At three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, the voice of a lone chorister will rise from a small college chapel in the Ouse Valley of England, and from there it will encircle the globe. It will climb into the foothills of the Himalayas, skim across islands in the far South Seas, enter the equatorial villages of Africa, and emerge in hundreds of towns and cities across the United States.
I have a special interest in the King's Festival because I am an advocate for decentralized residential college systems like those at Oxford and Cambridge. Collegiate systems of the Oxbridge kind provide students and faculty alike with a wealth of opportunities for learning and service, and they can multiply the strengths that already exist within any university. The creation of residential college systems within larger institutions is a growing international trend.
But independent of its origins in a Cambridge residential college, the Festival of Lessons and Carols from King's is an example of the kind of rich cultural tradition that any college or university can aspire to develop and maintain, not only for its own members, but also for its city, its country, and the world. And it is young people in their teens and 20s who are especially strengthened by traditions, because traditions give them not only something to stand upon but also something to push against as they seek to define their own lives.
Do successful traditions require lots of money? They do not. It's true that few of us will have the resources of King's College available to us -- their chapel did take more than 100 years to build, after all. But successful traditions are about people and about social cohesion, they are not about money. If you begin by asking how you can use a tradition to make money, you'll never establish a great tradition.
Think first about what you can do for the members of your college or university in themselves, and forget about the outside world. If you do a good job, the outside world will eventually notice.
But how to do a good job? If we anatomize the King's College Festival, we can identify a number of structural features that can be replicated anywhere by people seeking to develop and maintain strong traditions within an educational environment.
First and foremost, a successful tradition must be regular and must never fail. If it follows the full moon, it must always follow the full moon. If it settles into Sundays at three, like tea in the college master's house, it must always settle into Sundays at three, even when people are few, the weather is bad, or the usual host is away. And if it's on Christmas Eve it must always be on Christmas Eve, at the same time, year after year.
The regularity of the King's Festival and its Christmas Eve broadcast was not even interrupted, the college tells us, "during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's could not be broadcast for security reasons." Regularity inspires confidence and strengthens the desire of people to participate.
A successful tradition must also exhibit structural stability, and within that stability, variety. Stability gives comfort, variety gives delight. Something that is continually reinvented cannot, by definition, be a tradition -- a thing handed down. But if a tradition is to remain vital it cannot be wholly static either: it must adapt, like a gradually changing species, to its local environment.
The overall structure of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has remained stable for more than eighty years now, and people who heard it as children would recognize it today. In particular, it always begins in exactly the same way, with a solitary chorister singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City."
But within this pattern of stability the Festival exhibits annual variety. Most of the elements are carried over from year to year, but not all are, and original hymns and anthems are often commissioned specially for a given year's service. Each year we know how it will begin, and how it will proceed, but each year we also know there will be a few surprises in store for us to make the experience ever green.
Finally, a successful tradition must bind the members of the community together in all their diversity, and link them to other groups with which they have historical connections. This is the most important function of every tradition, and it deserves particular attention in educational environments today, environments that are often subject to terrible social fragmentation. One of our central obligations to the young people in our care should be to connect them with those who came before and those who will come after, and well-crafted traditions like the Festival of Lessons and Carols can do just that.
The scriptural lessons in the King's Festival are read by a range of people of different ages who are purposely chosen each year to bring the college and the local community together: a member of the choir, an undergraduate, a fellow of the college, a member of the college staff, the dean, the provost, a representative of the city of Cambridge, a representative of King's sister society at Eton, and several others. This conscious structure not only ties the college itself together, but links the college with its neighbors and its educational relatives as well. Through the act of participation, these many individual groups become one.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a Christian religious service, of course, and the older colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all originally Christian religious foundations. But the general social principles that are manifest here -- the regularity of the service, its stability and variety, and the way it binds the community together -- apply with great generality. And they apply not only to Oxbridge-style colleges founded within other religious traditions (Shalom College at the University of New South Wales and Mandelbaum House at the University of Sydney are Jewish foundations, and the colleges of the Universiti Putra Malaysia follow Islamic traditions), but also to fully secular colleges and universities across the United States and around the world.
So please join me in tracking down a local radio station to listen to on Christmas Eve, and we can all spend an hour together as virtual members of that ancient collegiate society along the Cam. As we listen we will have to concede that the chapel's magnificent stained glass windows are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, and that its soaring Gothic architecture may never be surpassed. But we should also hold fast to the most important lesson the King's Festival teaches: that a college is built of men and women, and that the glory of every college resides not in its material fabric, but in the way it brings its members together and illuminates their lives.
A friend of mine will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Duke University this spring. He has had two competitive internships, high grades and has been an active force on campus. Finding a job will still be a problem. Why? Because he is an international student. “Unfortunately, I won't be eligible for this year's H1 (work permit) visa pool (given out by a lottery),” he told me. “That may mean I'll have to leave the country again for a short period of time. I am a Canadian citizen and so am trying to use that to my advantage but it could still get messy.” Even having a job offer from a top-notch company no longer provides any certainty in being able to work in the U.S. for many international students that come here from all across the globe, spending money, energy and years of their life to chase the “American Dream.”
According to the U.S. State Department, “U.S. law requires that most people who apply for nonimmigrant visas must provide evidence that they do not intend to immigrate to the United States.” A student visa is classified as a nonimmigrant visa and therefore all international students intending to study in the United States are required to prove to the consular officer in their country that they do not intend to remain in the United States after they finish their degrees.
American academic leaders talk a great deal about the importance of foreign students -- about how we bring expertise to academic programs, diversity and international perspective to campuses, and how we bring American values of democracy back home with us. All of those things are true, but it may also be time to end the silence with which both American academic leaders and foreign students pretend that many foreign students don’t want to stay in the U.S. after graduation and pretend that it makes sense to invest millions of dollars in students -- only to kick them out of the country before they can contribute to the U.S. economy.
A vast majority of my international student peers at Duke University desire to stay and work in the U.S. after completing their graduate degrees, at least in the short-term. The same is true for foreign students at most colleges in the United States. However they face a difficult quandary in trying to find a job. Most employers are looking for students with U.S. permanent residency or citizenship, but in order to obtain those, students need a job -- somewhat of a "chicken and egg" dilemma. A master’s of engineering management student student I know from Turkey was turned away at a recent career fair by several company booths by signs saying “U.S. Citizens only” or “International Students do not apply”.
“International companies ask for ‘only American Citizen’ applicants, which I find a little bit weird,” he said. This is an increasingly common occurrence at career fairs across the country, as work permit visas dry up extremely quickly and fewer employers are willing to sponsor an international student for a work permit, a laborious and expensive process. In a recent survey conducted by the International Student Concerns Committee of the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, preliminary results indicate that the main concern for an overwhelming majority of international students is employment upon graduation.
An international graduate who wished to remain anonymous had this to say about the difficulties he is facing despite working at a prestigious financial firm. He did not get a work permit visa in the visa lottery, which is how these visas are given out. He said, “The whole process of applying for a [work] visa and the massive amounts of paperwork, the heartache of never being sure what's going to happen, and the fact that I don't know where I'm going to be even three months from now, quite frankly, is a pain. I think I am accretive to society and I deserve better.”
Obviously international students see the anti-immigrant movement that has so much influence in American politics today. Most of this is meant to target illegal immigration but also ends up affecting legal immigrants such as international students, who fill in huge reams of paperwork and jump over many hurdles to maintain their legal status. And international students know that immigration can be a sensitive issue -- as it is in some of our home nations. But other countries are not so quick to turn away those most likely to help their economies.
Canada, Australia and Britain are all countries with a point-based system that awards potential immigrants based on their education, time in the country and so on that enables them to obtain permanent residency. This includes students, and does not usually require an employer to sponsor a student through this process. As students around the world decide where to go for their higher education, these countries suddenly appear more attractive when the prospects of staying and working after graduation are considered.
So why should we be concerned about international students at all? As we trend towards a knowledge-based economy, it is imperative that we remain competitive in the global marketplace. More and more professions now require graduate degrees. According to a study by the Institute of International Education, at the end of 2005, there were 565,039 international students studying in the United States, contributing $13.3 billion to the economy -- just in tuition and living expenditures. Of these students, 48.6 percent were graduate and professional students, who additionally contribute by teaching courses, conducting research for professors, and going on to become key contributors in driving the knowledge-based economy. Due to more aggressive recruitment by other countries, difficulties in getting visas, and hurdles to being able to stay and work after obtaining their graduate degrees, many foreign graduate students are leaving the United States to work in other countries. This is a vital loss to the U.S. economy and undermines America’s competitive edge.
