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Editors' note: we're pleased to post a 'long read,' but a good and worthwhile read, consisting of a series of informed reflections about the future of the university from an historical perspective. Universities 2030: Learning from the Past to Anticipate the Future, was coordinated and co-edited by our colleague Adam Nelson (Professor, Educational Policy Studies and History, University of Wisconsin-Madison). I asked Adam to explain more about how this material came together, so let's pass it over to him! Kris Olds & Susan L. Robertson

Adam Nelson: In the spring of 2013, the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) commissioned a report to help university leaders think about the future of higher education. In response, I convened a group of leading historians from around the world to consider how universities in the past had responded to major periods of change. Specifically, I asked each to write a brief essay identifying a “key moment” in the internationalization of higher education: a moment when universities responded to new historical circumstances by reorienting their relationship with the broader world. What follows is the commissioned report, produced with significant assistance from Nick Strohl, a PhD candidate in History and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you would prefer to download a PDF version of the report, please link here. We wish to thank WUN for supporting historical research in the field of higher education.



Universities 2030: Learning from the Past to Anticipate the Future

Edited by

Adam R. Nelson & Nicholas M. Strohl (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

A commissioned report prepared for the Global Higher Education and Research (GHEAR) project, Worldwide Universities Network



Tamson Pietsch, Brunel University (UNITED KINGDOM)

Glen A. Jones, University of Toronto (CANADA)

Geoffrey Sherington, University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)

Renato H. L. Pedrosa, University of Campinas (BRAZIL)

Christopher P. Loss, Vanderbilt University (UNITED STATES)

 Shen Wenqin, Peking University (CHINA)

Gilsun Song, Zhejiang University (CHINA)

Yang Rui, University of Hong Kong (CHINA)

Justin J. W. Powell, University of Luxembourg (LUXEMBOURG)



What will the landscape of international higher education look like a generation from now? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for universities, especially “global” research universities? And what can university leaders do to prepare for the major social, economic, and political changes—both foreseen and unforeseen—that may be on the horizon? The nine essays in this collection proceed on the premise that one way to envision “the global university” of the future is to explore how earlier generations of university leaders prepared for “global” change—or at least responded to change—in the past. As the essays in this collection attest, many of the patterns associated with contemporary “globalization” or “internationalization” are not new; similar processes have been underway for a long time (some would say for centuries).[1] A comparative-historical look at universities’ responses to global change can help today’s higher-education leaders prepare for the future.

Written by leading historians of higher education from around the world, these nine essays identify “key moments” in the internationalization of higher education: moments when universities and university leaders responded to new historical circumstances by reorienting their relationship with the broader world. Covering more than a century of change—from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first—they explore different approaches to internationalization across Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. Notably, while the choice of historical eras was left entirely open, the essays converged around four periods: the 1880s and the international extension of the “modern research university” model; the 1930s and universities’ attempts to cope with international financial and political crises; the 1960s and universities’ role in an emerging postcolonial international development apparatus; and the 2000s and the rise of neoliberal efforts to reform universities in the name of international economic “competitiveness.”

Each of these four periods saw universities adopt new approaches to internationalization in response to major historical-structural changes, and each has clear parallels to today. Among the most important historical-structural challenges that universities confronted were: (1) fluctuating enrollments and funding resources associated with global economic booms and busts; (2) new modes of transportation and communication that facilitated mobility (among students, scholars, and knowledge itself); (3) increasing demands for applied science, technical expertise, and commercial innovation; and (4) ideological reconfigurations accompanying regime changes (e.g., from one internal regime to another, from colonialism to postcolonialism, from the cold war to globalized capitalism, etc.). Like universities today, universities in the past responded to major historical-structural changes by internationalizing: by joining forces across space to meet new expectations and solve problems on an ever-widening scale.

Approaches to internationalization have typically built on prior cultural or institutional ties. In general, only when the benefits of existing ties had been exhausted did universities reach out to foreign (or less familiar) partners. As one might expect, this process of “reaching out” has stretched universities’ traditional cultural, political, and/or intellectual bonds and has invariably presented challenges, particularly when national priorities have differed—for example, with respect to curricular programs, governance structures, norms of academic freedom, etc. Strategies of university internationalization that either ignore or downplay cultural, political, or intellectual differences often fail, especially when the pursuit of new international connections is perceived to weaken national ties. If the essays in this collection agree on anything, they agree that approaches to internationalization that seem to “de-nationalize” the university usually do not succeed (at least not for long).

A Brief Overview of the Essays

The first essay in this collection takes us back to a moment in the late nineteenth century when British “settler” universities in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa entered a period of transition. As Tamson Pietsch explains, settler universities were built to serve local needs, but by the 1870s and 1880s, it was clear that their success would hinge both on their responsiveness to local conditions and to the changing shape of “universal” science and learning. Reliant on local constituencies for students (and provincial governments for revenue), they expanded their curricula to meet new demands and opened their doors to new populations—especially women and the middle classes. At the same time, as a revolution in science, technology, and commerce began to reshape the form and content of “the higher learning,” settler universities invested in programs that would connect their staff and students to international networks.

Fast-growing economies brought new expectations to universities as local and provincial governments pledged more resources in exchange for more “applied” work. Yet, even as settler universities such as McGill, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, and Cape Town began to expand, their “internationalization” remained a British internationalization. Ties with the empire took priority. In the 1880s, the University of Toronto had closer ties with Cambridge, England (3,500 miles away), than Cambridge, Massachusetts (500 miles away). Cultural and intellectual bonds, often maintained through close personal relationships, guided the process of “reaching out.” Thus, even while settler universities expanded their student numbers, scholarly networks, and scientific productivity, their international orientation remained (as it were) “close to home.”

Imperial bonds among British settler institutions grounded collaborations well into the next century. Glen Jones highlights a “key moment” in 1911 when Canada’s universities joined representatives from the University of London for a meeting in Montreal to build support for the first “Congress of the Universities of the Empire,” to be held in London the following year. Just as settler universities had drawn on colonial ties, Jones describes the Congress meetings as “large family reunions where distant relatives could exchange information on current events and work out possible solutions to common problems.” Much like the American Association of Universities (which was founded in 1900 and added McGill and Toronto in 1926), the new Congress laid the groundwork for subsequent collaborations and helped member institutions negotiate a shift from “empire” to “commonwealth.” Following close on the heels of the landmark Imperial Conferences of 1907 and 1911, it compensated for greater national independence by reinforcing historic ties.

University consortia seemed the way of the future. Persisting through economic depression and war (as well as the dissolution of the empire), the later-renamed Association of Commonwealth Universities successfully navigated a transition from imperialist to internationalist justifications for university cooperation. Members coordinated admissions standards, discussed research priorities, and shared resources where possible. Through its publications, the association helped to codify the study of higher education at a time when this field was just starting to coalesce. By the 1950s and 1960s, as regional university consortia began to arise in Asia (e.g., the Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning, founded in 1956) and the United States (e.g., the Midwest Universities’ Consortium on International Affairs, founded in 1964), the Association of Commonwealth Universities built on a sense of cultural solidarity to bolster collective strengths. At the heart of its success was its members’ recognition that, in the increasingly complex, competitive, and interconnected world of the future, universities would have to collaborate across continents.

This is not to say that members of the Association of Commonwealth Universities allowed international collaborations to overshadow national priorities, nor that international partnerships were limited to Commonwealth members. On the contrary, as Geoffrey Sherington’s portrait of the University of Sydney in 1930 reveals, national aims still took precedence even as international partnerships extended far and wide. Sydney, a settler university established in 1850, was meant to serve provincial and national needs through a comprehensive program of teaching and research. By the 1920s, however, the cost of the university’s steady growth had outpaced its revenue from state grants, philanthropic endowments, and student fees. By 1930, Sherington notes, the university was “almost bankrupt.” Its response to financial difficulty was significant: during the economic crisis of the 1930s, as out-of-work students sought admission in record numbers, the university expanded (whereas universities elsewhere in the world contracted). More students brought more tuition, and the university adapted to meet new demands for applied fields of study.

Expansion affected not only Sydney’s undergraduate curriculum but also its postgraduate research programs. Both the provincial and the national government—together with international donors—helped the university create new chairs to advance economic (and geostrategic) interests. Post-World War I geopolitics had given Australia more regional influence, and U.S. philanthropic organizations(including the Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation) partnered with the Australian state to support research to advance economic development—as well as cultural understanding and political stability in the broader Southwestern Pacific zone. The fact that funds came from America indicated not only shifting contours of power in the 1930s but also Sydney’s willingness to be creative about financial support. Sydney’s internationally trained vice chancellor, Robert Strachan Wallace, framed the university’s foreign partnerships as a way simultaneously to serve provincial, national, regional, and international aims.

Just as Sherington follows reforms at Sydney from the 1930s to the present, Renato H.L. Pedrosa follows the history of the University of São Paulo in Brazil during the same period. The differences between these institutions’ approaches to internationalization amidst financial crisis shed light on the role of national context in shaping university development. In the case of Brazil, global economic shifts had begun to alter domestic politics as early as the 1920s, when international competition drove down the price of Brazilian coffee. The state of São Paulo, a center of coffee production, found itself gradually losing political and commercial influence. After the disputed presidential election of 1930, when São Paulo’s winning candidate was ousted by the authoritarian Getúlio Vargas, a small cadre of intellectuals persuaded São Paulo’s governor to found a modern university in the state capital. According to Pedrosa, the establishment of the University of São Paulo marked a “key moment” in the history of Brazilian higher education not only because it was the country’s first comprehensive research university but also because it represented a sharp contrast to Vargas-style nationalist modernization.

Whereas the heavy-handed Vargas imposed (quasi-fascist) nationalism and centralized governance on Brazil’s emerging system of federal universities—as well as other state-controlled institutions and industries—the University of São Paulo offered a competing model of liberal internationalism and decentralized governance. With help from a wide variety of foreign (mostly European and American) scholars, the University of São Paulo held that a new scientific cosmopolitan approach to higher education would modernize the Brazilian state and prepare the nation for its future. Unlike the universities controlled by Vargas (and his successors), the University of São Paulo looked outward rather than inward; it rejected Vargas’s “hyper-nationalization” and, instead, framed “internationalization” as the key to local, provincial, and ultimately national strength. The strategy worked. The University of São Paulo out-lasted Vargas to become the leading research university not only in Brazil but in all of Latin America.

