International higher education

The Non-Revolution

For let Philosopher and Doctor preach
Of what they will, and what they will not — each
Is but one Link in an eternal Chain
That none can slip, nor break, nor over-reach.
—Omar Khayyam (translated by Edward Fitzgerald)

The overthrow of the Tunisian and Egyptian rulers, following widespread demonstrations for regime change — subsequently spreading from Algeria to Yemen, as well as to Libya, Syria, Jordan, and Bahrain — has raised hopes for a new political dawn across the Arab region. Likened to a "volcano" by some observers, protest movements call for new forms of citizenship and for the establishing of new bases of state legitimacy. Commentators refer to a long overdue "political spring." Others invoke the notion of a "renaissance" or a renewed "Arab awakening." Others, still, refer to a watershed of "revolutions" ushering in new forms of politics, attuned to questions of human rights and public participation. In response, reform initiatives have been frenetically introduced by ruling elites in their attempts to contain and navigate the ensuing legitimacy crisis.

At this juncture, one wonders, how do the unfolding political upheavals across the Arab region and the reform initiatives introduced by besieged ruling elites affect state–higher education relations more particularly?

Higher Education and Regime Legitimacy

Higher education institutions in the Arab region play a key role in upholding a regime's self-projected image of benevolent rule. They provide access to educational credentials to younger generations of high school graduates, particularly those who originate from less-established socioeconomic strata and who desperately seek entry into structurally confined labor markets. Equally, they secure stable civil-service jobs to academics and intellectuals, affiliated with the middle and middle-upper classes. The latter represent a mounting political force, disposed to engage a range of political ideologies not always aligned with regime orthodoxy. Not least, they offer ruling elites a space from which they can recruit or co-opt state ministers, senior professional cadres, and policymakers from among the professoriate.

Ruling elites regulate appointments to leadership positions within higher education institutions. Some "reforms" were undertaken in view of limiting faculty and student participation in governance and containing opposition groups. For instance, in Egypt, Law 142 of 1994 added deans to the list of senior university officials who are appointed by the minister of higher education.

Consequently, university councils included members who were largely ministerial appointees, with little (if any) space left for nonappointed voices, such as faculty members and students.

Contradictory or Complimentary Policy Agendas

The state’s involvement in the political subordination of higher education occurs alongside policies that seek to realign higher education with labor market "needs," through increased accountability and economic liberalization, in an attempt to foster innovative academic and administrative leadership capacities and improve governance. Egypt’s Higher Education Enhancement Project (funded by the World Bank), and Syria’s Quality University Management and Institutional Autonomy framework (as part of the European Union’s Tempus Project) are pertinent examples. Policymakers also invoke the low ranking of universities on international university lists as an additional "evidence" to justify higher education restructuring.

Thus, political subordination and economic liberalization feed on each other. On the one hand, the state’s political subordination of higher education institutions subverts the emergence of an authentic academic leadership and emphasizes authoritarian modes of decision making. On the other hand, reforms seeking to promote the economic contributions of higher education introduce layers of accountability and new conditions of academic work, without ensuring academic freedom or questioning existing authoritarian modes of governance.

Viewed as part of the building of a so-called "Arab knowledge society," liberalization reforms (part of fiscal restructuring schemes) introduce new forms of higher education provision — such as private, international, and for-profit institutions, in an attempt to create alternative options to state-sponsored higher education. This has been the case, for instance, in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and the smaller Gulf Cooperation Council states — differences between these contexts notwithstanding.

Ruling elites and policymakers reconcile these ostensibly contradictory policy discourses by limiting discussions on higher education to issues associated with "human capital." Emphasis is placed on measurable indicators of higher education performance, in terms of engaging labor markets, employability, and economic returns of graduates. At the same time, the political contexts under which higher education institutions may best thrive are neglected.

Thus, questions pertaining to faculty and student participation in higher education governance, and their effects on the fostering of a research culture, are left entirely unattended — fueling resentment, alienation, and
disillusionment in relation to the state and higher education institutions alike. The subordination of higher education institutions further erodes the public respectability these institutions have traditionally enjoyed. It also lays bare — as sociologist M’hammed Sabour has shown in The Ontology and Status of Intellectuals in Arab Academia and Society — the marginality of the academic, who very often lacks the capacity "to speak truth to power" from within institutional platforms without risking the regime’s retaliation and reprisal.

With an overwhelming reliance of the Arab state on foreign consultancies and imported know-how, higher education institutions are further limited in their capacity to productively engage development challenges or contribute to the indigenization of knowledge through viable context-based approaches to research — particularly in the fields of the social sciences and education.

Paradoxically, while the restructuring reforms preceding the current wave of regime contestation have expanded higher education opportunities beyond recognition, often over quite a brief period of time, these reforms have nonetheless exposed the reliance of both the state and higher education institutions on precarious visions of modernity and globalization.