A recent study by Vivek Wadhwa, executive-in-residence at Duke University, showed that the percentage of foreign nationals contributing to U.S. international patent applications -- the ones that give the U.S. a global edge -- increased 331 percent in 8 years. Allowing these foreign nationals to stay in the U.S. will immensely increase the country's edge in science and technology. According to a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation study, “more than half of the foreign-born founders of U.S. technology and engineering businesses initially came to the United States to study as international students. They typically founded companies after working and residing in the United States for an average of 13 years.”
Immigrant entrepreneurs that come here as international students, start businesses that generate American jobs and tax revenue and maintain the competitive edge of the US in the global economy. According to another study by the foundation, "more than one million skilled immigrant workers, including scientists, engineers, doctors and researchers and their families, are competing for 120,000 permanent U.S. resident visas each year, creating a sizeable imbalance likely to fuel a “reverse brain-drain” with skilled workers returning to their home country.”
If American universities and American politicians want to help higher education and the economy, it’s time to move beyond just lobbying to get foreign students into the country for a few years – but to talk about why it makes sense to welcome many for their careers.
Gautham Pandiyan is a Ph.D. candidate in molecular biology at Duke University and is chair of the International Student Concerns Committee Chair of the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students.
Despite a century of proud history, the state university had never received the recognition its leaders felt it deserved. So when a prominent news outlet published a new set of college rankings in 2005 putting the university in the first tier, the entire local community celebrated. The vice chancellor went so far as to order signs touting the achievement placed around the city, including a billboard on the edge of campus meant to catch the eye of visitors arriving on the main highway from the airport.
Then, disaster. New rankings from the same publication arrived a year later, and the university's standing plummeted by 80 places. The institution itself hadn't changed -- the magazine had simply corrected a mistake made in calculating the previous year's score, while also changing the rankings formula. In the court of public opinion, however, such technicalities didn't matter. State officials were aghast, the university's reputation was besmirched and the vice chancellor was quickly sacked.
Another case of the U.S. News & World Report rankings run amok? Actually, no -- the university was the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, the news outlet The Times Higher Education Supplement, in the U.K. Once a purely American innovation -- or problem, depending on how you look at it -- lists of "best colleges" are everywhere. Even as the Times Higher is competing to establish the definitive worldwide college rankings, scores of nations from Kazakhstan to Peru are fast developing new systems to evaluate and publicly rank their institutions of higher education. College rankings have gone global.
To observers of international higher education, this should come as no surprise. Widely cited statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggest that many nations are closing in on the United States' decades-old lead in college attainment. Forty-six countries in Europe and elsewhere are in the midst of a massive effort, through the "Bologna Process," to create what amount to a common market for higher education. Rankings reflect a desire among individual countries to see how they stack up against the world's best, and eventually join them.
That benchmarking instinct created the biggest competitor to the Times Higher:Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In 2003, professors and graduate students in the university's higher education policy unit developed a new method of comparing research institutions across national borders, using measures like the number of faculty and graduates awarded the Fields Medal or the Nobel Prize, and the number of articles and citations in prestigious scholarly journals. Their goal was simply to determine how China's relatively modest but rapidly growing university system stacked up against its global competitors. It is purely a research ranking, using no measures relating to the education of students. But the list was quickly seized by other nations as a way of benchmarking themselves against their rivals and setting goals for improvement. Magazines like The Economist republished the list, and soon ministries of education began talking of having a certain number of institutions in the "Global Top 100," however defined.
The Times Higher, meanwhile, seems to have adopted somewhat of a "rank first, ask questions later" approach, revising its methods on the fly and leaving people like the unlucky Malaysian vice chancellor to suffer the consequences. Half of each institution's score is based on a non-scientific email survey of academics and employers, and the results reflect a response rate of less than one percent. There's arguably a bias towards universities located in the United Kingdom and its former colonies (which represent three of the top five and nine of the top 25), and individual institutions have seen huge variations in their placement from year to year. Nonetheless, the Times Higher rankings are widely cited in the foreign media. Much like FIFA world football rankings, they matter everywhere except in the United States.
Both the Shanghai and Times Higher lists reflect traditional American strength -- Shanghai Jai Tong puts 17 American universities in the top 20 and 54 in the top 100. But the fact that so many other countries are trying to move onto the list suggests that they're no longer willing to accept American dominance of higher education. Part of their strategy is to use internal rankings as a catalyst for replicating the American competitive dynamic, and they're not leaving rankings up to whims of for-profit newsmagazines.
For example, Kazakhstan -- known to most Americans chiefly as the home of "Borat" -- recently embarked on an ambitious effort to rank its 160 institutions of higher education. In 2006, Kazakhstan's National Accreditation Center at the Ministry of Education and Science published new rankings based on more than 40 indicators of student, faculty, and research quality. Unlike the U.S. News rankings, which primarily use input measures like funding levels and admissions selectivity, the Kazakhstan rankings incorporate government-sponsored surveys of nearly 10,000 students, faculty, and employers. And Kazakhstan isn't an aberration. From cradles of higher education like Germany and the U.K. to aspirant nations like Slovakia, Ukraine, Thailand, Tunisia, Nigeria, and Peru, a rapidly growing number of countries are playing the college rankings game. Attaur Rehman, chairman of the Pakistan Higher Education Commission, summed up the impetus behind the new government-sponsored Pakistani rankings simply: they will "enable us to improve the standard of institutions."
Like Kazakhstan, many countries are adding new wrinkles that go beyond the traditional U.S. News measures. The Center for Higher Education Development in Germany gives students the ability to create customized rankings to match their individual preferences and academic priorities, keyed to data from surveys of hundreds of thousands of students and professors. Students choose five criteria from a list of over 25 elements such as research reputation, library facilities, student-teacher contact, local housing costs, course availability, etc. The Canadian magazine Maclean's, which publishes that nation's version of the U.S. News rankings, also lets students shape rankings to their preferences.
Many countries are experimenting with "bibliometrics," the burgeoning science of using vast publication databases to measure how often scholarly papers are cited by other scholars. (Similar measures are used in by the Times Higher). Scholars in Madrid are among those developing "Webometrics" rankings of world universities, based on inbound hyperlinks, the volume and richness of Web-based material, and results from Google Scholar.
Yet none of these new measures are widely used in the country that pioneered college rankings -- the United States. Ironically, our unusually competitive higher education sector suffers from a near-monopoly in the rankings realm. While U.S. News has recently signaled a willingness to consider new measures, the magazine is very unlikely to fundamentally alter the list in way that diverges from the current focus on wealth, fame, and exclusivity. The genius of U.S. News was to rationalize the existing status hierarchy in higher education, to create a mathematical way of calculating degrees of difference from Harvard. As much as the academy likes to complain about the rankings, it cherishes the values that put Ivy League universities on top of the list.
The rise of global college rankings should put to rest any idea that higher education can somehow boycott its way back to the halcyon days before rankings ruined everything. International competition in higher education is becoming more intense, and in the information age, the number of measures and methods available to compare colleges and universities will only grow. There's already talk of a higher education version of the Program For International Student Assessment, one more potential measure to add to the growing list. As long as companies can publish magazines and students can choose colleges, someone will create college rankings that people will read and care about.
And in the long run, that's a good thing. While many critiques of specific rankings methods are legitimate, the more generalized anti-rankings sentiment in higher education is not, reflecting an aversion to competition and accountability that ill serves students and the public at large. It's perfectly reasonable to compare one university to another and make judgments about which is best. If colleges and universities don't want the terms of their success dictated by U.S. News, the Times Higher, or universities on the other side of the world, the only alternative is step forward and stand behind something better. Until then, the influence of college rankings, from within our borders and without, will only grow.
As summer begins, negotiations in the so-called Doha Round of world trade talks again heat up as countries jockey to retain their protection for domestic industries such as agriculture and to restrict non-agricultural market access. U.S. presidential candidates are focusing a lot of attention on issues of trade and immigration. The candidates blame a slowing U.S. economy and big jumps in the unemployment rate on NAFTA, Chinese currency policy, dependence on foreign oil, and globalization.
Popular pundits are pleading that the next administration must protect our borders, restricting cross-border movement of people as well as goods. Cries for restricting the import of Chinese toys and chemicals have become louder in recent months. All around us, the free movement of goods, services, people and capital across political borders is losing political strength and popularity.