Already by the 1950s and 1960s, the University of São Paulo had become a model for other universities across Brazil, some of which received financial support from the U.S. government and from U.S. philanthropic foundations (notably the Ford Foundation), which invested millions of dollars in higher education in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and other countries as part of a broader agenda of international development tied to cold-war geopolitics.[2] By the 1960s, a new approach to internationalization had taken root in many Latin American universities: one guided by the pursuit of external financial support. While the idea of external support was hardly new, foreign aid took on more interventionist forms in the context of the cold war. The principal difference between U.S. support for Australian higher education in the 1930s and U.S. support for Latin American higher education in the 1960s was that Australian universities retained more control over institutional agenda-setting while Latin American universities increasingly allowed foreign partners to dictate the process of “reform.”

The result, as Christopher Loss shows in his essay “Cambridge Meets Ciudad Guayana,” sometimes led to a perceived “de-nationalization” of scholarship allegedly intended to advance national development. Ciudad Guayana provides a case in point. With technical assistance from the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies (funded by the Ford Foundation), the government of Venezuela set out to build, de novo, a planned industrial city in Venezuela’s oil-rich Guayana region. Just as the province of São Paulo had looked to foreign academics to catalyze regional development, so did Venezuela. But the result was not what the government had bargained for: plans for the “slumless city” were soon frustrated by the rise of squatter settlements, construction glitches, and other unforeseen problems. Even as “Ciudad Guayana” became a textbook case for students at Harvard and MIT, it offered a cautionary tale about the dangers of positivist social science that sought to generalize theory without adequately understanding local context. In this case, “de-nationalized” scholarship did little to serve the cause of Venezuela’s development for the future.

Concerns about the “de-nationalization” of scholarship guide the next three essays in this collection, all on the history of higher education in China. In “Foreign Influences, Nationalism, and the Founding of Modern Chinese Universities, 1917-1927,” Shen Wenqin explores an early attempt to import the philosophy and practices of Western (especially German) research universities during the first years of the Republic of China. Leaders such as Cai Yuanpei, who had studied in Germany, worked hard during the 1910s and 1920s to reform Chinese higher education along Western lines. He encouraged a greater focus on scientific research and specialized knowledge as well as faculty-centered models of academic governance. Within ten years—from 1917 to 1927—China either founded or reformed several universities, including Cai’s own Peking University, that borrowed from Western examples.

Here as elsewhere, however, the broader context was crucial. After the Western powers had suppressed the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the twentieth century, many in China felt their country had been humiliated. Cai, along with Chen Duxiu and other members of the New Culture Movement, sought alternatives to Confucian training and looked for inspiration to Western ideas of science and democracy. Particularly after World War I (when, to China’s dismay, Shandong territories were transferred from German to Japanese control), the New Culture Movement called for a reassertion of Chinese rights and national sovereignty. Informed by foreign visitors such as John Dewey and Bertrand Russell, the movement combined internationalism with nationalism to forge a new Chinese identity. Some of its members, seeing themselves as modern cosmopolitans, had, by the early 1920s, embraced revolutionary conceptions of communist internationalism as the key to China’s future.

Within a few years, however, the New Culture Movement began to fray. Although there was general agreement on the need for modern science (and modern universities that were open to competing political views), some maintained that U.S.-oriented liberal internationalism could help to create a new China while others, inspired by the Soviet model, warned against too-eager integration with the West. This split came to a head in the anti-western Nationalist revolution of 1925-1928. Before the revolution, copying western university models had been cast as a way to use foreign expertise to build a future leadership cadre; internationalization, in short, was seen as a productive force for future national development. After the revolution, this dynamic changed. Supported by Soviet aid, revolutionaries attacked western embassies and commercial interests and eventually consolidated power under Chiang Kai-Shek. By the 1930s, Cai’s earlier view of German and American universities as models for China was subject to increasing debate.

Cai died in 1940, but the debate between nationalism and internationalism continued in Chinese universities. The revolution of 1949, led by Mao Zedong (once a New Culture adherent), did not end these debates. With the rise of the Communist regime, Chinese university officials pursued new strategies of internationalization to prepare for the future. In “Government-Backed Study Abroad and the Internationalization of Chinese Higher Education, 1945-1985,” Gilsun Song notes that, after the revolution, Chinese leaders actively fostered international collaborations with Communist allies (particularly with the Soviet Union). Study-abroad programs became a prefer-red means of borrowing foreign ideas and practices. In keeping with the (global) postwar focus on economic reconstruction, university partnerships were geared toward building research capacity among Chinese scholars in science and technology.

On the one hand, the internationalization of Chinese universities in this period resembled that of western universities, in that scholarly exchanges connected politically allied countries to build technical expertise and system capacity. On the other hand, Chinese ideology during this era shunned the liberal-cosmopolitanism of western universities as “bourgeois” and, thus, anti-revolutionary. This framing was carried to extremes during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when all foreign exchange ceased and those who had studied abroad were persecuted. Here was a moment in which internationalization per se was fundamentally—indeed violently—rejected. A key element marking the end of the Cultural Revolution was the return of “internationalization” with a series of state policies to send Chinese students abroad, policies that culminated in the great “opening” of 1978. University (chiefly postgraduate) exchanges with the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, England, Canada, and other countries marked a new era of internationalization, with a renewed emphasis on economic development.

While many Chinese academics went abroad in the 1970s and 1980s to study the natural sciences, Song notes that a far greater number went to study foreign languages and cultures. What distinguished these academics from their New Culture predecessors a half-century earlier was the political context to which they returned: a shift from culture to capital as the basic orientation of Chinese internationalization frames Yang Rui’s essay, “Long Road Ahead: Modernizing Chinese Universities.” Stressing the longue durée, Yang offers a cautionary tale about the challenges of adopting foreign university models without a clear understanding of how they might (or might not) coexist with established customs. Yang notes, for instance, that China’s ancient tradition of higher education in service to the state has coexisted awkwardly with the Western university’s emphasis on institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Are these different traditions compatible? What sorts of “integration” might be possible? What approaches to internationalization might help China avoid the dangers of “de-nationalized” scholarship? Yang questions China’s recent efforts to adopt Western educational practices with an eye toward improving international league standings. He asks whether these “rankings” are even relevant to national or local needs—and he is not alone. Geoffrey Sherington notes that, in the context of neoliberal reform, the University of Sydney’s “public mission” has been gradually “supplanted by the perception of Australia’s universities as part of a global market dependent for survival on [international] competition for students and research grants.” Renato H. L. Pedrosa likewise notes that the University of São Paulo is piloting online education (e.g., Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs) to enable students to earn degrees from anywhere in the world. Chris Loss warns that university leaders who are seeking “to build institutions that span the globe” risk forgetting the needs of the localities in which they operate.

What, then, does the future hold? Some insist that, in the neoliberal university, strategies of internationalization will render the institution place-less. They say that new forms of digital learning will make physical campuses obsolete; that mobility will allow students (at least elite students) to move fluidly across institutions (even as open access makes it possible for non-elite students to seek higher education en masse). They say that user interests will shape the curriculum, making it ever-more-individualized and responsive to personal demands; that virtual media will enable students to download lectures wherever they may be, even if they have no intention of completing a course. They say that one-off credentials (or certificates in specialized niche fields) will replace the broad education associated with formal degrees; that private investments will supplement—or supersede—public funding as higher education and corporate industry become “synergized”; and that all these changes will make “the global university” of the future more cost-effective and serviceable in a competitive knowledge economy.

While this neoliberal vision of the university may come to pass, the concluding essay in this collection offers a rather different view. In “Higher Education Between National Ambitions, Supranational Coordination, and Global Competition: The University of Luxembourg in the Bologna Era,” Justin Powell sees a future in which governments still invest significant resources in brick-and-mortar universities; students continue to seek traditional degrees through studies both on- and off-campus; admission becomes more selective, not less, as institutions chase “prestige” among increasingly global talent pools; and the university continues to be a symbol of national culture and a key driver of national development. According to Powell, the University of Luxembourg reflects the long tradition of “national” universities in Europe and, simultaneously, serves as a bold symbol of Europe’s attempt to “internationalize” universities by encouraging common standards and coordinated degrees.

The founding of the University of Luxembourg in 2003 represents a “key moment” in the history of higher education for two reasons, Powell argues. On the one hand, it demonstrated the continued importance of comprehensive national research universities to modern conceptions of economic competitiveness, the development of human capital, and training for a political and economic elite. On the other hand, the university (and the nation of Luxembourg itself) embodies the cross-border mobility of intellectual capital in today’s Europe. As the world’s second-richest country by per-capita GDP, Luxembourg has committed an exceptional level of financial support to its university. Not unlike its Enlightenment predecessors, it aims to become an “international” university serving “national” interests. It seeks to use higher education to diversify the country’s economy beyond steelmaking and banking, and, like other cases discussed in this collection, it hopes to expand its research capacity by “importing” scholars from around the world.

What will the landscape of international higher education look like a generation from now? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for universities, especially “global” research universities? And what can university leaders do to prepare for the major social, economic, and political changes—both foreseen and unforeseen—that may be on the horizon? On balance, these essays suggest that the answer to this final question may be: very little. In many cases, higher-education leaders found themselves, despite their best efforts, reacting to broad social, economic, political, and geopolitical changes beyond their control. In the best cases, successful leaders and their institutions found innovative ways to respond to unanticipated historical-structural change by building on traditional and well-established strengths and networks. Those experiments which veered too far in the direction of “de-nationalization” or extreme nationalism—such as in the case of Ciudad Guyana or in the era of China’s Cultural Revolution—often failed.

Yet, if the specific institutional cases in this collection—the University of Sydney, the University of São Paulo, and the University of Luxembourg—offer any clues, the lessons of the past can help institutional leaders prepare for the future. These cases demonstrate that a university attuned to national interests can succeed in a world increasingly characterized by cross-border mobility, and that even a “global” research university can (perhaps must) also serve the state. As higher-education leaders confront the twenty-first century, they may be well served to note that global cooperation and competition must square with national contexts as well as local interests. In some ways, universities in 2030 will operate differently—one thinks of the likely continued growth of online learning—but in other ways, the university will remain an institution defined by place, and by the local constituencies it claims to support. In this way, it will continue to respond to global pressures and serve national interests, as it has done for centuries.




