Universités: des critiques gouvernementales étonnantes et des questions sans réponse
On connaît l’origine de leur situation financière déjà très tendue, alors que des ressources importantes avaient été promises par l’Etat pour accompagner l’autonomie, leur budget de fonctionnement n’est réévalué que de 1,2% en 2012 (0,9% pour les écoles d’ingénieurs), soit beaucoup moins que l’inflation. Sans ressources supplémentaires, l’autonomie risque de se transformer en piège.
Le Conseil national de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche est boycotté, les syndicats et des présidents d’universités protestent, mais pour le ministre, les coupables, ce sont notamment les Régions qui auraient dû une nouvelle fois compenser l’insuffisance de l’Etat et les promesses non tenues du Gouvernement.
Mais il faudrait savoir. L’Etat ne peut pas à la fois avoir réduit les ressources des Régions, avec la réforme de la fiscalité locale et la réduction des dotations, les accuser contre toute objectivité de participer au creusement des déficits publics et passer son temps à les solliciter sur les grandes compétences nationales, auxquelles elles apportent un concours déjà très important: rappelons que les Régions soutiennent à elles seules davantage la recherche que l’ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche).
Si les Régions ont à cœur de financer l’enseignement supérieur et la recherche pour préparer l’avenir de leur territoire et de nos jeunes, il ne s’agit pas d’une compétence décentralisée mais de la seule responsabilité de l’Etat. Les Régions ont pallié son sous-investissement autant qu’elles le pouvaient parce qu’elles ont vu la réalité de la situation de l’enseignement supérieur.
Elles investissent ainsi chaque année 850 millions d’euros dans l’enseignement supérieur et dans la recherche, soutiennent fortement les plans Campus ou les investissements d’avenir même si elles n’ont pas été associées aux choix comme l’aurait voulu l’esprit Républicain. Pas une seule fois, dans la bouche des ministres successifs, on a entendu l’Etat le reconnaître.
L’ARF aimerait en revanche que le Ministre réponde à ses questions:
- Qu’en est-il du financement réel de la recherche et de l’université, alors que les laboratoires, même éligibles au grand emprunt, annoncent des baisses de leurs crédits récurrents?
- Quelles compétences veut-on faire exercer aux Régions, sans doute au détriment des lycées?
- Quand les financements liés aux investissements d’avenir seront-ils véritablement affectés?
- Pourquoi ne jamais associer les territoires aux décisions et ne pas comprendre qu’un Etat décentralisé, moderne, suppose d’accepter des compétences claires dans toute la chaine des pouvoirs publics, avec les ressources correspondantes ?
- Pourquoi les projets d’excellence universitaire ne vont-ils pas de pair avec une vision de l’aménagement du territoire, d’un ascenseur social relancé pour l’accès de tous à l’enseignement supérieur?
We know the origin of their financial situation already very tense, so that significant resources had been promised by the government to support independence, their operating budget is reassessed only 1.2% in 2012 (0,9% for engineering schools), much lower than inflation. Without additional resources, autonomy may become trapped.
The National Council of Higher Education and Research is boycotted, unions and university presidents protested, but to minister, guilty, these include the regions that would have once again compensate for the lack of state and the broken promises of the Government. More...
Faire des études, c’est bien, avoir un boulot à l’arrivée c’est encore mieux
Par Nathalie Brafman. Comment augmenter le nombre d’étudiants dans le supérieur tout en favorisant leur insertion professionnelle? Vaste sujet! En France, l’objectif fixé en 2005 est d’atteindre 50% d’une génération de diplômés du supérieur. Encore faut-il qu’à l’arrivée, cette génération trouve un emploi.
Le Centre d’analyse stratégique devait présenter mardi 24 janvier cinq propositions visant à améliorer l’insertion professionnelle des étudiants du supérieur. Aujourd’hui, deux étudiants dans le supérieur sur trois (sur un total de 2,3 millions) suivent ce que l'on appelle une formation professionnelle, (BTS, DUT, grandes écoles, médecine ou encore les filières à vocation strictement professionnelles dans les universités….) par opposition à une formation générale (sociologie, histoire, lettres, mathématiques…).
« Or, s’il faut bien sûr permettre à des étudiants de faire des études générales, il est indispensable d'insérer des éléments de professionnalisation dans leurs études. Car faute de débouchés naturels par rapport aux matières qu’ils ont étudiées, les étudiants de certaines filières générales peuvent avoir du mal à trouver du travail », explique Vincent Chriqui, directeur général du Centre d’analyse stratégique.
Les cinq propositions du Centre d’analyse stratégique
1) Développer l’offre de formation professionnelle, notamment à l’université, et limiter, voire réduire dans certains domaines, le nombre de spécialités. Autrement dit, former dans des champs de compétence plus larges et non plus trop étroits. « Il y a de plus en plus de formation professionnelle mais cela se traduit par une variété de plus en plus fine dans les filières pour lesquelles on forme les étudiants afin qu’ils soient employables immédiatement », reconnaît M. Chriqui. Le Centre d’analyse stratégique avait déjà pointé cette question dans des travaux antérieurs constatant en effet que cinq ans plus tard, la moitié des jeunes n’étaient pas employés dans ce pourquoi ils avaient été formés initialement.
