The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the university sector under greater scrutiny. In some cases, this has prompted new conversations about the purpose of higher education. These have included the extent to which universities are upholding their commitment to public service, and whether the current institutional adjustments in universities will change the way higher education is delivered.
But what do students themselves think about what university is for? In 2017-18, my colleagues and I asked 295 students across six European countries – Denmark, England, Germany, Ireland, Poland and Spain – about what they believed to be the purpose of university study. Their responses shed light on the possible future of higher education in Europe.
This research, which forms part of the Eurostudents project, investigates how undergraduate students understand the purpose of higher education. We found that for many students, it serves three particular functions: to gain decent employment, to achieve personal growth, and to contribute to improvement in society.
But there were interesting variations in students’ views, which often corresponded to how much they had to pay for their studies.
The career ladder
The most common purpose of higher education that students spoke about was to prepare themselves for the labour market. Some students stated that a degree was essential to avoid having to take up a low-skilled job. However, many students believed that an undergraduate degree was insufficient for highly skilled or professional employment.
Here, we see a shift from a conception of higher education as an investment to help move up a social class to viewing it as insurance against downward social mobility.
As a student in England said:
I don’t really think there’s much of an option. If you want to get a decent job these days, you’ve got to go to university because people won’t look at you if you haven’t been.
There were some differences across countries. Emphasis on the purpose of university education being preparation for the job market was strongest in the three countries in our sample where students had to make greater personal financial contributions: England, Ireland and Spain.
The students in our study also discussed ideas of personal growth and enrichment. This was the case in all six countries, including in England where the higher education sector is highly marketised. This means it is set up as a competitive market, where students pay tuition fees and are protected by consumer rights legislation, while metrics such as league tables encourage competition among institutions.
Some students emphasised how they were “growing” through the knowledge they were gaining. Others placed more emphasis on aspects of wider learning that they had experienced since embarking upon their degree. This included interacting with a more diverse group of people than they had previously, and having to be more independent.
Students in Denmark, Germany and Poland talked about this kind of growth – which happened outside formal classes – more frequently than students in the other three nations. Notably, in these countries, students make less of a personal financial contribution to the cost of their university study. When this purpose was mentioned by English students, it was associated particularly with learning how to live independently.
Students in all six countries talked about how higher education could improve society. This was brought up most frequently in Denmark, Germany and Poland – where students receive greater support from the government and make less of a personal financial investment to their university education than in the other countries in our sample.
Students tended to talk about their contribution to society by attending university in one of three ways: by contributing to a more enlightened society, by creating a more critical and reflective society, and by helping their country to be viewed more competitively worldwide.
A Polish student said:
[University education is critical to] shaping a responsible and wise society … one which is not blind, which will do as it is told.
Meanwhile, a Danish student commented:
We’re such a small country, we have to do well … we have to do better because there are so many people around the world … we have to work even harder to compete with them.
Only Danish and Irish students spoke about national competitiveness in this way. This is likely to be linked to specific geo-political and economic factors, particularly the relatively small size of both nations when compared to some of their European neighbours and the structure of their labour markets.
It is unsurprising to find that many students across Europe believe that a key purpose of university study is to equip them for the job market, as this is often the common message given by governments.
Nevertheless, as shown here, many students have broader views. They see the value of higher education in promoting democratic and critical engagement, while also furthering collective, rather than solely individual, ends.
The national variation we found also suggests that the enduring differences in funding across the continent may affect on how higher education is understood by students.
Ellie Bothwell on how Turkish refugee academics ‘facing rights violations abroad’ in the Times Higher Education reports that a Study finds dismissed supporters of Academics for Peace struggling to gain residence permits, find work and travel. Here is the story of
Turkish refugee academics ‘facing rights violations abroad’
5 January 2021
Turkish scholars who have had to leave the country are still subject to significant human rights violations from both the regime of their home nation and their new environment, according to a report.
The study from the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) is based on interviews with nine Turkish academics who are now living in Germany and France after signing a 2016 Academics for Peace petition that criticised military action in Kurdish regions of the country. They subsequently lost their jobs and were banned from working in the public sector in Turkey.