“The 1880s: Global Connections and the British Settler Universities”

Tamson Pietsch, Brunel University (UNITED KINGDOM)

To a visitor from Britain, the original buildings of many of the universities established in the middle of the nineteenth century in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa appear reassuringly familiar. With ivied cloisters and neo-gothic edifices, they seem to stand as tangible signs of the exportation of old world traditions to the new.

But it would be a mistake to see these early settler universities as little more than transported institutions. They were not set up by British officials, as in India and later Africa, but rather by self-confident local elites who saw them as both symbols and disseminators of European civilisation in the colonies. Providing a classical and liberal (and often religious) education, these institutions were designed to cultivate both the morals and the minds of the young men who would lead colonial societies. Presuming the universality and superiority of ‘Western’ culture, they established themselves as the local representatives of ‘universal’ knowledge, proudly proclaiming this position in the neo-gothic buildings they erected and the Latin mottos they adopted. Fashioned by colonial politics and frequently funded by the state, in their early years, these ‘settler’ universities were very much local affairs.

However, in the 1870s the established relationship between culture and power had begun to change. On one hand, imperial expansion and revolutions in transport and communication and science were expanding the content and social function of ‘universal’ culture. On the other, in the context of an expansive franchise, local settler communities were beginning to demand that the universities they were financially supporting should be more than cultural incubators of a narrow elite. Still struggling for student numbers, settler universities could not afford to ignore these demands. To survive, they needed to find new ways to re-assert their position as cultural institutions that straddled the local and the global. They did so in two ways.

First, settler universities reconfigured their relationship with their local communities. They expanded their educational constituencies by widening their curricula and by expanding their franchise to include women and the middle classes – often doing so well in advance of universities in the United Kingdom (UK). From the 1880s students at Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and New Zealand could take degrees in pure and applied science, and by the 1890s schools of law and medicine were flourishing in institutions across Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. At the turn of the century this provision widened further to include engineering, veterinary science, dentistry, agriculture, architecture, education and commerce. Women began to be admitted in the same period, and universities’ active involvement in the extension of public primary and secondary schooling also opened the way to entry for many more members of the middle classes. In these ways, settler universities shored up their local legitimacy.

Second, settler universities renegotiated their relationship to ‘universal’ scholarship. Unlike the largely static classical curriculum, scientific research was a dynamic and rapidly expanding field of study. If they were to sustain their claim to be credentialisers of knowledge, settler universities also had to find new ways to demonstrate their connection and contribution to this new branch of ‘global’ knowledge.

They did so by ‘internationalising’ some of the structures of knowledge in the colonies. First, they improved access to intellectual resources, through expanding library provision and increasing their investment in foreign publications. Second, they sought to improve the mobility of their staff and students by establishing travelling scholarship schemes and leave of absence (sabbatical) programmes that carried them abroad. Third, they developed new practices for the recruitment of staff which relied heavily on the private recommendations of trusted individuals in Britain: Australian universities set up appointment committees in London, and Canadian university presidents wrote to friends across the UK seeking recommendations. Such appointment practices helped to foster close connections between academics in Britain and the colonies, tying settler universities into the informal networks at the heart of the British university system.

Together, these innovations worked to connect previously locally-oriented colonial institutions into a wider world of academic scholarship. They reconfigured the relationship between academic knowledge and location, creating measures of proximity and distance that depended on personal connections as well as territorial location.

However, the academic ‘world’ created by the long-distance connections these changes brought about was nonetheless still a limited one. Despite their intellectual engagement with ‘foreign’ ideas – despite their purchase of European journals and notwithstanding professorial trips to Berlin and Leipzig and sometimes the United States – it was primarily to Britain that scholars and students from settler universities gravitated. The reach of their personal ties and the routes of their repeated migrations thus mapped not a ‘universal’ but rather a ‘British’ academic world that expanded to include Canada and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but for the most part did not extend in the same way to Europe, America, India, and East Asia. Indeed, from the 1880s on, universities in both Britain and the empire began to enshrine this world in statutes that gave preferential standing to each other’s degrees, and to express it in imperial associations and congresses that at once proclaimed and reinforced its existence.

Settler universities responded to the challenges presented by the intensified global connections of the late nineteenth century by reasserting their position as local institutions that credentialised ‘universal’ knowledge. In many ways they were successful – the position of institutions such as McGill, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, and the University of Cape Town is in no small part due to the innovations of the 1880s. But by creating structures that enabled and encouraged personal connections with British scholars, settler universities also helped establish the uneven lines of global connection and irregular geographies of access that continue to condition these institutions today.


“Congress of the Universities of the Empire”

Glen A. Jones, University of Toronto (CANADA)

In June of 1911, representatives of sixteen universities met in Montreal. No one attending the event could have predicted the important role the meeting would play in furthering both national and international collaboration between universities. All but one of the universities represented at the meeting were Canadian, and this would be the very first national meeting of Canadian university leaders. Participants concluded that the exchange of information and views among senior university officials had been important and productive. A second formal meeting of Canadian university presidents took place in 1915. When the group met again in 1917 they formally created the National Conference of Canadian Universities, an organization that would play a leadership role in facilitating the sharing of information between universities and building a national higher education community. That organization would become the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada in 1965 (Pilkington, 1974).

The only non-Canadian university represented at the Montreal meeting was the University of London. R.D. Roberts, London’s university extension registrar, had assumed the role of secretary for the proposed first Congress of the Universities of the Empire, scheduled to convene in 1912. The objective of his trip to Montreal in 1911 was to encourage participation in this first international meeting and discuss the agenda (Charbonneau, 2011).

The 1912 Congress hosted by the University of London would be the first of nine periodic conferences designed to bring together university leaders from across the Empire. At this first meeting, participants concluded that they should create an office designed to facilitate the exchange of information, and the Universities Bureau of the British Empire was opened in London in 1913. With plans postponed because of the war, the second Congress took place in Oxford in 1921. The Congress met every five years until World War II. At its 1948 meeting, the organization changed its name to the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth. The first meeting outside Great Britain took place in Montreal in 1958. In 1963, the organization received a royal charter as the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) (Ashby, 1963).

The creation of regular meetings between universities within the British Empire in the early twentieth century was an important step in international collaboration within higher education.[3] Universities had emerged within most of the British colonies, heavily influenced by English and Scottish institutional models, but there were few formal connections between these institutions. Given a common language and institutional ancestry, the Congress meetings played the role of large family reunions where distant relatives could exchange information on current events and work out possible solutions to common problems. While membership was largely a function of colonialism, the organization maintained a clear separation from government and was largely disengaged from politics. The organization evolved with the commonwealth, transitioning from its colonial roots in the British Empire to the more egalitarian international relationships associated with the Commonwealth of Nations emerging from the Singapore Declaration of 1971.[4]

The agendas of Congress meetings focused on the key higher education issues of the day and provided a forum for international discussions of admissions standards and curriculum. The meetings brought together participants from universities in quite different economic contexts with quite different resources and capacities. Higher-education leaders from Africa and India were at the table with peers from the more developed colonies of Australia and Canada, though few would deny the special respect awarded to the Oxbridge patriarchs. As Sir Eric Ashby noted in his history of the Association:

Transplanted universities do not indefinitely remain replicas of the stock from which they come. . . . Like vegetation adapted to alps and deserts, universities adapt themselves to unfamiliar environments. Yet they remain unmistakably universities notwithstanding local differences in emphasis; they pursue similar curricula; they aspire to remain on a ‘gold standard’ of scholarship; none of them could stand alone, and their strength lies in the fact that they share a common tradition and they draw freely on one another’s resources. (Ashby, 1963, p. 94).

The organization would also leave behind an important legacy of reports documenting the key higher issues and debates during a time period when there was little formal scholarship or analysis of higher education. Congress proceedings became important reference documents; in fact, the Proceedings of the Fourth Congress even received a short review in Nature (1932). The annual yearbooks of the ACU included detailed descriptions and analyses of almost every higher education system in the Commonwealth written by national experts – frequently the only scholarly reference work available for many of these systems

The creation of an international network represented a logical and innovative response to the increasing international challenges associated with higher education in the early twentieth century. Universities wanted to pave the way for their students to move easily into graduate programs at peer institutions. They wanted to ensure that students completing the new graduate degree programs would be serious candidates for academic appointments at other universities. They were concerned with the increasing international influence of German and American research universities. Building an international community of universities was a strategy for furthering the status and advancing the work of its members. It became an important mechanism for forging connections between institutions that shared many similar concerns and questions.

With over 500 members in 37 countries, the Association of Commonwealth Universities continues to play an important role as an international network of universities in the 21st century. It continues to facilitate an international conversation between institutions, support professional networks and professional development for senior staff, and promote mobility.



Ashby, E. (1963). Community of universities: An informal portrait of the Association of    Universities of the British Commonwealth, 1913-1963. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Charbonneau, L. (2011). A meeting of minds in Montreal. University Affairs. Retrieved on June 10, 2013 from:

Fourth Congress (1932). Review of “Fourth Congress of the Universities of the Empire, 1931.Report of the Proceedings.” Nature, 129, 816.

Pilkington, G. (1974). A History of the National Conference of Canadian Universities, 1911-1961. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Toronto.


“The University of Sydney in Financial Transition: 1930 and Beyond”

Geoffrey Sherington, University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)

In 1930, the University of Sydney was confident in its educational past but uncertain of its financial future. Various factors constrained and limited its response to change even though the onset of the Depression would eventually increase enrolments. But in the area of research, there was clearer recognition of opportunities arising from both national and transnational contexts. Financial crisis and new research opportunities in depression and then war provided for a new transition.

Founded in 1850, Sydney was Australia’s first university, grounded initially on the ideal of a liberal education and influenced by examples of reformed Oxford and Cambridge. It was also conceived as the initial Australian public university, offering secular instruction, supported through state endowment and private philanthropy, and open to those of academic merit – a group which soon included both males and females. During the 1880s, with the assistance of a large private bequest, the University was able to expand its teaching to include more subjects in humanities and sciences as well as the professional faculties of medicine and law.