2) Rapprocher les universités des instances de la formation professionnelle : permettre aux présidents d’université d’être membres des Comités de coordination régionaux de l’emploi et de la formation professionnelle (CCREFP) et la conférence des présidents d’universités d’être membre du conseil national de la formation professionnelle tout au long de la vie (CNFPTLV) afin de mieux cerner les besoins en formation en fonction de l’économie.
3) Permettre aux universités de créer, à leur initiative, des diplômes nationaux de formation professionnelle, sous réserve de l’accord du ministère et dans le cadre du contrat Etat-établissement. Avec cette proposition, l’Etat ne serait pas le seul à pouvoir créer des diplômes, les universités –sous le contrôle de l’Etat évidemment- pourraient aussi avoir l’initiative et proposer à l’Etat de créer des diplômes professionnalisant. Inversement, l’Etat pourrait donner la possibilité à une université de créer tel ou tel diplôme.
Le deuxième axe des propositions vise à adapter le rythme des formations dans les filières générales.
4) Développer l’apprentissage dans les formations générales à l’université : moduler les périodes de formation et celles de travail en entreprise durant le contrat d’apprentissage ; permettre aux étudiants d’effectuer la majorité de leur temps en entreprise (80% au maximum) durant la dernière année d’un diplôme préparé en apprentissage; accorder un label « période d’apprentissage » aux stages inférieurs à deux mois, si ceux-ci sont rémunérés, et les inclure en « équivalent temps plein » dans le calcul du seuil des apprentis. « Cette proposition vise à introduire plus de souplesse. Car le problème de l’apprentissage, c’est de trouver un employeur », souligne M. Chriqui.
5) Sous réserve de leur compatibilité avec le cursus de formation, permettre de prendre en compte les périodes de travail étudiant (cumul emploi-étude, travail durant l’été…) dans la validation des diplômes, notamment comme périodes de stage. Evidemment, il faudra que ces périodes de travail aient un rapport avec les études poursuivies.
Nathalie Brafman. Ako zvýšiť počet vysokoškolských študentov a podporovať ich zamestnateľnosť? Široké tému! Vo Francúzsku, ciele pre rok 2005 je dosiahnuť 50% generácie absolventov. Je tiež nutné v cieli, táto generácia nájde prácu. Centrum pre strategické Utorok 24. januára bolo prezentovať päť návrhov na zlepšenie zamestnateľnosti študentov na vysokých školách. Viac...
Formation continue: le Cnam et les universités renforcent leur coopération
Bien positionner le service public de l'enseignement supérieur
Cette charte a pour objectif de contribuer au bon positionnement du service public de l’enseignement supérieur dans le domaine de la formation professionnelle continue. Elle prévoit notamment de:
* favoriser une meilleure connaissance des offres de formation et de services du Cnam et des universités;
* permettre la recherche systématique d’une complémentarité et/ou d’actions conjointes dans le cadre du service public régional de formation professionnelle pour adultes;
* encourager la mutualisation et la synergie des ressources pédagogiques.
Plus concrètement, les opérateurs publics devraient ainsi pouvoir "renforcer leur réponse aux appels d’offres territoriaux, régionaux, nationaux ou internationaux, en rapprochant leurs ressources".
Quatre domaines privilégiés de coopération entre le Cnam et les universités
Le partenariat entre le Cnam et les universités est prévu principalement dans quatre domaines:
* la construction concertée d’une offre de formation diplômante et qualifiante,
* la diffusion de la culture scientifique et technique,
* la préparation et suivi des contrats de plan régional de développement des formations professionnelles,
* les accords préalables sur le cadre et les conditions d’intervention des personnels.
Position the public service of higher education. More...
La préparation opérationnelle à l'emploi dopée par les branches
Par Véronique Le Billon. Créée en 2008, la POE a bénéficié à 10.000 demandeurs d'emploi l'an dernier. La POE « collective » devrait doper les chiffres cette année.
Le patronat et le gouvernement ont en fait déjà trouvé le moyen de doper le dispositif cette année. La loi Cherpion, adoptée en novembre, a créé la POE « collective » : à partir des besoins de main-d'oeuvre identifiés par la branche, l'Opca peut être directement maître d'oeuvre du dispositif. En seulement trois semaines, Forco, l'Opca du commerce, vient de réaliser 800 POE collectives, et Agefos PME 900 sur les deux derniers mois de 2011...
Sans promesse d'embauche
« Il faut que nous puissions très vite mobiliser d'autres organismes paritaires [...] pour que cet outil puisse profiter à un nombre beaucoup plus important de demandeurs d'emploi », a plaidé François Fillon la semaine dernière. L'esprit n'est toutefois plus tout à fait le même puisque les chômeurs sont formés, mais sans promesse d'embauche. « Les organismes de formation sont choisis en fonction de leur capacité à accompagner dans l'emploi et une part de leur rémunération dépend du taux de placement dans l'emploi », plaide Yves Georgelin, délégué général du Forco. « Les possibilités sont en dizaines de milliers », chiffre Jean-Michel Pottier. Le gouvernement ne devrait pas manquer d'afficher un objectif ambitieux demain.
For at undgå at køre den om anvendelsen nedskæringer moms, afgifter, hvis de sociale udvikling (se ovenfor), MEDEF lovede tilsagn om beskæftigelse. "Det operationelle beredskab på Beskæftigelse er en vidunderlig mekanisme, men er stadig i sin vorden, og vi ønsker at udvikle [...]. Vi ser på, hvad potentielle vi kunne begynde i 2012, "siger Laurence Parisot ("Les Echos" fra januar 11). Mere...
