Friday, July 30, 2021

China losing its luster?

Part of China's rise to world prominence relies on improving the quality and availability of higher education. Questions is, will governmental policy and responsiveness get in the way of China's push to offer better higher education to its citizens? China relies on Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan as destinations for some of its students and relies on international partners in other programs.

Greater intervention and control in Hong Kong by Chinese governmental authorities has been noticed by university scholars. Scholars who have been outspoken critics of China's security law are leaving for academic posts elsewhere. Those who are staying are learning to negotiate the ever-changing landscape of Chinese governmental policy and some have adopted more subtle ways of criticizing China. The concern is that academic and personal freedom are being compromised either directly by threat or reality of Chinese official intervention or by the self-imposed regulation that academics observe in order to stay out of trouble. Symbolic acts such as the University of Hong Kong's removal of the Tianamen Square memorial visibly reinforce increased political intervention.

Harvard University's study abroad program is moving from Beijing to Taiwan. The Director of the Harvard Beijing Academy, Jennifer Liu, attributed the move to difficulty in accessing classrooms and dorms while other Harvard officials said that the move would simply provide a different opportunity to its students. Logistical problems can usually be overcome if cooperating institutions are committed to partnership. The move to Taiwan not only exacerbates China's concern about Taiwan's independence but takes away a prestigious academic pairing. Taiwan's creation of alternatives to China's Confucius Institutes for Mandarin language development is likely to rile mainland China even further but it will also increase Taiwan's prominence as an educational player in Asia.

Concern over tracking of contact between scholars trained in, and some working (and naturalized U.S.A. citizens) for, U.S.A. institutions and academics in China may be undermining important international partnerships that have previously benefitted both China and the U.S.A. Whether of Chinese background or not, and as one non-Asian professor commented, "The atmosphere in the U.S. [is] making collaboration with China complex and somewhat risky, so many U.S.-based researchers now avoid it to avoid the hassle."

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hoping that inertia is not creeping back into higher education

The surprisingly positive recent report of college business officers (CBOs) raises a thorny issue - is inertia creeping back into higher education's consciousness? During the pandemic and the incredible changes it forced on colleges and universities, many said that a transformation of higher education was underway or on the horizon. Thirty-one percent of CBOs now say that "Return to normal" is what they expect for their institutions in the coming year.

The "return to normal" perspective may be the result of good work within institutions, while some credit the Biden administration for helpful intervention. A return to normal may also reflect the optimism that many institution leaders will want to model as students return to campuses across the U.S.A. By contrast to "return to normal," 39% of CBOs replied that the pandemic would usher in a period of transformational change that would allow them to prepare for a more sustainable future. I'm with the 39% and hope that this proportion increases as the reality of the 2021-22 year unfolds.

The trap of "returning to normal" could thwart the positive innovations that came from the pandemic. The idea that virtual work or study are lesser and undesirable alternatives to in-person have been challenged and will not doubt change the way educators work and students study. The return to the "tyranny of the present" could undermine the reflective spaces that allows higher education to make the changes that pandemic evidence indicated are necessary and beneficial.

Somewhat countering the optimism of business officers, trends hitting higher education include declining enrollment, increases in on-line learning, and employers turning to alternative credentialing. The meeting of the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE 2021) included discussion of education and planning among faculty, staff, leadership, and trustees that would address; retention, academic program revision, planned downsizing, and mergers. The trends institutions face are due warning that higher education in the foreseeable future must adopt a dynamic state of change as demographics and educational desires/needs shift. Unfortunately, five commonly held and highly protected factors stand in the way of change; tenure, shared governance, community and tradition, financial models, and oversight.

The report of business officers' views included other evidence that supports transformational change. Ninety-six percent of CBOs agreed or strongly agreed that the pandemic forced their institutions to think out of the box and 78% said that positive, long-lasting changes have been implemented. With 93% indicating that their institutions will keep some of the pandemic accommodations, and 68% saying that their their institutions have the right mind-set and 62% indicating they have the right tools and processes, it appears that higher education business leaders see the post-pandemic era as holding great potential for improvements in higher education.

