Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Brazil - Intellectual and ideological exchange

Many institutions of higher education have advocated that cultivation of the intellect establishes a critical foundation for citizenship. Brazil serves as an important reminder that intellectual and ideological exchange is central to any society and Marcelo Knobel reinforces this idea in his essay, "In defense of academic freedom and Autonomy in Brazil."

Knobel writes, "It is important to emphasize that respectful coexistence is an indispensable condition for universities to fulfill their mission of generating knowledge and training citizens in diverse areas. Infusing the academic environment with anti-democratic and hostile attitudes compromises not only the institution's primary mission, but its relationship with society, which is ultimately the main guarantor of its activities."

Writing in a very real context where abridgment of intellectual inquiry may have been at risk, Knobel reminds educators world-wide of the importance of our work and the mutual dependence of government and university leaders. Brazil is only one example where intellectual and ideological exchange has become difficult; Knobel's transparency and advice may help those struggling in many places around the world.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Internationalist - you bet!

I'm an internationalist and proud of it. In an era of fear-mongering among cultures and nations, closing borders, and vilification of those who are different, it's important to own who I have become and to proclaim it now and every day that lies ahead.

Why the proclamation today? It's the end of the 2018 International Education Week observance on many campuses - a week filled with activities, lectures, and events to reinforce the value of internationalism on campus. It's great to have this week but having one week dedicated to internationalism is no longer sufficient - building bridges and striving for mutual international benefit must become a daily commitment.

As a youth growing up in the 1960s I had no passport. I fantasized about international travel, but never really saw any kind of global connection as possible or important. My passport was first issued in 2005 when I taught a course and did research in Europe for a semester. That short-term experience led to my accepting an appointment to work abroad in Qatar from 2007-14, an experience that would forever change who I am. I've changed in many ways. Every human encounter I now have begins with the question of "how might culture impact our ability to relate to one another?" My inclination to believe that my culture and national origin are superior to others has vanished - I now see value in my own as well as many others. I anticipate kindness, openness, and help from others rather than fearing encounters with people who look different or speak a different language than I do. I seek ways to foster mutual benefit - among individuals, groups, organizations, cultures, and countries.

I recently coedited a book with one of the most able internationalists I know - Dr. Darbi Roberts. This book, Cultivating Students' Capacity for International Leadership, is short and focused on the essentials that leadership educators must consider if they are to serve their students well. Serving well means positioning internationalization as a challenge but also as a promising reality that, when embraced, will create a better world.

I'm an internationalist today and every day. As this 2018 International Education Week comes to a close, I hope many more will adopt a view that invites international questions and concerns into the activities and considerations of every day - not just one week.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Academic restraint v. innovation

Reports of Communist Party influence in higher education in China have been increasing and some academics believe that they have reached an alarming level. Changes are evident in placement of Communist Part officials in important managerial roles and in targeting of U.S. and European academics whose research and writing is critical of China. Faculty in the Kean University in China branch campus have been moved from the university's payroll to direct employees of the government, a move that has raised concerns among the Kean Federation of Teachers.

The implications of these modifications were captured by Christopher Balding, a U.S. academic who lost his position at Peking University, when he opined "Academic freedom in China is clearly on the retreat... I have been told of other universities where the party has taken significantly more control and taken action against foreign or Chinese academics. The idea that the party is not pre-eminent in the management of a university is just false."

If the pattern of restraint is broad and persists, China's desire to compete at an international level is likely to falter. Specific to artificial intelligence (AI), Joshua Kim's review of AI Superpowers (Kai-Fu Lee, 2018) warns, "I was surprised that Lee seems untroubled by China's political system. Lee points out that China can mobilize large-scale investments in new technologies. What he fails to mention is the brittleness of a society that lacks basic individual freedoms of expression and dissent."

