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Global regionalism, interregionalism, and higher education
July 13, 2011 - 11:00am

The development of linkages between higher education systems in a variety of ‘world regions’ continues apace. Developments in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Gulf, and Latin America, albeit uneven in nature, point to the desire to frame and construct regional agendas and architectures. Regionalism -– a state-led initiative to enhance integration to boost trade and security -- is now being broadened out such that higher education, and research in some cases, is being uplifted into the regionalism impulse/dynamic.

The incorporation of higher education and research into the regionalism agenda is starting to generate various forms of interregionalisms as well. What I mean by this is that once a regional higher education area or research area has been established, at least partially, relations between that region, and other regions (i.e. partners), then come to be sought after. These may take the form of relations between (a) regions (e.g., Europe and Asia), (b) a region and components of another region (e.g., Europe and Brazil; Latin America and the United States; Southeast Asia and Australia). The dynamics of how interregional relations are formed are best examined via case studies for, suffice it to say, not all regions are equals, and nor do regions (or indeed countries) speak with singular and stable voices. Moreover some interregional relations can be practice-oriented, and involve informal sharing of best practices that might not formally be ‘on the books.’

Let me outline two examples of the regionalism/interregionalism dynamic below.

ALFA PUENTES

The first example comes straight from an 8 July 2011 newsletter from the European University Association (EUA), one of the most active and effective higher education institutions forging interregional relations of various sorts.

In their newsletter article, the EUA states (and I quote at length):

The harmonisation agenda in Central America: ALFA PUENTES sub-regional project launch (July 07, 2011)

EUA, OBREAL, HRK and university association partners from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Mexico gathered in Guatemala City on 27-28 June both to discuss and formally launch the sub-regional project ‘Towards a qualifications framework for MesoAmerica’, one of the three pillars of the European Commission supported structural project ‘ALFA PUENTES’ which EUA is coordinating.

Hosted by sub-regional project coordinator CSUCA (Consejo Universitario CentroAmericana), and further attended by the sub-regional coordinators of the Andean Community (ASCUN), Mercosur (Grupo Montevideo), partners discussed current higher education initiatives in Central America and how the ALFA PUENTES project can both support and build upon them.

CSUCA, created in 1948 with a mission to further integration in Central America and improve the quality of higher education in the region, has accelerated its agenda over the past 10 years and recently established a regional accreditation body. This endeavour has been facilitated by project partner and EUA member HRK (in conjunction with DAAD) as well as several other donors. The association, which represents around 20 public universities in Central America, has an ambitious agenda to create better transparency and harmonisation of degrees, and has already agreed to a common definition of credit points and a template for a diploma supplement.

Secretary General Dr Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria stated in a public presentation of the project that ALFA PUENTES will be utilised to generate a discussion on qualifications frameworks and how this may accelerate the Central America objectives of degree convergence. European experience via the Bologna Process will be shared and European project partners as well as Latin American (LA) partners from other regions will contribute expertise and good practice.

ALFA PUENTES is a three-year project aimed at both supporting Latin American higher education convergence processes and creating deeper working relationships between European and Latin American university associations. Thematic sub-regional projects (MesoAmerica, Andean Community and Mercosur) will be connected with a series of transversal activities including a pan-Latin American survey on change forces in higher education, as well as two large Europe-LA University Association Conferences (2012 and 2014).

This lengthy quote captures a fascinating array of patterns and processes that are unfolding right now; some unique to Europe, some unique to Latin America, and some reflective of synergy and complementarities between these two world regions.

TUNING the Americas

The second example, one more visual in nature, consists of a recent map we created about the export of the TUNING phenomenon. As we have noted in two previous GlobalHigherEd entries:

TUNING is a process launched in Europe to help build the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). As noted on the key TUNING website, TUNING is designed to:

Contribute significantly to the elaboration of a framework of comparable and compatible qualifications in each of the (potential) signatory countries of the Bologna process, which should be described in terms of workload, level, learning outcomes, competences and profile.

The TUNING logic is captured nicely by this graphic from page 15 of the TUNING General Brochure.

Over time, lessons learned about integration and educational reform via these types of mechanisms/technologies of governance have come to be viewed with considerable interest in other parts of the world, including Africa, North America, and Latin America. In short, the TUNING approach, an element of the building of the EHEA, has come to receive considerable attention in non-European regions that are also seeking to guide their higher educational reform processes, and as well as (in many cases) region-building processes.

As is evident in one of several ‘TUNING Americas’ maps we (Susan Robertson, Thomas Muhr, and myself) are working on with the support of the UW-Madison Cartography Lab and the WUN, the TUNING approach is being taken up in other world regions, sometimes with the direct support of the European Commission (e.g., in Latin America or Africa). The map below is based on data regarding the institutional take-up of TUNING as of late 2010.

Please note that this particular map only focuses on Europe and the Americas, and it leaves out other countries and world regions. However, the image pasted in below, which was extracted from a publicly available presentation by Robert Wagenaar of the University of Groningen, captures aspects of TUNING’s evolving global geography.

Despite the importance of EU largesse and support, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the EU is foisting TUNING on world regions; this is the post-colonial era, after all, and regions are voluntarily working with this European-originated reform mechanism and Europe-based actors. TUNING also only works when faculty/staff members in higher education institutions outside of Europe drive and then implement the process (a point Robert Wagenaar emphasizes). Or look, for example, at the role of the US-based Lumina Foundation in its TUNING USA initiative. Instead, what we seem to have is capacity building, mutual interests in the ‘competencies’ and ‘learning outcomes’ agenda, and aspects of the best practices phenomenon (all of which help explain the ongoing building of synergy between the OECD’s AHELO initiative with the European/EU-enabled TUNING initiative). This said, there are some ongoing debates about the possible alignment implications associated with the TUNING initiative.

These are but two examples of many emerging regionalisms/interregionalisms in the global higher education landscape; a complicated multiscalar phenomenon of educational reform and ‘modernization,’ and region building, mixed in with some fascinating cases of relational identity formation at the regional scale.

Kris Olds (with thanks to Susan Robertson & Thomas Muhr)

 

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