What will the landscape of international higher education look like a generation from now? What challenges and opportunities lie ahead for universities, especially “global” research universities? And what can university leaders do to prepare for the major social, economic, and political changes—both foreseen and unforeseen—that may be on the horizon? The nine essays in this collection proceed on the premise that one way to envision “the global university” of the future is to explore how earlier generations of university leaders prepared for “global” change—or at least responded to change—in the past. As the essays in this collection attest, many of the patterns associated with contemporary “globalization” or “internationalization” are not new; similar processes have been underway for a long time (some would say for centuries). A comparative-historical look at universities’ responses to global change can help today’s higher-education leaders prepare for the future.
Written by leading historians of higher education from around the world, these nine essays identify “key moments” in the internationalization of higher education: moments when universities and university leaders responded to new historical circumstances by reorienting their relationship with the broader world. Covering more than a century of change—from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first—they explore different approaches to internationalization across Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. Notably, while the choice of historical eras was left entirely open, the essays converged around four periods: the 1880s and the international extension of the “modern research university” model; the 1930s and universities’ attempts to cope with international financial and political crises; the 1960s and universities’ role in an emerging postcolonial international development apparatus; and the 2000s and the rise of neoliberal efforts to reform universities in the name of international economic “competitiveness.”
Each of these four periods saw universities adopt new approaches to internationalization in response to major historical-structural changes, and each has clear parallels to today. Among the most important historical-structural challenges that universities confronted were: (1) fluctuating enrollments and funding resources associated with global economic booms and busts; (2) new modes of transportation and communication that facilitated mobility (among students, scholars, and knowledge itself); (3) increasing demands for applied science, technical expertise, and commercial innovation; and (4) ideological reconfigurations accompanying regime changes (e.g., from one internal regime to another, from colonialism to postcolonialism, from the cold war to globalized capitalism, etc.). Like universities today, universities in the past responded to major historical-structural changes by internationalizing: by joining forces across space to meet new expectations and solve problems on an ever-widening scale.
Approaches to internationalization have typically built on prior cultural or institutional ties. In general, only when the benefits of existing ties had been exhausted did universities reach out to foreign (or less familiar) partners. As one might expect, this process of “reaching out” has stretched universities’ traditional cultural, political, and/or intellectual bonds and has invariably presented challenges, particularly when national priorities have differed—for example, with respect to curricular programs, governance structures, norms of academic freedom, etc. Strategies of university internationalization that either ignore or downplay cultural, political, or intellectual differences often fail, especially when the pursuit of new international connections is perceived to weaken national ties. If the essays in this collection agree on anything, they agree that approaches to internationalization that seem to “de-nationalize” the university usually do not succeed (at least not for long).
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