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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].


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].

[4]. Knowledge development and the commercialization of this knowledge in the international context are seen as the primary work of 21st century universities.

[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.

[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.

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.

[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.

[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 andMarijk 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 ofHigher 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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