What is wrong with global inequality in higher education?
What forms does global inequality in higher education take and what’s wrong with it?
Global inequality in higher education is enmeshed with wider dimensions of global inequality, particularly poverty and vast discrepancies in income. Common measures of poverty indicate that nearly two billion people live in conditions of grave inequality.
Responses to this range from the minimal humanitarian to the maximal egalitarian. Maximal egalitarians argue for a substantial provision of public goods by national and international agencies in relation to education, health and social development to establish the conditions for decent life.
Inequalities in higher education
Higher education is an important component of this, but inequalities in income are compounded by inequalities in higher education systems.
These include inequalities of distribution. Although the numbers of students have increased worldwide, they have proportionally grown least in low-income countries. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest participation rate for higher education in the world (6%). But for some of the countries with the lowest levels of human development this is even lower.
Generally students come from families that have historically had access to higher education. Thus, while there has been some expansion of opportunities for lower socio-economic groups to participate in higher education in richer countries, these chances are virtually non-existent in the poorest countries in the world, where arguably the expansions of higher education might make an enormous difference.
There are also inequalities in resources. Nearly half of those teaching in higher education worldwide possess only a bachelor degree. In many countries class sizes have increased and students receive little personal guidance. Academic salaries have deteriorated and many academics hold more than one job and have few opportunities to undertake research. In addition there are inequalities in status and esteem, exemplified by league tables in which universities in developing countries barely feature.
The fourth kind of inequality is that between higher education institutions that have some orientation to global inequalities and those that ignore them. This ignoring can take many forms, ranging from an almost exclusive focus in curriculum and pedagogy on economic, social and political processes that heighten inequality and lack of dignity for the poorest, to casual treatment of their concerns.
There are some inequalities that appear neutral. For example, in our society it does not make much difference what colour one’s eyes are, but a great deal of research suggests it still does make a difference what colour one’s skin is. This, often in association with socio-economic conditions, affects whether or not one gets good school-leaving results, which university one attends and whether one will become a professor.
Thus some inequalities are neutral and some, through no fault of the individual or her family, carry harsh penalties. These penalties within a particular wealthy country like the UK are amplified enormously if one happens to be born in a poor country. Some inequalities are historical and these matter in different ways because they mean there is no level playing field. This is tied in with histories of colonialism, the uneven development of capitalism since the 1970s and the pervasiveness of discriminations associated with gender, race and particular ethnicities over centuries.
Inequalities in one space, for example the level of esteem given pure mathematics in different well-funded higher education communities, may not be the same as inequalities in another, for example the numbers of well-taught primary healthcare workers who are able to work with the poorest. But the inequalities in the different spaces have different consequences.
The global inequalities in higher education I am concerned with are those that limit capabilities, the ways in which unequal higher education institutions may contribute through omission or commission to limiting the chance of lives with dignity for the poorest and might foreclose on the building of what Professor Darrel Moellendorf, director of the Institute for Ethics and Public Affairs at San Diego State University, has called the principle of associational justice, a concept which emphasises the interdependence of national and global realms of justice.
Justifications for global inequalities
Three kinds of justifications for global inequalities between universities are generally offered.
Firstly, the competition argument is made. By this analysis there is nothing morally problematic about opening up higher education to a range of providers, a range of fee structures, and a range of delivery mechanisms, and encouraging every kind of exchange.
Secondly, a diversity argument acknowledges students and higher education institutions are different. Here the notion is that as long as we respect different cultures of learning, teaching and research in higher education, inequality is not in itself problematic. A third justification is a version of national or community or family ‘desert’ [merit].
I rebut these three arguments regarding why global inequality in higher education is not problematic since they rest on a number of presuppositions, notably that competition, difference and desert are neutral. I show that competition, diversity in this banal form and desert cannot build Moellendorf’s associational justice, or even the conditions that might allow this principle to be reviewed.
Arguments for competition have merit, because they emphasise freedom. Arguments for difference must be acknowledged, because they recognise diversity. Arguments for desert cannot be completely ignored, because they do give credit to hard work, enterprise and risk. But making these arguments only in relation to these abstracts and failing to contextualise them undermines their salience.
Inequality in higher education capabilities for institutions and individuals tends to undermine investigation into global public goods. That such questions of global public good are ignored has something to do with the way global inequalities in higher education are taken for granted. Naming these inequalities and questioning their foundations is an important project.
* Elaine Unterhalter is professor of education and international development at the Institute of Education, University of London. This article is based on a presentation she made at the Society for Research into Higher Education annual conference in December 2011.
International branch campuses expanding, geopolitical landscape changing
By William Lawton and Alex Katsomitros*. The number of international branch campuses for higher education continues to expand at a stately rate, rather than with a headlong rush. But the landscape is changing, in line with prevailing geopolitical currents. According to data collected by the Observatory on Borderless Education in the latter half of 2011, there are now 200 branch campuses around the world.
This is an increase of 38, or 23%, since our September 2009 report, which identified 162 international branch campuses. That number, in turn, represented a larger increase of 43% over the total identified in our October 2006 report. The rate of increase has therefore slowed but given the narrower time frame between 2009 and 2011, it may not have slowed very much.