It is past time for colleges and universities to fully accept the trend before they and their graduates are left behind. Universities should embrace the anti-globalization ethos not just with rhetoric or by re-focusing investments of their foundations, but by overhauling the curriculum. The curriculum and staffing should be harmonized with the tenets of the new nationalism movement. The status quo will not do justice to our students who will enter the un-global world.
How should such a curriculum be configured? How should the university prepare its students for this coming world of self-sufficient economies? Here we examine a few of the most significant trends that will develop. Many additional more modest proposals could certainly be examined in a more comprehensive manifesto.
Where are we headed? Corporations, bereft of their international subsidiaries and manufacturing facilities in the coming world order, will hire a different type of graduate from the university. Managing employees across different cultures? No need for those aptitudes once each country dis-integrates their affairs from others’. Employers will not value, in their hiring or promotion decisions, graduates with foreign language skills, study abroad experience, intercultural breadth, or international business acumen.
There will be no need to cross borders or to bridge cultures. No need to deal with suppliers of components or services, or with providers of Chilean wine or Finnish cell phones, or to interact with overseas customers for our coal, computers or corn (since other nations, too, will be, in their nationalist interests, self-sufficient). So there will be no practical need for foreign language skills or courses. Faculty in those areas will be nearly eliminated from the academic ranks.
Our inwardly directed economy will not reward students for studying abroad. Demand for such programs will dwindle, and they will need to be eliminated to conserve resources for the self-sufficient economy. Offices for education abroad will be “re-sized.” Similarly, universities will need to shed their international business and international relations programs, courses and faculty.
Intercultural breadth will be devalued. Instead, a renewed emphasis must be placed on technical skills and the trades to serve the self-sufficient economy. In fact, de-mobilizing labor, i.e., stopping the flow of people across borders, will mean a renaissance for professional programs in plumbing, bricklaying, construction, call centers, sewing and other fields. Universities’ curriculums must adapt to such a revival or face significant declining enrollments.
The implications for and readjustments in faculty hiring and salaries will be substantial. The ensuing glut of unemployed language, linguistics, international relations and culture faculty will mean salaries will plummet even further below those of faculty in other areas. Faculty in areas with more direct relevance to self-sufficiency, such as business management of sole proprietorships, accounting (under U.S. standards), nursing, farming, and building bridges, not requiring any international skills, will rise.
We can certainly anticipate there will be a later stage “backlash.” Foreign languages and linguistics will become majors for students purely interested in intellectual stimulation. Language departments will not be service departments but will become the domain of students with a purer objective of studying language and culture without any practical application. All foreign languages will take on the esoteric mantle of Latin – you won’t ever need to speak it to anyone, but it will be an intriguing intellectual pursuit. Thus, some language and international affairs scholars must remain in academia. That elite cadre will be valued for their intellectual purity and their commitment to studies with so little real world applicability. This, thankfully, will bring languages back to the heyday of intellectualism when language studies were untainted by real world application.
In summary, universities’ fully endorsing and embracing the neo-nationalist movement should significantly alter the educational landscape. In an economy insulated from others in a compartmentalized world, educational resource allocations must shift. Courses emphasizing trade and professional skills will be the heart of a domestically oriented curriculum. Experts on foreign cultures, languages, politics, business, technology, and international art will become useless relics of an obsolete ( so 20th century) point of view – a viewpoint too broad to apply to the new balkanized world economy.
In the long run, those few educators in such areas as languages and cultures who survive will be revered as scholars who pursue knowledge purely for its own sake -- at the cost of being increasingly irrelevant in an economy that has no need for interacting with foreigners. They will be admired for their steadfast ivory-tower intellectual purity. Hence, the unintended side effect of universities accepting this challenge for curriculum reform is that the reputation of the language and culture departments will be restored. Our best language and culture faculty will be elevated, and our students will be better prepared for the orderly new world.
Let’s jump on this trend before it is too late and before the university curriculum’s 20th century breadth becomes its 21st century albatross.
George Morgan is SunTrust Professor of Finance in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.
This summer tens of thousands of American college students are studying in overseas programs around the world. More than 200,000 U.S. students now study abroad each year, and a proposed federal initiative would raise that number to one million within the next decade.
The recent setback in efforts to secure U.S. Senate passage of the Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act offers an apt occasion to reflect on several challenges that face the field. Study abroad has grown dramatically in the past few decades. This growth has been led by a dedicated corps of international education professionals who are committed to high-quality academic experiences abroad that strengthen and enrich student learning. They have persevered through myriad internal and external impediments to develop programs and processes intended to serve students at their institutions. Despite these best efforts, however, most observers within and outside the field acknowledge that study abroad practices suffer from growing pains that are not uncommon to new educational endeavors.
It is a logical reflection of these pressures of popularity and growth that the U.S. study abroad profession has faced a series of investigations, legal actions, and negative press reports over the last two years. As more students participate in study abroad programs, greater scrutiny of those operations is inevitable. Allegations of kick-backs, coercive policies, and other questionable practices have grabbed headlines and compelled many colleges to re-examine their international operations.
Professional associations such as NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad have moved quickly in recent months to issue reports and guidelines that respond to questions of integrity and ethics. Their calls for greater transparency, accountability, and institutional oversight are all needed reforms that will improve the field.
Yet, from more than twenty years of working in the field of international education, it seems to me that two underlying forces generate many of the perceived abuses. (1) Many U.S. universities yield to the temptation that study abroad programs can be self-sustaining and even profitable cost centers that generate surplus revenues -- in some cases producing substantial net income. (2) This expectation, in turn, drives many institutions to operate study abroad as a restrictive monopoly that denies students both academic and economic choice.
Numerous instances of such practices have surfaced in recent major news stories. At the core of these cases is the control of the transfer of credits earned at universities abroad. So long as U.S. institutions can effectively deny students credit for the same or comparable academic work completed overseas, they can coerce students to enroll in study abroad programs that they themselves sponsor or approve -- even if the same academic program is available through other channels, often at lower cost or with a more appealing array of auxiliary services.
Universities couch their defense of these practices in a variety of academic and utilitarian rationalizations. As reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last September, one provost claimed that "the integrity of the overall effort would be compromised if we let students start shopping for the best deal." In an April 2006 Wall Street Journal article, another university put it this way: "Our rationale is if you are going to earn [home school] credit toward your [home school] degree, you should pay [home school] tuition."
But does this, in effect, mean that universities are selling their credits? Students take courses at host institutions in foreign countries. They earn transcripts from those host colleges for their coursework abroad. U.S. institutions then require those students to “buy” those credits for transfer back to the home university. Acceptance of credit is determined by the “approved sponsor” of the program, not by the academic integrity of the foreign institution itself.
Although there are some legitimate concerns about the academic autonomy of universities to control the imprint of courses that appear on their sanctioned transcripts, the primary driving force behind these restrictive policies appears to be economic. Colleges fear the perceived loss of tuition, fees, and other revenues if students pursue alternative methods in obtaining part of their education abroad. In forcing this protectionist approach, universities reduce the study abroad experience to a mere commodity that only holds value if it is purchased from the home institution’s company store.
This practice raises a fundamental question in an era of rapidly-increasing worldwide student mobility. Should U.S. universities control their students’ access to the global marketplace of education? Is this practice different than coercing students to buy their textbooks at the campus bookstore, when they could get those same products from Amazon.com at half the price?
Even more than the affected students, foreign universities should hold primary standing as the aggrieved parties in such cases. Their academic reputations are tarnished when U.S. institutions apply such seemingly arbitrary rules in accepting the intellectual product of their faculty and curriculum.
The Institute of International Education (IIE) recently issued a critique of the proposed Simon Act legislation before Congress, which would increase U.S. study abroad participation five-fold. IIE argued against the current plan to allocate 75 percent of federal funding to institutions, urging instead that monies go directly to individual students. This approach would empower students as the consumers of study abroad programs, rather than the institutions that provide them. In turn, they could seek out programs that in fact “offered them the best deal,” rather than being herded into a home institution’s restricted array of choices.
The recent NAFSA task force obliquely acknowledged this underlying issue on the penultimate page of its January 2008 report. “Arrangements with outside providers should never have the effect of limiting students’ other options for study abroad where these other options meet institutional standards for health, safety, and program quality.” This footnote to the report’s fourteen criteria for institutional management of study abroad deserves greater attention, because it strikes at the heart of the problem.