Reconstructing Higher Education From Within

It is not yet clear what configurations of state higher education relations would emerge out of the current political contestation. Nor is it clear whether and how the contestation witnessed so far would affect higher education governance more particularly. What is clear, however, is that for the generative capacities of higher education to flourish, both the state and civil-society groups and movements must recognize that the political, cultural, and economic roles of higher education institutions cannot be approached separately.

What is equally clear is that academics need to turn their research tools inward, by critically unpacking the foundations of the higher education structures in which they work and by critically reflecting on their implication with state power. Such a critical engagement would help reclaim not only the centrality of academic work in development but would also connect the academic workplace with community engagement and social transformation.

The prospects of this reclaiming are not solely contingent on governance reforms for greater faculty and student participation or on the overthrowing of despotic regimes, as important as these are. These outlooks are primarily contingent on the arduous struggle of academics involved in building an inclusive "knowledge culture" and in constructing a knowing self for whom the "capacity to aspire" and the capacity to differ are inalienable rights, which no regime nor other forms of power can "slip, nor break, nor overreach."


Off the Beaten Path

Smart Title: 
Small liberal arts colleges find more success recruiting students in Myanmar than in countries that send far more students to the U.S.

Who Is Global?

Smart Title: 
At gathering of fund-raisers, university presidents consider how their institutions' missions, donors and governance are evolving.

Should Our Students Study Chinese?

As major participants and drivers in the process of globalization, Americans have a remarkable ambivalence about the rest of the world. We want to be engaged, loved, respected -- and obeyed. We seek collaboration, but on our terms. We embrace the international difference that most closely resembles ourselves: English speaking, Western European, or Latin American. We speak glowingly of international travel and study abroad, but most of us seek out places that approximate our home environment.  

Our colleges and universities encourage study abroad, develop internationalization initiatives, and welcome international students, but American students and faculty flee from the serious study of languages other than English. We teach the literature of our international trading partners in translation because so few of our students can read anything of substance in someone else’s language. And, as we usually do in American academic circles, we worry about all this a lot.

The Institute for International Education publishes statistics and reports through its Open Doors series that give us a picture of how we engage our global colleagues. The good news is that more and more students study and travel abroad than ever before, most students understand that their future requires an engagement with the greater world outside our borders, and just about every college and university has some kind of international commitment in its curriculum.  

The bad news is that few students take foreign languages and few institutions require them to do so.  Only literature, history, and other area-studies specialists show any interest in the deep understanding made possible through immersion in language, and the numbers of students in these majors does not appear to be rising. Although everyone recognizes that our national security and prosperity demand experts with full proficiency and cultural literacy in a wide range of thinly taught languages, we find neither the national funding nor the student interest in developing these skills.  

Often, our leaders in business and industry tell us how important international expertise has become, but they frequently hire well educated native speakers to lead their overseas operations, and offer little or no premium to American managers who have particular language skills. Our students, observing the career paths of highly successful people, learn quickly that while the business world values international travel and living experience, it sees only modest benefit from in-depth understanding of a specific language or culture.  

Indeed, specialists in language and culture often fear relegation to mid-level corporate niches while their generalist colleagues move around the company in different jobs in different places, advancing quickly up the corporate ladder. Even our State Department, charged with the obligation of keeping the country tuned to our global relationships, rotates Foreign Service officers from post to post, producing globally aware individuals with great breadth and minimal cultural and linguistic depth.

NAFSA, an organization of international student and study abroad advisers, published a Report of the Strategic Task Force on Education Abroad. As I read it, I am not sure what to make of it. It calls for us to increase study abroad opportunities and asserts that language proficiency matters, but it recognizes that most students want to go where people speak English or where the U.S. already has significant cultural and historical familiarity (Europe and Latin America).

It calls for more engagement but notes that most students want to participate in semester programs rather than yearlong programs.  It celebrates a dramatic increase in the number of students seeking study abroad opportunities but finds the numbers too small to meet the need.

Here, as in other reports of similar nature on different topics, we have a worthy objective presented by people who have the right idea and a clear sense of what we should do. At the same time, we have universities and colleges that cannot drive their students to study a language to any degree of proficiency, who cannot enforce any form of required international curriculum, and who squirm uncomfortably as they argue that a semester of study abroad will produce globally competitive leaders.

Perhaps our students and their employers are telling us something we do not want to hear. Maybe language and culture are much less important for global success than the subject competence that adds value to a business or a product. Maybe they know that only those who make language and culture their major area of study can approximate the abilities and skills of an ordinary educated native speaker.

Maybe they recognize that the years of study needed to acquire foreign language fluency in America will yield much less future income than similar effort invested in accounting, finance, physics, computer science or legal studies.

It is not what we want to hear, we internationalists, we specialists in language and area studies, we culture vultures who live and breathe the dramatic variety of the world’s people.  It is not what we want to hear, but when our students’ behavior overwhelmingly fails to match our beliefs, we probably should listen more carefully.

John V. Lombardi
Author's email:

Can We Learn the Hard Languages?