The research, Violations of Rights Experienced by Dismissed Academics Living Abroad, finds that these scholars are still suffering almost five years later and that the human rights violations they had suffered in Turkey have “acquired a cross-border dimension”.
In some cases, consulates refused to issue academics with new passports because of their dismissal, and they were then unable to apply for a residence permit and became undocumented, affecting their ability to find accommodation and work. Some academics have not been able to travel outside their city of residence for more than four years because of the differing practices regarding residence permits in their new countries or states.
Scholars also spoke about how their treatment had affected their academic work and said that they were particularly afraid of being targeted in classes with large numbers of students from Turkey. Some academics said they had had to stop lecturing because students had complained to consulates that their course content or discussions in lectures amounted to “terrorist propaganda”.
The interviewees highlighted how the stigmatisation of civil servants dismissed in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt was widespread not only in Turkey but also among people from Turkey living abroad. Some scholars said that they were forced to make an effort to conceal their dismissal and had been subjected to threats by neighbours and shopkeepers.
The report adds that the “impact of multiple crises and violations has become far more distressing with the disrupting repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
“Academics are caught in a cycle of uncertainty due to the difficulty of obtaining residence permits based on employment in their country of residence. The precariousness and deprivation, which is experienced by dismissed academics and their relatives living in Turkey, has also severely affected those living abroad,” it says.
Lülüfer Körükmez, a researcher at the HRFT and co-author of the report, said that the experiences of dismissed Turkish academics living abroad was “a very under-researched, under-observed and under-reported area”.
“People think that when you leave the country then you are OK. But it is not OK because they still have cultural and political connections with the country and they face violations of rights,” she said.
Mehmet Ugur, professor of economics and institutions at the University of Greenwich and a member of Academics for Peace, said that the HRFT report “should put to shame European governments and international organisations for failing to challenge the Turkish government’s authoritarian and warmongering drive that is still costing lives not only in Turkey but also in the region”.
BEIRUT (Reuters) – One of the Arab world’s oldest universities faces its worst crisis since its foundation, with huge losses, staff cuts and an uphill battle to stay afloat as Lebanon’s economic meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic hit revenues.
The American University of Beirut has graduated leading figures in medicine, law, science and art as well as political leaders and scholars over the decades including prime ministers.
It has weathered many crises, including Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when a number of staff including two presidents were killed or abducted and a bomb destroyed one of its main halls.
But Lebanon’s problems now may be the biggest threat yet to the institution founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries. It ranks among the world’s top 200 universities and its collapse would deprive future generations in Lebanon and the wider region of internationally recognized higher education.
“This is one of the biggest challenges in AUB’s history. The country is crashing catastrophically,” AUB President Fadlo Khuri told Reuters in an interview.
With inflation, unemployment and poverty high, many families have little means to cover food and rent, let alone tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees.
The heavily indebted state, which defaulted on its foreign currency debt in March, owes AUB’s medical centre – which attracts patients from across the Middle East and Central Asia – more than $150 million in arrears, Khuri said.
Government officials have ruled out a haircut on the bank deposits of non-profit universities such as AUB, but Khuri still fears his institution may take a hit if a state rescue plan puts part of the burden on large depositors and includes colleges.
Along with other universities, his school has lobbied the state and, he said, received assurances from the president and finance minister that any such measures would not impact them.
But he remains worried, with government plans for plugging vast holes in the national finances not yet finalised.
Government officials could not be reached for comment.
“We have all this money they (the state) still owe us for the hospital so it’s very hard to rely on well-intentioned people who may or may not have the ability (to deliver),” he said.
The university and hospital expect real losses of $30 million this year after bleeding revenues. For 2020-2021 alone, it projects a 60% revenue reduction from this year, down to $249 million.
FIGHTING TO SURVIVE
The stark revenue forecasts rely on an “optimistic assumption” that the Lebanese pound will stabilize at 3,000 to the dollar, but Khuri has said they do not take into account a possible haircut imposed on AUB’s bank deposits in Lebanon.
Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni has said there will be a shift to a flexible exchange rate in the “coming period”.Slideshow (3 Images)
Khuri said AUB will have to set its own rate in the meantime, taking into account people who have said they can pay in dollars to help cushion the impact of the pound’s collapse on poorer students.
AUB has already lost donations and scholarships it was expecting before the pandemic. On top of benefit and wage cuts, it is studying options such as closing whole departments and halting spending.
In an email to students and families, Khuri promised to work to protect their livelihoods and to raise money via an emergency fund.
“But there is no question that sacrifices must and will take place at every level,” Khuri wrote. “We must fundamentally change in order to survive … Saving AUB must be our only priority. And save it we will.”
University World News in its GLOBAL Edition of 11 April 2020 by Bernard Hugonnier produced Internationalising higher education for a better world. It is always good to remind that the University offers an education that stimulates, fundamentally through training aspirants to careers with specific skills sets. It does, in fact, prepare these aspirants to make their impact, offering training that encourages, leading to careers with the skills to make profound contributions to society. When the background of this happening is widened to the world, some of the intrinsic benefits are enumerated here.
Internationalisation of higher education (IHE) consists mostly of helping students to study abroad. Only 5% are taking advantage of such mobility, which helps them towards a better professional career. Hence, IHE follows a tendency toward a rather elitist model of excellence.
However, excellence can also be of a social nature (allowing students of all social classes to have access to the best training) as well as of a societal nature (helping students become responsible citizens as they are more aware of their responsibilities in civic and environmental matters). It is difficult to dispute that such approaches are at the same time more equitable and more effective to the benefit of the common good in the world.
First, the historical development of IHE and its consequences must be fully comprehended. Originally, universities around the world had few relationships with each other. Higher education systems were thus independent, with only a few students engaged in study abroad.
As student mobility has increased, universities have naturally developed relationships with each other. Higher education systems have become interdependent, opening up a new era, that of the globalisation of higher education.
Finally, as relations between universities (in both education and research) have developed further, higher education systems have converged into a world model: the globalisation of higher education, which has tended to become transnational. It is essential to fully comprehend the consequences of these developments in order to take the appropriate regulatory measures.
A wider perspective
Going forward, instead of focusing solely on economic objectives, the institutional strategies of both countries and higher education must also take into account wider social and societal objectives. This clearly requires a change of priorities.
Both countries and institutions also need to integrate into their decision-making processes the geopolitical and geo-cultural implications of IHE. That means questioning the dominance of the Western model.
At the same time students who have benefited from international mobility tend to occupy the best positions in society. As a consequence, resentments may build towards both the most developed countries and the students constituting the elite of society in these countries. Steps should hence be taken both by countries and institutions.
If the objectives of social and societal excellence are better implemented, IHE could lead to the constitution of “citizens of the world and for the world”.
Internationalisation and global politics
Answers must also be found to the tensions resulting from the fact that IHE is not a phenomenon that is disconnected from the main problems facing economies and societies: the extension of neoliberal globalisation, the growth of economic and social inequalities, the rise of populism and the emergence of illiberal democracies.
As an avatar of globalisation, IHE offers opportunities and risks at an international level as well as for countries and institutions. For example, at the international level, opportunities for IHE include the improvement of the quality of higher education in the world, the development of a global knowledge society and the global development of international standards in the field of quality assurance and that of intellectual property protection.
The main risks are the globalisation of curricula, an asymmetry in the benefits of IHE in favour of developed countries and a standardisation of ways of thinking.
Countries and institutions should hence take steps to seize opportunities and limit risks.
Finally, measures must be taken to make internationalisation accessible to a much larger number of students in the world.
International higher education has important consequences for students: those who have benefited from mobility acquire an intercultural competence and professional skills which increase their employability and their potential for success. They also benefit from the development of their own personal skills thanks in particular to greater adaptability and autonomy.
Similar results can be achieved without mobility, by making students interact more with students from different countries than their own and by internationalising programmes, curricula and pedagogies.