Why, after all, do we want students to study abroad? If we profess that it is for their and society’s benefit, can we in good conscience claim that the storefronts where students access these opportunities are more important than the education they actually receive?
The study abroad field, however, is divided on this issue. A 2007 survey by the Forum on Education Abroad found that 36 percent of universities never accept credit from programs that are not on their “approved” list, regardless of academic quality, health, and safety standards. The Forum devoted four sessions of its annual conference in Boston this past April to the ethics of such practices. This summer’s NAFSA conference in Washington, DC, generated further discussion about these challenges. The study abroad ethicist William Hoffa has just launched another survey on transfer credit questions. Clearly, these are problems that the field recognizes but is not sure how to remedy.
University registrars are often regarded as guardians of fair and equitable treatment in the recognition of credits. Their voices could have a significant role in this debate, and they are paying careful attention to the conversation. Several sessions at their recent national conference were devoted to this topic.
Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), expressed strong concerns on this issue to The New York Times last August: "What is objectionable is, if the student decides at his or her own risk to go overseas, the outright refusal to take credit from a legitimate foreign institution."
Many study abroad professionals have argued that restrictive practices are justified, so long as the process and consequences are transparent. Existing policy guidelines on transfer credit by the American Council on Education and others give implicit support to this approach. But does transparency of an unfair practice make such a practice legitimate?
We all vigorously support the continued and strengthened commitment of our government and our universities to provide accessible and affordable study abroad opportunities for our students. Their education, and our national capacity for leadership and success in the 21st century, will suffer if these tools of soft diplomacy are not expanded.
We see different consequences, however, from actions that deny a fair and open marketplace to students in the study abroad field. It is doubtful that some current U.S. practices will ultimately stand the test of time. “Approved” programs will likely go the way of “preferred” lenders: There are valid reasons to have them, but institutions cannot force students to use them. Universities will need to adapt models that protect their financial interests while adding value to a student’s overseas experience, and they are certainly capable of managing this challenge. Study abroad will unquestionably survive as a prosperous enterprise in the exploding sector of global higher education, and we can learn from our colleagues in other countries about their practices in credit acceptance and quality assurance.
Two simple reforms could dramatically change the U.S. study abroad landscape:
1) Universities should fund study abroad operations in the same way that they fund history and physics departments. If study abroad produces significant gains in learning outcomes or academic achievement, it should be supported commensurate with other segments of our academic mission. Economic pressures to be self-supporting or to generate profits should not be greater on study abroad programs than they are on other academic units.
2) Universities, and their study abroad offices, should in turn accept the valid transcripts of coursework completed from legitimate overseas programs, regardless of program sponsorship. This would level the playing field for all serious study abroad providers, contribute to our national capacity to send more students overseas, and encourage healthy competition in both program quality and cost-containment.
The irony of these debates, of course, is that U.S. international educators encourage their students to understand and even champion globalization, but often deny its realities in their own sphere. Now is a good time to shed our protectionist policies and embrace a truly global academic market.
Richard C. Sutton
Richard C. Sutton is assistant vice chancellor for international programs at the University System of Georgia Board of Regents.
The latest rhetorical trope in the bad news presentation of U.S. higher education is to say -- even when home front improvements are acknowledged -- “Wait a minute! But other countries are doing better!" and rush out a litter of population ratios from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that show the U.S. has “fallen” from 2nd to 9th or 3rd to 15th place in whatever indicator of access, participation and attainment is at issue.
The trope is not new. It’s part and parcel of the enduring propaganda of numbers. Want to wake up a culture numbed in the newspaper maps to the Final Four, that places bets on Oscar nominees, checks the Nielson ratings weekly, and still follows the Top 40? Tell them someone big is down. In the metrics of international economic comparisons we treat trade balances, GDP, and currency exchange rates the same way, even though the World Economic Forum continues to rank the U.S. No. 1 in competitiveness, and the recent strength of the dollar should tell anyone with an ounce of common sense that the markets endorse that judgment in the midst of grave economic turmoil.
Except in matters of education, the metrics of the trope are false, and our use of them both misguided and unproductive. The Spellings Commission, ETS, ACT, the Education Commission of the States, the Alliance for Excellent Education, and, most recently, the annual litany of "Measuring Up" and the College Board’s "Coming to Our Senses" all lead off their reports and pronouncements on higher education with population ratios (and national rankings) drawn from OECD’s Education at a Glance, and assume these ratios were passed down from Mt. Sinai as the tablets by which we should be judged.
The population ratios, particularly those concerning higher education participation and attainment for the 25-34 age cohort, well serve the preferred tendency of these august bodies and their reports to engage in a national orgy of self-flagellation that purposefully neglects some very basic and obvious facts.
To be sure, U.S. higher education is not doing as well as we could or should in gross participation and attainment matters, but on the tapestry of honest international accounts, we are doing better than the propaganda allows. When you read reports from other countries’ education ministries that worry about their horrendous dropout rates and problems of access, you would think they don’t take population ratios seriously.
Indeed, they don’t, and one doesn’t need more than 4th grade math to see the problems with population ratios, particularly in the matter of the U.S., which is, by far, the most populous country among the 30 OECD member states.
None of our domestic reports using OECD data bothers to recognize the relative size of our country, or the relative diversity of races, ethnicities, nativities, religions, and native languages -- and the cultures that come with these -- that characterize our 310 million residents. Though it takes a lot to move a big ship with a motley crew, these reports all would blithely compare our educational landscape with that of Denmark, for example, a country of 5.4 million, where 91 percent of the inhabitants are of Danish descent, and 82 percent belong to the same church.
For an analogous common sense case, Japan and South Korea don’t worry about students from second language backgrounds in their educational systems. Yes, France, the UK, and Germany are both much larger and more culturally diverse than Denmark, but offer nowhere near the concentration of diversities found in the U.S. It’s not that we shouldn’t compare our records to theirs; it’s just that population ratios are not the way to do it.
OECD has used census-based population ratios to bypass a host of inconsistencies in the ways its 30 member countries report education data, but, as it turns out, the 30 member countries also employ different census methodologies, so the components of the denominator from Sweden are not identical with the components of the denominator from Australia. With the cooperation of UNESCO and Eurostat’s European Union Labor Force Survey, and occasionally drawing on microdata from what is known as the Luxembourg Income Study, OECD has made gallant efforts to overcome the inconsistencies, but you can’t catch all of them.
When ordinary folk who have no stake in education propaganda look at those 30 countries and start asking questions about fertility rates, population growth rates, net immigration rates, and growth in foreign born populations, they cannot help but observe that the U.S. lives on another planet. Only 4 countries out of the 30 show a fertility rate at or greater than replacement (2.0): France, New Zealand, Mexico, and the U.S. -- and of these, Mexico has a notable negative net migration rate. Out of those 30 countries, 7 have negative or zero population growth rates and another 5 show growth rates that might as well be zero. On the other hand, the U.S. population growth rate, at 0.9 percent, is in the top five. In net immigration through 2008, only Australia, Canada, and Ireland were ahead of us (and we count only legal immigrants). Triangulating net immigration, one can examine the percentage growth in foreign-born populations over the past 15 years. In this matter, the Migration Policy Institute shows the U.S. at 45.7 percent—which is more than double the rate for Australia and Canada (I don’t have the figures for Ireland).
It is no state secret that our immigrant population is a. young, b. largely schooled in other countries with lower compulsory schooling ages, and c. pushing the U.S. population denominator up in the age brackets subject to higher education output analysis. Looking ahead to 2025 (the College Board’s target “accountability” date), Census projections show an increase of 4.3 million in the U.S. 25-34 age bracket. Of that increase 74 percent will be Latino, and another 12 percent Asian. Can you find another country, OECD or otherwise, where an analogous phenomenon is already in the cards -- or is even somewhere in the deck, waiting to be dealt? As noted: the U.S. lives on a different demographic planet.
We are often compared with Finland in higher education matters----and to our considerable disadvantage. I will give the Finnish education system a lot of credit, particularly in its pre-collegiate sector, but the comparison is bizarre. Like Denmark, Finland is a racially and linguistically homogenous (mandatory bilingual, to be sure, in Finnish and Swedish) country of 5 million, with a population growth rate of 0.1% and a net immigration rate of 1% (principally from Eastern Europe).