To: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings

Re: University Presidents Summit on International Education

A week or so ago, at the University Presidents Summit on International Education, you honored us with an event delivered with class and style uncommon in executive branch engagements with university presidents and chancellors. As I’m sure you noticed, we enjoyed the attention, respected the intent, and appreciated your personal and effective participation, as well as your mobilization of key actors including the President and First Lady. As we all returned to our campuses to reflect on the messages, themes, and programs discussed, and you return to the critical business of government, a reality check on our conversation seems in order.

International education in all its many forms has been a major agenda item in American higher education forever, and over the most recent 30 years or so, colleges and universities have conducted a constant conversation about internationalizing the curriculum and improving the campuses’ ability to bring the world home.  

This agenda, which reappeared in many of the comments by the university and college presidents in attendance, is really not a federal obligation. The task of internationalizing or globalizing our campuses belongs to the institutions. If internationalizing is a major campus concern, like teaching chemistry, the campus will find a way to do it because it will be central to the campus’s academic and student programs. If a campus requires federal money to support a major change to its curriculum or to rethink its purposes, the campus is not likely to be effective anyway. I would recommend that you thank us for such insights, and return to the main purpose of the summit: language skills.

Success in this proposed joint venture requires that both the federal government and the universities speak clearly and precisely about what you want and what we can do.

We in the universities and colleges have much experience in taking tightly focused government programs and diffusing their intent to flow money into activities more central to our interests. If you fund language and area studies, we will leverage the language effort to get more resources for area studies, literature studies and culture studies. These are good things, but they do not address the national need you articulated at the summit, learning language.  

Further, we in the colleges and universities are expert at avoiding effective performance measurement. If the nation needs college educated graduates functionally literate in a number of less commonly taught languages, the only way to get this result is to fund programs that will test the graduates. If you want us to graduate students with a command of spoken and written Arabic, Urdu or Mandarin, you need to fund a program that delivers money to institutions that demonstrate the functional literacy of its graduates in these languages through standardized tests. Otherwise, we will train people for you who can read some things in some languages, have traveled and lived in the countries where some of these languages are spoken, but who may or may not have functional usable literacy.

We are good at redefining objectives. If the federal government wants to help create college graduates who have high quality skills related to living and working within other languages, it must fund specific programs in specific countries focused on the acquisition of testable specific language skills. If we go to India, and live primarily with English speaking communities, we will return with cultural awareness and many good stories to tell about our experiences, but we will not have acquired functional competency in a foreign language or culture. You must be specific about what you want, specific about how you will know when you get it, and specific about the test you will apply to validate the learning accomplished. This is difficult in cultural studies, but it is not at all hard in language acquisition.

If we struggle with clarity and effectiveness in our international objectives and programs, our counterparts in the federal government -- especially the State Department, the Defense Department, and some of the intelligence agencies -- send conflicting messages about the importance of language and area studies expertise. While we hear that in-depth knowledge of countries and languages is essential to the defense and prosperity of the nation, we also know that the State Department and the Defense establishment tend to rotate their employees from place to place, country to country, language region to language region, devaluing in the process true expertise in either language or culture. 

We also know that the career track to high level assignments in both State and Defense place a premium on generalist experience and knowledge and little emphasis on high levels of expertise in any particular language or culture. We are also unsure whether language competency is of any particular advantage for positions within the Department of Education.

You could do some things to improve the incentives for students to think of language related skills as major assets for careers in State, Education or Defense. For example, you might institute a language competency premium for mid to high level employees in the executive branch, a bonus addition to salary for those capable of maintaining a high level of language competency throughout their careers (tested on a periodic basis). You might consider longer term assignments overseas or in region specific offices or agencies as premium assignments with enhancements to salary or other benefits that would demonstrate that the enthusiasm for functional language skills is highly valued, much in the same way combat duty and other difficult assignments carry a premium.

These comments speak to the task of making the skills associated with uncommonly taught languages valued in the real world that our students watch with clear-eyed intensity. They know that in the great American Midwest, for example, the daily need to know someone else’s language is minimal. We can travel for days without needing to speak anything but English. We see corporations hire language experts and culture brokers from among the nationals of countries where they trade and work, not from among the language fluent American college graduates. 

Students see that only a few individuals in high government positions speak another language fluently, and almost none speak uncommonly taught languages. They see no premium for acquiring and maintaining a competency in difficulty to learn languages, and so they leave the language skills to native speakers, language and literature experts, and some area studies specialists.  

To achieve your goals, you will need to help us focus on testable language skills, incentives for careers that use functional language skills, and support for overseas experiences that produce high levels of language performance.

We had a wonderful time at your summit, and the two of you are to be congratulated for what you are doing to improve education in the K-12 arena, facilitate the visa process, and address the constant challenge of encouraging the exchange of scholars without compromising national security. We are grateful for the respect reflected in the quality of our treatment during the Summit, and we are all eager to work with you.

John V. Lombardi
Author's email:

Going Global 101

"Global" is the buzzword on campuses throughout the country. With greater recognition of the threads connecting countries and cultures, educators are increasingly scrambling to integrate global lessons. But how can we properly prepare students to succeed in the global economy and to face challenges that cross borders? How can we prepare world citizens who can collaborate across cultures and countries and make a difference anywhere in the world?