Obviously less expensive, this so-called ‘internationalisation at home’ is of a more social nature and allows more students to benefit from the effects of internationalisation. Here, more research should be carried out to better understand the effects of this alternative internationalisation and to identify the measures to be taken to make it more effective.
An irreversible phenomenon
International higher education is an irreversible phenomenon. Everything must therefore be done to help it achieve greater social and societal excellence. Measures must be taken by countries and institutions.
In addition, more research is required to achieve a better understanding of the phenomenon, its modes of operation and expansion and all of its consequences. To discern the future of international higher education, several methods can be used, whether they relate to prediction, forecasting or prognosis.
If international higher education as currently carried out could benefit more students, it would only do so to a limited extent and it will not have a big societal impact. Internationalisation should therefore be actively developed at home, which is a less expensive and more effective means of achieving social and societal excellence to the benefit of higher education in the world.
Bernard Hugonnier is maître de conférences at Sciences Po, former joint director of education at the OECD and co-director of the École et République du Collège des Bernardins in France. This paper benefited from comments from Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic.
Global Trends posted on November 19, 2019, The Dilemma of English-Medium Instruction in International Higher Education written by Philip G. Altbach, Research Professor and Founding Director, and Hans de Wit, Professor and Director at the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College. This article gives us an instead glance at the worldwide debate that is emerging about the role of English and languages in general in higher education. The issue in the MENA region has been de facto settled sometime back, despite resurging questions as to the position of the local language utilisation in the universities. Hence the featured picture above.
WENR would like to congratulate our partners at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (CIHE) for its upcoming 100th issue of International Higher Education. Enjoy this advance look into the issue with Philip G. Altbach and Hans de Wit’s article on the increasing global dominance of English-language instruction.
By the mid-twentieth century, English had become the global language of science and scholarship. With the rise of the internet and globalization in the latter years of the century and in the new millennium, this domination has only increased. The top 50 scientific journals are published in English, as are the vast majority of internationally circulated scholarly articles.
The advent of mass student mobility (more than five million students now study outside of their home countries, the majority of whom choose countries where English is spoken) has also increased the attraction of English. An increasingly mobile professoriate, including thousands of postdocs, gravitate to English-speaking universities. In non-English-speaking countries such as Ethiopia, academic programs and even entire universities use English as a language of instruction, or even as the only language of instruction. In Africa, Rwanda moved from French to English as a country and in higher education; and Algeria’s minister of education recently announced a shift from French to English in higher education.
Indeed, most countries now have English-medium universities, branch campuses that use English, or complete graduate programs in English. For example, one can obtain an English-medium Master of Business Administration from more than 30 universities in China. Universities in Russia are offering academic programs in English that target mainly Russian students, who seek such degrees to boost their prospects in local and international job markets. Chinese universities urge their faculty members to publish in prestigious English language journals and offer them handsome financial rewards for doing so—while, at the same time, publishing in Chinese journals yields few benefits. Indeed, the number of journals in English in China is growing exponentially. The same is true in South Africa and other countries. Without question, English will remain the key global scientific language and an important language of instruction for the foreseeable future. Even in these days of nationalism and populism, its role is likely to increase. Countries, institutions, and individuals are seeking to adapt to the impact of global English on academic life worldwide. Yet, at the same time, a worldwide debate is emerging about the role of English and of languages in general in higher education.
Questions Worth Asking
It is worth raising questions concerning the impact of the tide of English. In the broader sense, there is no use in rejecting it; just as globalization is an inexorable force, so is the role of English in higher education.
Language is more than just a means of communication; it is also an aspect of culture. The implications of using English as a key language for higher education in non-English-speaking countries may affect culture and ways of thinking. The French and the Italians, historically protective of their culture, have long resisted the use of English in higher education, but even they have recently yielded. There are now a growing number of English-medium courses in France and Italy, despite intense protests not only by nationalists and advocates of safeguarding their national cultural heritage, but also by academics.
