“The Role of Higher Education in the Age of Populism” – Speech

This is the text of a speech given today (2 February 2017) by Ellen Hazelkorn at the Undergraduate Awards “Island of Ireland” Event, held at Dublin City University.

The Role of Higher Education in the Age of Populism

Speaking Notes Undergraduate Awards, 2 February 2017

The last few years have been tumultuous. The recent Brexit vote, the US Presidential election, as well as votes in Italy and Austria – and forthcoming elections in NL, France and Germany – highlight a growing gap between people with a college education and those without. We have seen the emergence of the notion of “post-truth” – with fake news, “alternative facts”, and so on – through which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion, and repeated assertion. Facts are ignored and denied. Truth is what some-one wants it to be.  The White House webpage on climate change (a euphemism for global warming) disappeared immediately after Trump’s inauguration.[i] There are clear echoes of Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, which has once again become a best seller. And, restrictions and fears about immigration to the UK and across Europe, as well as a travel ban in the US, have affected students and scholars, but also graduates, professionals and workers of all levels and creeds.

Higher education is global – in fact it is one of the most internationalised part of our societies and economies. Colleges send their students and staff abroad, and welcome students and staff from around the world. Research is international, and universities work with partners around the world to generate new ideas and theories, to create new programmes and degrees, and even new institutions. More than half of all colleges include internationalization among their top strategic priorities.

But, recent developments put higher education at odds with emerging nationalist and nativist thinking and policies. Colleges that have prided themselves on working across borders of country and culture now find themselves dealing with governments which have campaigned to keep out foreigners.

Current developments threaten the fundamental values of higher education – multiculturalism, international collaboration, free flow of people and ideas, broadly liberal social values. But, most of all, they threaten the academy’s paramount value of the pursuit of truth. Because these values are perceived to be in danger, universities are responding.

The University of Michigan[ii] along with many others have issued a public statement protecting the interests of their international community of scholars. The European Universities Association has created a “Refugees Welcome Map”, indicating different initiatives tailored to refugee students and university staff, and urging subjects concerning migration and refugees to be integrated into teaching and research.[iii] In Ireland, DCU has been designated as a “University of Sanctuary” – in recognition of a range of initiatives demonstrating commitment to welcoming asylum seekers and refugees into the university community, and to fostering a culture of inclusion for all.[iv]

A response is also coming from business. The Irish CEO of a Silicon Valley start-up, Intercom’s Eoghan McCabe – a TCD graduate – made a statement “supporting our Muslim brothers and sisters in tech”, He has invited immigrants working in technology to move from the US to Dublin’s start-up scene, and proposes to support them in various ways throughout this process, including up to €5k for legal bills.[1] They are also matching staff donations to the ACLU up to the level of $50k, along with Irish-born CEOs of Stripe, and other Silicon Valley companies.[1]

Academic and research collaboration is not a new phenomenon – but it is now more visible. More than 4.5m students are enrolled in tertiary education outside their country of citizenship.[v] The OECD projects that the world’s population of international students will reach 8m by 2025.[vi] At the same time, governments everywhere are investing heavily in the expansion of their higher education systems. They are creating scholarships to help their students acquire education abroad – and then bring their talents back home. They are also supporting cross-border partnerships and exchanges that can elevate their countries’ status, potential for innovation, and influence in the world.

Globalization also produces big societal challenges with impacts flowing across boundaries – which we were previously able to ignore. Recent politico-religious movements (e.g. jihadi extremism), health (e.g. Ebola, Zika) and migration (e.g. Mediterranean migration) illustrate the extent to which local/regional issues have quickly acquired global implications – and global political consequences. Conversely, climate change shows how global issues carry significant local effects, e.g. global warming with its knock-on effects for food, health, water, security, and of course the eco-system.

The Human Genome Project is a good example. Here, researchers in computer science and statistics worked alongside those in genetics to identify and map all the genes, with aim of identifying the roots of disease and then developing treatments. This has been the world’s largest collaborative biological project and involved research groups from Europe, Asia and the US – which could not have been undertaken within one lab, or even one country.