There is no single path to creating a global university or a global curriculum. In fact, what you do is actually less important than how you view what you are doing. In other words, if you believe it is vital to prepare the next generation as world citizens, your methods will spring from that fundamental mindset. Innovations will arise from the imperative. And innovators are building tremendous programs throughout the country that spread knowledge of other countries and cultures, convey appreciation for the rich diversity and interconnected nature of our world, and instill intercultural competencies.

But many others are having trouble figuring out this global game, have limited access to resources and are surrounded by naysayers. At Fairleigh Dickinson, where in 2000 we introduced a mission to prepare world citizens through global education, we have worked hard to develop creative ways to integrate global lessons throughout our programs and activities. To those devoted toward the same end, we offer these 10 free tips and simple suggestions that can help internationalize your campus, globalize your classroom and turn your students into world citizens. Perhaps the best thing about these thoughts is that they can be translated into classroom activities or used as the base for larger programs and campus events.

1. Welcome Global Experts. Guest lecturers and speakers roam the planet looking for audiences and venues to introduce their ideas and insights. Invite them, make them feel at home and provide them opportunities to offer international perspectives on global subjects. Be sure to also seize the benefits of technology. Use videoconferencing to broadcast global scholars and use the Web for virtual presentations. At Fairleigh Dickinson, we have created Global Virtual Faculty, scholars and professionals from around the globe who contribute to the classroom via the Internet (see

2. Connect to the United Nations. Regardless of its flaws, the United Nations represents the dominant international organization of our times, and it features a wide range of viewpoints and a rich arsenal of resources on global issues. FDU’s U.N. Pathways Program regularly brings students to U.N. headquarters for briefings and brings ambassadors to campus. But even if you are not located close to New York City, you can take advantage of features like U.N. Webcasts and videoconferences, the CyberSchoolBus (for teachers and young people) and, of course, the Model U.N.

3. Make It Current. In addition to the fact that students need to be connected to current events, today’s news items remind us constantly of global connections, diverse cultures and common destinies. But news itself is subject to different frames and viewpoints, providing interesting lessons in how perceptions vary. To keep current and to shed light on views from abroad, we recommend comparing news coverage of similar events from different countries. Check out the Internet Public Library for links to newspapers from around the world.

4. Give Students the Keys. Students have many areas of interest and concern that inevitably have global links and impact. In projects and programs, let them research these areas, and share their findings. In the undergraduate course we developed and introduced this spring semester, Globalization and World Citizenship, students create a Weblog that explores a global issue of personal interest. Students not only supply background information on the site, but also guides to action. In the process, they became not just scholars of the subject but activists capable of spreading information and understanding how to translate values into action. (To review the course outlines, assignments and resources, see and use “fdu” as the username and password.)

5. Enter the Obvious Global Gateways. Too often we search long and far for global resources when we have a rich, international melting pot under our roof. We may not all have visiting scholars from exotic locales, but we all -- students and faculty alike -- have backgrounds that transcend borders. One example: International students at University of the Pacific, in California, hold an informal “international film festival” every two weeks, screening movies from their home countries. The event serves to build conversation and understanding on campus. Find ways for faculty and students on your campus to share personal backgrounds, insights and traditions that open new windows to other cultures. You’ll not only provide valuable learning opportunities, but you’ll bring community and classroom members closer together.

6. Whet the Appetite. Sometimes the way to global understanding goes though the stomach. The foods we relish and the menus at our favorite restaurants nicely illustrate the process of globalization and shed light on important cultural traditions. One easy exercise is to sample some menus (see and trace the origin of foods and their contributions to different countries and cultures.

7. Move to the Beat. One surefire way to engage students is to fire up the iPod and tune into the tunes that travel the globe. From reggae to rock and rap, country to classic, the origins and influences of our favorite music read like a jet pilot’s itinerary. A fascinating exercise for students is to compare the various MTV channels and their respective Web sites around the globe. The differences and similarities highlight the promise and peril of cultural globalization.

8. Count the Change. Sooner or later, you’ll need to stop having so much fun with cultural lessons and get into dollars and yens. From the clothes they wear to the careers they will pursue, students’ lives are tightly interwoven with the global production process. Certainly read people like Thomas Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz, but don’t forget to make it personal. Ask students to compare wages in different countries, to trace the production of their favorite products, or to examine the economic clout of familiar corporations.

9. Put the Powerful on Trial. Political, economic and cultural issues are often revealed best by looking through the eyes of the opposition. Consider how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) react to the major political and economic institutions. For example, compare major companies’ Web sites with anti-corporate sites like or Study the claims and contentions, offer rebuttals, and then referee the debates.

10. Become Bridge Builders. What better way to convey the interconnections that dominate than to make your own connections. Partner with institutions and programs abroad and, especially, link to classrooms and help students collaborate with students abroad. Have students engage in dialogues and activities with international students that consider big questions and involve contemplation and deliberation. While learning about issues, students inevitably will learn about the other and learn how to cooperate and act with the other.