As the University grew, its governance structure evolved. The University had been established through state legislation and state endowment, but its governance structure provided for autonomy and independence. The governing body, the University Senate, had been originally composed of sixteen appointees, both civic figures and representative of religious denominations (some of which maintained colleges attached to the University). The Senate oversaw financial matters, including fees, salaries and appointments, while a Professorial Board held responsibility for the curriculum, examinations, and student discipline. The Professors also exercised a civic role through setting the public exams for local schools. By 1912, membership in the Senate had been widened under new legislation to include graduates elected through a convocation of graduates. As part of the changes to university governance, New South Wales increased its annual endowment and provided for state bursaries and scholarships.

By the First World War, the University of Sydney had become part of a world of universities founded on British culture and learning with expanding research networks throughout the British Empire. Simultaneously, it became more closely associated with the development of the public education system of New South Wales (the largest of the six Australian states of the new Federation from 1901). Meanwhile, the number of professional faculties continued to expand—now including not just law, medicine, and engineering but also agricultural and veterinary science and then pharmacy and architecture.

Few could have foreseen the changes that would occur after the First World War when a financial crisis emerged. By the late 1920s, half of the students at the University paid no fees, a proportion much higher than other Australian universities, except the University of Western Australia, which had provided free tuition since its foundation in 1911, but only with the support of a large philanthropic bequest. In contrast, the University of Sydney had declining fees, no prospect of a large new bequest, and declining grants from government. Burdened by wartime debt, all Australian governments looked for ways to save. By 1930, the University of Sydney was almost bankrupt. Large philanthropic bequests from the nineteenth century were exhausted. State grants were no longer sufficient. Student fee income had been eroded—ironically, by the policy of extensive state and teacher college scholarships initiated before the war. Under the terms of these state scholarships, all student holders of these awards received free tuition, thus denying the University a traditional source of income.

In this context, new leadership emerged. For decades, University governance had depended on a part-time Chancellor as chair of the Senate (usually a long-term member of the faculty) but now moved towards a full-time Vice Chancellor to manage all university affairs. In 1928, an outsider, Robert Strachan Wallace, assumed the post. Sydney had long appointed its professors from Britain and also Europe, and Wallace was in this mould, having international experience in Scotland, England, Germany, and Australia. A professor of English, his most recent appointment had been as Dean of Arts and President of the Professorial Board at the University of Melbourne. He also had extensive administrative experience in the military during the First World War.

The appointment of Wallace reveals both the strengths and weaknesses of Australian university administration in 1930. Appointed principally for his academic credentials as well as his charm, Wallace had to balance the University’s past against new interests. He declared that he hoped to bring the University into ‘closer relationship with the public’. But first he had to secure its financial future. Negotiating with a new commission created by the New South Wales Government, he made progress toward increasing annual state grants—provided the University improved its administrative efficiency.

A new agreement to increase state grants was almost reached when the onset of the Depression in 1930 destroyed all these plans. The annual grant was not increased but cut. The University Senate was forced to reduce salaries by 10 per cent. For the next two years there was continuous correspondence and bitterness between the University and the Government over the effect of these reductions in the budget.

In the end, it was not so much planning but the Depression itself which brought about change. During the 1930s, more students remained in school, seeking qualifications that might lead to employment. Within a decade, the University’s enrolment increased 34.5 percent, from 2,712 to 3,647 students. Significantly, government grants grew, and so did the proportion of student fees, from 30 per cent of income in 1930 to 37 per cent in 1940. Much of the increase had been due to expanding enrolments in the professional Faculties. As Vice Chancellor Wallace now claimed that the University provided for students ‘a thorough grounding in the elements of the profession of their choice,’ even though some might say ‘Commercialism…has invaded even the seats of learning’. In this way, student demand worked to supplant planning in the various fields of teaching.

The road to recovery was much different in research, where transnational influences became more prominent. Academics from Sydney continued to participate in the British world of learning and research throughout the 1920s, and by the 1930s, many Sydney graduates were leaders in their area of research, taking up posts in Britain or elsewhere or returning home to Australia to teach. But increasingly many of Sydney’s leading researchers were homegrown.

And then there were international and philanthropic interests in Australian research. Both the Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation discovered Australian universities as a field for endeavour. They were particularly interested in developing Sydney as a national research institute. Both sent delegations to meet Vice Chancellor Wallace, trying to persuade him that the University should move away from the ‘standards and ideals of a generation past’, guided by professors from Oxford and Cambridge or the Scottish universities, and accept the new era of ‘specialised areas of research’ now found in North America. To support the new era, both the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation provided funds to support research associated with a new chair in anthropology at Sydney.

The chair in anthropology had been established by funds from the Australian Government with the expectation this would lead to training for patrol officers in New Guinea – a territory which Australia had acquired under a League of Nations mandate after the First World War. Even prior to the creation of anthropology chair the Australian Government had funded a chair in Oriental Studies, recognising Australia’s place near to Asia, and would later establish a chair in aeronautical engineering at Sydney on the eve of the Second World War.

It was the perceived national benefits of university research that brought the Commonwealth government into closer association with all of Australia’s universities in this period. The Second World War and the post-war period consolidated the idea of universities as the basis for nation building, further strengthening support for the Commonwealth government’s expanded national grants for research and teaching in the 1950s and 1960s. The University of Sydney became a major beneficiary of these views.

Such a national agenda would prevail until almost the end of the twentieth century, only to be supplanted by the perception of Australia’s universities as part of a global market dependent for survival on competition for students and research grants. For the University of Sydney, this has meant that one-fifth of its students are now international enrolments, so reducing reliance on government for funds. At the same time, the University now seeks to measure its research not so much by national standards as global rankings. This history suggests that public universities often face a number of dilemmas in balancing autonomy and financial viability. Relationships with governments were once crucial, but equally, the growth of global-isation provides new issues that extend well beyond national boundaries.


“The Research University in Brazil: 1930 and 2030”

Renato H. L. Pedrosa, University of Campinas (BRAZIL)

Brazil was one of the last countries in the Americas to develop higher education. In 1930, despite more than four hundred years of European colonial influence, Brazil had not yet developed a full-fledged modern research university, even though the institutional model was already present in some other Latin American countries. That changed, however, following the 1929 financial collapse. The political and economic fallout from that global disaster would precipitate the founding of Brazil’s first university, the University of São Paulo (USP), in 1934. From its beginnings as a regional alternative to the authoritarian regime’s plan for national higher education, USP would flourish, becoming the country’s leading research university by the end of the twentieth century.

Even before the economic and political turmoil of the 1930s, Brazil was undergoing important economic and political change. Since the establishment of the Republic in 1889, the country’s political power had been split between Rio de Janeiro, the official capital, São Paulo, a center of coffee production and emerging industry, and Minas Gerais, a colonial-era mining center. By the early 1920s, however, falling prices and greater international competition had begun to erode the Brazilian coffee industry. It was becoming increasingly clear to many of Brazil’s leaders that the country would need to invest in alternatives to coffee production in order to promote long-term economic growth. In no region of the country was such concern greater than São Paulo, whose national political and commercial clout was built upon the coffee trade.

In this political and economic context, a controversial presidential election would spark revolution. Fueled by populist outrage over falling coffee prices—prices had dropped by more than fifty percent between 1929 and 1930—supporters of Getúlio Vargas, the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, challenged the electoral victory of São Paulo’s Julio Prestes in the 1930 contest. A nationwide revolt ensued, and in less than a month, Vargas was installed as president, a post that he would hold for the next fifteen years under an authoritarian regime. Meanwhile, similar revolutionary movements swept through South America, many involving military coups and occasional violence, in countries such as Argentina (1930), Bolivia (1930), Peru (1930 and 1931), Ecuador (1931 and 1932), and Chile (1932) (Fausto, 1997).

Vargas’ rise to power was itself a key moment for higher education in Brazil. Soon after assuming the presidency in 1931, he established a new law governing Brazilian universities, the “Statutes of Brazilian Universities Act,” a body of rules and regulations that would guide the development of Brazilian higher education for the next thirty years. The Act also included a provision for the founding of the University of Rio de Janeiro, complete with 328 articles that detailed the new institution down to specific courses it would offer. It thus appeared that the era of relatively decentralized development of higher education of the early republican period was over. Brazil, Vargas declared, would follow a centralized model similar to those found in European countries like France and Italy.

The state of São Paulo, however, would demonstrate its independence from federal control by establishing a very different university and governance structure. In 1932, São Paulo called on Vargas to make good on his promise to write a new constitution and return the country to democratic rule. The constitutional movement failed, but in its wake, Julio de Mesquita Filho, the publisher of the most important newspaper in São Paulo, developed a new strategy to restore São Paulo’s influence in national affairs. Mesquita Filho became convinced that only by becoming the country's intellectual leader would the state regain its dominance (Schartzman, 1991). He thus persuaded São Paulo’s governor, Armando Oliveira, to establish a modern research university in the state capital.

         Mesquita Filho selected Fernando de Azevedo, who had worked earlier on a university project commissioned by Mesquita Filho, to develop a plan for what would become the University of São Paulo. In contrast to the detailed federal higher education laws under Vargas, USP’s founding document was just 54 articles long and proposed a liberal and decentralized structure for the new institution. The first item of the second article, which established the mission of USP, reflected a central tenet of modern, Western-style universities around the globe. It proclaimed that the university should “promote the advancement of science by means of research.” The most important aspect of the early institution was its faculty, which included many foreign intellectuals and scientists brought from Europe for the specific purpose of starting academic departments. It included many young scholars, like the French historian Fernand Braudel and the anthropologist Claude Lévy-Strauss, who would become leaders in their respective fields after World War II.

What is known as the paulista enterprise has flourished. Today, USP is the top university in all rankings among Latin American universities and one of the few from that continent that appears in international rankings. Brazil has also developed a large group of public universities, more or less following the model of USP, many of which were reformed in the 1960s through the import of U.S.-inspired graduate education programs. Among Latin American countries, Brazil is now a leader in research and graduate education and is ranked 13th in the world in number of internationally published papers (Brito Cruz & Pedrosa 2013).

How might the past shape the future of Brazilian higher education and, specifically, the University of São Paulo? In September 2013, USP announced that it will start to offer MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) without any restriction regarding registration; whether such courses will be awarded university credits, however, remains up for debate, as it is at many universities around the world. The international trend of providing courses and even full programs using online technology is certainly one that research universities like USP will have to face, as online learning may become a common feature of university curricula in the near future.       