Because such challenges are complex, they necessitate strong collaboration, and a well-informed, internationalised citizenry. Universities work across borders, languages, and cultures more than ever. But even within higher education institutions, there is a necessity to overcome one of the greatest barriers of all: namely that between academic disciplines and departments.

But – the challenges go deeper.

Recent events suggest that higher education institutions which collaborate with peers internationally may be leaving their hinterlands behind. Events highlight a widening gap between universities and their publics and regions, in which they are located – what Robert Putnam calls “civic disengagement”. In many countries, there is a loss of trust in our public institutions.

Higher education has historically had a close relation with the city and country of its founding. Today, it is often considered part of the elite – with campuses seen as islands of affluence amidst “seas of squalor, violence, and despair”. If one looks at the most recent electoral maps in the UK and the US – there is huge geographic (and ideological) gap between the cities and towns which host large public universities and the rest of the state and counties. The pursuit of “world-classness” is driving a wedge between institutions and their communities and shifting strategies and priorities away from local, regional, and national activities. Perhaps, not surprisingly, universities often find themselves referred to as representatives of an “insulated political culture”.[vii]

The public is also asking whether higher education is serving its interests. Those interests inevitably vary depending upon who is asked – students, parents, employers, politicians, etc. While there is a consistent view that a college education is important and highly valued, surveys show concerns about the cost and relevance of higher education on the part of many people who are unaware of the sector’s diverse functions and contributions to society. Instead there is a war-of-words about graduate attributes and career readiness.

These tensions highlight an underlying problem.

The responsibility of the university to society is not new, but today’s challenges mean the university cannot sit on the side-lines – nor can its students. While civic engagement may be in vogue there is no single blueprint. There are 3 broad approaches:

The social justice model focuses on students, curriculum and pedagogy. At the other end of the spectrum is the economic development model, which focuses on the commercialization of research through intellectual property deals, technology transfer, etc. In these two models, civic engagement is assigned to a parallel or “third stream”.

In contrast, the public good model sees engagement wholly embedded within and across all functions and units of the college/university – acting as a bridge across teaching and research. Not just for the students or for commercialized research – but for the entire institution (students, academic staff, researchers, administrators) – in partnership with its many publics.

The Irish Universities Act unambiguously sets out the role of the university “to promote learning in [the] student body and in society generally”, “to promote the cultural and social life of society”, and “to disseminate the outcomes of its research in the general community”.[viii] Civic engagement is a duty – reinforced in the National Strategy for Higher Education to 2030.

The agenda is bigger than simply pushing out knowledge – grandstanding about what the university does for society. There are no simple answers – but there is a necessity for higher education institutions to use all its resources – human and capital – to re-articulate its commitment to the public good, and to reach beyond its campus and work with its many publics. In other words, its not just about what happens on campus – but bringing it back home and making it meaningful for society more broadly. Failure to treat this agenda seriously is likely to see an ever-widening gap between higher education and its publics. There is no time for complacency.

[i] http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/20/the-white-house-websites-page-on-climate-change-just-disappeared.html
[ii] http://president.umich.edu/news-communications/on-the-agenda/protecting-the-interests-of-our-international-community-of-scholars/
[iii] http://eua.be/activities-services/eua-campaigns/refugees-welcome-map
[iv] https://www.dcu.ie/news/2016/dec/s1216n.shtml
[v] http://monitor.icef.com/2015/11/the-state-of-international-student-mobility-in-2015/
[vi] http://monitor.icef.com/2015/09/four-trends-that-are-shaping-the-future-of-global-student-mobility/
[vii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/11/09/trump-won-because-college-educated-americans-are-out-of-touch/?utm_term=.28719dbd3b21
[viii] http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1997/act/24/section/12/enacted/en/html#sec12


Article: “Another Year , Another Methodology: Are Rankings Telling Us Anything New?”