There are some conspicuous areas -- such as foreign language study and study abroad -- that we have left off the list. This is not because we feel that these are not important. On the contrary, they are fundamental, but they also are obvious pieces of the puzzle that most campuses are already pursuing.

The most important thing to remember is that there is no one path that is right for everyone and every institution. There are so many avenues available. The richness of our different approaches can redefine American higher education.

J. Michael Adams and Angelo Carfagna
Author's email:

J. Michael Adams is president of Fairleigh Dickinson University, in New Jersey, where Angelo Carfagna is director of communications. They are co-authors of the book Coming of Age in a Globalized World: The Next Generation(Kumarian Press Inc., 2006) and co-developers of the undergraduate course “Globalization and World Citizenship” at Fairleigh Dickinson. (To explore that link, use “fdu” as the username and password).

'To Gather From the Air a Live Tradition'

At three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, the voice of a lone chorister will rise from a small college chapel in the Ouse Valley of England, and from there it will encircle the globe. It will climb into the foothills of the Himalayas, skim across islands in the far South Seas, enter the equatorial villages of Africa, and emerge in hundreds of towns and cities across the United States.

This solitary voice will open the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, held each year in the chapel of King's College at Cambridge University. The King's Festival was first organized in 1918 by the chapel's then-dean Eric Milner-White, and since the 1930s it has been broadcast annually by BBC radio and its international affiliates.

Millions of people now listen every year, and visitors to Cambridge "from all over the world are heard to identify the Chapel as 'the place where the carols are sung.' "

I have a special interest in the King's Festival because I am an advocate for decentralized residential college systems like those at Oxford and Cambridge. Collegiate systems of the Oxbridge kind provide students and faculty alike with a wealth of opportunities for learning and service, and they can multiply the strengths that already exist within any university. The creation of residential college systems within larger institutions is a growing international trend.

But independent of its origins in a Cambridge residential college, the Festival of Lessons and Carols from King's is an example of the kind of rich cultural tradition that any college or university can aspire to develop and maintain, not only for its own members, but also for its city, its country, and the world. And it is young people in their teens and 20s who are especially strengthened by traditions, because traditions give them not only something to stand upon but also something to push against as they seek to define their own lives.

Do successful traditions require lots of money? They do not. It's true that few of us will have the resources of King's College available to us -- their chapel did take more than 100 years to build, after all. But successful traditions are about people and about social cohesion, they are not about money. If you begin by asking how you can use a tradition to make money, you'll never establish a great tradition.

Think first about what you can do for the members of your college or university in themselves, and forget about the outside world. If you do a good job, the outside world will eventually notice.

But how to do a good job? If we anatomize the King's College Festival, we can identify a number of structural features that can be replicated anywhere by people seeking to develop and maintain strong traditions within an educational environment.

First and foremost, a successful tradition must be regular and must never fail. If it follows the full moon, it must always follow the full moon. If it settles into Sundays at three, like tea in the college master's house, it must always settle into Sundays at three, even when people are few, the weather is bad, or the usual host is away. And if it's on Christmas Eve it must always be on Christmas Eve, at the same time, year after year.

The regularity of the King's Festival and its Christmas Eve broadcast was not even interrupted, the college tells us, "during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's could not be broadcast for security reasons." Regularity inspires confidence and strengthens the desire of people to participate.

A successful tradition must also exhibit structural stability, and within that stability, variety. Stability gives comfort, variety gives delight. Something that is continually reinvented cannot, by definition, be a tradition -- a thing handed down. But if a tradition is to remain vital it cannot be wholly static either: it must adapt, like a gradually changing species, to its local environment.

The overall structure of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has remained stable for more than eighty years now, and people who heard it as children would recognize it today. In particular, it always begins in exactly the same way, with a solitary chorister singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City."

But within this pattern of stability the Festival exhibits annual variety. Most of the elements are carried over from year to year, but not all are, and original hymns and anthems are often commissioned specially for a given year's service. Each year we know how it will begin, and how it will proceed, but each year we also know there will be a few surprises in store for us to make the experience ever green.

Finally, a successful tradition must bind the members of the community together in all their diversity, and link them to other groups with which they have historical connections. This is the most important function of every tradition, and it deserves particular attention in educational environments today, environments that are often subject to terrible social fragmentation. One of our central obligations to the young people in our care should be to connect them with those who came before and those who will come after, and well-crafted traditions like the Festival of Lessons and Carols can do just that.

The scriptural lessons in the King's Festival are read by a range of people of different ages who are purposely chosen each year to bring the college and the local community together: a member of the choir, an undergraduate, a fellow of the college, a member of the college staff, the dean, the provost, a representative of the city of Cambridge, a representative of King's sister society at Eton, and several others. This conscious structure not only ties the college itself together, but links the college with its neighbors and its educational relatives as well. Through the act of participation, these many individual groups become one.

