George Subotzky: Globalisation and Higher Education

George Subotzky: Globalisation and Higher Education

Located as I am in a South African higher education (HE) policy research unit, the various ways in which globalisation has impacted on HE is of central pertinence to me. Of particular interest are the recent changes in the role, organisation and nature of work in the academy and in its relations with other social agents. The implications which these have for HE policy and practice in the South African developing country context forms a central theme of our policy research.

In South Africa, HE institutions face the challenges of change simultaneously on two levels: in relation to the globalized information society which has begun to reshape HE world-wide, and in relation to the reconfiguring national and educational policy environment. In terms of the new South African HE policy framework (as articulated in the White Paper on higher education transformation), the purpose of higher education is essentially two-fold. It must provide the required knowledge and graduates firstly, to strengthen the nation's involvement in the high-tech competitive global arena and secondly, to support basic reconstruction and development.

The first has been very well debated and documented. Stimulated and facilitated by the IT revolution, the rapidly globalizing world economy rests on innovation and (mainly science-based) knowledge and information [1], on which greater productivity is increasingly dependent. In advanced capitalist countries, the organisation of production and economic activity has shifted from the mass standardised production of material goods to flexible customised production and information-processing activities in "knowledge organisations". Within the global economy, labour, information and technology are organised across national boundaries.

Against this backdrop of changing knowledge production, IT advances, the massification of HE and the increasing dominance of globalizing markets and discourse, institutions are changing their organisational forms and operating increasingly as market-like organizations engaging in "academic capitalism" [2]. This marketization of higher education is characterised by closer partnerships with outside "clients" and other knowledge producers, by an increasing burden on faculty to access external sources of funding and by a managerialist ethos in institutional governance, leadership and planning. These developments are being widely interpreted as a new normative yardstick of institutional innovation. The impact of globalisation on higher education is thus characterised by three levels of marketization: a) epistemological and organizational changes towards applications-driven or strategic forms of knowledge production and dissemination [3]; b) through this, greater responsiveness to societal needs, with the dominant emphasis on meeting the interests of the private sector market; and c) changes in institutional management style towards managerialism and entrepreneurial income generation.

The increasingly dominant market discourse and culture of managerialism is, at first glance, in direct tension with the traditional collegiate culture of the academy. Under these prevailing market conditions, entrepreneurial research, especially that on the leading edge of science and technology and innovation, is more highly prized than non-marketable knowledge. Conventional norms of academic freedom, critical reflection, peer-review evaluation, merit, rewards and curiosity-driven research are therefore in tension with income-generating entrepreneurial activities. Some research indicates that faculty – especially those who do not have access to, and benefit directly from, entrepreneurial activities – feel marginalized and alienated by encroaching managerialism and market-oriented accountability [4]. A key challenge, therefore, is the reconciliation of what has been termed the new "bilingualism" between managerialism and collegialism [5], which will increasingly be required in the academy. The extent to which, and the way in which, these globalization impacts are manifesting in the South African context makes an interesting research focus.

Even more pertinent is the way in which the globalization discourse of new modes of knowledge production and the model of the entrepreneurial university has been very rapidly (and quite uncritically) taken up into South African HE policy. Assumptions about the importance of "Mode 2" knowledge production in our developing country context were inserted into the post-1996 policy-speak of the National Commission on Higher Education (NCHE) and subsequently incorporated into the White Paper. This led, in a number of significant cases (especially among the historically white liberal universities), to the large-scale academic restructuring towards inter-disciplinary programmes. These assumptions, and the way in which the account of knowledge production has seamlessly been translated into new programmatic forms of knowledge dissemination, is now attracting critical review [6]. The jury is still very much out about the appropriate relationship between Mode 1 and 2 in knowledge production and in education, that is, the optimum mix of discipline-based and inter/trans-disciplinary programmatic elements. These are crucial issues for policy and practice in the South African context.

Globalization discourse thus forms one aspect of the way in which the purpose of higher education has been articulated in the White Paper. The other aspect, as indicated, relates to the contribution of higher education to reconstruction and development. In the light of this two-fold purpose, two key questions arise, which I have attempted to address in my recent research [7].