One of the keys to success will be the ability of institutions to strategize in the face of uncertainty. Welcoming uncertainty and using it to devise new futures has been demonstrated by successful organizations outside higher education. Blurring the boundaries of secondary and higher education is one proposal that defines a very different future for some institutions. Incorporating intergenerational deliberation about critical global issues that must be addressed is another. Tensions over what is taught - whether it is critically informed perspectives that advocate greater diversity, equity, and inclusion or encouraging students to celebrate advances of the modern era - will be one of the more interesting issues to negotiate. These issues, plus finding ways to incentivize change, should be part of a fixing the Business Model for higher education.

It's difficult to be accurate in predicting the future of higher education, in the U.S.A. as well as around the world. These four issues are likely to be in the mix: economic impact of declining numbers, competition within higher education, affordability, and equity in access. Patrick Sanaghan, a consultant to reportedly hundreds of higher education organizations, interviewed 12 university presidents who made courageous and difficult decisions. The collective advice Sanaghan discerned included; don't walk alone, rely on your values, take care of yourself, look to your heritage,  and build in reflection time.

Inertia would not be a good strategy for any institutions in today's environment with authors like Arthur Levine calling for a Brave New World for higher education. However, innovation doesn't always mean improvement. Careful consideration should concentrate on core issues that will move the needle towards improved provision of learning and development opportunities including; expand experiential learning, strengthen instructor support, develop interactive courseware, and prioritize equity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Renewed U.S. commitment to international education!

It couldn't have come at a better time, with fewer international students having chosen the U.S.A, coupled with continued decline of U.S.A. prominence as a destination of choice for international students. After four years of disastrous targeting by the Trump administration, international education may be poised for a come back. The U.S. Department of Education and Department of State issued a joint statement that may usher in a period of federal coordination of international initiatives, potentially returning U.S. higher education to magnet status for talented young people from all over the world.

The joint statement is also supported by the Department of Commerce and Homeland Security, a signal that there will be a purposeful and coordinated approach rather than hit and miss efforts coming only from the higher education sector. Secretary of State Blinkin said that the statement, "underscores our commitment to working across our government and with partners in higher education, the private sector, civil society and other sectors to keep promoting international education in the United States,..." potentially resulting in international student numbers exceeding pre-pandemic levels in American institutions.

Unfortunately, the early evidence reported in Reuters indicated that visa processing was not keeping pace with international student applications, an issue that requires quick resolution. To help on a concomitant issue, the American Council on Education proposed easing restrictions on COVID vaccination for visiting students and scholars coming from countries where vaccination is not readily available.

Fortunately, the decline in international students coming to the U.S.A. and the almost complete undoing of U.S.A. students studying abroad has begun to recover. The most recent reports include 15% decline in international enrollment in 2020-21 but hope for recovery from Trump-era hostility and the impact of the pandemic. The Biden administration announced new actions in January 2022 to attract and retain international students and researchers in STEM subjects. The move included 22 fields of study where optional practice training will be expanded from the typical 1 year to 3 years. Maintaining high numbers of international students in the future will be challenging as their countries of origin shift from China to other countries.

The THRIVE looked as if it might prevent paid recruiting in existing or proposed programs in which veterans might participate. However, lobbying to modify the proposed veterans' education law, concluded with the Senate approving the continued use of agents in international student recruiting, a practice used by many U.S.A. institutions.

One of the tensions of hosting international students is what they study. The latest report on graduate international enrollment highlights their preference for STEM subjects. Some fear the dominance of internationals in these programs, resulting in the export of critical scientific knowledge. However, the report acknowledges that many U.S. graduate programs would be damaged, or even have to close, if international graduate students weren't enrolled in them. Another tension was expressed by an international student of law at Stanford who warns those who interact with international students to stop asking, "when will you go back home?" At issue is the complexity of many international students' lives in the face of the pandemic and other economic and political strife that results in some not knowing when, or if, they will ever "return home."

Equity and inclusion has been a barrier for many in the past. To the credit of those who drafted the statement, it includes a commitment to "encourage U.S. students, researchers, scholars and educators who reflect the diversity of the U.S. population to pursue overseas study, internships, research and other international experiences." The Institute for International Education offered grants to 40 institutions to cover the cost of passport processing to resolve this one financial barrier. Some believe that in-person exchanges can also be supplemented by virtual exchanges, which expanded during the pandemic due to restricted travel around the world. Results of a Stevens Initiative survey concluded that a breadth of strategies were included under virtual exchange (including intercultural dialogue and peace building; science, technology, engineering or mathematics; and global or international affairs). These were found to vary in quality and impact.