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a Christian religious service, of course, and the older colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all originally Christian religious foundations. But the general social principles that are manifest here -- the regularity of the service, its stability and variety, and the way it binds the community together -- apply with great generality. And they apply not only to Oxbridge-style colleges founded within other religious traditions (Shalom College at the University of New South Wales and Mandelbaum House at the University of Sydney are Jewish foundations, and the colleges of the Universiti Putra Malaysia follow Islamic traditions), but also to fully secular colleges and universities across the United States and around the world.

So please join me in tracking down a local radio station to listen to on Christmas Eve, and we can all spend an hour together as virtual members of that ancient collegiate society along the Cam. As we listen we will have to concede that the chapel's magnificent stained glass windows are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, and that its soaring Gothic architecture may never be surpassed. But we should also hold fast to the most important lesson the King's Festival teaches: that a college is built of men and women, and that the glory of every college resides not in its material fabric, but in the way it brings its members together and illuminates their lives.

Robert J. O'Hara
Author's email:

Robert J. O'Hara is an evolutionary biologist and the author of "The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges and the Renewal of University Life."

Going 'Un-Global'

As summer begins, negotiations in the so-called Doha Round of world trade talks again heat up as countries jockey to retain their protection for domestic industries such as agriculture and to restrict non-agricultural market access. U.S. presidential candidates are focusing a lot of attention on issues of trade and immigration. The candidates blame a slowing U.S. economy and big jumps in the unemployment rate on NAFTA, Chinese currency policy, dependence on foreign oil, and globalization.

Popular pundits are pleading that the next administration must protect our borders, restricting cross-border movement of people as well as goods. Cries for restricting the import of Chinese toys and chemicals have become louder in recent months. All around us, the free movement of goods, services, people and capital across political borders is losing political strength and popularity.

It is past time for colleges and universities to fully accept the trend before they and their graduates are left behind. Universities should embrace the anti-globalization ethos not just with rhetoric or by re-focusing investments of their foundations, but by overhauling the curriculum. The curriculum and staffing should be harmonized with the tenets of the new nationalism movement. The status quo will not do justice to our students who will enter the un-global world.

How should such a curriculum be configured? How should the university prepare its students for this coming world of self-sufficient economies? Here we examine a few of the most significant trends that will develop. Many additional more modest proposals could certainly be examined in a more comprehensive manifesto.

Where are we headed? Corporations, bereft of their international subsidiaries and manufacturing facilities in the coming world order, will hire a different type of graduate from the university. Managing employees across different cultures? No need for those aptitudes once each country dis-integrates their affairs from others’. Employers will not value, in their hiring or promotion decisions, graduates with foreign language skills, study abroad experience, intercultural breadth, or international business acumen.

There will be no need to cross borders or to bridge cultures. No need to deal with suppliers of components or services, or with providers of Chilean wine or Finnish cell phones, or to interact with overseas customers for our coal, computers or corn (since other nations, too, will be, in their nationalist interests, self-sufficient). So there will be no practical need for foreign language skills or courses. Faculty in those areas will be nearly eliminated from the academic ranks.

Our inwardly directed economy will not reward students for studying abroad. Demand for such programs will dwindle, and they will need to be eliminated to conserve resources for the self-sufficient economy. Offices for education abroad will be “re-sized.” Similarly, universities will need to shed their international business and international relations programs, courses and faculty.

Intercultural breadth will be devalued. Instead, a renewed emphasis must be placed on technical skills and the trades to serve the self-sufficient economy. In fact, de-mobilizing labor, i.e., stopping the flow of people across borders, will mean a renaissance for professional programs in plumbing, bricklaying, construction, call centers, sewing and other fields. Universities’ curriculums must adapt to such a revival or face significant declining enrollments.

The implications for and readjustments in faculty hiring and salaries will be substantial. The ensuing glut of unemployed language, linguistics, international relations and culture faculty will mean salaries will plummet even further below those of faculty in other areas. Faculty in areas with more direct relevance to self-sufficiency, such as business management of sole proprietorships, accounting (under U.S. standards), nursing, farming, and building bridges, not requiring any international skills, will rise.

We can certainly anticipate there will be a later stage “backlash.” Foreign languages and linguistics will become majors for students purely interested in intellectual stimulation. Language departments will not be service departments but will become the domain of students with a purer objective of studying language and culture without any practical application. All foreign languages will take on the esoteric mantle of Latin – you won’t ever need to speak it to anyone, but it will be an intriguing intellectual pursuit. Thus, some language and international affairs scholars must remain in academia. That elite cadre will be valued for their intellectual purity and their commitment to studies with so little real world applicability. This, thankfully, will bring languages back to the heyday of intellectualism when language studies were untainted by real world application.

In summary, universities’ fully endorsing and embracing the neo-nationalist movement should significantly alter the educational landscape. In an economy insulated from others in a compartmentalized world, educational resource allocations must shift. Courses emphasizing trade and professional skills will be the heart of a domestically oriented curriculum. Experts on foreign cultures, languages, politics, business, technology, and international art will become useless relics of an obsolete ( so 20th century) point of view – a viewpoint too broad to apply to the new balkanized world economy.