The research also shows that the rate of growth is likely to pick up again. There are 37 more international branch campuses currently being planned by universities. All but two are slated to open in 2012 or 2013. These numbers, of course, depend wholly on where the conceptual boundaries are drawn. Our report includes only degree-granting operations, while the 2009 report included 17 programmes at diploma and other pre-degree levels. This report also excludes some of the small international degree-granting operations established by higher education institutions that were included in the 2009 report. The ones excluded have no physical infrastructure for teaching in the host country and are therefore usually not considered to be campuses by the home institutions.
If all of the above exclusions had been retained, the total number of international branch campuses would now be at least 225 and probably higher, because there are likely also to be many more non-degree programmes of the type previously included. In common with its predecessors, however, this report also excludes the myriad of transnational education operations, from joint degrees to online learning, that constitute the vast bulk of international teaching activities.
In India, for example, 631 foreign institutions were operating in 2010, of which 440 did so from their home campuses, 186 had twinning or some other arrangements with local institutions, and five had opened a campus in India. When considered against this full spectrum, international branch campuses remain firmly a minority pursuit. This is not surprising when considering that they represent a greater level of capital outlay and financial risk than other forms of transnational education (though not the greatest reputational risk – that distinction belongs to validation arrangements, in which the originating institution provides only brand marketing and the partner institution covers admissions, teaching, materials, curriculum and assessment).
Having said that, many universities now considering branch campuses abroad are able to mitigate financial risk because prospective host governments are keen to cover the initial and operational costs. These governments see the provision of education by foreign universities as a core element of national economic strategies. In these cases, some or much financial risk is transferred from the foreign institutions to the host governments. Although significant overheads and resource investments for universities remain, external financial support could in many cases be the deciding factor when developing business plans.
Some basic headline statistics remain unchanged. American universities still originate the greatest number of campuses abroad; this is unchanged at 78, although there have been additions and closures. The United Arab Emirates still host the greatest number (37), although this has in fact decreased by three. But the direction of travel under these numbers is more significant: the number of US-origin campuses had registered the fastest growth in the preceding interval (2006-09). Furthermore, there are no new international branch campuses planned for the UAE. The centre of gravity is clearly shifting eastwards from the Gulf.
The 2009 report showed 10 campuses on the Chinese mainland and five in Hong Kong. The number identified in China is now 17, but these include a few operations that existed before 2009. Hong Kong now has one fewer, with the withdrawal of the University of Northern Virginia. And surprisingly, there are no campuses planned in Hong Kong that we are aware of. In addition to the new campuses in mainland China, there are at least seven more currently in development – five from the US and two from the UK.
This movement should not be surprising either: at a geopolitical level it reflects the shift in economic and political power towards China. But it also shows the responsiveness of Western institutions to Chinese determination to act on the world stage in higher education – a determination that is backed up with state funding. Of the 37 planned campuses identified, it is worth noting that 13 are from American universities and colleges, for destinations from China to Korea to Rwanda. It is therefore too soon to conclude that the US is losing interest in international branch campuses.
The expansion of international branch campuses worldwide therefore continues as an important element of higher education internationalisation. There is a great variety of models and approaches, although the motivations are fairly simple to state: international branch campuses extend the reach of institutions in such a way as to enhance their international profile and status. They provide greater access to an expanding student market, especially in Asia where demand for higher education is expected to continue to outstrip supply for another 20 years.
Many governments, especially in Asia and parts of Africa, see international branch campuses as preferable to the outward migration of young people and as essential components of their national economic and developmental goals, as expressed through the drive and support for education hubs. But building branch campuses will never supplant broader transnational education activities as a means of positioning universities with international aspirations. Long-term partnerships with mutual benefits for universities in different countries do not require new campuses.
This is the case whether the primary motivating factor is securing a new sustainable revenue stream or securing a sustainable research relationship or broadening the institutional profile or providing more international mobility and development opportunities for staff and students. In all cases, the consolidation of enduring academic partnerships merely starts with the signing of memoranda of understanding. It requires the investment of a great amount of time and resources in relationship-building and in due diligence.
* Dr William Lawton is director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education and Alex Katsomitros is a research analyst. This is an extract from the OBHE report International Branch Campuses: Data and development. A full copy of the report is obtainable by contacting the OBHE at http://www.obhe.ac.uk.
France Moves to Lift a Barrier to Jobs for Foreign Graduates
A joint memo from the ministries of Interior, Higher Education and Labor last week called on local prefects to “re-examine” requests filed while stricter rules stated in a previous memo, issued on May 31 of last year, were in place. All expulsion procedures against applicants whose papers were rejected under those rules are to be suspended, the memo said.
Non-European holders of at least a French master’s degree or equivalent will have six months after graduation to find a “first work experience” and apply for working papers. They can also file for a regular work permit.
New elements of their résumés such as academic excellence, French state scholarships or French high school diplomas will be taken into account.
The new memo “corrects difficulties and errors that we made,” the higher education minister, Laurent Wauquiez, said on RMC radio. “Yes, France wants to control its immigration policy,” he said, but added, “No, France doesn’t close its doors to foreign students.”
Strict application of immigration rules on foreign graduates sparked fears that the country could become less attractive for students.
“France strongly affirms its willingness to host foreign students,” Pierre Tapie, chairman of the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles, a grouping of some of the country’s most prestigious schools, said in a phone interview last Friday.