A piece by Ellen Hazelkorn and Andrew Gibson, titled “Another Year, Another Methodology: Are Rankings Telling Us Anything New?” has been published by Boston College’s Centre for International Higher Education, in the International Higher Education, Winter (2016) edition.

It is available at this link, along with other interesting pieces on rankings, the refugee crisis and higher education, corruption and academic culture, and more.

Ireland’s performance in QS World University Ranking, 2010 – 2015

So the QS World University Ranking 2015 is out, and for what it’s worth this is what it looks like for Ireland’s HEIs from 2010 to the present. The QS methodology is heavy on the reputation surveys, clocking in at 50% of the total, over which the institutions have very little influence themselves – and government, the HEA, the IRC, or whoever else has even less. The remaining 50% is down to faculty/student ratio (20%), international staff and student ratio (5% and 5%), and finally citations per faculty at 20%.

Citations is probably the one thing that institutions might be able to do something about more readily than other areas (i.e., it doesn’t require new hires) but note that the bibliometric indicators and databases that are used to calculate such scores are biased against some areas in which Ireland does well (humanities).

QS 2010 - 2015

The University Times in Trinity has some brief coverage, noting the fall over time. What’s probably worth saying here is that in this case, as with the Time Higher Education World University Ranking (previous post), because rankings are zero sum, even if an Irish HEI’s performance stayed the same or even improved, that would not necessarily be sufficient to maintain or improve ranking. What’s key is to improve faster than everybody else. It’s the archetypal Red Queen scenario as per Through the Looking Glass:

“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

It’s not enough simply to change or improve, because this is only sufficient for survival. So how do Irish HEIs compete in a world like that?

[Note: Maynooth University is still labelled NUIM as I am slow to change, so apologies to Kildare-based colleagues. For DIT, Maynooth, and UL, their positions reflect the upper value in the bandings which they sit.] 

Time for the state to shift its AHSS on higher education policy?

Brian M. Lucey

Ranking season is upon us with the QS rankings of subject areas (not, as is commonly though, Departments) now revealed. Again we find that despite the hype Irish universities are stronger in Arts and Humanities than in the STEM areas. This is in stark contrast to the financial flows to these areas and in even starker contrast to the government and regulatory thrust. Evidence of sustained internationally recognised quality in the AHSS (arts, humanities and social science) area does not translate into funding, support or recognition. Perhaps its time it did?

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“The obsession with rankings”, presentation to the World Bank, 28/1/15

Presentation given by Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn to the World Bank in Washington, D.C., last week on the 28/1/15: The obsession with rankings in tertiary education – World Bank Presentation. Overview of the most topical issues regarding

  1. Putting rankings into context.
  2. Ranking higher education – advantages and disadvantages.
  3. Do rankings measure what counts?
  4. What does the research tell us?
  5. Implications for policy.
  6. Do’s and don’t’s, specific actions, and alternatives to rankings…

Policy Brief: “Rankings and Quality Assurance: Do Rankings Measure Quality?”

CHEAmediumhorizontalPolicy Brief by Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn on Rankings and Quality Assurance. Produced for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) International Quality Group, Washington D.C.: CIQG Policy Brief No. 4, January 2015

  • The growing influence of academic rankings.
  • What are rankings?
  • Rankings and Quality assurance.
  • What’s next?

Follow CHEA on Twitter: @ciqgnews.

Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education – Second edition due March 2015

Rankings Book CoverThe second edition of Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn’s book, Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education, is due out in March from Palgrave-Macmillan. Details from the publisher follow (Link to original page):

“Ten years have passed since the first global ranking of universities was published. Since then, university rankings have continued to attract the attention of policymakers and the academy, challenging perceived wisdom about the status and reputation, as well as quality and performance, of higher education institutions. Their impact and influence has impacted and influenced policymakers, students and parents, employers and other stakeholders – in addition to higher education institutions around the world. They are now a significant factor shaping institutional ambition and reputation, and national priorities.