In the 1990s, Finland increased the capacity of its higher education system by one-third, opening 11 new polytechnic institutions known as AMKs (for the U.S. to do something equivalent would require establishing 600 new AASCU-type 4-year colleges). So the numerator of participation in higher education increased considerably, bolstered by fully-subsidized tuition (surprise, anyone?), while the denominator remained flat. Last time you looked, what happens to percentages when numerators rise and denominators don’t?
And there is more to the Finnish comparison: the median age of entrance to higher education in Finland is 23 (compared with 19 in the U.S.) and the median age at which Finnish students earn bachelor’s degrees is 28 (compared with 24-25 in the U.S.). In our Beginning Postsecondary Students longitudinal study of 1995-2001, those entering 4-year colleges in the U.S. at age 23 or higher constituted about 5 percent of 4-year college entrants, and finished bachelor’s degrees within 6 years at a 22 percent rate (versus 65 percent for those entering directly from high school). Is comparing Finnish and U.S. higher education dynamics a fair sport? If you left it up to the folks who produced the Spellings Commission report, Measuring Up, and Coming to Our Senses, it is.
International data comparisons on higher education are very slippery territory, and nobody has really mastered them yet, though Eurostat (the statistical agency for the 27 countries in the European Union) is trying, and we are going to hear more about that at a plenary session panel of our Association for Institutional Research next June. What does one do, for example, with sub-baccalaureate degrees such as our "associate," for example? Some countries have them -- they are often called “short-cycle” degrees -- and some don’t. In some countries they can be considered terminal degrees (as we regard the associate), in other countries they are not considered higher education at all, and in still others they are regarded as part of the bachelor’s degree.
Instead of or in addition to “short-cycle” degrees, some countries offer intermediate credentials such as the Swedish Diploma, awarded after the equivalent of two-thirds of a baccalaureate curriculum. Are these comparable credentials? What’s counted and what is not counted varies from country to country. I just finished plowing through three German statistical reports on higher education from different respected German sources in which the universe of “beginning students” changed from table to table. A German friend provided a gloss on the differences, but the question of what gets into the official reporting protocol went unanswered. You can be sure that the people who put together the Spellings Commission report, Measuring Up, and Coming to our Senses never thought about such things.
Why is all this important? First, to repeat the 4th grade math, which Jane Wellman tried to bring to the attention of U.S. higher education with her Apples and Oranges in the Flat World, issued by ACE last year. When denominators are flat or declining and numerators remain stable or rise slightly, percentages rise; and vice-versa when denominators rise faster than numerators. So if you use population ratios, and include the U.S., it’s going to look like we’re “declining”—which is the preferred story of the public crisis reports. Ironically, trying to teach basic math and human geography to the U.S. college-educated adults who wrote these reports is like talking to stones. They don’t want to hear it. Wellman made a valiant effort. So did Kaiser and O’Heron in Europe in 2005 (Myths and Methods on Access and Participation in International Comparison. Twente, NL: Center for Higher Education Policy Studies), but we’re going to have to do it again.
Second, it’s like the international comparisons invoked by business columnists. The BRIC (Brazil, India, China, and Russia) countries’ GDPs have been growing much faster than ours (though some are now declining faster than ours), but none of those GDPs save that of China match the GDP of California. It’s that big ship again: the U.S. starts with a much higher base---of everything: manufacturing, productivity, technological innovation. Both growth and contraction will be slower than in economies that start from a much lower base. Where we have demonstrable faults, the most convincing reference points for improvement, the most enlightening comparisons, are to be found within our systems, not theirs. So it is with higher education, where the U.S. massified long before other countries even thought about it. Now, in a world where knowledge has no borders, if other countries are learning more, we all benefit. The U.S. does not---and should not---have a monopoly on learning or knowledge. Does anyone in the house have a problem with this?
Third, OECD itself understands the limitations of population ratios for education a lot better in 2008 than it did a scant five years ago, and is now offering such indicators as cohort survival rates in higher education. I had hoped the authors of Measuring Up 2008 might have used those rates, and read all the footnotes in OECD’s 2008 Education at a Glance so that one could see what was really comparable with what. Had they done so, they would have seen that our 6-year graduation rate for students who started full-time in a 4-year college and who graduated from any institution (not just the first institution attended) is roughly 64 percent which, compared with other OECD countries who report the same way (e.g. the Netherlands and Sweden), is pretty good (unfortunately, you have to find this datum in Appendix 3 of Education at a Glance 2008). In Coming to Our Senses, the College Board at least read the basic cohort survival rate indicator, 58 percent, but didn’t catch the critical footnote that took it to 64 percent or footnotes on periods of reporting (Sweden, for example, uses a 7 year graduation marker, not 6). Next time, I guess, we’ll have to make sure the U.S. footnotes are more prominent.
Driving this new sensibility concerning cohort survival rates, both in OECD and Eurostat, is the Bologna Process in 46 European countries, under which, depending on country, anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent of university students are now on a 3-year bachelor’s degree cycle. Guess what happens to the numerator of graduation rates when one moves from the old four and five year degrees to new three-year? Couple this trend with declining population bases (the UK, for example, projects a drop of 13 percent in the 18-20 year-old population going forward), and some European countries’ survival rates will climb to stratospheric levels. We’ll be complaining about our continual international slippage well into the 2030s. That will suit the crisis-mongers just fine, except none of it will help us understand our own situation, or where international comparisons truly matter.
And that’s the fourth -- and most important -- point. The numbers don’t help us do what we have to do. They steer us away from the task of making the pieces of paper we award into meaningful documents, representing learning that helps our students compete in a world without borders. Instead of obsession with ratios, we should look instead to what other countries are doing to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their higher education systems in terms of student learning and enabling their graduates to move across that world. In this respect the action lines of the Bologna Process stand out: degree qualification frameworks, a “Tuning” methodology that creates reference points for learning outcomes in the disciplines, the discipline-based benchmarking statements that tell the public precisely what learning our institutions should be accountable for, Diploma Supplements that warrantee student attainment, more flexible routes of access, and ways of identifying under-represented populations and targeting them for participation through geocoding.
These features of Bologna are already being imitated (not copied) in Latin America, Australia and North Africa. Slowly but surely they are shaping a new global paradigm for higher education, and in that respect, other countries are truly doing better. Instead of playing the slippery numbers and glitz rankings, we should be studying the substance of Bologna -- where it has succeeded, where our European colleagues have learned they still have work to do, where we can do it better within our own contexts -- perhaps experiencing an epiphany or two about how to turn the big ship on which we travel into the currents of global reform.
Now that would be a constructive use of international comparisons.
Clifford Adelman’s The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction and Learning Accountability from Bologna: a Higher Education Policy-Primer can be found on the Web site of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, where he is a senior associate. The analysis and opinions in this essay are those of the author, and should not be interpreted as reflecting those of the institute.
Every American decade has its archetypes. If you were heading off to business school in the 1980s, you might have wondered – or even worried – you’d end up like Alex Keaton from the hit TV series "Family Ties." Alex scoffed at the Peace Corps past of his parents, and believed he could amass all the wealth and status that he wanted without being too concerned about the political affairs of the world around him -- beyond, perhaps, advocating for lower tax rates on capital gains.
Today Alex would not survive, much less thrive, in a world marketplace where economic events in nearly every developing and industrialized nation can dramatically impact the fortunes of others. Growing affluence in China coupled with the rise of ethanol, for example, has increased the demand for meat, which drives up global grain prices. At the same time, instability in the Nigerian delta directly influences the price of oil in New York, and a small business in Germany could easily be denied a loan from a distressed local bank that has over-invested in mortgages in the United States. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen in just the past few weeks, the implosion of the U.S. financial system continues to send aftershocks to financial markets and economies across the globe.
Unfortunately, too few colleges or universities are preparing students to understand these global dynamics. According to the Center for International Initiatives at the American Council on Education, the percentage of colleges that require a course with an international or global focus as part of the general education curriculum fell from 41 percent in 2001 to 37 percent in 2006. And 27 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities have no students at all who study abroad. But even among the colleges and universities that do promote “semester abroad” programs, most offer these as add-ons to the required course of study, providing students with only a taste of life in another nation and a small selection of elective courses.
A far better approach would be to make international study a core component of undergraduate education in the 21st century -- requiring students to spend a significant portion of their college years abroad (e.g., two or more semesters) and do it while studying in multiple locations. Students would thereby be exposed to the interconnections across multiple countries and cultures, so they have the opportunity to gain insight into the complex economic and political factors shaping our world.