The May 31st Collective, a group that campaigned against working-permit refusals, welcomed the new memo, but said it remained worried about the government’s anti-immigration stance.
“It comes too late for some of our friends who already had to leave the country,” said Vincent Chauvet, head of the collective. He said the group had counted up to 1,000 cases of foreign graduates who had encountered problems. The Interior Ministry said in an e-mail that it knew of 674 cases of graduates affected by the original memo.
Chinese university to open branch in Florence
A campus building has been identified in the Tuscan capital for exclusive use by Ningbo and the first Chinese professors and students will arrive in September.
The project was sealed by a formal agreement struck late last year between the municipal authorities of Ningbo, in Zhejiang Province, and Florence, when a Chinese delegation visited the city.
The Florence municipal council has agreed to provide a physical structure for the campus, while running costs will be borne by Ningbo University, which has 23,000 students in China.
Florentine officials say that as the agreement is between the council and Ningbo, it does not need ministerial authorisation. But the government will not regard it as an official campus regulated under Italian higher education rules – for this to happen, ministerial authorisation would be needed.
While the first students and professors, just 10 and two respectively, to arrive this year will be hosted by a local institution, an ex-courthouse building in the city centre has been earmarked as a likely site for the future campus, enabling the project to mushroom in size.
Florentine local councillor and Ningbo city honorary citizen Mario Razzanelli has been instrumental in developing the collaboration between the two cities after a series of cultural exchanges that began in 2003. Over the years these have included the donation of two replica sculptures, one of Michelangelo's David and one of Florentine statesman and poet Dante, to the city of Ningbo by Florence.
“Often these agreements between institutions come to nothing but in this case we have something concrete happening. Political will is important and that is certainly there,” Razzanelli told University World News.
He said that although practical details such as housing were still being finalised, the first courses to be run in Italy by the Chinese institution would be focused on art and culture, taking advantage of Florence’s trove of art treasures. Students will also undertake English language courses.
“I have been to China 30 times and language is perhaps the biggest barrier to overcome. An Italian who goes to China and doesn't speak either Chinese or English is lost. Students who come here must likewise be able to speak at least English,” Razzanelli said.
Italy is an increasingly attractive destination for Chinese students who wish to study abroad and the country has actively encouraged Chinese student participation in recent years though the Italian government’s Marco Polo overseas study programme.
It allows Chinese students to arrive six months before their tertiary course commences to undertake Italian language studies, also giving universities the discretion to reserve course places for Marco Polo participants.
The programme has seen constant growth since its launch in 2004 and Chinese students are now the second largest national grouping of foreign university students in Italy, after Albanians. Chinese students numbered 5,269 last year, up from just 74 in 2003.
Florence is a strategic location for a Chinese university, not only due to its cultural history – it is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance – but also as a centre of modern industry.
The nearby city of Prato, 18 kilometres to the west, is home to the biggest Chinese community in Italy and one of the country’s biggest garment districts, where Chinese participation both as business owners and in the local work force is significant.
Dozens of foreign campuses are based in Italy and the country reaps significant benefits from so-called academic tourism.
A 2008 study by the Tuscan Regional Institute for Economic Planning estimated that as many as 12% of visitors to national monuments and sites of historic interest were foreign students, contributing EUR397 million (US$508 million) directly to the local economy or as much as EUR632 million when combined with indirect expenditure.
China to evaluate foreign university presence and prepare guidelines
The evaluation is to prepare for clearer guidelines for foreign universities on the kind of partnerships China is willing to support. The Ministry of Education puts the number of Sino-foreign education programmes at around 1,200. A number of new foreign joint programmes went ahead in 2011, notably New York University’s campus in Shanghai in partnership with East China Normal University, and Lancaster University in the UK’s tie-up with Guangdong University of Foreign Studies to set up a new campus in Guangzhou called Guanwai-Lancaster University.
At the end of last year the University of California, Berkeley, signed a deal with Shanghai to establish a university in the city, and the ministry announced that it had approved a joint campus run by Kean University from New Jersey in the US and the government of Wenzhou in Eastern Zhejiang province. Although approved by the municipal and provincial governments in 2006, the project had taken another four years to secure ministry approval. Despite the spate of approvals, according to the ministry more than 70% of the applications for joint Sino-foreign university programmes presented by China’s provinces and cities during 2011 were rejected.
The low quality of proposed foreign education and “unreasonable” agreements between the two sides were the main reasons for rejection, the ministry said in December. Most tie-ups are negotiated with municipal governments, and there is a tendency for a foreign university to celebrate once a deal is inked with the municipal authorities.
“But the municipalities and provincial education authorities are not making the decisions on their own, they have to go to the Ministry of Education,” said Steven Robinson, a Shanghai-based partner at the legal firm Hogan Lovells International, which represents a number of foreign universities.
“Beijing has not delegated that responsibility to any municipalities and there is also not much desire for Beijing to hear from the foreign partners in that process.”
Experts said the wider evaluation ordered by Beijing did not necessarily mean a clamp-down on foreign university partnerships, but was aimed at bringing joint programmes more in line with China’s own national needs rather than a foreign partner’s wish list. Beijing-based diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government was seeking to align new foreign provision more closely with China’s national interests as it moves towards a knowledge economy under its 2010-20 ‘innovation society’ plan. Future collaborations will need to serve national interests as well as local interest groups and local party officials, said Christopher Ziguras, deputy dean of the International School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at Melbourne’s RMIT University in Australia.