The second edition of Rankings and the Reshaping of Higher Education brings the story of rankings up-to-date. It contains new original research, and extensive analysis of the rankings phenomenon. Ellen Hazelkorn draws together a wealth of international experience to chronicle how rankings are helping reshape higher education in the age of globalization. Written in an easy but authoritative style, this book makes an important contribution to our understanding of rankings and global changes in higher education. It is essential reading for policymakers, institutional leaders, managers, advisors, and scholars.”

  • “Hazelkorn’s work is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding college rankings and the increasing impact they are having in the U.S. and globally.” – USnews.com
  • “The book makes an important contribution to the understanding of the rankings phenomenon and ultimately stresses that the choice of indicators is crucial and needs to be considered in tandem with their consequences.” – LSE Impact Blog
  • “This book by Hazelkorn marks the legitimisation of rankings as a serious topic of academic research and that this work will provide important documentation which future research will build upon.” – Higher Education
  • “This is a fine study … Hazelkorn’s principles, methods and major conclusions will stand the test of time.” – Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management

Free access to “Arts and Humanities in Higher Education”, for one week…

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 21.53.12Free access for 10 days to Arts and Humanities in Higher Education: an international journal of theory, research and practice to download all articles in the issue, including “Making an impact: New directions for arts and humanities research” by HEPRU’s Ellen Hazelkorn. Also features articles by HERAVALUE colleagues Paul BenneworthMagnus Gulbrandsen, and Siri Aanstad.

Follow the journal on Twitter here: @AHHEresearch.

Student Fees in Ireland, 1996 – 2015 (expected)

This is just a quick graph I put together for a report, showing the increase in what has variously been known as the student contribution charge, or registration fee, since the introduction of “free” public higher education in Ireland. Data comes from a mixture of Eurostat, Department of Education and Skills, and Higher Education Authority sources (these will be linked to in due course). The fee of €3000 is expected for 2015-2016. Pre-2002 values directly converted from punts into euro, and all values are current/nominal prices.

Student Fees, 1995-2015

Student Fees, 1996-2015

Governance and Innovative Higher Education – Report

GAIHE report coverHigher education around the world is undergoing significant change. Globalisation and competition from new modes of provision have sparked a strong debate about how to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of higher education. These developments challenge the “traditional” model of university education and its future. How does the management of European universities adapt to these innovations? What are the new modes of education provision across Europe? What is the role of university governance and government policy in establishing and regulating innovative modes of education provision? What are the motivations, barriers and drivers for innovative education provision?

This report written by the HEPRU research team of Andrew Gibson, Barry Colfer, and Ellen Hazelkorn, provides initial findings and observations based on the 47 responses to the “Survey on the Governance and Adaptation to Innovative Modes of Higher Education Provision”. The survey was circulated on April 2014 to European higher education institutions (HEIs) based in 9 countries.

The full text of this report is available from DIT’s Arrow repository at this link.

In discussing desired changes in terms of governance and organizational structures, respondents from different countries pleaded an inability to introduce such changes due to the government’s role in defining what can or cannot be done in HEIs. It may very well be that there are real barriers to innovation existing at the governmental level; however, it may also be the perception by HEIs of such barriers which have become inhibitors of innovation. One way of clarifying this is via the idea of governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC). In the governance of higher education, especially public higher education, there may be more of an orientation towards compliance, ”acting in accordance with established laws, regulations, protocols, standards, and specifications.” Risk here is understood in the broader sense of being outside of these set norms, and as such includes opportunities as innovation affords. Implementing innovation by definition requires an attitude aligned more with a risk mind-set, rather than one that focuses on compliance and following a set path. This is as true in higher education governance as it is in corporate and private-sector governance.

It could be argued, based on the findings, that HEIs made easy cosmetic changes, e.g. redrafting mission statements, greater emphasis on quality assurance, and redefinition of the role of different staff members. There seems to be relatively little evidence of structural change becoming manifest. Further evidence for this is found in the fact that many of the changes were made at the module level, rather than at the programmatic or institutional level. As such, changes could be described as “low-hanging fruit”, and that further “real” innovations beyond this level would require significantly greater level of leadership, coordination and implementation.