My certainty on the need for this approach has been influenced by 20 years of experience as a business school educator. As a professor at the University of Chicago in the 1990’s, I first observed the prevalence of a “free market ideology” among our first and second year M.B.A. students – a viewpoint that over-simplifies market dynamics and their impact on the social and political landscape. That’s when I first began to think about new models for undergraduate education that incorporate a deeper understanding of global economic dynamics and the interconnection between the private and public sectors.
Now, as dean at the New York University Stern School of Business’s Undergraduate College, I’ve worked with our faculty to create a new bachelor’s degree in business and political economy, designed to foster deeper understanding of the intersections between international business, politics and economics. Our new curriculum not only integrates these perspectives, but requires students to spend three semesters of global study on three different continents, where they experience the course of business in both industrialized and emerging market nations.
During their sophomore year in London, for example, students will study the foundations of economics and politics in Europe’s financial center, under the guidance of faculty from both NYU and local institutions. In Shanghai during the junior year, they will experience life in a developing country where commerce is thriving yet challenged by centuries of strict political rule. From there, they will travel to developing markets in India to gain a first-hand understanding of how a nation strives for capitalistic momentum despite having a large population of undereducated and underemployed citizens -- and how these converging factors of economics and politics will likewise impact India’s strength as a developing nation in the world marketplace.
Through the experience, the students will learn how markets, corporations, governments, religions and cultures converge in nations that are inextricably linked to the success of capitalism in the U.S. – an understanding that cannot be easily replicated without spending a significant amount of time living and learning in these nations.
While I recognize that NYU’s existing infrastructure and history of international education enhance our ability to create this type of experience, there are many other ways for colleges and universities to better open students’ eyes to the convergence between international markets, economies, cultures and governments. They can begin by weaving the subject matter into existing coursework, combining international economics and business courses with politics, sociology and religion courses.
They can also augment their current foreign exchange programs -- going beyond simply having students “visit” back and forth -- by investing in deeper, more elaborated partnerships. For example, colleges from different continents could invest in developing integrated curricula across two (or more) global partner institutions. So that when students study abroad at a partner campus they would have a more seamless academic experience, one that is specifically designed to promote deeper understanding of global economic, social and political issues. These programs could be supplemented by distance learning opportunities and the use of digital technology to connect students across partner campuses for virtual and collaborative learning experiences when back at their home campus.
While these recommendations may sound daunting, I would argue that moving undergraduate education in this direction is a social imperative. Given the ever-increasing connectedness of our complex world, students need to understand how political tensions, conflicting attitudes about globalization and religion, and the ever-expanding reach of free markets will impact worldwide security and the future of the global marketplace. And the best way to make that happen is to send them packing -- inspired and determined to understand the wonders of the world around them.
Sally Blount-Lyon is dean of the NYU Stern School of Business Undergraduate College, and special advisor to the provost for global academic integration at New York University.
About a year ago, one of my distant relatives found himself in trouble with the law, and not for the first time. He had allegedly stabbed somebody in the course of a dispute over certain business matters, and so had to go on the run. The police had a thorough description of him (from sustained acquaintance) that they provided to local newspapers -- including the memorable detail that he had numerous tattoos, among them the ones on his forehead over each eye.
He was eventually tracked down in a nearby state. The stab-ee declined to press charges, and everyone lived happily ever after.
As events unfolded, I kept thinking: "There is a valuable lesson here. If you are planning on a life of crime, it is probably best not to get tattoos on your forehead. There are bound to be times when you will need to remain inconspicuous, and having a tattoo over each eye really won't help with that." Then again, career guidance for criminals is probably not what it could be.
Or is it? I have been reading Diego Gambetta's new book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, just published by Princeton University Press. The author, a professor of sociology at Oxford University, notes that senior convicts in Folsom State Penitentiary, including its "honorable" tattoo artists, strongly discourage young and unmarked felons from getting inked. Gambetta, who has also published a study of the Sicilian Mafia, takes a transnational approach in his new book. He cites a report on the attitude found within a South African prison: "Facial tattoos are the ultimate abandonment of all hope of a life outside."
On the other hand, it certainly shows a certain commitment to one's chosen career. It's also a way around the inconvenient fact that nowadays movie stars and accountants and writing-program administrators are sporting bitchin' 'tats. A generalized social destigmatization of body art ups the ante for people whose livelihood comes from projecting an aura of menace. In some lines of work, the forehead is a perfectly good place for one's CV. It may even qualify as proof of ambition.
Gambetta's study also looks at such modes of underworld communication as nicknames, slang, and such "trademarks" as the little logos on bags of heroin, or a gang's preferred means of executing a traitor. How absorbing readers may find Codes of the Underworld is very much a matter of taste. (Every time GoodFellas runs on cable, I end up watching, while my spouse refuses to sit through it a second time.) But morbid fascination aside, the book is interesting for how its method may apply to other forms of interaction -- and other career paths.
Surprisingly, none of the familiar theoretical apparatus of semiology is wheeled onstage. Gambetta's approach is an economic analysis of how various modes of underworld communication function.
This doesn't mean simply treating tattoos, nicknames, fish wrapped in newspaper, etc., as components of certain kinds of economic exchange. Rather, Gambetta looks at the life of crime itself as shaped by a traffic in signals of professional competence. There is a market of sorts involved in accumulating a stock of reputational "capital" -- as well as the incidental expenses that must be paid to maintain it. Not only do police and FBI agents spend a great deal of effort learning to mimic the lingo and gestures of the underworld, but so do wannabes and fashionistas. It is a constant struggle to update the code and proof-check the credentials.
Because the activities involved are illegal, the more familiar possibilities of accreditation are just not available. It is not like there is a licensing agency for counterfeiters. Anyway, how could you trust its certificates?
That is my example, not Gambatta's. But one incident he recounts may suggest how difficult things can get, at least for potential consumers of underworld services. A woman in Canada learned that there was a business in the American Southwest called Guns for Hire. She did not realize that it was a theatrical group that specialized in reenactments of Old Western shoot-outs and the like. She called its office to try to arrange the disposal of her husband. (This is an example of what is sometimes called "an imperfect market created by differences of information.")
But such problems do not emerge only along the boundary separating civilians and professional hoods. "Criminals embody homo economicus at his rawest," writes Gambetta, "and they know it. In keeping with the evidence that people who are untrustworthy are also likely to think that others are untrustworthy, criminals are more inclined to distrust each other than ordinary people do." In a subculture where dishonesty is the norm and participants have no recourse to mediation by the state, it is especially difficult to communicate trustworthiness and reliability to one's potential peers or clients.
On that score, Gambatta makes a fascinating and rather counterintuitive argument about the role that gross incompetence plays in organized crime -- and also, as a brief discussion in one chapter suggests, in academic life, at least in Italy.
"An unexpected result of my research on the mafia," he writes, "was to find out that mafiosi are quite incompetent at doing anything" other than shaking down legitimate businesses and enforcing trade agreements among smaller-scale hoodlums. "Mafiosi are good at intimidation and stick to it.... They let the professionals and the entrepreneurs take care of the actual business operations."
Rather than getting involved in running a restaurant or dealing drugs, they joke about their cluelessness in such matters and simply collect payment for "protection." But this professed incompetence (evidently quite well-demonstrated on the rare occasions that a mafioso tries to go legit) makes them strangely "trustworthy" to those using their services: "If [mobsters] showed any competence at it, their clients would fear that they might just take over."
Gambetta argues that something similar takes place among the baroni (barons) who oversee the selection committees involved in Italian academic promotions. While some fields are more meritocratic than others, the struggle for advancement often involves a great deal of horse trading. "The barons operate on the basis of a pact of reciprocity, which requires a lot of trust, for debts are repaid years later. Debts and credits are even passed on from generation to generation within a professor's 'lineage,' and professors close to retirement are excluded from the current deals, for they will not be around long enough to return favors."
The most powerful figures in this system, says Gambetta, tend to be the least intellectually distinguished. They do little research, publish rarely, and at best are derivative of "some foreign author on whose fame they hope to ride.... Also, and this is what is the most intriguing, they do not try to hide their weakness. One has the impression that they almost flaunt it in personal contacts."
Well, one also has the impression that the author is here on the verge of writing a satirical novel. But a friend who is interested in both the politics and academic life of Italy tells me that this account is all too recognizably accurate, in some fields anyway. Gambetta calls the system "an academic kakistocracy, or government by the worst," which is definitely an expression I can see catching on.