         The on-campus student will still be there in 2030, certainly, but more and more people will develop their own program paths without being in residence or restricting themselves to a single institution. One can see graduate education expanding and becoming more diversified with more programs that go beyond the traditional academic degrees (MSc/PhD). These changes are likely to go along with a less specialized undergraduate education, a trend that will evolve from the traditional Liberal Arts/General Education curriculum, which will need to be updated and adapted to a country like Brazil, but which will certainly have a place here and in other emergent economies. International scientific collaboration will become even more common than it already is today.

While specific predictions are unlikely to be realized completely, today’s communications revolution will likely be at the core of the most interesting developments in twenty-first-century higher education. Despite a few gloomy predictions, the university will certainly remain a central part of the educational system, doing its job by helping people develop their full potential and by being the source of innovative knowledge, as it has been for at least two centuries.


Brito Cruz, C.H., R.H.L. Pedrosa, Internationalization and the Research University in Brazil: Past and Present Trends. Preprint, 2013.

Fausto, Boris. A Revolução de 1930: Historiografia e História. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, São Paulo, 1997.

Schwartzman, S. (1991), A Space for Science: The Development of the Scientific Community in Brazil. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 1991.


“Cambridge Meets Ciudad Guayana”

Christopher P. Loss, Vanderbilt University (UNITED STATES)

In the past decade, U.S. universities have pursued global partnerships to extend their institutional reach beyond native borders. Although “going global” is hardly a new phenomenon, the aggressiveness with which institutions such as New York University and Yale University have sought out global partnerships suggests a significant departure from the mere exchange of scholars and students. The construction of brick-and-mortar colleges in the Middle East and in Asia has raised important questions as to how academic globalization might alter the future of organized learning both at home and abroad.

As bold as these current endeavors are, there have been other, even more grandiose attempts to export American academic expertise. In 1960, the Joint Center for Urban Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University partnered with the Venezuelan government to help build a city located at the confluence of the Caroni and Orinoco Rivers, in the sparsely inhabited but resource-rich Guayana Region of southern Venezuela. That city was Ciudad Guayana.[5]

The chain of events that led to the Joint Center’s participation in the design of Ciudad Guayana began with a collaboration of two different urban studies centers, one at MIT and the other at Harvard, in 1959. The Ford Foundation funded the partnership between the two schools, encouraging two “urbanists” and friends—Lloyd Rodwin of MIT and Martin Meyerson of Harvard—to combine forces. The Joint Center (1959-1985) was the product of that union.[6]

Meyerson and Rodwin’s goal was to make the Joint Center a leading producer of “basic research” as well as a “bridge between fundamental research and policy application at national and international as well as local levels.”[7] They wanted urban studies to supplant the moribund field of city planning. Well into the 1950s city planning remained a hodgepodge profession of dubious distinction—one still stigmatized by the longstanding and not incorrect assumption that, as historian Peter Hall has described it, “the job of the planners was to make plans, to develop codes to enforce these plans, and then to enforce those codes; relevant planning knowledge was what was needed for that job; planning education existed to convey that knowledge together with the necessary design skills.”[8]

The Joint Center aimed to strengthen planning’s intellectual and professional credibility by injecting it with new ideas from the social and behavioral sciences. Rodwin and Meyerson sought to place the study of the city within a total social and political context. They wanted to challenge planners to “reckon with the lives and living habits of human beings,”[9] vanquishing, once and for all, the mythology of omnipotent planners and charismatic architects that tended to treat people as mere abstractions—as incidental to the planning process itself.[10] The Joint Center set out to correct this deficiency. “The purpose of the new Joint Center for Urban Studies,” declared the memorandum of agreement between MIT and the Harvard, “will be to focus research on the physical environment of cities and regions, the social, economic, governmental, legal technical and aesthetic forces that shape them, and the interrelations between urbanization and society.”[11] Ciudad Guayana offered the Joint Center the chance to explore all of these issues and more.

Founded on July 2, 1961 by decree of President Romulo Betancourt, the “Father of Venezuelan Democracy,” Ciudad Guayana was a planned industrial city built to exploit the natural resources of the region. Venezuela’s booming but unbalanced economy was dominated by the oil industry, and Betancourt thought the development of Guayana would bring greater economic diversification and even more growth, prepping Venezuela, to use Walt Rostow’s widely circulated stage theory, for industrial “take off.”[12] Encompassing nearly a third of the entire country but less than four percent of its growing population of 8 million, Guayana was cast as a latter-day El Dorado and as the key to Venezuelan modernization. Two Joint Center consultants, sent to survey the region, gushed: “No other region of Venezuela – and very few in the entire world – can match the Guayana’s combination of key resources: energy, minerals, forests, water, and a natural access to the Atlantic Ocean…. This concentration of resources is capable, if well oriented, of originating intensive and accelerated social and economic development.”[13] With a projected future population of a quarter million—second only to Caracas—and an estimated price tag of $3.8 billion, Ciudad Guayana was to be the engine of this massive business enterprise.[14]

The Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), a government authority, was tapped to manage the project. The president of the CVG was an enigmatic MIT graduate named General Rafael Alfonso Ravard. It was a chance meeting between Ravard and Rodwin, while Rodwin was in Caracas on a consulting assignment in 1959, that led to the Joint Center’s involvement in the preparation of “a comprehensive development plan” for Ciudad Guayana two years later.[15] With a joint team of Venezuelan and American planners, and with offices in Cambridge, Caracas, and Ciudad Guayana, it was precisely the sort of project that Rodwin and Meyerson thought would result in other big ticket, large-scale city building projects elsewhere around the world (projects that could fund the Joint Center into the future).

That never happened. Imagined as “a vast ‘new’ city … on the empty, grassy plains of southern Venezuela,” it turned out that the plains were not quite as barren as the American planners had been led to believe.[16] By the time the Joint Center’s advance team touched down in the summer of 1961, the CVG had already broken ground on a number of projects. After halting further building, the Americans, led by German émigré designer Willo von Moltke, planned a “linear city” complete with a modern highway network and a bridge across the Caroni River connecting the existing settlements of Puerto Ordaz on the west side to the much poorer port town of San Felix on the east, placing the Alta Vista “city center” directly in the middle. This design was intended to create a unified and fluid metropolitan space, but, in fact, had the opposite effect, reifying inherited housing patterns and socioeconomic divisions. To this day, the “east side” of Ciudad Guayana remains the poor side of town.[17]

The other problem, intimated by the first, was the thousands of landless migrants streaming in every month in search of work and shelter in a city that did not yet exist. Though the planners had hoped that Ciudad Guayana would be a “slumless city,” the uncontrollable spread of squatter settlements quickly disabused them of such fantasies.[18] Planning cities in relatively thinly settled, “non-contiguous frontiers” like the Guayana proved just as challenging as any other planning project, maybe more so. Despite having staked their claim to a version of city planning that figured people in the equation, try as they may, the Joint Center and their Venezuelan counterparts never figured out how to make it all add up.[19]

Five decades later, as academic leaders embark on new transnational ventures, understanding the challenges that emerged when Cambridge met Ciudad Guayana is more vital than ever. For while global higher education partnerships provide intellectual energy for scholars and students, and make the university an exciting place to work and live, these collaborations are often fraught with unintended consequences that can thwart the best-laid plans—and the best planners. University officials and professors must bear this in mind as they continue the quest to build institutions that span the globe.


“Foreign Influences, Nationalism, and the Founding of Modern Chinese Universities, 1917-1927”

Shen Wenqin, Peking University (CHINA)

Although China has a long tradition of higher education, its “modern” universities are a product of the twentieth century and reflective of foreign influences (Hayhoe, 1996; Jin, 2000). The first group of Chinese universities came into being around the turn of the century, led by Beiyang Gongxue (predecessor of Tianjin University, established in 1895), Nanyang Gongxue, Capital Metropolitan University (predecessor of Peking University, 1896), and Shanxi University (1902). But it would be in the years after the Republican revolution of 1911, a movement led by Sun-Yat Sen which toppled the two-thousand year old Qing Dynasty, that Chinese higher education would truly begin to change.

Prior to the demise of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, China only had four universities. And until then, Nanyang Gongxue and Capital Metropolitan University had yet to produce a graduate. Beiyang Gongxue and Shanxi University had 44 and 35 graduates, respectively, though none, remarkably, in the humanities or natural sciences. Chinese higher education generally adhered to ancient traditions of learning in the Confucian tradition. In the post-revolutionary era, however, Chinese leaders would look to “modernize” Chinese higher learning.

Cai Yuanpei, appointed as the first Minister of Education for the new Republic of China in 1912, looked west for models of higher education. Under his leadership, a series of modern education laws and regulations were established, laying the foundation for the development of Western-style higher learning. One of Cai’s first moves was the drafting of a document known as “The Regulation of the Universities” (DaXue Ling), a Ministry of Education proclamation which outlined the modern disciplinary system in Chinese universities. “The Regulation of the Universities” established standards not only for university admissions and operation but also for governance structure—one in which the institution would be run by a president and university senate. Most importantly, the document made research and postgraduate education as central to the university mission.

But it was not until Cai became president of Peking University, a post he assumed in 1917 and held until 1927, that his idea of a university with a “modern mentality of research” (Clark 2006) would be fully realized. This “mentality” was certainly not present when Cai arrived, even though the university had reached considerable size. In 1916, the university had graduated 1,503 degree recipients and 192 teachers, but most students were drawn to the professions—namely law and business—and guided by a sense of “careerism.” Indeed, the number of students in the humanities and natural sciences—the hallmark fields of the modern research university—was very small. The university’s faculty similarly did not value the research enterprise. Cai, in his inaugural address, sought to change this mentality, encouraging students to work hard and attend to scholarship—not careers. He proclaimed the university to be “a place to investigate advanced knowledge.”

From where did Cai’s intense interest in research and scholarship arise? To begin with, Cai had studied in Germany for several years from 1907 to 1911. During this time he became familiar with the German university system and admired the German ideals of academic freedom, original research, and knowledge for its own sake—principles that would become central to his work at Peking University (Chen Hongjie 2002). In 1917, seminars along the lines of those found in German and American universities were founded in the division of humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Cai saw such seminars as places for “the professor and graduate students or advanced students to do research together.” By 1918, Peking had taken its first steps toward realizing Cai’s vision, as 148 students (80 postgraduates and 68 senior undergraduates) participated in the seminar system.