Using English also has implications for research methodology, publication, and academic orientation. This is true for several reasons. The prestigious English-medium journals are edited almost exclusively by academics in English-speaking countries, and these editors rely in large part on reviewers also located in these countries. Even the most internationally minded editors will bring a bias toward the methodologies and academic orientations favored in English-speaking academe, as will most reviewers. Studies show that the journals and articles that are most cited are written in English, disadvantaging academics from non-English-speaking environments in several ways: The academics’ command of the English language will often be imperfect. More important, in general, they will be pressured to conform to the methodological strictures of mainstream English-dominated trends in their disciplines. This may be less consequential in the natural sciences where methodologies may be more universal, but it has considerable salience in the social sciences, where cultural and national realities shape scholarship. And researchers and scholars in all fields may be tempted to orient their research topics toward what will appeal to journal editors and publishers in the dominant English-medium markets.
Another implication, especially for the humanities and social sciences, is that the pressure to publish in English-medium international journals limits opportunities to contribute to the debate in local language media and to contradict fake news. Academics in the Netherlands have argued against this pressure. In International Higher Education No. 88, Winter 2017, Akiyoshi Yonezawa noted that “limited publication in English in these fields is becoming a serious obstacle to the further development of the humanities and social sciences in Japan,” and that “it is unlikely and undesirable that English as an academic language should continue to monopolize fields such as the humanities and social sciences, which are deeply rooted in multilinguistic and multicultural activities and values.”
A consequence of offering English-medium courses and programs in many non-English environments is the poor quality of the instruction offered by many faculty whose command of English may be only rudimentary, or whose ability to teach in the language is limited. This low-quality instruction, often combined with limited English comprehension on the part of many local and non-Anglophone international students, creates an environment where little actual learning is taking place. Additionally, knowledge of and access to current course texts and other materials in English may be limited. In short, offering high-quality programs in English is a complex undertaking that requires a high level of fluency on the part of both faculty and students.
A little-noticed consequence of the rise of global English in universities is the deteriorating status of learning other languages by students in English-speaking countries. Enrollments in “foreign language” courses and programs throughout the English-speaking world have declined, with many students (and faculty) feeling that they can communicate anywhere in the world in English. This trend has also led to declines in courses on world cultures and world civilizations, thus reducing in-depth knowledge of cultures among native English-speaking students. An additional concern is the increasing sophistication of machine translation of academic materials of all kinds, further reducing the perceived need to learn languages other than English.
There is also a consideration about the role of colonial languages in the developing world, particularly in Africa. Local languages are used in public primary and secondary education but, with some exceptions, are not the language of instruction in higher education. The risks of such policies are high and can result in or exacerbate elitism in higher education access, lower quality education and research, lack of alignment with local needs, and the dominance of Western paradigms.
The Debate in the Netherlands
Resistance to the use of English as a language of instruction in the developed world is increasing. In Italy and the Netherlands, academics have gone to court to stop universities from adding more English-taught programs to their course offerings. Arguments vary, from concerns about maintaining the national culture and the quality of education, to claiming that internationalization is a source of revenue that is promoted at the expense of good education for local students. These last two arguments are dominating the current debate in the Netherlands, where there is a general feeling that the spread of English as a language of instruction, with its lack of a strategic approach, has gone too far and become a liability.
The following are among the questions that have been raised:
Why should subject areas such as Dutch literature, history, or law be taught in English?
Are disciplines like psychology taught in English in order to attract international students and compensate for a decline in interest among local students?
Should the substantial contribution that international students make to institutional budgets and to the local and national economy count more than investing in quality education for local students?
Why should local students have to compete with international students for limited student housing?
How does one counteract the declining interest of local students in Dutch language and literature?
The Dutch minister of education, culture, and science along with institutional leaders is caught between the pressure to compete internationally and the imperative of responding to these arguments—as well as those of nationalists in parliament. Finding a compromise is not easy. Other countries, like Denmark and Germany, are having similar debates.
There are no easy solutions to what some are calling “English imperialism.” It is a fundamental reality today that English is the dominant language of science and scholarship, and increasingly of communication, both formal and informal, among students and academics globally. Understanding all the implications of selecting the language of instruction of a program or of an entire institution, including the costs and benefits of that decision, is crucial, and decision makers bear a heavy responsibility.
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