In the long run, those few educators in such areas as languages and cultures who survive will be revered as scholars who pursue knowledge purely for its own sake -- at the cost of being increasingly irrelevant in an economy that has no need for interacting with foreigners. They will be admired for their steadfast ivory-tower intellectual purity. Hence, the unintended side effect of universities accepting this challenge for curriculum reform is that the reputation of the language and culture departments will be restored. Our best language and culture faculty will be elevated, and our students will be better prepared for the orderly new world.

Let’s jump on this trend before it is too late and before the university curriculum’s 20th century breadth becomes its 21st century albatross.

George Morgan
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George Morgan is SunTrust Professor of Finance in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

Higher Ed as a Weapon

Those of us who call ourselves international educators often become overly absorbed in the minutiae of our work, obsessing over various quantitative and qualitative indicators of success. After all, it's exhilarating, rewarding and unrelenting. We bask in the glow of accomplishment and gratification, knowing that we can make a difference in the lives of individuals and even nations.

There is much more to our work, however, than the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from helping a young person realize her dream of overseas study or bringing peoples closer together. It is not all about sitting around the proverbial campfire, hand in hand, singing "It's a Small World (After All)."

By assuming a technocratic stance, we fail to ask ourselves such fundamental questions as: Whose agenda are we advancing? Whose bidding are we doing? In a very real sense we miss the forest for the trees. A 2008 diplomatic memo about the role America can play in reforming Vietnam’s education system provides an intriguing and instructive case in point, and shows the extent to which our work can be used as a tool of soft power.

The Memo

A diplomatic cable known as the "U.S.-Vietnam Education Memo," which originated in the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi in the spring of 2008 and surreptitiously found its way onto the Internet, offers telling examples and revealing insights into the use of education as a tool of soft power.

Its 4,330 words and eight pages, chock-full of optimistic references to seizing opportunities and capitalizing on the admiration of Vietnamese for the U.S. higher education system, contain a Chief of Mission's well-documented, cogently argued and passionate appeal. The memo begins with a sweeping indictment of Vietnamese higher education and an unvarnished hope:

"Moving from today’s failed system, protected by a hide-bound and largely unqualified hierarchy of educators, will not be easy, but the United States has a unique opportunity to make a big difference and put its stamp on Vietnam's education system well into the future... If we walk through this open door [my italics], we will be engaging, with the explicit support of top leaders, in a unique opportunity to profoundly influence on [sic] Vietnam's educational system."

It ends with an action request entitled "New Educational Programs Require New Washington Resources." "While we are already making progress," the authors note with a degree of self-satisfaction and eager anticipation, "greater resources will allow us to advance this agenda much further."

While the memo includes noble references to helping Vietnam "produce the managers and skilled workers needed to keep its economic expansion on track and to lift more of the population out of poverty," the core message is expressed most succinctly and powerfully in this passage: "Adding new foreign assistance resources now and supporting the creation of a wide range of strategic public-private partnerships will maximize American influence on Vietnam’s educational system and thus on the future shape of Vietnamese society."

The U.S. is portrayed as a knight in shining armor, with its renowned can-do attitude and munificent spirit, coming to the rescue of millions of desperate Vietnamese students and parents. An example of this messianic complex, infused with wishful thinking, reads as follows: "In responding to Vietnam's call, we would ensure not only that Vietnam's tens of millions of students, but also their education-obsessed parents, see the United States as a key partner in their personal and collective futures."

Over half of Vietnam's population is under 25 years of age, which means that the "American War,” as it is known in Vietnam, is something most Vietnamese have learned about only from textbooks and family members. This consciousness, combined with an openness to and curiosity about the world, including generally positive perceptions of the U.S., creates favorable conditions to influence a generation and, possibly, the future of a country. At least, this is the wish expressed in the memo.

In The Limits of Power -- The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich describes American exceptionalism, a unique incarnation of U.S. nationalism that is of particular relevance to Vietnam, in the following way:

"Humility imposes an obligation of a different sort. It summons Americans to see themselves without blinders. The enemy of humility is sanctimony, which gives rise to the conviction that American values and beliefs are universal and that the nation itself serves providentially assigned purposes. This conviction finds expression in a determination to remake the world in what we imagine to be America's image."

In essence, education is seen as the ultimate soft power tool, a highly effective means of influence and a far-reaching agent of change in a long-term strategy to mold Vietnam in America's image, accomplishing through peaceful means what the United States failed to achieve through those of a military nature in the Second Indochina War.

'Just Because I'm Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not Out to Get Me'

What is so odious about the memo is not the incendiary rhetoric, the condescending tone, or the lack of veracity of the information presented. The facts, figures, analysis and assertion that Vietnam's higher education system is in crisis are on the mark and mirror what you find in the state-controlled Vietnamese media on an almost daily basis. It is that the United States brazenly seeks to exploit a glaring weakness in Vietnamese society for geopolitical gain, to walk through an open door, as it were.

