Friday, May 22, 2009

Globalization and Higher Education: Competition and Cooperation

Globalization and Higher Education: Competition and Cooperation

While globalization poses critical challenges for the U.S. economy, Charles Vest believes that knowledge-sharing may serve as the best response to increasingly competitive times.

Vest sketches the increasingly dire situation of U.S. manufacturing, R&D and innovation, which are “migrating and morphing.” Between 2000 and 2002, the U.S. lost 400 thousand jobs in IT manufacturing, and during roughly the same period, foreign firms built 60 thousand manufacturing plants in China, Vest notes. In the U.S., agriculture and industry have given way to the service sector. This means, says Vest, that “a huge part of the population today is employed, and in the future, more, in providing services largely but not exclusively driven by information technology.”

But the U.S. science and engineering infrastructure, in contrast to other nations, is not keeping pace with these changes. Warns Vest, “People everywhere are smart and capable, and give them a chance and the education,” they’ll do at least as well as Americans have. China is already churning out far greater numbers of engineers than the U.S., and making them available to a global market at a far lower cost. The solution is to “strengthen the quality and nature of science and engineering education,” with a focus on technological proficiency, leadership, and international vision.

In practice, this means to Vest a new phase for the research university: creating a physical and/or virtual presence in other countries, alliances with overseas partners, and freely shared, digitally housed content -- what Vest calls “the emerging meta university.” With MIT’s own web-based Open Course Ware as a model, Vest prescribes increasingly accessible resources for scholarship and education, which will prove “strategically and fundamentally important to us, in the true spirit of education, democratization and empowerment.” Sharing underpins “innovation, cooperation and competition worldwide.” Vest envisions a “dynamically constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced.”

iCampus: Closing Remarks

In her concluding remarks, Susan Hockfield notes the need to “continually assess the relevance of our means of instruction in relation to the changing habits and expectations of students.” It’s not good enough to come up with new teaching technologies if they don’t motivate or enable learners. The question is whether we “will seize the opportunity to deeply rethink what we do and participate in developing technologies to do what we do even better,” and to liberate students “to innovate their own education.”

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