The first relates to how higher education in South Africa can meet the second goal, that is to contribute to the pressing basic development goals of our society. As indicated, the literature overwhelmingly focuses on the organisational and epistemological changes resulting from market-driven globalization imperatives which have led to HE-industry partnerships. Rather less has been focused on the corresponding organisational and epistemological features which underpin higher education's engagement with community-oriented development. Drawing from local and international literature and case studies, part of my research concerns have therefore been directed towards investigating the operational and knowledge production patterns of these partnerships, particularly in the South African context, which aim at serving the public, as opposed to the market-orientation of serving the private good (though these dichotomies should be cautiously approached). The importance of this, is that such partnerships constitute a "complementary alternative" to the marketisation of higher education institutions which has arisen as a result of globalization forces. As such, they represent important sites for critical, local responses to globalization. A particular interest has been the potential role of academically-based community service learning in this. The community-higher education partnership model potentially provides an effective organizational and cognitive domain for actualizing the social, as opposed to the purely market-oriented, purpose of higher education. It does so through integrating a form of applications-based knowledge production, inquiry-rich problem oriented teaching and community-development oriented service. The importance and effectiveness of inquiry-based learning derives from the complex problem-solving skills required of the 21st century workforce. The best pedagogical preparation for this is "discovery-based learning experiences" and being educated in a "discovery-rich environment" [8]. The challenge here, as mentioned above, will be to find the appropriate balance of discipline-specific knowledge and general competencies and trans-disciplinary knowledge.

This raises another set of interesting issues. One is the interface of academic and indigenous/­local/­practical forms of knowledge, which are necessary for sustainable development [9]. Another relates to the necessary broadening of the concept of scholarship, if community-HE partnerships are to be taken seriously [10].

The second main question about the impact of globalization on higher education relates to how well might historically disadvantaged institutions in the South African context be predisposed to functioning as market universities in the entrepreneurial mode? Given their multiple levels of geographical, organisational and academic disadvantage, the prospects seem generally slim. The marketisation of higher education is giving rise to a potential new stratification of the institutional landscape. While diversity is necessary, the market innovators and the non-innovators will rapidly be separated. The purpose and function of these institutions will have to be freshly evaluated in the light of globalization impacts.


[1] See Carnoy, M (1998) Higher Education in a Global Innovation Economy. Paper presented at a seminar co-hosted by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation and the HSRC, 31 July.

[2] This has been widely documented. See Dill, D D (1997) "Markets and higher education: an introduction" in Higher Education Policy, Vol. 10, Nos. 3-4, pp. 167-185; Tierney, W G (ed.) (1997) The Responsive University: Restructuring for High Performance. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University; Slaughter, S and L L Leslie (1997) Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies and the Entrepreneurial University. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press; Clark, B R (1998) Creating Entrepreneurial Universities: Organizational Pathways of Transformation. Oxford: Pergamon/Elsevier Science; Scott, P. (1997) "Changes in Knowledge Production and Dissemination in the Context of global Competition". in N. Cloete et al (eds.) Knowledge, Identity and Curriculum Transformation in Africa. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman; Scott, P. (1998) "The Postmodern University? in P. Scott (ed) The Postmodern University? London: Open University and Society for Research in Higher Education.

[3] Besides the account of Gibbons, M, C Limoges, H Nowotny, S Schwartzman, P Scott, M Trow (1994) The New Production of Knowledge London: Sage Publications, see also Rip, A (1999) "Fashions, Lock-ins and the Heterogeneity of Knowledge Production" In: Futures, 1999; Rip, A (1998) Postgraduate Training and Research in South Africa: An International Perspective. Pretoria: SAUVCA Publication Series 98/3, 69-80; and Etzkowitz, H, A Webster and P Healey Capitalizing Knowledge: New Intersections of Industry and Academia, (1998) Albany: State University of New York Press.

[4] See Currie, J. and L. Vidovich (1998) Globalisation and Australian Universities: Policies and Practices, Paper presented at the World Congress of Comparative Education, Cape Town 12-17 July.

[5] This phrase was coined by Rice, E. (1998) Where Love and Need Are One: The Changing Character of Faculty Work, Keynote address to the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, Miami, USA, 4-9 November.

[6] See, for example, Muller, J (2000) "What Knowledge is of the Most Worth for the Millenial Citizen?" In: A. Kraak (ed) Changing Modes: New Knowledge Production and its Implications for Higher Education in South Africa, Pretoria: HSRC Publishers.

[7] See Subotzky, G (2000) "Complementing the Marketisation of Higher Education: New Modes of Knowledge Production in Community-Higher Education Partnerships" In: A. Kraak (ed) Changing Modes: New Knowledge Production and its Implications for Higher Education in South Africa, Pretoria: HSRC Publishers.

[8] See Clark, Burton R. 1997a. Common problems and adaptive responses in the universities of the world: organizing for change. Higher Education Policy, vol. 10, nos. 3/4, pp. 291-295; and Clark, Burton R. 1997b. "The Modern Integration of Research activities with Teaching and Learning", Journal of Higher Education vol. 68 no. 3 pp. 241-255, May/June.

[9] This is cogently argued by Parker (1998). The Politics of Knowledge. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of Higher Education, Lancaster, UK, December.

[10] See Boyer, E. (1990) Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Princeton, New Jersey: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.