The global higher education arena


In earlier chapters, we reviewed some of the significant contemporary' global phenomena influencing higher education, including Higher Education Ranking Systems (HERS). We also demonstrated that the different methodologies of QS, THE and ARWU are subject to multiple analyses and criticism from across the globe. Academics and academic leaders report the countless influences of the HERS on universities (Shastry, 2017). Some of these influences are generic but a plethora of elements is unique to each institution, depending on its own economic, political and geographical circumstances and history' (Marginson, 2013). Chapters 7 and 8 will move on to identify and discuss some of the contextual challenges the rankings process poses for institutions and those engaged in preparing and submitting ranking data from different parts of the world.

Different types of institution

Spring (2008) refers to four major interpretations of the process of educational globalisation, namely; ‘World Culture’, ‘World Systems’, ‘Post-colonialist’, and ‘Culturalist’ (Spring, 2008). A premise of‘World Culture’ is that all cultures are slowly integrating into a single global culture (Baker & Le Tendre, 2005; Ramirez & Boli, 1987). ‘World Cultural’ theorists feel that a western model of education is a worldwide cultural ideal that has resulted in the development of common educational structures and a common curriculum model (Ramirez & Boli, 1987). ‘Culturalists’ reject the view of the ‘World Culture’ theorists that national elites select the best model of schooling from a world culture of education. They' also question the idea that models of schooling are simply imposed on local cultures. These theorists believe that local actors borrow from multiple models in the global flow of educational ideas (Spring, 2008).

Yat Wai Lo (2014) suggests a useful way' to map the global landscape of higher education is by using two of the four theoretical perspectives, ‘World-Systems’ theory' and ‘Post-colonial’ analysis. The ‘World Systems’ approach sees the globe as integrated but with two major unequal zones. The core zone is the United States, the European Union, and Japan, which dominates periphery' nations

The global higher education arena 87 (Spring, 2008). ‘Post-colonial’ theorists argue that western schooling dominates the globe as the result of the imposition by European imperialism (Spring, 2008). They engage in discussions about a host of experiences connected to slavery' and colonialism such as suppression, resistance, representation, difference, race, gender and social class (Bailey, 2011; Crossley & Tikly, 2004).

The ‘Post-colonial’ conversation includes issues such as the primacy of the coloniser’s language, religion, cultural histories, knowledge and other element of identity over that of the local people’s (Bailey, 2011; Crossley & Tikly, 2004). The colonial enterprise has left former colonies suffering from wounds which appear to deepen rather than heal (Bailey, 2011). Contemporary' manifestations of ‘Post-colonialism’ include multinational corporations, and trade agreements (Spring, 2008). ‘World System’ theory’ and ‘Post-colonial’ analysis can explain how HEIs and higher education systems are stratified in accordance with their access to academic resources and how convergence and divergence are produced simultaneously to respond to global forces that are based on the hegemonic force of the centres over the peripheries (Amove, 1980).

Altbach (2004) points out that almost all universities are European in structure, organisation and concept and that the western model dominates international higher education. HEIs are not integrally' linked to indigenous cultures. Even countries like China, Ethiopia and Thailand, which were never colonised, follow largely' western academic models (Altbach, 2004). For developing countries subjected to colonialism, higher education growth was generally slow paced, and in much of Africa and some other parts of the developing world, universities were not established until the 20th century (Altbach, 2004):

Colonialism, unequal trade and technological development has brought humanity' closer to one another. Yet a generic path to world-class does not exists between the coloniser and the colonised, between Africa and the US, or between China and the European powers.

(Wang et al., 2013, 85)

World-class universities

Governments across the world have become increasingly involved with the development of competitive higher education and research systems (TES Global Ltd., 1990). The positioning of knowledge and its dissemination, as the foundation of economic, social and political power has undoubtedly driven economies from being resource-based to being knowledge-based. (Wint & Downing, 2017). Different parts of the world compete to create universities that can effectively participate in the global knowledge network (Salmi & Altbach, 2011) referred to as the global knowledge economy (The Economist, 2016). World-class universities are characterised by' being at the top of the higher education hierarchy, they' create and disseminate knowledge whilst providing the workforce with the highly skilled individuals needed to serve society' (Wang, Cheng, & Liu, 2013). Wang et al. (2013) cited Altbach (2009) and Liu (2009):

World-class universities are academic institutions committed to creating and disseminating knowledge in a range of disciplines and fields, delivering of elite education at all levels, serving national needs and furthering the international public good.


Universities follow various pathways to establish themselves as world-class institutions (Marginson, 2013). After engaging in case study research, Salmi and Altbach (2011) suggest that there are three main complimentary sets of factors at play in world-class universities: a high concentration of talent, an abundance of resources and favourable and autonomous governance. However, one needs to consider the ecosystem in which the university' evolves. This includes many' additional elements like the relationship between the university and the state, university' governance structures, quality' assurance frameworks, financial resources and incentives, articulation mechanisms, access to information, location and digital and telecommunications infrastructure (Marginson, 2013; Wang et al., 2013). There is no doubt that the notion of a ‘world-class university'’ is becoming increasingly important to governments, employers, investors, alumni, students, parents and institutions themselves (Downing, 2013). Without some form of ‘measurement’, it would be difficult to distinguish the truly world-class institutions from the rest (Downing, 2013). The elite status of universities continue to be driven by' international recognition (Salmi, 2009) and Marginson (2013) suggests that today the meaning of‘World-class’ is simply aligned with having a presence in the various HERS.

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