The Vietnamese have in general long since "moved on" vis-a-vis the war, a salve to many Americans who come to Vietnam for the first time, anxious about how they will be perceived and treated. But Americans, U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs,) and the U.S. government nonetheless retain a "special" status because of the bloodstained history between the two nations. This translates into more attention, increased scrutiny and greater suspicion than for other governments and organizations.

After all, three million Vietnamese perished in the war and millions of survivors suffered as a result of the debilitating U.S.-led economic embargo that was imposed in 1975 and lifted in 1994, a prelude to the normalization of diplomatic relations between the former enemies a year later. There are living reminders of the physical legacy of the war in the remaining Amerasians, veterans and others who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) and the hundreds of thousands of victims -- young and old -- of Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO).

From an official Vietnamese perspective the U.S. strategy outlined in the memo is a textbook example of why "peaceful evolution," a long-term attempt to effect system change through peaceful means, looms large in Vietnam's political vocabulary and why its government is (and probably should be) paranoid about U.S. intentions in its country. Not surprisingly, there are individuals and factions within the Vietnamese government and Communist Party who are concerned about what they perceive to be an orchestrated attempt to promote a "color revolution."

While the official Vietnamese view may exaggerate the scope, potency and immediacy of the threat, the general thrust of its assessment is accurate. The memo, a leaked document that reflects the true thinking and actual plans of U.S. policy makers, is compelling proof.

After reminding readers "just how much we are already doing with current resources" and "how significant and unique an opportunity we face today," it concludes with this plea and prediction: "With just a fraction of spending now devoted to some of other programs and activities in the region, we can reshape this nation in ways that guarantee a deep, positive impact for decades to come. If we want the Vietnam of 2020 to look more like South Korea than China, now is the time to act."

Following this line of reasoning, the U.S. government -- in its dreams -- could have its cake and it eat it, too: close ties to the U.S., Vietnam's metamorphosis into the Southeast Asian equivalent of South Korea and its possible emergence as a regional counterforce to Vietnam's "big brother" to the north and U.S. nemesis, China.

Of 'Blue Sky' Exercises and Pie in the Sky

The Embassy staff who penned this erstwhile confidential document seem almost giddy with excitement at the prospect that the U.S. could somehow influence the political course of events in Vietnam through educational exchange and in-country activities in support of higher education.

The official author, the former ambassador Michael Michalak, who with ample justification referred to himself as the "education ambassador" throughout most of his three-and-a-half-year tenure, concludes by noting that "Many will read this message as a 'blue sky' exercise, perhaps shaking their heads in wonder that a Chief of Mission would forward such a broad range of suggestions. Clearly, our proposals need to be considered within the universe of competing demands."

Aside from the officially desired impact of current and proposed in-country projects, one of the more dubious assumptions of the "US-Vietnam Education Memo" is that Vietnamese who study in the U.S. will return home not only as friends of America but as friends of the U.S. government. (In the 2009-10 academic year, there were more than 13,000 Vietnamese studying in the U.S. Vietnam ranks ninth among all places of origin, according to the Open Doors 2010 report.) The memo notes that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung "has also asked for our help in launching the Ph.D. studies in the United States of at least 2,500 young Vietnamese, on the understanding that these men and women will return as the core of the nation’s political and academic elite in the decades to come."

The idea, so it goes, is that U.S.-educated Vietnamese will be positively predisposed toward things American, including U.S. policy objectives and Pax Americana. The official hope, steeped in arrogance and solipsism, is that many will be in a position to implement Amercentric change in the decades to come and will be amenable to doing so.

For those Vietnamese who benefit from one of the few U.S. government scholarships available to them (e.g., Fulbright Student Program, Vietnam Education Foundation) there is also the expectation that, once welcomed into the fold, alumni will feel eternally grateful for the opportunity they've been given and act accordingly down the road.

The letter and spirit of the memo are not exactly what Sen. J. William Fulbright had in mind when he proposed the creation of what has become the U.S. government's flagship scholarship program and one of its more noble undertakings. Fulbright once said about the objectives of educational exchange: "Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is--not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is -- which by my reckoning is an 'image' of which no American need be ashamed." (From the foreword to The Fulbright Program: A History)

Like any country, the United States has its strengths and successes -- models, approaches, ways of thinking -- that could be adapted and emulated in a country like Vietnam. The U.S. also has its shortcomings, red flags and cautionary tales. It is, in the words of Anatole Lieven, author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, "a mortal nation among nations," not the shining city on a hill that many of its citizens believe it to be. The notion that international educational exchange should contribute to remaking other societies in the United States' image is not only cynical and misguided; it is also delusional -- so much pie in the sky.

Mark A. Ashwill
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Mark A. Ashwill is managing director and founder of Capstone Vietnam, a Hanoi-based human resource development company. He was country director of the Institute of International Education in Vietnam from 2005 to 2009, and is author of Vietnam Today: A Guide to a Nation at a Crossroads (with Thai Ngoc Diep). He blogs at An International Educator in Vietnam.

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