In his 2005 paper
, John Aubrey Douglass
is skeptical of the idea that opening up of services
(of which higher education is a form) combined with e-learning will
cause a "revolution" in international higher education. Working against
this revolution, Douglass (p. 11, 2005) lists seven countervailing forces
1. Wealth and Stability of Developed Nations
Douglass (p. 11, 2005) points out that "... Advanced economies all have
advanced systems of higher education ..." and developing nations "...
have lower rates of access to higher education and have higher rates of
students traveling to foreign soil to attend a university. ...". The
author also points to the correlation between between countries with
political and economic stability and the quality higher education.
However, these I suggest, are correlations and not necessarily apply in
Developing nations have been able to build hi-tech industries
with help from developed nations and then go on to rival them. In some
cases the developed nations lack of democracy might be seen as an
advantage by investors, removing the political uncertainty of election
cycles. Many developed nations have invited universities from developed
nations to set up satellite and joint campuses with local institutions.
2. Balance of Demand and Supply
Douglass (p. 11,
2005), points out that demand is outstripping supply of HE in China,
with the government encouraging outside providers. In contrast the USA
has a balance of supply and demand. But I did not understand how this
would hinder globalisation. If China follows the same path with
education as it has with industrial manufacturing (such as for
electronics), it will first try to compete on price, offering education
of a lower quality but also a much lower price than US institutions.
This will stimulate demand at the low end of the market. Chinese
institutions can then steadily improve the quality of the product until
it is equal to mainstream US institutions.
China does not need to rival
the most elite US institutions, in order to make this a profitable
venture. Also China need not provide the service in the same way as US
institutions and can use US institutions to retail the service. This
might be termed "Walmart Education": while Walmart is considered a
quintessentially American company, its products come primarily from
China, through a China based distribution system. This model is now
being applied to education in Australia by Torrens University Australia.
Torrens was admitted
to the Australian National Register of higher education providers
in July 2012, as an "Australian University", but as described in their Study Assist
entry, is part of Laureate International Universities
. A search of Torrens Staff on LinkedIn
lists less than one hundred people. In comparison, LinkedIn lists more than 4,000 current staff for the University of Adelaide
While Adelaide has 25,000 students and Torrens only a few hundred,
there is no requirement for Torrens to employ any more staff in
Australia, as it could instead provide the tutoring via its
3. Nation/State Regulation and Initiatives
(p. 12, 2005) claims that the "vast majority of HE reform is coming not
from entrepreneurial efforts of institutions, but from government
regulatory initiatives". However, this does not take into account that
many of these initiatives are designed to impose market forces on
existing institutions. Also the national regulations may be outpaced by
any international trade agreement. An agreement on free trade in
services which includes education will require nations to allow offshore
institutions to compete on an equal basis.
4. Local Culture and Needs
Douglass (p. 12, 2005)
points out that China requires foreign universities to partner with
local ones, clearly with the intention of building up local
capabilities, at least to provide the local market indigenously, if not
to also compete internationally. The author claims, vaguely, that the
UK shows "... strong cultural biases ...". That argument may well have
been made about the UK car industry in the late 20th Century. However,
in 1994 the Rover Group was sold to BMW, ending British-owned volume car
production. Iconic British cars, including Bentley and Rolls-Royce are
now foreign owned, but this has not harmed sales.
Douglass (p. 13, 2005)
cites the examples of the University of Phoenix, which failed in the UK
market and UK Open University, which failed in the US. However, this
may simply reflect poor marketing on the part of these institutions, for
failing to add a veneer of localization over their imported product.
mid 2015 Torrens University Australia acquired
the Chifley Business School, which was set up by the Association of
Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA) in
1989 to provide postgraduate vocational qualifications. This is similar
to the way VW and BMW acquired UK luxury car brands to broaden the
appeal of their products.
Another approach car companies use could be
applied here: first design the product for international requirements,
then tailor it for local markets. As Douglass (p. 12, 2005) points out,
some courses need considerable localization (such as accounting and tax
law), but students are likely to respond favorably to courses which
offer a global perspective.
5. Local Academic Culture
Douglass (p. 14, 2005)
argues that university academics fearful of the loss of academic
integrity tend to create semi-independent entities for tasks such as
"extension" programs and this can be used for new international and
on-line programs. In this way the author argues, the cultural changes
implied by new forms of education will be kept isolated from the core
university. This may be the case, but I can't see how it is particularly
relevant to international education. Universities could retain their
main campus and conduct research and education there. This would be a
useful form of marking, giving prestige to their mostly on-line and
satellite campus delivered products. This would be similar to the way
Rolls-Royce emphasize the hand crafted finish provided on their vehicles
in a UK, rather than the mass production of the mechanical components
in BMW's German factories.
6. Internet Promoting Local Products Globally
Douglass (p. 15, 2005) argues the "... investment required in order to
develop a high quality academic course online, or even a hybrid course
(mostly online, with some actual physical meeting of student and
instructor) is relatively high". The author does not say relative to
what, but presumably face-to-face courses. They go on to say this is
because "... software for online courses (including commercial producers
like Blackboard) is relatively difficult and primitive". This has not
been my experience.
Use of learning management system software can be
frustrating, but designing a course does not require a "significant
amount of programming" as Douglass (p. 15, 2005) suggests, nor a "team
of professionals" to maintain content. I can manage to design, maintain
and deliver courses, with occasional help from support personnel. The
difference I suggest is that I have been trained in how to design
courses and, in particular, how to design on-line courses. Also I have
undertaking the training in how to use the software.
The problem, I
suggest, is that university academics usually receive little training in
how to design courses. This deficiency is much more apparent with
on-line courses than face-to-face ones. It is not that it is harder to
design an on-line course, just harder to cover up a badly designed one.
US Higher Education is Not Typical Internationally
After the countervailing forces, Douglass (p. 16, 2005) looks at
the case of the USA. But as Douglass (p. 16, 2005) notes "The US lacks
anything like a central ministry setting policy and funding for HE as in
most other countries". Given that the USA is atypical, it is not clear
why the author chooses only this country to study.
Douglass (p. 19, 2005) notes, not surprisingly, that "... specialized schools have the largest percentage of students
taking at least one online course", followed by community colleges,
vocational/adult learning. The author asks rhetorically if this will be
the future pattern in higher education? It would be surprising if it
was not, as vocational institutions offering lower level shorter
qualifications has been the traditional market for extension eduction
and its natural evolution into on-line eduction. Offering on-line courses
obviously attracts students who could not attend on-campus courses and
the programs therefore need to be designed with such students in mind.
Some years ago I tried "night school" at an Australian university. This was promoted as being design for working
people. What I quickly discovered was the only allowance made for for
working people were classes at night. There were no special support
services provided and none of the administration facilities were open at
night. After a couple of weeks I withdrew from the program. Some
on-line programs appear to be the equivalent of this and it is not surprising that they are not popular.
Douglass, J. A. (2005). All globalization is local: Countervailing forces and the influence on higher education markets. Center for Studies in Higher Education
. Retrieved from http://escholarship.org/uc/item/3z26h30n.pdf