Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Where are the brains?

In an introductory piece to be followed with greater detail, Karen Costa, appeals for educators to more deeply explore the question of how brain functioning impacts learning. This piece is more of an enticement to read subsequent pieces Costa will offer. She starts by saying that concepts of learning style and multiple intelligences are different, with multiple intelligences supported with stronger research. Then she goes on to advocate that, if educators really want to get serious about learning, they need to focus on how the brain functions, informed by the work of John Medina in Brain Rules, and particularly to bring these rules "to the center of our conversations on teaching, learning, and student success in higher education."

Friday, June 24, 2016

THE Asia Universities Summit - Nurturing Creativity and Innovation

The Times Higher Education Asia Universities Summit held June 19-21 at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology focused on how universities can nurture creativity and innovation. The website and the video that can be found on it does not provide much detail; what is there reflects a focus on rankings and attention to the role of research in fostering creativity. One can only hope that, considering the diversity and elite brand of many of the universities that attended, there was conversation about the need to adapt practices across borders, examination of teaching/learning pedagogy in stimulating creativity, and that students' and faculty members' holistic experience both in and out of class was addressed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

UK votes to exit EU

The decision is in - the UK will leave the EU. By a narrow margin of votes, the citizens have determined that leaving the EU serves their interests more than staying. Higher education officials offered several statements accepting the exit vote and promising to seek ways to preserve the opportunities for student mobility and research partnerships, even though the UK will no longer be an official EU member. Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK, announced, "Although this is not an outcomes that we wished or campaigned for, we respect the decision of the U.K. electorate. We should remember that leaving the E.U. will not happen overnight - there will be a gradual exit process with significant opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy."

Leading up to the Brexit vote, higher education officials in the U.K. actively campaigned to stay affiliated with the E.U. Their rational was that colleges and universities around the world are interdependent - changes in one country impact the flow of students, faculty, research, and knowledge creation in many others. Projections were that the proposal to exit the EU could profoundly impact the higher education sector in the UK, resulting in shifting opportunities and alliances in other countries.

Now that the UK has voted to exit the EU, one of the first things that will happen is that financial assistance to UK universities will decline. Fees to non-UK students will probably increase, which could result in international students choosing other countries. Dropping student numbers will result in a loss of revenue but more importantly, it could undermine the inflow of talent that higher education brings through hosting students on international study. The U.S.A. may benefit from an exodus of scholars and students who leave the UK but the world economy may destabilize as the European economy triggers economic decline in places farther afield?

A perspective by Elizabeth Redden predicted that the implications of the UK vote were anything but clear. A quote from Menon of the "UK in a changing world initiative" suggested less impact than many predict - "Some of the best scientists in the E.U. are based in Britain; why would they not want to work with us?" Menon stressed that the ultimate outcome is dependent on negotiations and now those negotiations will begin.

Students overwhelming opposed the Brexit proposal: Megan Dunn, President of the UK student union said, "We have urgent questions about how the vote to leave will affect students, particularly E.U. students in the U.K. and U.K. students studying in the E.U., and call on the government to offer clear assurances to them about their situation." UK higher education officials have attempted to reassure international students studying in the country, including statements that E.U. students from outside the U.K. will retain their financial packages through to the completion of their degrees. Indeed, Eric Stoller's article brought into full relief that those with higher levels of education in the U.K. strongly opposed the Brexit proposal. The pattern of fear of globalization and shrinking to nationalistic isolation is clearly evident in the U.K. as it is presently in the U.S.A.

One of the other complicating factors in the Brexit debate and vote was the growing sense that "experts" spun a perspective that maintained the status quo. An increasing number of Brits don't trust academics' take on issues like the economic and political welfare of the country. Inequality and imbalances in influence may be at the core of the mistrust - "rising inequality provides a background to collapsing trust in many sources of authority, not just academic expertise... If many people think that the system is not delivering for them, they are unlikely to think very much of the people in charge" opined Paul Whitely, a professor at Essex University.