“Educational sovereignty is a preoccupation in China which leads to a wariness of foreign provision that has stalled some foreign branch campuses,” Ziguras told University World News, adding:
“New programme approvals [by foreign partnerships] are very cumbersome. The government asks do we really need these programmes? They will only accept programmes that their own institutions cannot deliver and that do not pose competition for their own universities.”
The latest evaluation follows a pilot programme conducted in 2011 by provincial education departments after the education ministry said it would tighten supervision of joint programmes. The ministry also said at the time that it would draw up sanctions for those who do not comply. The pilot evaluation was described officially as protecting the interests of students, and ensuring excellence of joint programmes. The ministry explained that some joint projects attracted students “with bold advertisements” but failed to deliver high quality teaching. Others failed to honour promises to send students abroad as part of the programme. Results of the pilot have not been released officially, nor have the authorities revealed how many programmes were evaluated during the pilot phase.
The rate of approvals may have slowed while the pilot evaluation was taking place, but it is far from the temporary freeze on new Sino-foreign partnerships suggested by some official media last year. The Observatory for Borderless Higher Education said in a just-released report that the number of international branch campuses in China has increased from 10 to 17 between 2009 and 2011, with at least seven more in the works – five from the US and two from the UK. And Steven Robinson described 2011 as “a busy year” for foreign universities wanting to enter China. His firm is handling several new applications from foreign universities “of which three to four could mature,” he said.
“The interest from foreign universities is continuing unabated and in a whole variety of shapes and sizes,” Robinson said.
Caution by authorities
Nonetheless, one of the international universities exploring partnerships in China that did not wish to be named said the authorities had been cautious during the last year. “A lot of opportunities for collaboration are being stymied by the authorities,” he said.
Ultimately, many approvals hinge on finances, with the ministry seeking out the most prestigious degrees for the lowest price. While many foreign universities openly admit wanting to go into China to tap into a large fee-paying student market, this may not sit well with the authorities.
“How do you produce a Harvard [quality] degree for local university tuition fee levels – that is the goal of all the institutions,” said Robinson. “Beijing does not want students paying two to three times local tuition and not getting a job afterwards.
“At present tuition and fees have to be approved by pricing authorities. In the US, they don’t have to deal with pricing authorities, they are looking at the threshold of pain people are willing to bear and what other universities are charging,” said Robinson.
In addition, the ministry has told diplomats that it wants a mix of foreign provision and host cities, not just US universities with partnerships clustered in a few cities such as Shanghai.
“China reserves the right to control the content, the fees and which institutions deliver which programmes to which students under which circumstances,” said Christopher Ziguras of RMIT.
“The impression I got is that in order for a foreign campus to get up and running, it should pose no threat and no competition to any of the existing [Chinese] universities,” he said.
But the most significant change, according to diplomats, is that the ministry is no longer willing to approve programmes in disciplines that already have a high graduate unemployment rate in China. This means that joint programmes in engineering and finance, for example, have a higher chance of approval. Significantly, Berkeley’s joint centre in Shanghai was a partnership signed with Berkeley’s college of engineering, and does not yet include undergraduate provision that could compete with Shanghai’s existing prestige universities. The first degrees to be offered by Kean will be in finance, English and technology, all areas with good employment prospects.
China is also looking to foreign partners to deliver courses that encourage innovation. The 2010-20 plan “makes provisions for a new style of higher education, like the type offered [by UK’s Nottingham University] in Ningbo that encourages creativity and innovation and generally equips citizens to take the lead in global business and scientific endeavours,” said Nick Miles, provost and CEO of the University of Nottingham Ningbo. But Robinson does not envisage any new laws in the wake of the evaluation. The review will be more about clarifying existing regulations on Sino-foreign university partnerships which were drawn up in 2003 and, he said, are “very broad and deep”.
If universities understand China’s needs, there is still room for foreign collaborations and the rules can sometimes appear stricter on paper than in practice, according to Robinson: “The authorities have been accommodating and very pragmatic and willing to listen,” he said.
Free courses may shake universities’ monopoly on credit
Several new companies and organizations with impressive pedigrees are harnessing the Internet to provide college courses for free, or for next to nothing. And while many traditional universities are slowing this trend by refusing to give academic credit toward degrees to students who complete such programs, several no- and low-cost startups are doing an end-run around this monopoly by inventing new kinds of credentials that employers may consider just as good.
“If I were the universities, I might be a little nervous,” said Alana Harrington, director of Saylor.org,a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit established by entrepreneur Michael Saylor that offers 200 free online college courses in 12 majors.
Among other similar initiatives are Peer-to-Peer University, or P2PU,which also offers free online courses and is supported by the web-browser company Mozilla and the Hewlett Foundation, and University of the People,which charges $10 to $50 for any of more than 40 online courses, and whose backers include the Clinton Global Initiative. Both are also nonprofits.
The content they use comes from top universities, including MIT, Tufts, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Michigan. Those are among some 250 institutions worldwide that have put a collective 15,000 courses online in what has become known as the open-courseware movement.
The universities’ intention is to widen access to course content, including to prospective students. At MIT, for instance, a pioneer of open courseware, half of incoming freshmen report that they’ve looked at MIT online courses and a third say it influenced their decision to go there.