Faculty research was another matter. In 1919, to encourage professors to engage in scientific research, Cai founded The Journal of Peking University, a forum for the publication of faculty research. In the preface of this new journal, he declared that the “University is not a place for teaching knowledge; it is a place to create new knowledge for the republic of scholars”(Cai, 1919). With the addition of another academic journal, the Social Sciences Quarterly, in 1922, the Peking faculty began to publish more widely, and in new fields, including the humanities. Within a few years, Peking University had come to resemble a Chinese version of Johns Hopkins University, an institution complete with research seminars, faculty governance structures, and professional journals.

In many ways, Cai’s reforms at Peking reflected the growing influence of American models as opposed to German ones, as more and more Chinese returned from study abroad in the United States in the 1920s. In 1918, two famous educators, Yanxiu and Zhang Boling, visited the United States and conducted a survey of American higher education. When they returned to China, they founded Nankai University, a private institution reflective of American models. From December 1919 to April 1920, a group of normal school principals and local education authorities headed by Chen Baoquan (president of the Beijing Normal School) and Yuan Xitao (an officer in the Ministry of Education) visited American universities for more than five months. Following their visit, they wrote a report on American higher education offering suggestions for reform in China (Chen Baoquan 1920). Many other young Chinese students and scholars studied in the United States during this time, absorbing the patterns of American higher education and bringing back ideas for change in their home country. Some, including Guo Bingwen, Jiang Mengling, Hu Shi, Zhao Yuanren, and Zhu Kezhen (later president of Zhejiang University) became prominent reformers in Chinese higher education in the 1920s.

As a result of such transatlantic travel and intellectual exchange, a number of features of American higher education could be found in China by the end of 1920s: private universities, the organization of academic work into departments, the elective curriculum for undergraduates, the credit-hour system, and the board of trustees’ governance structure. Like Cai, other Chinese higher education leaders used their experience abroad to shape their own institutions in China. For instance, Guo Bingwen became the President of Southeast University in 1921, while Jiang Mengling became the executive president of Peking University in 1923. The two men received their doctoral degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York City in 1914 and 1918, respectively (Kuo, 1915; Chiang, 1918). The influence of the American model was not confined to these two Universities: in 1929, the Sun Yat-sen University set up a board of trustees that clearly borrowed from the American model.

In less than a decade, from Peking University’s reform under Cai in 1917 to the founding of Sun Yat-sen University in 1924, a modern system of higher education, emphasizing research and academic freedom, had emerged in China. Why were these Chinese higher education leaders so eager to establish “modern” universities in China? One explanation is that figures like Cai Yuanpei, Jiang Mengling, Guo Bingwen, and others were all patriots: “To save the nation through education and scholarship” was their creed. (For example, though they had learned from western models, they supported a policy of reclaiming the management of China’s Christian universities from foreign presidents.) Making China a free, democratic, and prosperous country was the com-mon aspiration of Chinese intellectuals of that generation. During the 1910s and 1920s, the newly established Republic of China was fragile, as warlords and political fragmentation wracked the country. These leaders were convinced that, just as the University of Berlin, the University of Göttingen, and other universities had made Germany into a powerful empire, so too would great Chinese universities lead China toward prosperity and freedom.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to suggest that modern Chinese higher education development was merely a copy of the Western model. The task of establishing a full-fledged research university was an expensive one, challenging even in times of prosperity let alone times of political instability. Chinese reformers could only go so far in implementing Western models. For example, although Cai and other educational leaders realized that graduate education was the core of the modern university, they could not afford to establish full graduate schools. Instead, they relied on research seminars and institutes. Similarly, because they often could not afford expensive laboratory equipment, research and study in the humanities and theoretical sciences took precedence over direct research in the physical and applied sciences.

Chinese educational leaders sought to re-invigorate their country’s higher education system by combining foreign and domestic ideas. For example, the Chinese Studies Center at Tsinghua University, established in 1925, made its work “adopting both the strength of modern schools and ancient Chinese Academy (Shu Yuan).” The ancient tradition of open debate and close interaction between teachers and students flourished there alongside some Western influences. The reforms between 1917 and 1927 were only a beginning, yet they laid the foundation for the future growth of research universities in China. These years would be one of the first of many instances of Chinese educational leaders borrowing from abroad in higher education in the twentieth century, a process of intercultural learning which one scholar has described as “borrowing modernity” (Batchelor, 2005).

Today’s Chinese higher education reformers still pay close attention to higher education in other countries, yet reformers have never been able to completely cast off ancient traditions or ignore the vicissitudes of state politics. In the early twenty-first century, China’s universities can be said to represent a wide range of historical influences and now embody a uniquely Chinese vision of higher education.



Batchelor, Randal Shon (2005). Borrowing modernity: A comparison of educational change in Japan, China, and Thailand from the early seventeenth to the mid-twentieth century, Montana State University.

Cai Yuanpei (1919). Preface for “The Journal of Peking University Research”.

Chen Baoquan.(陳寶泉). Eight Years of European and American Education:The USA Section. Shanghai, The Commerce Publisher, 1920.

Chen, Hongjie (2002). The German Classic idea of University and Its Influence on Chinese Universities (In Chinese) Beijing: Peking University Press.

Clark,William (2006). Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Monlin, Chiang [蒋梦麟] A Study of Chinese Principles of Education. Shanghai, Commercial Press, 1918.

Hayhoe, Ruth. China's Universities, 1895-1995: A Century of Cultural Conflict.Routledge, 1996.

Jin Yilin. Histories of the Modern Universities in China:1895-1949 [In Chinese]. Beijing, Central Party Literature Press, 2000.

Kuo, Ping Wen The Chinese System of Public Education.New York City : Teachers College, Columbia University,


“Government-Backed Study Abroad and the Internationalization of Chinese Higher Education, 1945-1985”

Gilsun Song, Zhejiang University (CHINA)

The internationalization of Chinese higher education proceeded gradually, if unevenly, between 1945 and 1985. During this process, government-backed study abroad programs would become an important channel of international exchange. With the exception of the early years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1972), study abroad and student exchange programs offered Chinese students and higher education leaders opportunities to observe and learn from foreign countries and their educational institutions.

The second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) left China depleted of highly skilled workers and in need of a strategy for postwar reconstruction and national security. China thus looked to its Communist ally, the Soviet Union, as a model for how to develop its human capital through investment in higher education. Between 1949 and 1966, China’s first phase of internationalization proceeded as a form of emulation of the Soviet system of higher education.

Chinese emulation of the Soviet system of higher education involved more than student and teacher exchanges; in fact, Chinese higher education often adopted the Soviet model wholesale, including curriculum planning, rules and regulations, and management measures at a system level. Sino-Soviet exchange programs were a priority for China’s higher education leaders looking to develop foreign relationships. In 1953, the Chinese government issued “Guidelines for the Preparation of Selected Overseas Students to the Soviet Union,” and in 1954, “Chinese Students’ Alliance Instructions Concerning the Selection of Institutions of Higher Education for Studying Abroad in the Soviet Union and Other People’s Democratic Countries Overseas.”

In addition to enacting these types of policies, government meetings concerning overseas students were also held in 1959, 1960, and 1966 (Lian Yan pi 2005). These meetings emphasized “Quality guarantees and a striving for increased numbers,” as well as the idea that China “Should not only pay attention to long-term needs, but also to the present” (Jin Linyxiang 1999, p. 602). Even as these policies and guidelines gradually increased international activities, study abroad and international exchange programs remained somewhat limited in scope and subject to strict oversight and control. For instance, China did not allow students to visit capitalist countries; instead, most went to the Soviet Union and to countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Between 1950 to 1956, the Chinese government sent 10,698 students abroad, and of these, 8,320 students—77 percent—went to the Soviet Union (Chen Xuefei 2004). Nevertheless, important leaders in the Chinese government were shaped by international opportunities during this period, including Jiang Zemin[20], Li Peng[21], Song Jian[22], and Ye Xuanping,[23] each of whom studied abroad in the Soviet Union and would later become core contributors to national development.

In 1966, The Cultural Revolution ushered in a new phase of internal struggle in China, damaging severely the country’s education system at all levels. The Cultural Revolution consisted of two periods: the first from 1966 to 1972, the second from 1972 to 1978. In the first period, the Revolution completely stopped international cooperation and communication and can be thought of as a period devoid of international connections. Many Chinese students who returned from abroad suffered persecution and were accused of having “illicit relations with a foreign country” (Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen 2005, p118). These students, as well as many intellectuals and professors, were sent to the countryside to work as famers or to do manual labor. Some were even put in prison.

In the second phase, however, things began to change. The government began to fund study abroad programs once again, sending 1,451 Chinese students to 32 countries between 1972 and 1978 (China Education Year 1984). Among the 1,548 students sent abroad, 1,451 (93.7%)studied foreign languages and 97 (6.3%) studied natural science (China Education Year 1984). That fact that almost 94% of the students were sent to study foreign languages shows the perceived need within China to reach beyond its cultural borders and to interact with other nations. Indeed, by 1972, China saw itself lagging behind other countries, specifically in the fields of science and technology, and felt it could not longer remain isolated. Study abroad programs would become one component of a gradual opening up to the rest of the world.

The internationalization of Chinese higher education accelerated rapidly following the end of the Cultural Revolution. In 1978, China carried out its “Reform and Opening Policy,” which helped open China to the world. The same year, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, on hearing reports on Tsinghua University’s vision and action plans, stated, “I am in favor of increasing the number of international students…. This is a quick method for increasing efficiency within 5 years and a very important method for improving the level of our country” (Li Tao 2000, p. 602). As a result, Chinese higher education looked to make even more connections beyond China’s borders.

One of the first efforts at greater international cooperation involved the meeting of science and technology delegations from China and the United States in July and October of 1978. Following the meeting, both countries agreed to participate in student exchange programs (Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen 2005).In the same year, China also signed student exchange agreements with Japan, Germany, Italy, England, Canada, Belgium and other countries, reaching out beyond familiar Communist alliances for the first time in decades. Not long after these agreements, the State Council gave permission for provincial, municipal, and regional authorities, as well as other qualified departments, to contact and interact with overseas parties.