Required course - history and contemporary issues in higher education

There is little dispute that higher education world-wide is undergoing significant change. The contested ground is what to do about it and the "conversations" at individual colleges and universities often become a litany of appeals for niched special interests. How could higher education begin to have higher quality and better informed conversations? Perhaps devising ways for all those who aspire to a teaching, administrative, or other roles in higher education to understand the place where they work would help.

David Thiele, author of "The citizenship we're not talking about," proposes that a course in higher education for faculty and administrators is as essential as the core courses we presume to be central to undergraduates' introduction to the collegiate experience. At the core of this is some kind of socialization to the complexity of higher education designed to reduce the ignorance of the challenges we face. As Theile indicates, "Armed with a knowledge of the higher education landscape and a brass-tacks understanding of how colleges and universities operate, those who don't land a tenure-track job will have a leg up in the growth industry of higher education administration while those who land a tenure-track position will be equipped to help their institutions navigate reform."

Particularly when it comes to the emerging international centers for higher education, leaders, policy-makers and funders should take note that one of the things that has been essential to college/university success in countries like the U.S.A. is some form of shared governance. If one assumes the need to cultivate shared governance in faculty and administrators it is important to devise a strategy that undermines "the counterproductive mind-sets that a broader knowledge of higher education is bound to ameliorate. Chief among these are exceptionalism, defensiveness, recalcitrance, misplaced suspicion and fatalism." There needs to be an antidote to these maladies; an introductory course on higher education might be a good start.

Responses to Thiele's article generally reinforce the merit of a course to more deeply inform faculty and administrators of the dynamics of the higher education environment.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Can international higher education partnerships be rebalanced?

A persistent problem during this period of higher education expansion around the world is partners in the North dominating or exploiting the South. The problem is one of imbalance of power that allows the matured higher education systems of the North to control and direct what are described as "partnerships" but resemble little of what one would think of in relation to sharing, mutuality, and benefit. Some countries and higher education institutions are attempting to shift the grounds of partnerships by giving more responsibility to the partner in the South. Norway is one country that has flipped the tables to extend the life of projects as well as encourage "Southern institutions to lead and manage joint international projects" and hold more of the resources and expenditures involved with the partnership.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Is perfect the enemy of the good in international partnerships?

Simone Sorento, a professor of modern languages at a Brazilian university, commented, "I think as developing countries, we have a lot going on in terms of research, so perhaps we should be looked at as partners, important partners, and not only as markets." Sigbolt Noorda, former President of the University of Amsterdam and now president of Magna Charta Observatory, reinforced the point when he said, "...negotiating partnership implies defining what you find acceptable and what not, how far you are will to go along, where you draw a line. One cannot simply dictate conditions, and engaging in international collaborations implies being prepared to take one's partner seriously, including their values and culture and their priorities and the social system they are part of."

These statements (made at the Scholars at Risk network meeting in Montreal) by higher education leaders in South America and Europe capture the core of international partnerships - respect and mutuality. Values are at the core of cross-border work, thus requiring careful consideration and determination of common ground. Seeking that common ground may not look like a specific "partner's" perspective; as Jonathan Becker of Bard College says, "We don't want to compromise our core values or, worse, be a stooge for an authoritarian regime. On the other hand, we don't want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

The biggest question is, as mutual partnership are sought, how can the disparate values be sorted out honestly so that the good of higher education can spread around the world?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Scholars at Risk meeting explores issues of academic freedom

The biennial meeting of Scholars at Risk in Montreal, Canada, has been exploring the implications for faculty and students around the world of political targeting associated with academic work. The theme of their conference, "Universities in a dangerous world: Defending higher education communities and values," has brought attention to several cases around the world where faculty have been threatened or imprisoned for their work. Scholars at Risk, based out of New York University, "arranges for temporary academic positions for threatened academics, monitors academic freedom violations globally and campaigns on behalf of wrongfully persecuted scholars."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

International applications for U.S. grad schools holding steady

The Council of Graduate Schools released figures that indicated a small downturn in the number of international students applying for graduate admission in U.S. institutions. CGS indicated that the figures may not project the real picture but did warn that U.S. institutions need to diversify beyond students from China and India who made up 69.5% of international graduate student applicants in the current year.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Higher academic cheating among international students in U.S.