Intellectual freedom is essential to innovation. Although China is rising in influence due to the sheer proportion of its economy, U.S. ingenuity based on freedom and entrepreneurship may allow the U.S. to stay at the leading edge of AI and other critical future innovations.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Student mobility updates

The latest figures from the Open Doors Report indicate that the number of international students enrolled in U.S. institutions has declined again. Chinese students still comprise the largest number with a slight increase but other countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea fell.

The implications of shifting international student enrollment has sparked a first - the University of Illinois has taken out an insurance policy against the risk of a decline in its Chinese student numbers. That says a lot about how much international students, and those specifically from China, impact the budgets of U.S. universities.

As international student numbers in the U.S. fall, the number of U.S. students going abroad is increasing. Studying abroad is now recognized by some students as a necessity rather than a educational luxury - this reinforces the need for institutions to make studying abroad achievable for all students, not just the privileged.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Less than desirable partners

Numerous U.S. and European universities have significant relationships with Saudi Arabia. Whether it's hosting fully funded Saudi students, partnerships/exchanges, or outright gifts, what's not to like?

The current crises over freedom of speech and the assassination of prominent journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, has spurred institution leaders to contemplate whether or not to retain these lucrative arrangements. However, it's not all about money. Liz Reisberg reflects on the myriad factors that would weigh in favor of modifying or canceling agreements with Saudi Arabia. However, Reisberg's perspective should be weighed with the understanding that she, herself, has worked as a consultant to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education. Reisberg focused on reducing or cancelling arms sales and economic investment while leaving the door open for educational partnerships by saying, "...it is not possible for any country to withdraw entirely from our unavoidably globalized world. If we cancel academic engagement with a country, then we cede international interaction to economic, political and military interest. If there is any hope for mutual understanding, the protection of human rights, sustainable development and more evidence-based policy, I don't think it will happen without the participation of scholars and universities."

The balance advocated by Reisberg is complicated and challenging to maintain. In a subsequent statement, Reisberg noted that institutional internationalization policies should be in place so that spokespeople are not left adrift in a PR crisis such as occurred at Harvard and MIT when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia visited them. Ultimately, such a policy should include balancing the level of atrocity a university and its leaders can accept with the potential positive outcomes of maintaining a relationship that could make a difference in the longer term. The greatest complication with Saudi Arabia is that it has so many relationships with often prestigious universities and these relationships involve a great deal of money. Students at MIT, one of the institutions that has benefitted most, are increasingly urging the university to sever ties with Saudi Arabia, indicating that the reputation of the university could be irreparably tarnished if MIT continues to engage under the current cloud of concerns. The chief internationalization officer at MIT recommended that the relationship be maintained with Saudi Arabian educators and researchers, although protests from faculty and students continued. The rationale offered by Richard Lester was that, "We're not going to cut and run from these people even despite the atrocious actions that have been taken by the leadership of the country." As a result of the controversy, MIT's President Reif commissioned a study of how to move forward. The commission recommendations encouraged closer scrutiny which President Reif reiterated in commenting, "There are many progressive people that we want to engage with because it's helping the country, and how do we distinguish helping the people who want to help the country versus helping the regime?" Ultimately, MIT announced that it will more carefully scrutinize international "elevated risk" projects in which it is involved; China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia are specifically identified.

Saudi Arabia isn't the only Middle Eastern country where links between U.S. and European universities may be suspect. Reports of academics in the UAE being charged for crimes related to their research or publications have also emerged. Although Mathew Hedges was ultimately pardoned, his case was troubling for the lack of apparent due process as well as very harsh sentence. The UAE has been less visible than Saudi Arabia but the conditions there may be deteriorating; this may pose risks for fieldwork and other research that is potentially political in its orientation.

When is a "branch" campus not a branch?

RMIT of Melbourne, Australia, has "branch" campuses in Viet Nam that faculty say aren't even close to what is provided in Australia. This is compelling evidence that a bate and switch has taken place, producing revenue to the main campus but without sufficient commitment to comparability of the experience for students, faculty and staff. If the financial model doesn't allow for students at all campuses to have a similar experience, then the satellites are not branches.