But the material, which includes videos of lectures by top academics, can also be scooped up by others and organized into catalogs of free content. And while the number of students using these services so far is low— at a time when 6.1 million people are taking (and paying for) online courses from nonprofit and for-profit universities, P2PU says it has had 25,000 people open user accounts and University of the People has registered 1,100 students in two years (while Saylor.org has no way of tracking its enrollment)—the momentum is picking up as colleges continue to increase costs and students take on more and more debt to pay for tuition.
A Baltimore-based for-profit company called StraighterLinealso offers online courses for $99 a month plus a $39 registration fee per class, which is less than the cost of tuition at most U.S. community colleges.
“Maybe these upstarts don’t have all the bells and whistles of the beautiful campuses. But people are deciding it’s not worth paying for that,” said Michael Horn, executive director for education at the Innosight Institute, a nonprofit think tank.
Still, conventional colleges and universities are largely refusing to accept transfer credits from these programs, making them less appealing to students. Universities’ currency is, after all, academic credit toward degrees, which employers depend on to determine the qualifications of job applicants. Although they do take transfer credits on a case-by-case basis, the universities say they can’t always judge the quality of courses offered by others, and that reading online content alone, or even watching lectures, is not the same as attending in-person classes.
“Libraries are free, too,” says Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.“You can roam around, read books and study. But hardly anyone would say that spending time in the library is a good preparation to work in any economy, much less this one.”
So rather than transfer credit they’ve earned elsewhere, students who want a degree from a conventional university find that they often have to take—and pay for—the same classes again there.
“The last thing universities have to protect themselves is this withholding of academic credit,” said Philipp Schmidt, cofounder and executive director of P2PU, who said the real reason for the schools’ refusal to accept transfer credits is to prevent competition. “It’s not about a deep concern for the interests of the students. It’s about a deep concern for the interests of the institutions.”
Besides, said Debbie Arthur, who has enrolled in StraighterLine courses toward what she hopes will someday be a degree in education: Many classes at universities are no more personal than the ones she takes online.
“The Pollyanna version of college is that you’re learning and discussing things with your professors,” said Arthur, a custom-jewelry maker who lives in Kingsport, Tenn. “The reality is that you have 450 kids in an auditorium listening to a teaching assistant. They’ve killed the golden goose themselves by being greedy, and I think people have started looking really closely at alternatives.”
Several universities agreed to be formal partners with StraighterLine, but then pulled out. One, Fort Hays State University in Kansas,conceded that it bumped the low-price company because it stood to make more money from its own online program. Documents obtained through a public-records request from another, the University of Akron, show that its formal agreement with StraighterLine was canceled in part because of complaints from the faculty senate that it hadn’t been consulted about the deal.
Horn, coauthor of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,compares this to the way the U.S. auto industry reacted when it began to be threatened by cheaper foreign competition, particularly from Japan.
“As it became clear the Japanese automakers were more and more threatening, the American automakers spent a lot of time trying to keep the Japanese out by erecting tariffs and so forth,” instead of recognizing that consumers wanted smaller, cheaper cars, he said. “That’s the same kind of thinking we’re seeing here.”
In fact, the free-content providers are already trying to break the universities’ monopoly by coming up with altogether new kinds of credentials in place of credits or degrees. Saylor.org, for instance, will next month introduce an “electronic portfolio,” even more detailed than a college transcript, that its students can use to show employers what they’ve learned.
Also this month, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is wrapping up a $2 million competitionto design digital “badges” that can be used instead of university degrees to prove a candidate’s experience and knowledge to employers. P2PU and Saylor are already experimenting with such badges to show when students have completed courses.
Last month, MIT announced a project called MITxthat, starting this spring, will offer certificates of completion to anyone who successfully finishes courses the university makes available for free online, with a small fee for the certificates themselves.
“There’s a fundamental tension between the fact that people want standardization—which is what credentials and accreditation are—where a lot of these new, interesting educational organizations are coming in and saying, ‘Well, we don’t have to standardize,’ ” said Jessy Kate Schingler, a software developer who lives in Washington, D.C., and who has taken courses from P2PU alongside her doctoral studies in computer science at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Meanwhile, some businesses that offer tuition reimbursement to employees are becoming interested in the free- and low-cost education providers, which could put more pressure on traditional universities to accept credits from outside sources or else face the loss of potential transfer students, observers say.
“If employers start to move into this new world, that’s when it’s really going to take off,” said Horn.
CompuCom,a Dallas IT company with 5,000 employees, already has. It’s begun to work with StraighterLine, whose CEO, Burck Smith, said “colleges that want these students later will have to accept StraighterLine credits” as a result.
What CompuCom is doing, said Ed Rankin, who runs the tuition-reimbursement program there, “is analogous to what’s happening in healthcare, where you’ve got insurance companies negotiating on behalf of their insured for lower costs from their healthcare providers.” That’s because StraighterLine’s $99-a-month price tag not only saves CompuCom money; it saves money for the employees, who have to pay a portion of the cost.
Rankin said “there’s no question” other companies are likely to follow suit.
Universities are watching closely. As one direct response, the American Council on Educationplans to set up a blue-ribbon commission to look into alternatives to conventional teaching using new technology, said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad.
