Back to the FutureCast: globalization and higher education

This is the third in a series summarizing our recent meeting FutureCast: Shaping Research Libraries in a Networked Age. You can refer to previous postings for more information.

Our third plenary speaker was Ben Wildavsky from the Kauffman Foundation, speaking on the future of higher education. Ben is the author of the recently published book The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World. If you are interested in this topic, the book has many more details than will be covered here!

Ben’s talk focused on three emergent trends: increased academic mobility, the emergence of global rankings, and increased competition to create great “world class” universities. Some markers for unprecedented academic mobility include such factoids as 3.3 million students are studying abroad, and that half of all physicists work outside their home country. By some measures the best faculty are the most mobile. We can see that mobility is not just limited to students and faculty; campuses are going global too, and we see an increase in the number of satellite campuses across the world. College rankings, which used to be done nationally, are increasingly global. College rankings have always had their detractors, but “just because you can’t measure everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t measure anything.”
Academic mobility generates fear, and some react through “academic protectionism,” taking measures to keep people in their home countries. Ben feels that anxiety about brain drain (or reverse brain drain) is unfounded, and that we should reframe our thinking as “brain circulation” or “brain exchange.” Knowledge isn’t a finite resource – unlike silver or gold, it can be grown. Global education and research are a public good. The key to innovation and economic growth is the freest possible movement of scholars, students, and knowledge.

We invited a panel from the library world to reflect on the impact of increasingly global higher education.

Ray Choate, University Librarian, University of Adelaide, outlined the Australian higher education system, putting it into cultural and political context. Because Australian universities are government funded, the government has a firm hand in higher education. Although there are a lot of students who come to study from outside Australia, most Australian students do not study abroad, and in fact most stay in the state where they grew up.

Deborah Jakubs, University Librarian, Duke University Libraries said that for those institutions who have a global presence, there is an impact on the “home” library. At Duke, the goal is to provide access that’s equal to the North Carolina campus experience. Increased globalization presents both ironies (that Title 6 is under threat at the time when we most need global materials to support study and research) and challenges (developing and leveraging partnerships with libraries in other countries). Our “core” materials will be fine, but we should start looking at our area studies collections as special collections. [My colleague Jennifer wrote a post about Deborah’s meaty remarks which you can read for more details.]

John MacColl, University Librarian and Director of Library Services, University of St Andrews noted that the Scottish situation is a bit like a nesting doll. Scotland is in the UK (at least for now), also in European Union, so there are multiple models to tend to. John also quipped that “You don’t have to be great to be global;” St Andrews’ is global by attracting an international clientele.

Suzanne Thorin, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, Syracuse University Library underscored the importance of aligning the library with the goals of the larger institution. For example, Syracuse values collaboration and contribution to community. How should the library engage?

Following the presentation and the panel, the discussion touched on issues such as: in a global setting, should metadata be translated? How do libraries provide comparable services to overseas campuses? How do you deal with different timezones when providing support in a distributed environment?

We’ll wrap up our FutureCast series with a posting from Jim next week.