This may seem like a tangent from comparative criminology. But Gambetta argues that the cheerful incompetence of the baroni is akin to the mafioso's way of signaling that he can be "trusted" within his narrowly predatory limits
"Being incompetent and displaying it," he writes, "conveys the message I will not run away, for I have no strong legs to run anywhere else. In a corrupt academic market, being good at and interested in one's own research, by contrast, signal a potential for a career independent of corrupt reciprocity.... In the Italian academic world, the kakistrocrats are those who best assure others by displaying, through lack of competence and lack of interest in research, that they will comply with the pacts."
It would be shocking, simply shocking, however, if anyone suggested this was not strictly an Italian problem.
A student who e-mailed me about pursuing grants to work independently in Cambodia ended nearly every sentence with an exclamation point. When I met her, she told me that she had traveled to the country with her family a few years earlier,but allowed that she could not recall much about what she had seen. Still, she believed that winning a fellowship would be a great opportunity! Another student’s communiqué declared that she wanted to teach but also demanded to know, "Can I make a living wage there?" When I replied that no wage was more likely, I never heard from her again. A colleague, at mid-life and restless, told me that she wanted to do "something like you do … go and work somewhere exotic."
I understood their desires and motivations. Before I had actually worked in Cambodia, I had experienced all these feelings. And I believe in the incomparable benefits of international experience and education. However, I’ve also found myself growing protective both of a country that I know needs more than just to be someone’s springboard (including my own) and of the students and professionals who may not have fully considered the impact of their plans on themselves and Cambodians.
I also think this issue has wider reverberations, beyond Cambodia. In an American economy so feeble, and with jobs so scarce, many students (and professionals) may feel that gaining grants and applying to national service programs, for work both domestic and abroad, represent their best chances to acquire experience and subsequent employment — even when they may not be well-matched to, or well-served by, the grants and service programs they seek. Thus, I often wonder how educators and students can best balance their own desires and ambitions with those of the countries and populations that they seek to explore.
In 2004, funded by Smith College, where I work, I made the first of four January-long trips to Cambodia to provide staff and faculty development workshops at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and Social Services of Cambodia. In 2009, I was the first American awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialist grant to the country’s National Institute of Education (NIE) in Phnom Penh, where I conducted workshops in pedagogy and language skills for graduate students: future secondary school teachers who will labor in Cambodia’s provinces, the "remote areas," as my NIE students termed their professional destinations.
Although these students were engaged and resourceful participants in my workshops and genuinely enthusiastic about teaching, they were also realistic about their futures. Once assigned to their provincial secondary schools, they will earn about $50 per month (less than Cambodia’s per capita GDP of $723) and teach in classrooms with up to 60 students. Most of their own students will attend irregularly, as they will be needed at home for harvests, household help and childcare. These educators will likely teach all their lives in these schools where adequate books, supplies and ongoing training will be only dreams.
As for my dreams, my own work in Cambodia fulfilled a long-held one, and like many inchoate desires, it began in fantasies not entirely reasonable: I had never been to Cambodia, I spoke no Khmer, and I didn’t know a single person in Cambodian higher education. However, I had tutored Cambodian refugees in Western Massachusetts and read widely and voraciously about the country and its people. For reasons I don’t entirely understand — nor need to — I felt compelled to find a way to work in the country. So I developed contacts, wrote letters, sent my CV, and applied for funding. By the time I made my first trip to Phnom Penh, more than 20years into a career as a college educator, I was in possession of a skill set that this post-conflict nation could use.
My main contact at the Royal University — and in Cambodia — was Sister Luise Ahrens,Ph.D., a wry, sanguine and seemingly indefatigable Maryknoll nun and educator who has lived in Cambodia since 1991; she helped develop and now oversees the curriculum at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. She also seeks to increase the professional capacities of the Cambodian faculty, few of whom, when I first began working in Cambodia, had completed a graduate education. (In fact, fewer than half of Cambodians aged 15 to 24 have even completed primary school, making the need for motivated and motivating teachers — and for a stronger educational system in general — particularly acute.)
My workshops and individual consultations on teaching and learning issues with Royal University instructors, social service workers, and NIE graduate students were in service of Sister Luise’s and her Cambodian and expatriate colleagues’ goals. And, as Sister Luise believes ardently, "the legacy of the tragic history here makes teaching both a challenge and a joy." Thus, only an experienced educator — one knowledgeable about and flexible in a myriad of educational settings and situations — could have done the work. (Although, I hasten to add, that this educator certainly didn’t have to have been me.)
At the same time, I will never forget the almost giddy excitement I felt when I first arrived in Phnom Penh, a city I had researched and imagined so vividly that it seemed almost familiar to me: its languid, electric air; the packed streets and shop-houses; market stalls redolent of ripe fish and fruit; a silver sunbeam knifing the Mekong. Familiar, but no place like home. This achievement of willed dislocation opened me in crucial ways to experience, insight and learning: precisely the goals we educators have for ourselves in our teaching endeavors and for all our students’ educations. At its best, this kind of purposeful, planful travel encourages a comparative, evaluative and critical habit of mind that I want to maintain for myself and engender and encourage in my students.
So, after my first project in Phnom Penh, and back at Smith, I became an informal "Cambodia person" for students (and some professionals) thinking of pursuing work or study projects there. Smith has no formal exchange program with institutions in Cambodia, but I am happy to talk to interested people about my experiences and share my contacts when I can. Every time I respond to a student’s request for assistance, though, I am mindful of the emphatic warning I received from Sister Luise:
"You can’t send kids because they cannot do the work independently, and it’s a lot of work to mind them."
She made it clear to me that the onus would have to be on the home institution or the students themselves. Thus, my own experience working in Cambodia as well as my conversations with Sister Luise and other colleagues, both in Cambodia and at Smith, led to my writing a caveat in one of my project reports that was posted on Smith’s fellowships Web page.
…[S]tudents planning projects in Cambodia need to be aware of the country’s volatile history and present circumstances. Cambodia remains a politically unstable — often lawless — country. Illegal drugs are widely available, and violence — including political violence — is common. Medical facilities are well below American standards, tropical diseases are prevalent, and serious traffic accidents in Phnom Penh are endemic. Thus, American students in Cambodia need to be particularly mature and responsible and/or supervised closely by adult staff from their home colleges.
Sister Luise’s concern was shared by another American expat I met during my first trip to Cambodia. In 2004, Lea Dooley, an HIV/AIDS program adviser, took to her blog to ruminate about the state of play in Cambodian politics. In July of that year, Cambodia’s national elections had taken place, "complete," as Lea wrote, "with election observers from around the world [including] a bunch of giggling interns who talked about Cambodia as if they’d been here for two years and not two days." Lea was in her early 30s then, and a veteran of international aid work. She noted with dry irony that the lead-up to the election was "tense." She then proceeded with insight and detail to document the deep wells of poverty, corruption, impunity, intimidation and fear that most Cambodians endure. "You can’t tell WHAT is going on out here unless you actually ARE here," Lea noted.
Whether we met over dinner in Phnom Penh or, later, exchanged thoughts in email conversations, I was (and am) always intrigued by Lea’s well-earned perspectives and observations, expressed in ways that are by turns warm, witty, generous, and occasionally caustic. Even after leaving CARE and Cambodia to work in Washington, she offered to talk with any of my students interested in careers in international public health.
I’ve been frank in my e-mail conversations with Sister Luise and Lea about the conundrum I sometimes feel when students whom I know are not ready to work at the Royal University or in aid agencies ask me for advice in developing individual projects in Cambodia.
On the subject, Sister Luise is direct. She wants students to bring something to the enterprise. She speaks of the partnership program that Maryknoll has with the University of Notre Dame, which sends students for service learning, but "the program there makes the students learn ESL and do it for a semester with immigrants in South Bend before they come, so that they are not totally new to teaching before they get into [teaching in Cambodia]." In addition to their teaching, while in Cambodia, the Notre Dame students volunteer in supervised settings including hospices and schools for disabled children. This work and its prerequisite training, Sister Luise believes, "is often quite good for both them and the clients."
Still, she told me, "Our real need is for people with Ph.D.'s to come here and teach in the various master's programs. They can always use the Royal University as a base and do their own research — some areas are wide open for research right now. Of course, we cannot pay them, so if they are on paid sabbaticals, this would be the best way to go — or if they had a grant."