Forbes included recommendations on how to expand students' global engagement "by leveraging data to understand students in a much deeper way than ever before. With this approach, they will be well positioned to deliver personalized, enriching cultural experiences for every student from their first interactions through graduation and beyond." The recommendations are very consistent with previous recommendations for comprehensive internationalization but, that Forbes as a business journal would run the article, is indicative of the priority placed on international education among for-profit business.

The United Kingdom is seeing a decline in the enrollment of international students, which is being attributed to both Brexit and the pandemic. UK institutions have drawn a portion of their students from other EU countries and students from the EU now pay higher tuition rates at UK institutions. The decline in international students has resulted in more homogenous student bodies in regard to both passport country as well as socio-economic background.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Transforming U.S.A. Higher Education in the 21st Century

I haven't read it yet but Joshua Kim of Inside Higher Education offers considerable praise for American Higher Education in the 21st Century, by editors Bastedo, Altbach, and Gumport. Kim expressed struggling with the depth reflected in the 17 chapters but found the audio book more manageable. A core assumption of the book is that higher education in the U.S.A. is an "ecosystem in transition," one that is moving very quickly and, yet, not fast enough. The authors of the various chapters were characterized as progressive in their views, maintaining the belief in the transformational contribution of education, and from diverse backgrounds that moved beyond known names.

The warning that higher education is not moving fast enough is not new. Many believe that higher education is slow to consider alternatives to its present or change in the long run. The new center at the University of Oregon may provide a small window in what is required for organizations to thrive. Its Center for Institutional Courage will sponsor research that focuses on "an institution's commitment to seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term cost... a pledge to protect and care for those who depend on the institution." Two specific examples cited in the article describing the Center are protecting whistle blowers and acknowledging wrongdoing. With reputation and "spin" so prominent in the life of influential organizations such as colleges and universities, centering truth and moral action may be a great place to start.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Pandemic-influenced Higher Education trends

My posts have shifted from individual, short, items to integrative posts on themes related to higher education. I've done this to assist readers as they attempt to integrate various reports they read.

This post is another attempt to draw issues together in ways that are digestible and usable. The following are themes drawn from my previous posts over the last year. They are at the highest level of generalization but may be useful for readers attempting to make sense of all the things that have impacted higher education over the last pandemic-influenced year.

Higher education in transition - COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace and nature of transformation but the need for change has been present for some time. Changes that are underway:

  •       Enrollment decline and shifts to elite and high visibility institutions
  •       Budget reductions and refocus
  •       Number of full-time faculty declining with fewer granted tenure
  •       Increasing role for on-line and hybrid learning
  •       Reprioritization of universities to address historic unequal access and the need to prepare for the workplace
  •       Increasing view of college/university degrees as a commodity to acquire
  •       The value of higher education is increasingly questioned by students and those who are politically conservative
Commitments that will help higher education in its transition:

  •       Nurture a “Generation Resilient” view that faces the reality of today’s world while restoring hope for what lies ahead
  •       Support on-time graduation and/or continuing enrollment goals for students
  •       Anticipate new and more intense student needs
  •       Focus on wholistic wellbeing that helps students thrive now and in preparing for the future
  •       Students from diverse backgrounds (including first-generation) warrant greater attention
  •       Enliven students’ openness to diversity, equity, and inclusion and move further toward radical empathy
  •       Acknowledge the shortcomings of higher education in conveying the full history of the U.S. and other countries around the world, including the origins and perpetuation of wealth inequality
  •       Endorse broad international frameworks (e.g. UN Sustainable Development goals) that reinforce education’s role
  •       Enhance the commitment to open exchange of ideas and foster respectful dialogue across political factions
  •       Validate experiences of varying types (e.g. on and off campus, work, research) as part of learning
  •       Resist the silos that have become so endemic and resistant to shared vision and work
Challenges that student affairs educators face:

  •       Students are increasingly experiencing financial, mental health, and courseload pressures
  •       Many students are unaware of, or do not utilize, student affairs offices and services, turning to peers and faculty as an alternative
  •       Marginalized students have less trust for colleges/universities, their purposes/programs, and faculty/staff
  •       The “hidden curriculum” (i.e. extracurriculum/cocurriculum) is poorly understood, especially among first-generation and other marginalized students
  •       Embracing a post-pandemic world requires reexamining assumptions, greater flexibility, and constant adaptability
  •       Restoring critical thinking and reasoning as a central construct of academic life, positioning students for more effective career and civic engagement

Monday, July 12, 2021

Labor(ing) in higher education

The largest portion of all college and university budgets is personnel. Increasing college access in the U.S.A., accompanied by expansion of faculty and staff numbers, came with the entry of "baby-boomers" into higher education in the 1960s. This expanding enrollment generated enough revenue to cover the increased costs but when enrollment flattened and public support for funding declined, the costs began to outpace the ability of institutions to cover these costs.

The increased complexity and commodification of higher education requires a response - one that involves all those who work in higher education, students, families, employers, and communities. The first "Higher Ed Labor Summit" brought labor representatives together representing 75 labor organizations representing approximately 300,000 members to draft a platform that envisions "institutions of higher education that prioritize people and the common good over profit and prestige." The focus of the platform advocates a federal effort to address accessibility, permit more union participation, and guarantee shared governance. The AAUP issued a report that reinforced the threat to faculty related to participation in governance. Views of faculty participation vary over time but the swing away from broader types of involvement by faculty, most notably in areas such as facilities and budget, have declined.

Turning the problem of accessibility and sustainable financing over to those representing the largest portion of the budget seems naive, although the principle of collective thinking and organization participation is commonly seen as the pathway to improvement. The question is how do you broadly inform all those who work in higher education about the intricacies and challenges of funding and then engage them in true creative thinking about alternatives?

There are many floating pieces to the puzzle of higher education planning and finance. Some of them are:

Each of these involves challenging the dysfunction of structures and roles of higher education personnel, including challenging the merit of academic disciplinary focus as well as job-specific vested interests. As the world reemerges from the pandemic of 2020-21, most sectors are being forced to rethink work, workers, and delivery of the products of their industry. In the higher education example, how labor and laboring in higher education is viewed and reconfigured has to be undertaken in at least as innovative a way as those in health, government, services, and other sectors.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Predatory publishing

As a lifetime academic who was a first-generation student in the late 1960s era in U.S.A. higher education, I didn't have a clue about how faculty researched, wrote, and got published. In retrospect, even as I drove more deeply into an academic career, obtaining masters and Ph.D. degrees, I had no one to help me understand how to develop a research agenda, build support through dutiful graduate students who would advance my work, and publish in ways that brought citations and therefore reputational advantage to my ideas. Nevertheless, over 40+ years, I made a modest contribution to the literature of student affairs, leadership studies, and higher education internationalization but could I have had more impact?

My own background reflects naiveté that may be similar, but different in other ways, to graduate students who strive to get published today. Australia has now recognized the predatory practices of publishers who solicit unknowing young scholars to publish in their journals, some for a fee. Australia's strategy is to limit recognition of published works based on quality thresholds that are determined by discipline.

To be sure, a solution to the profusion of publication opportunities that result in research and ideas being lost in obscurity is required. I'm less sure if narrowing the window of opportunity is the best solution, especially if young academics are left to fend for themselves in a competitive environment that has often been characterized as "publish or parish." Higher education needs new and different models in order not to perpetuate the cognitive privilege of seasoned and coached academics whose pathway to publishing is both more clear and "greased" with networks and intellectual nepotism.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

COVID vaccination for international students

Coming from potentially all over the world, international students who will study in the U.S. this year face  a variety of expectations about COVID-19 vaccination. Some institutions are attempting to simplify the question of which vaccine and where it is administered by simply requiring international students to verify a vaccination, regardless of which one it is. At least this simplified approach will help international students who are trying to find affordable flights as well as adhere to quarantine requirements as they arrive in the U.S. It's not going to be easy but smart institutions will err on the side of flexibility.

After Federal officials announced that fully vaccinated students and scholars would be allowed to enter the U.S.A. beginning November 8, the American Council on Education and other groups urged flexibility for internationals for whom vaccination is not readily available in their home countries.