The effect of these initiatives on international exchange was dramatic. By 1985, China had sent 3,246 students abroad, more than ten times the amount (314 students) who went abroad in 1978 (Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen, 2005). While the numbers of students studying abroad increased, the proportions of the types of students studying abroad also changed. In 1981, 252 graduate students and 214 undergraduate students studied abroad, but by 1985 the number of graduate students increased to 1,184, while the number of undergraduate students decreased to 73 (Chen Xueping 2004).

The greater proportion of graduate-level study abroad reflected a desire for more highly qualified, professionally skilled workers who could directly contribute to China’s technological innovation and economic growth. Thus, China’s regulations for sending students abroad moved to a “doctoral education and graduate student” orientation in 1982, from an “advanced training and graduate studies” policy in 1979 (Chen Xueping 2004). International study and exchange soon became a preferred method of national development.

Finally, in 1981, the Ministry of Education and seven other departments proposed opportunities for self-funded study abroad. Before the 1980s, all Chinese in education going abroad were selected directly by the government. However, the “Reform and Opening Policy” loosened the regulation of this process. After the self-funding policies were introduced, the State Council produced a series of guidelines and rules concerning self-funded study abroad. These provisions further opened Chinese higher education to internationalization. Returning overseas students became a powerful force in promoting international partnerships and in creating competitive national development plans. As key players in the internationalization of Chinese higher education, the contributions of Chinese students who have studied overseas have had a great impact on economic growth and development.

The general trajectory of study abroad and international exchange programs between 1945 and 1985 reveals the extent to which China has relied upon this process as a way to develop skills and knowledge in the fields of science and technology. In fact, in these forty years, the Chinese government sent more than 30,000 students abroad who studied science and technology (Chen Xueping 2004, Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen 2005). These students have often helped guide China towards international partnerships and opportunities, while at the same time growing the capacity of Chinese higher education as an international force and an engine of domestic economic growth. The Chinese study abroad experience may often be an individual one, yet it always proceeded in harmony with the national interest.


China Education Year Editorial Department eds., (1984). China Education Year 1949-1981, pp. 980-981, Shanghai, Encyclopedia of China Publishing House (in Chinese).

Chen Xuefei (2004). “The Change and Benefit of the Government-Funded Studying abroad Since the Reform and Opening up in China,” Fudan Education Forum, Vol 2-3.

Jin Linyxiang eds., (1999). China’s Education System General History III, p. 602, Jinan, Shandong Education Press.

Liang Yanpi and Wang Chen (2005). “Studying Abroad Education in Modern China and Its Impact,” Journal of Shanxi Teachers University (Social Science Edition), vol. 32-3.

Li Tao eds., (2000). The History Chinese Overseas Education Record: After 1949, Higher Education Press.


“Long Road Ahead: Modernizing Chinese Universities”

Yang Rui, University of Hong Kong (CHINA)

China is an old civilization with extraordinarily rich traditions in higher learning. The ancient Chinese education system was established during the Yu period (2257–2208 BC), and China’s earliest institutions of higher learning appeared in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BCE). The famous Jixia Academy was established twenty years before the Platonic Academy in Greece (Hartnett 2011).

Chinese higher education evolved according to its own logic. By and large, it focused on knowledge of human society rather than knowledge of the natural sciences. It generally disregarded knowledge about the rest of the world and confined the dissemination of knowledge to the provincial level. Its central focus was political utility defined by the ruling classes. China thus started its higher learning system with a fundamentally different relationship between the state and higher education. Whereas universities in the West sometimes (perhaps often) clashed with state power, institutions of higher education in China were loyal servants of the emperor and the aristocracy.

The imperial examinations and the academies were key elements of ancient Chinese higher learning (Hayhoe 1996). Designed for recruiting bureaucrats to ensure merit-based appointment of government officials, the imperial examinations dominated Chinese higher education up to 1905. The academies, which reached their peak during the Southern Song (1127-1279), were integrated into the government school system from the Yuan to Qing dynasties (1271-1911). Under the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), their aim shifted to preparing students for the imperial examinations. Autonomy and academic freedom—the definitive scholarly values of European universities, at least by the mid-nineteenth century—were absent in the Chinese tradition.

With the international diffusion of the European model of the university after the Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860), China’s institutions of higher education could have taken a lead in assimilating Western culture, science, and technology. Instead, most continued to train scholars with an encyclopedic knowledge of Confucian values but little knowledge of the outside world. Even after Western higher education models had demonstrated their strengths, China’s communication with the West was largely (and intentionally) restricted in an attempt to preserve traditional culture and protect aristocratic authority.

Only gradually, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, did this scholarly isolationism give way to a new era in which China began to experiment with Western-style universities. The central purpose of China’s modern higher education has been to combine Chinese and Western elements, to “indigenize” Western models, and to bring together aspects of both philosophical heritages. Yet, such markedly different cultural roots have led to continuous conflicts between traditional Chinese and new Western ideas of the university—and of “modernity” itself.

The late 1970s marked a key moment in the internationalization of higher education in China—a moment when the country sought deliberately to break with the past and embrace a new future. Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of “groping for stones to cross the river” sought to downplay ideological differences between China and the West. As a result, traditional values in higher education were often minimized in favor of higher education’s contribution to economic growth. By the 1980s, China had incorporated a series of reforms taken from foreign models, including decentralization and marketization, without exploring the ideological foundations of these approaches. China’s emphatic determination to separate the advanced knowledge of Western capitalist countries from what were still perceived as “decadent ideas” and a “bourgeois way of life” had overtones of the formula devised in Deng’s early modernization efforts: “Chinese learning as the substance, Western techniques for their usefulness” (Ayers 1971).

Since the 1990s, China’s higher education policies have emphasized the quest for world-class universities. The Program for Education Reform and Development in China (1993), the Education Act of the People’s Republic of China (1995), the 211 Project (initiated in 1995), the 985 Project (initiated in 1998), and the dramatic expansion of Chinese higher education starting from 1999 reflect a fervent desire to “catch up” with the West. This desire reflects larger changes in Chinese society as China reforms its economy to adopt market principles. A desire for internationally competitive universities provides the impetus for China’s best institutions to follow the lead of European and North American universities and embrace “international” norms. However, the notion of world-class status is imitative rather than indigenous (Mohrman 2005). In striving for “international” standing, top Chinese universities compare themselves with Oxford and Yale but forget the long history of these institutions—let alone their own.

Today, Chinese universities routinely look to the most elite Western (often American) counterparts for standards, policy innovations, and solutions to their own development problems. This is particularly the case for the most prestigious universities. For example, personnel reforms at Peking University in the mid-2000s were patterned entirely after the perceived U.S. experience. The reformers cited Harvard and Stanford almost exclusively to legitimize their policy moves (Yang 2009). But the grafting of American policies onto Chinese university structures has often ignored important cultural differences. The wholesale adoption of U.S. plans was not appropriate—indeed, not possible—in a culture with strikingly different cultural values and educational traditions.

China’s latest policy initiative is the Medium and Long-Term Education Reform and Development Plan (2010-2020) approved in May 2010. The policy has prioritized technical innovation and preparedness, but, like its predecessors, it lacks what is required for a re-emerging China: namely, a vision to make cultural preparedness an equal priority to ensure China’s well-rounded future global role. Still confined to a catch-up mentality, state policy continues to stress economic development as the primary reference point in every part of the initiative, once again leaving knotty issues of culture and values aside.

Modern universities are layered institutions, with technical apparatus on the surface but cultural values at the core. China’s repeated attempts to import Western university models has occurred mostly on the level of technical apparatus, while the core values of the Western model, such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy, have rarely been understood, let alone implemented. In the present great leap forward in Chinese higher education, what is missing is attention to cultural and institutional values. If Chinese universities cannot successfully integrate Chinese and Western values, the promise of the modern university in China will be limited. The question of culture is part of a much wider and more complex process of seeking an alternative to Western globalization. To be truly “world-class,” Chinese universities must find an appropriate—one might even say uniquely Chinese—way to balance indigenous and Western ideas of the university.


Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Shanghai Jiao Tong University. 2012. Academic Ranking of World Universities. Retrieved August 24, 2013 from

Altbach, Philip. 2001. “The American Academic Model in Comparative Perspective,” In In Defense of American Higher Education (11-37), eds. Philip Altbach, Partricia Gumport and Bruce Johnstone. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Altbach, Philip. 2010. “Enter the Dragons? Not So Fast,” Times Higher Education, 17 June, 39.

Ayers, William. 1971. Chang Chih-tung and Educational Reform in China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hartnett, Richard. 2011. The Jixia Academy and the Birth of Higher Learning in China: A Comparison of Fourth-Century B.C. Chinese Education with Ancient Greece. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Hayhoe, Ruth. 1996. China’s Universities 1895-1995: A Century of Cultural Conflict. New York: Garland.

Hayhoe, Ruth. 2005. “Peking University and the Spirit of Chinese Scholarship.” Comparative Education Review 49 (4), 575-583.

Mohrman, Kathryn. 2005. “Sino-American Educational Exchange and the Drive to Create World-class Universities.” In Bridging Minds Across the Pacific (pp.219-235). ed. Cheng Li. Lanham: Lexington Books.

Yang, Rui. 2009. “Enter the Dragon? China’s Higher Education Returns to the World Community: The Case of the Peking University Personnel Reforms.” In Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Practice (pp.427-461), eds. John Smart and William Tierney. Dordrecht: Springer.


“Higher Education Between National Ambitions, Supranational Coordination, and Global Competition: The University of Luxembourg Established in the Bologna Era”

Justin J. W. Powell. University of Luxembourg (LUXEMBOURG)

Among the youngest research universities in Europe, the University of Luxembourg (UL) is one of very few public universities to be established since the pan-European “Bologna process” began in 1998 amidst celebrations for the Sorbonne’s 800th Anniversary.[24] Founded in 2003, and growing rapidly, UL aims to become a full-fledged, internationally-recognized research university. Embedded in a small, hyper-diverse, multi-lingual, and (recently) very prosperous nation-state located in the heart of Western Europe, and well-positioned in significant regional and global networks, Luxembourg’s “national” flagship university is thoroughly international. Recruiting scholars, staff, and students from over a hundred countries, the university could not advance without transnational mobility. Luxembourg, the home of a European Union (EU) capital city, simultaneously reflects European and international priorities. Devoted to internationality and interdisciplinarity, UL exemplifies contemporary worldwide trends in higher education.