And recently, Lea wrote to me about the cachet that failed states often have for people — for better and worse. She described "all the right earmarks — a funky language, you need a passport, a visa, AND shots; there is the thrill of recent disaster and lawlessness that goes well with sex and drugs and death." She continued, "Perhaps I’m getting older so my perspective is changing….though truthfully, it seemed as though we [her fellow relief workers] were a bit more connected to doing the work for an ethical compulsion and less for a combo spa/ethical internship."
I take these perspectives seriously. All three of us know of some wonderful opportunities in Cambodia for emerging young scholars (such as the Luce and Fulbright programs) as well as strong organizations (various college programs and the Peace Corps among them) who welcome young volunteers, provide support and training, and offer valuable placements where students can be of real service, gain useful experience, and learn in an unparalleled education setting: another world. Several of my students have found success with these opportunities, thus fulfilling their own goals and gaining crucial credentials that will certainly prepare them for more independent work and study.
Certainly, Cambodia needs development assistance greatly, and also, certainly, the country can serve, like so many other developing nations, as little more than an alien backdrop for first world others’ ambitions, whimsies, and caprice. Yet every mature, seasoned and committed professional working in challenging lands had, as some part of his or her motivation to go, that yearning for the world elsewhere. Thus, perhaps the best course for me is encouraging both students and professionals with that urge for going to indeed dream large and imagine greatly — but not just for what we want to do. We need also to consider what we can and need to learn, so that, as Sister Luise says, "We can be genuine partners in development, at the service of the people whose lives we want to share."
Debra Carney teaches in the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning at Smith College.
I have a confession. The rankings of the world’s top universities that my magazine has been publishing for the past six years, and which have attracted enormous global attention, are not good enough. In fact, the surveys of reputation, which made up 40 percent of scores and which Times Higher Education until recently defended, had serious weaknesses. And it’s clear that our research measures favored the sciences over the humanities.
We always knew that rankings had their limitations. No ranking can be definitive. No list of the strongest universities can capture all the intangible, life-changing and paradigm-shifting work that universities undertake. In fact, no ranking can even fully capture some of the basics of university activity – there are no globally comparable measures of teaching quality, for example.
But we do believe that rankings have some real uses, and love them or hate them, they are here to stay. Rankings help students select courses, help faculty make career choices, help department heads choose new research partners and help university managers set strategic priorities.
Research from an American think tank, the Institute for Higher Education Policy, published last year criticized some of the effects of rankings, but also found that they can “prompt change in areas that directly improve student learning experiences,” can “encourage institutions to participate in broader national and international discussions” and “foster collaboration, such as research partnerships, student and faculty exchange programs.” All positive.
As nations reshape their economies – through heavy investment in higher education – for a knowledge- and innovation-driven future, worldwide rankings are set to play an ever more influential role.
In this context, those of us who seek to rank universities have a responsibility to make them as rigorous and balanced as possible.
This is where we have fallen short in the past. An opinion survey of academics and university administrators from around the world, published earlier this month by Thomson Reuters, found that the sector generally valued rankings. But it also revealed “unfavorable” perceptions of the indicators and methodology used and uncovered “widespread concern about data quality,” especially among higher education professionals in North America and Europe.
We have received a lot of flak over our rankings, from people taking issue with our data and methodology and from others more fundamentally opposed to the idea that you can or should seek to, rank universities at all.
One of the most stinging attacks came from Andrew Oswald, one of the world’s leading economists and a professor at Britain’s University of Warwick. In late 2007, he mocked the pecking order of that year’s rankings in my magazine, in which the UK’s Universities of Oxford and Cambridge were tied for second, while Stanford University was 19th – despite having “garnered three times as many Nobel Prizes over the past two decades as the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge did combined," he wrote.
He noted with contempt that the University of California at Berkeley was rated equal to the University of Edinburgh at 22nd position. “The organizations who promote such ideas should be unhappy themselves, and so should any supine universities who endorse results they view as untruthful,” he wrote.
Universities are, of course, in the “truth business”, as Professor Oswald put it. Journalists should share that mission. Rankings can never arrive at “the truth” – too many judgment calls have to be made, too many proxies for complex activities have to be employed – but they can get closer to the truth, by being more rigorous, sophisticated and transparent.
Our annual world university rankings were first published in 2004 – when Times Higher Education magazine not only had a different editor, but a different owner.
Last year, under Ann Mroz, a new editor who felt uncomfortable with the rankings we had been publishing, and following a re-launch of the publication, the first major window of opportunity for a wholesale review of the rankings emerged. We took the chance to act. We decided to start again. We felt that the international university sector deserved something more credible – a serious tool rather than an annual curiosity or marketing opportunity.
We are now working with the world-leading research data specialists Thomson Reuters, which will collect and analyze all the data for our rankings for 2010 and beyond.
So what was so bad about our previous efforts? Of most concern was the so-called “peer review” score. Some 40 percent of a university’s overall ranking score was based on the results of a “peer review” exercise – in fact a simple opinion survey of academics, asking them which institutions they rated most highly. In many respects, it has been quite similar to the reputation survey used by U.S. News & World Report for ranking American colleges.
Many object in principle to the use of any subjective measures in rankings, arguing that they reflect past, not current, performance, they are based on stereotype or even ignorance, and that a good or bad reputation may be mindlessly replicated. The United States has had its fair share of scandal here, most memorably last year when Inside Higher Ed revealed that one former American university official had told a conference that her colleagues routinely gave low ratings to all programs other than their own institution’s, in an influential reputation survey.
But the use of a reputation measure was endorsed in the Thomson Reuters survey. Some 79 per cent of respondents said that “external perception among peer researchers” was a “must have” or ”nice to have” indicator. And we believe that it can provide useful context, measuring things that simple quantitative data can not.
But to be useful such surveys must be handled properly and there’s the rub.
The reputation survey carried out by our former ranking partner attracted only a tiny number of respondents. In 2009, about 3,500 people provided their responses – a fraction of the many millions of scholars throughout the world. The sample was simply too small, and the weighting too high.
So we’ve started again. For 2010, Thomson Reuters has hired pollsters Ipsos MediaCT to carry out the reputation survey, and it has committed to gathering a higher number from a respondent pool that truly represents the international university community. We are not just looking to increase volume alone for its own sake. We are seeking to achieve greater volume combined with a much better targeted sample. So the key is a wider spread of people, more accurately reflecting real global higher education demographics.
The questions have been carefully prepared to elicit meaningful responses and to make clear what is being judged. Instead of a simple, generic, "who's best," we will ask more detailed questions designed to elicit more informed and consistent answers. We will ask people to judge quality in their field, in their region and also globally. We will ask questions about both teaching quality and research quality, and we will ask carefully prompted questions, to produce more meaningful responses, such as asking them which institutions produce the best graduate applicants, or where they might recommend their top undergraduates should apply for the best graduate programs. A “platform group” of more than 50 leading university principals, presidents and vice chancellors from around the world has been established to help scrutinize the results and to ensure that responses reflect the true demographics of international higher education. Perhaps most significantly, the opinion poll will go only to invited participants – we will not adopt a scatter gun, mass mailing approach to collect the responses of anyone who cares to respond.
The rest of the rankings methodology is also open for a complete review, and we are seeking informed opinion.
We have already responded to criticisms and declared that we will change the way research excellence is measured, to take into account the dramatically different citation habits between disciplines, ending the clear bias against the arts, humanities and social sciences in our old methodology.
But we need more input. Is a staff-to-student ratio a suitable proxy for teaching quality and what weighting should it have? Is it fair to give credit for the proportion of international students on a campus when there’s no way of judging the quality of those students? What other indicators should we avoid; what should we include?
Some may believe that the major changes we are making are being made cynically. At a joint Times Higher Education-University of Nottingham conference last month, Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University, argued that magazines that compile rankings have an interest in creating instability. Dramatic movements in the rankings keep university marketing departments busy, make news headlines and help the circulation figures. She has a good point. By changing our rankings we will inevitably create more instability, especially between 2009, the last of our old rankings, and 2010.
But Times Higher Education magazine primarily serves the international university community - not a mass consumer audience -- so the credibility of our rankings with a highly engaged and intelligent audience is paramount. Our community can easily spot -- and would not easily forgive -- a cynical effort. So much rests on the results of our rankings -- individual university reputations, student recruitment, vice chancellors' and presidents' jobs in some cases, even major government investment decisions. We have a duty to overhaul the rankings to make them fit for such purposes.
Phil Baty is editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and deputy editor of Times Higher Education.