initiative and influence, minimizing the capacity of other nations to restrain them by inter-governmental negotiation. But American higher education institutions are more coordinated than it might appear. They share a resilient common culture and a sense of national project, which binds them to each other without much direction. This can also create opportunities in other nations, though restraint of mobility is never a common good. At the same time, to be effective in the global environment, especially in nations without American advantages, means being prepared to change. Global exchange is transformative and all policies and institutional habits are ripe for reconsideration in the light of the global challenge.

Globalization is often annexed to policy shifts. Governments in many nations are wrestling with the question of whether competition at home improves competitiveness abroad and which combination of competition with collaboration will deliver the best results outside the border. But perhaps these dilemmas are ultimately more apparent than real and more in the realm of policy discourses than the policy mechanisms[8]. Though from time to time ideology is comforting, what matters is what works. No doubt some cross-border activities of higher education institutions need to be brought into the domain of national policy, while at the same time systems and institutions with a history of dependence need to become more autonomous, open and proactive to be globally effective. The more difficult question is to devise coherent means of coordinating universities with a sufficiently light touch so as to progress their autonomous global capacities while achieving the common strategic purpose.

Another complication is that the role of national purpose itself is in doubt. Globalization has broken open the old role of government in higher education centred on bounded nation-states. The factors at play are - on one hand - the new public management, including market steering, more plural funding and more autonomous institutions and - on the other hand - the growth of cross-border communications and activities in which institutions deal directly with parties outside the nation. Though institutions continue to be nested in national or local identity and resources, they have been partly disembedded from the national policy context and the potential of global private and public goods has increased. In other words, national government remains a key player in higher education but its negotiating space has become more complex and its reach over higher education is no longer complete. Its functions are shared with many other parties, including other national governments, multilateral agencies and institutions themselves. Future developments in the globalization of higher education are difficult to predict. There are many variables, policy questions and issues. The variables include: the future mobility of people, information and ideas; language of use and the extent of cultural plurality in global exchange; and the future forms of academic labour. The policy questions imply the evolution of multilateralism in higher education, the development of globalization and other forms of regionalism in the sector and the extent to which policy in national and multilateral forums generates tendencies to inclusiveness on the national and global scale, in response to the tendencies to bifurcation and stratification triggered by global developments and national responses. The more immediate issues include the policy handling of university rankings and the evolution of the high priced researcher market.

Responses to globalization are increasingly shaping policies and setting the agenda for the future of higher education. However, there is no single trend or strategy that can be readily identified. As well as different perceptions of globalization and the related challenges there are also different levels (European, national, institutional) at which responses are formulated and implemented. For example, for the European Union as a whole, with the European Commission being a major policy actor, we can distinguish different phases and approaches.

Yet the way in which individual countries respond to these policy initiatives can be quite diverse. This indicates that the current dynamics in higher education are at one and the same time characterized by trends of convergence - aiming for harmonization and divergence - searching for more diversity. In understanding this, the distinctions between different levels of education (undergraduate and graduate/research) and the different types of diversity (institutional and programmatic) are important. Ironically perhaps, both kinds of trend – convergence and diversification – has been instigated in order to enhance competitiveness in the global context. Higher participation rates among a larger number of domestic students, fostered by diversity of provision, are seen to enhance the potential of each country as a knowledge economy. Allowing more cross-border mobility and attracting more students from other regions, objectives fostered by harmonization and convergence are seen to enhance the performance of the world’s knowledge economy as a whole. At the same time, this raises questions about the further direction of the process of globalization in higher education. Given that multi-level actions and interactions are involved, these questions are not easy to answer, and future directions are not easy to predict.

National policies often demonstrate combinations of the various strategic options. For example, measures to make national research funding more competitive may be combined with policies that urge higher education institutions to cooperate more closely within the national context. This illustrates how complex is the environment for universities - in terms of partners, competitors and strategic options. Clearly, successful strategies depend on the right mix of competitive and cooperative options. It is a major challenge for governments to design such strategies in an effective and coherent way, conscious of the fact that in doing so they define to a large extent the globalization opportunities for higher education institutions. At the same time, governments may work in the context of wider multilateral agreements that are designed to provide distinct frameworks for competition or cooperation.

Serious challenges remain to be addressed, however. Besides the complexity of parallel trends of convergence and divergence, conceptual and political confusion continues to exist over strategies for cooperation and competition. From the conceptual point of view, major efforts need to be made to better understand the dynamics of higher education systems in the light of global competition.


1.      Carnoy, Martin – Globalization, Educational Trends and the Open Society, Stanford University, 2006

2.      Hirsch, Werner Z., Weber, Luc E. – Challenges Facing the Higher Education at the Millennium, American Council of Education, Oryx Press Series, Pheonix, 1999

3.      Marginson, Simon and  Marijk van der Wende – Globalization and Higher Education, OECD Education Working Paper No.8, 2007

4.      Robertson, R. – Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture, Sage Publications, London, 1992

5.      Weber, Luc E., Duderstadt, James J. – The Globalization of  Higher Education, Economica, Glion Colloquium Series, No.5, London, Paris and Geneva, 2008

6.      Wood, Van R. – Globalization and Higher Education: Eight Common Perceptions From University Leaders, IIE Networker (Institute of International Education), New York, 2006

7.      UNESCO - Human Development Report 2007/2008



[1] Wood, Van R. – “Globalization and Higher Education: Eight Common Perceptions From University Leaders”,   IIE Networker, New York, 2006

[2] Marginson, Simon and  Marijk van der Wende – “Globalization and Higher Education”, OECD Education Working Paper No.8, 2007

[3] Marginson, Simon and  Marijk van der Wende – “Globalization and Higher Education”, OECD Education Working Paper No.8, 2007

[4] Robertson, R. – “Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture”, Sage Publications, London, 1992

[5] Carnoy, Martin – Globalization, Educational Trends and the Open Society”, Stanford University, 2006

[6] Weber, Luc E., Duderstadt, James J. – “The Globalization of  Higher Education”, Economica, Glion Colloquium Series, No.5, London, Paris and Geneva, 2008

[7] Weber, Luc E., Duderstadt, James J. – “The Globalization of  Higher Education”, Economica, Glion Colloquium Series, No.5, London, Paris and Geneva, 2008

[8] Carnoy, Martin – Globalization, Educational Trends and the Open Society”, Stanford University, 2006



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