Today, more than ever, countries explicitly compete with each other through human capital investment. The Lisbon strategy in Europe set about to create “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world” (EC 2004). European education ministers collaborate to promote a comprehensive, continent-wide model of skill formation. This emergent model, a bricolage that integrates diverse characteristics of the German, French, British, and American national models, responds to heightened competition among “knowledge societies” (Powell, Bernhard, & Graf 2012). The Bologna process represents a considerably intensified phase in higher education’s on-going internationalization. While voluntary, Bologna exerts pressure on national systems and influences decision-making (Ravinet 2008). Membership in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) challenges countries to accept common standards and practices to coordinate national quality assurance, ensure the transparency and recognition of qualifications obtained elsewhere, and facilitate cross-border mobility.

Somewhat paradoxically, at the same time that European borders are becoming more porous, and spatial mobility everywhere supported and glorified, Luxembourg has invested heavily in establishing a new national university. In so doing, it has provided, at long last, a stay-home alternative for Luxembourg youth who had traditionally sought higher education abroad. On the one hand, the university was founded against considerable resistance, both pecuniary and ideological, due to the long-standing custom of educating elites in other countries within cosmopolitan networks (Rohstock & Schreiber 2013). On the other hand, rising international competition and supranational coordination have increased pressure on Luxembourg to found a research university to foster scientific innovation upon which to build its future “knowledge society.” UL provides a means to diversify the economy beyond steelmaking or banking and to integrate multilingual citizens from diverse cultural background into a polity dominated by local elites.

The University of Luxembourg, now enjoying broad-based support and a rising reputation, provides a gauge of the impact of global norms generally and the principles codified in the Bologna process specifically. Arriving in a new century with a rapidly-growing population of just half a million (nearly half non-Luxembourg citizens), UL exemplifies the most recent institutionalization phase of “the European university.” Due to its recent establishment, UL has straightforwardly assumed European standards – or even exceeded them, especially in multi-linguality (French, German, and English are official university languages) and student mobility.

Although the university’s antecedents can be traced back to the early 1800s, it was not until 1974 that the Centre universitaire du Luxembourg, hosting several humanities and social science departments, opened alongside teacher training institutes and an Institut supérieur de technologie (Meyer 2008). The UL, building upon these legacies, was established as a private, government-dependent institution (établissement public) directed by a seven-member council, the Conseil de Gouvernance. The UL’s founders, made up largely of national policymakers consulting advisors from abroad, selected multilingualism, interdisciplinarity, and inter-nationality as the institution’s three key principles. These foci not only reflect global trends but also capitalize on Luxembourg’s history as a trading crossroads, as well as its contemporary context of cultural and linguistic hyper-diversity. The mission statement emphasizes that as “a small-sized institution with an international reach, [it] aims at excellence in research and education. … to be among the world’s top universities. UL intends to be innovative, centred on research, … and attentive to the needs of the society around it” ( 2012).

With roughly half of its 6,288 students (2012/13) coming from abroad, UL is extra-ordinarily diverse (UL 2013). Regardless of nationality, each student pays tuition of just €200 per semester. Thus, state investment in higher education ensures that the university can attract students from around the world. All Bachelor-level students are expected to spend a semester abroad as a required part of their course of study—a reflection of past educational traditions and a unique requirement among European institutions. The network Université de la Grande Région ( links the UL with universities in Belgium, France, Germany, and provides cross-border coordination, enabling such benefits as students’ eligibility to take courses at other campuses at no additional cost.

Since Luxembourg has traditionally relied heavily on tertiary education provided in neighboring countries—especially Germany, Belgium, and France—to supply qualified personnel, especially teachers, lawyers, and physicians, a key challenge remains to recruit the most talented undergraduate student body. Over half of Luxembourg’s workforce consists of cross-border workers, and the country continues to experience strong population growth. In a hyper-diverse society marked by such migration flows and mobility, internationalization has been key to the establishment and expansion of the university from the start. To develop an institution based on local strengths, regional needs, and global trends, UL aims to achieve excellence by recruiting top faculty members worldwide to conduct research and teach in three multidisciplinary faculties and two major interdisciplinary research centers. By identifying in advance promising research areas that also reflect Luxembourg’s economic and geographic contexts, the university focuses its resources on key priorities.

Luxembourg has invested both considerable capital and strategic planning in establishing its national university. It aims to compete globally by concentrating its resources, both intellectual and financial, and by building on the country’s strengths and priorities. It may have taken a leap of faith to establish the university, but the state—led by those who accept the principle that the future belongs to education and science—has shown dedication to fund its ambitious experiment in scientific capacity-building. There is no turning back, as the new Belval campus towers rise among the steel-factory smokestacks of Esch-sur-Alzette.

However small, no country wishing to become a “knowledge society” can do so without an international research university. As many larger countries in Europe struggle to maintain their universities in the Bologna era, Luxembourg has grasped a window of opportunity. 2003 was a key moment in its history of higher education, long abbreviated by internationality avant la lettre.


European Council. 2004. Report from the Commission to the Spring European Council – Delivering Lisbon – Reforms for the Enlarged Union. COM/2004/0029 final. Brussels: European Council.

International Monetary Fund. 2011. World Economic Outlook Database. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund. Last accessed May 25, 2013, from

Meyer, M.B. 2008. The Dynamics of Science in a Small Country: The Case of Luxembourg. Science and Public Policy 35(5): 361-371.

Powell, J.J.W. 2012. Small State, Large World, Global University: Comparing Ascendant National Universities in Luxembourg and Qatar. Current Issues in Comparative Education 15: 100–113.

Powell, J.J.W., N. Bernhard, & L. Graf. 2012.The Emergent European Model in Skill Formation. Sociology of Education 85(3): 240–258.

Ravinet, P. 2008. From Voluntary Participation to Monitored Coordination. European Journal of Education 43(3): 353-367.

Rohstock, A., & C. Schreiber 2012. The Grand Duchy on the Grand Tour: A Historical Study of Student Migration in Luxembourg. Paedagogica Historica 49(2): 174-193.

University of Luxembourg. 2013. Facts and Figures 2013. Luxembourg: University of Luxembourg.



[1] See Philip G. Altbach and Jane Knight, “The Internationalization of Higher Education: Motivations and Realities,” Journal of Studies in International Education11, 3-4 (Fall/Winter 2007), 290-305.

[2] See Daniel Levy, To Export Progress: The Golden Age of University Assistance in the Americas (2005).

[3] A number of important university networks emerged in the early twentieth century, including the Association of American Universities (AAU), founded in 1900. The AAU became somewhat international in scope when McGill and Toronto were admitted as members in 1926, however, the AAU essentially positions itself as an association of American research universities with two Canadian members.

[4] The Singapore Declaration began by asserting that the Commonwealth was a voluntary organization of independent nations, a quite different understanding of these relationships than those associated with the former British Empire.

[5] Robert E. Smith, “Venezuela Offers Harvard-MIT Center $800,000 Contract,” Harvard Crimson, March 9, 1961.

[6] For the history of the Joint Center, see Eugenie L. Birch, “Making Urban Research Intellectually Respectable: Martin Meyerson and the Joint Center for Urban Studies of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, 1959-1964” Journal of Planning History 10 (August 2011): 219-238; and Christopher P. Loss, Front and Center: Academic Expertise and its Challengers in the Post-1945 United States (book manuscript in progress). In the early 1970s the Joint Center shifted focus from urban studies to housing studies, and in 1985 it changed its name to the Joint Center for Housing Studies, with MIT severing the partnership four years later. The center still operates today as an affiliate of Harvard University. For more on its current activities, see Accessed August 22, 2013.

[7] JCUS: The First Five Years, 1959-1964 (Cambridge, MA: 1964), 53-56, quotes on 53-54.

[8] Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century (1988; Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 322.

[9] Lloyd Rodwin, “Garden Cities and the Metropolis,” Journal of Land & Public Utility Economics 21 (August 1945): 281.

[10] Lloyd Rodwin, “Images and Paths of Change in Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Literature, and City Planning, 1950-2000,” in The Profession of City Planning, ed. Lloyd Rodwin and Bishwapriya Sanyal (New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University, 2000), 3-23. The penetration of the “social sciences in urban and regional studies,” Rodwin wrote, “was the main reason for the organization, in 1959, of the Joint Center of MIT and Harvard University outside the city planning departments of either university” (19). See also “Lloyd Rodwin, 80, MIT urban studies professor, extended the field of planning to social sciences and the Third World,” MIT News, Dec. 8, 1999, available at Accessed May 23, 2013.

[11] JCUS: The First Five Years, 53.

[12] Walt W. Rostow, The Stages of Economic Growth—A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1960).

[13] The Guayana Development Program: Staff Working Paper, March 1965, p. 1-2, 6, B77-B83, box 2, AC 292, Institute Archives and Special Collections.

[14] “Dream City Rises on the Plains South of Caracas,” New York Times, January 28, 1966, 74.

[15] Harvard University News Office, News Release – Harvard – March 15, 1961, box 1, AC 292. Rodwin’s version of his first meeting with Ravard is in Lloyd Rodwin, “Introduction,” in Planning Urban Growth and Regional Development: The Experience of the Guayana Program of Venezuela, ed. Lloyd Rodwin(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1969), 1-2.

[16] “Dream City Rises on the Plains South of Caracas,” 74.

[17] Willo von Moltke, “The Evolution of the Linear Form,” in Planning Urban Growth and Regional Development, ed. Rodwin, 126-146.

[18] Guy Kelnhofer, Planning and Administration of New Towns, June 1963, p. 3, D1-D29, box 3, AC 292.

[19] On disappointments of the final result, see Lisa Peattie, Planning: Rethinking Ciudad Guayana (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987), 7-22.

[20] Former Chinese president and former chairman of military affairs

[21] Former State Council Prime Minister

[22] Former president of Chinese Academy of Engineering from 1988 to 2002

[23] Former Vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference national committee on 1993 and 1998

[24] This essay builds on prior work that analyzed university institutionalization in small states, contrasting Luxembourg and Qatar (Powell 2012).

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