“This is a period of significant transformation,” Broad said. She said she expects that higher education is approaching a point at which people will be able “to snap modules together or link them in ways that produce what are sometimes called stackable credentials,” including credits from, for example, community colleges, universities, life experience, online content and other sources.
“There certainly is, I think, going to be competition, and by and large I think competition is a good thing,” Broad said.
A handful of universities have already embraced the low- and no-cost education movement. Albany State University in Georgiaencourages incoming students to take StraighterLine courses before they even arrive, accumulating credit toward their degrees and improving graduation rates.
“The resistance will be there for at least a little while longer,” said the university’s president, Everette Freeman, who faced opposition to the idea from his own faculty. “But it will change. It’s on the wrong side of history.”
Steve Carson, external relations director for MIT’s OpenCourseWare program,who is also on the advisory board of P2PU, said, “There’s no doubt this is a period of uncertainty for universities.” But he said that open-education systems will ultimately help the market grow.
“If there is a way to lower the price of higher education, you can’t stand there for long and say, ‘I’ll resist this and prevent it from happening,’ ” said Shai Reshef, founder and president of University of the People and an entrepreneur who once ran a for-profit higher-education company. “Maybe it will take a long time, and maybe it will be a harder road than it needs to be. But it will happen.” A version of this story appeared in The Washington Post on January 23, 2012.
Change and competition in American higher education
If providers of low- and no-cost online courses can invent credentials that will be accepted by employers in lieu of university degrees, it could forever change the world of higher education. What are the prospects for that? The pros and cons? The potential outcomes? Higher-education leaders and observers weigh in:
Molly Broad, president, American Council on Education
This is a period of significant transformation. I hope [conventional universities] are paying attention to it. We are at or approaching a point of inflection that may have as much to do with modularizing your advanced education—that is, where people are able to snap modules together or link them in ways that produce what are sometimes called stackable credentials. We’re just really in an experimental stage with some of these things. We are in the process of learning more about what works for different individuals with different learning preferences. It is not beyond our reach to think that there will be a wide array of choices that can be mixed and matched by institutions, by other kinds of non-higher-education institutions, and by individuals pursuing independent learning. … The brick-and-mortar campus, and in loco parentis, really now serves only a portion of the population. The challenges that our nation faces on sustaining economic growth and prosperity mean not just that we need to do a better job of raising educational attainment for our kids in K-12 going into higher education, but for adults. There’s not one right answer about the best ways to advance their attainment. There certainly is, I think, going to be competition, and by and large I think competition is a good thing. We hear corporations express frustration that American higher education is not preparing the kind of workforce that they need. I’d like to be able to say to them, ‘Don’t stand on the sidelines. Work with us. We can help you build those credentials inside your organization so you can continue to improve the competitiveness of your workforce and your company.’
Carol Geary Schneider, president, Association of American Association of Colleges and Universities
We can expect to see in the indefinite future the use of technology to multiply all the different ways you can dip into something that interests you. But as an employer, I make a huge distinction between a person who is a candidate for the first degree, who has come out of high school and is still a candidate for a B.A., or somebody who has a B.A. or B.S. and does further study. The courses that these non-credit programs offer for people who are already in the field provide more information about something they already know something about. I would never (as an employer) consider an undergraduate who pieced together their education without faculty supervision from a set of courses that are out there in cyberspace. The key to quality is not the set of courses that you took, or even how many courses you took. The key to quality is what you were asked to do in that course, what kind of assignments you were asked to do. It is one thing to read and listen. It’s another to do and apply. I want to know what they can actually do with their knowledge. For that, you have to go beneath the course title to the question, what kinds of activities went on in this course. Somebody has to be confirming that you are capable of doing something with your knowledge. The opportunities to use technology to support high-quality learning are definitely there. But the key to fulfilling that potential is whether or not faculty with knowledge of and competence in the field are putting together a comprehensive course of study. Libraries are free, too. You can roam around, read books and study. But hardly anyone would say that spending time in the library is a good preparation to work in any economy, much less this one.
Philipp Schmidt, founder and director, Peer to Peer University
I don’t think free is necessarily the key point here. But the fact that there is this innovation around what’s offered by the mainstream system shows that the mainstream system isn’t meeting the demand that exists. A university degree has become a passport into adult employment, but it doesn’t really fit with what people really need for the rest of their lives. Most of the things you’ve learned are outdated by the time you’re done. The existing institutions have invested a lot … into the infrastructure that they have now. They have to charge a certain amount of money to pay for things they’ve invested in. If someone comes along with zero investment and starts competing at the quality level, then the last thing universities have to protect themselves is this discussion of academic credit. It’s not a deep concern for the interests of the students. It’s a deep concern for the interests of the institutions. The reason P2P was started was that conventional institutions weren’t innovating. Maybe we can make enough noise that some of these institutions pay attention. A lot of the middle-tier universities are going to be in trouble as a result of these developments. Because if you can show that you got a certificate for having taken MIT courses, they’re going to see this as real competition in the next few years. There’s some part of me that is really nervous about some of those changes. There’s something really fantastic about the idea of the university, but over the last few decades it feels like we’ve eroded what’s important about the university, which is to be that space for people to make that transition from youth into adulthood. We’ve dumbed all of that down to, all you need is this list of skills and then you’ll be a useful participant in the workforce. To some degree, I don’t want the institution to die.