The Wall Street Journal's article on "Foreign Students Seen Cheating More than Domestic Ones" (download requires purchase) reported that international students are five times as likely to cheat based on review of over a dozen universities' records. Coming from a respected journal that appeals to business interests, the issue of U.S. institutions enhancing their budgets by admitting larger and larger numbers of international students is only briefly noted. Complaints about the level of cheating were registered by some international students and several faculty who describe the typical profile of a cheater as a student with poor English skills who cheats out of desperation in completing assignments.

What kind of services are universities providing when students do not meet the prescribed standards for admission? What commitment is there to help international students be successful, especially knowing how much rides on their success in obtaining a university degree?

Profit is being made - by institutions and by agents who are involved in more than a third of the placements of international students in U.S. universities. Unfortunately, one agent was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article as saying that international students being charged with cheating was a business opportunity. A Pittsburgh-based consultant for WholeRen Education who helps place Chinese students in the U.S. when they are at risk of losing their study visa was quoted, "We have to act very, very quickly." "When we get a call, we are counting by the hour." The Journal went on to indicate that in one example of a Chinese student selling test answers to classmates, WholeRent Education was successful in placing the students involved in a U.S. community college for a year and a half and then secured readmission to the university where they had been dismissed.

In a move designed to discourage cheating among Chinese students within China, a new law will punish students who cheat on the all-important gaokao test for admission to higher education with imprisonment for 3 years in minor cases and up to seven years for more serious violations.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

International recruitment agents expanding, regardless of concerns

The use of agents to recruit students from other countries to attend U.S. colleges and universities continues to expand, despite concerns raised about the possibilities of fraud and the potential for international students to be exploited by agents. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. institutions use agents, although using agents to recruit domestic students is prohibited. Beyond the potential for fraud that can occur when agents position international students for admission to their preferred institutions, agents who receive commissions for placing them could be inclined to encourage enrollment in institutions at least partially for their own financial gain.

In a follow-up article by Hans de Wit, recruiting agents are portrayed as victimizing those they are supposed to serve. He says, "Universities and students are both actors and victims of this development, in particular institutions that are not highly ranked and less-competitive and less-sophisticated international students. What is the solution? It would be in the interest of governments, universities and students if the participation of commercial recruiters, for-profit pathway providers and other intermediate businesses would be stopped."

Reuters released a report on the potential ethical conflicts encountered when "special relationships" are perceived or claimed in recruiting Chinese students. The report offered examples of travel and honoraria that are sometimes offered to admissions officers to come to China. These arrangements are not uncommon within the U.S. and would not necessarily be problematic in other countries except in cases where participating gave the impression that the counselor had "a specific relationship with whoever's sponsoring this travel and that can be used to ensure a student gains admission. If the facts are as reported, you've got Dipont implying that a student got into college precisely because of their specific relations."

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Expanding access and impact of study abroad

Study abroad has long been a privilege that higher income students could afford. The U.S. Department of State Gilman International Scholarship program opened the doors to students who by Pell Grant qualification standards qualified for financial assistance. A survey of 2002-3 and 2009-10 recipients of international study/internship aid recipients indicated substantial impact. Outcomes for Gilman International Scholarship students include follow-up experiences such as additional study abroad or international research and change in major and career choices to include more international focus. One of the most impressive findings was that Gilman scholarship recipients use their grants to study in broader geographic areas than other U.S. students who study abroad and these experiences served as a catalyst for Gilman scholarship recipients to consider working abroad (73%) or becoming involved in a cross-cultural or international field (67%).

A complementary article about Generation Study Abroad described what is happening at the university and college level to increase the number and broaden the socioeconomic representation of students who travel and study abroad. The focus on expanding study abroad impact is important for a variety of political and economic reasons. Politically, the breadth of culture represented in U.S. institutions should be reflected in the "ambassadors" who go abroad to study. Economically, employers want graduates to be aware of and skilled in their interactions with people from other cultures and nations.