Education beyond the borders

Education, Globalisation and the Nation State - Integrating Europe Through Cooperation Among Universities - European Dimensions, Education, Training and the European Union - The Erasmus Experience

May 1, 1998

In Britain, there is a rich vein of political analysis of higher education and its relations with the state. I am thinking, among others, of Tony Becher and Maurice Kogan, Gareth Williams, Mary Henkel, Brian Salter and Ted Tapper. Much of this work is centred on Britain or, where it is comparative, the nations in which the grass looked greener. This may not be surprising, given the trauma for British universities over a decade of gearing up to Margaret Thatcher's orders to live with a statutory base and a competitive funding system.

But if political analysis is fundamentally an analysis of who wins and who loses, is it not time to look outwards, as these four books do, to see how the various forces involved in relations between higher education and government - government, institutions, the university community of academics and the "users" - are faring in a wider world, epitomised in the words "globalisation", "internationalisation" and "Europeanisation"?

Andy Green, in a series of extended essays, examines the implications for education of recent global trends in economics and politics and, in the process, takes on the wilder post-modernists. John Field is also attracted to globalisation, as the context for a review of the European Union's educational and training provision. At the other, empirical, extreme, Ulrich Teichler, Barbara Kehm, Friedhelm Maiworm and their colleagues in the Centre for Higher Education and Work at the University of Kassel have done evaluation studies, under contract to the European Commission, of the two major education programmes: Erasmus, which is designed to stimulate student exchange and university cooperation in the EU and associated countries, and Tempus, the progamme of university cooperation with countries of central and eastern Europe.

There is surprisingly little overlap in sources between these authors. Although Green and Teichler appear in Field's bibliography, Green and Field themselves, with sociology, globalisation, education and the EU in common, share only two bibliographical references. These are Anthony Giddens, who according to recent press reports now rejoices in the unofficial title of most-quoted sociologist in the world, and R. Sultana, whose 1995 article on Eurocentrism and the curriculum in a post-modern world has been influential in spreading the arguable view that the EU is wedded to a growth-oriented and technocratic agenda and nothing else.

Green ably sets the new scene: he has a strong grounding in educational history and, in partnership with Hilary Steedman, has done first-class empirical work on technical educational provision and attainment in different systems. His history was once heavily Marxist, and he still trails some terrible jargon. But in any terms, this collection of essays is impressive. He brings both streams of his experience to bear on the related questions: if time and space are now so compressed thanks to instantly globally accessible knowledge, worldwide companies and ubiquitous McDonald's, are national education systems becoming homogenised, as economic logic might suggest? And if not, what factors explain the differences?

Green starts with a comparison of systems in western Europe and eastern Asia, the continent that has supplied so many of the United Kingdom's overseas students. He shows that their governments are structuring their education systems as once, 100 years ago, west European governments structured ours. The prime aim, as Durkheim noted for Europe, has been to form citizens before forming labour. The Asian "tigers" are doing the same. They have not given priority to creating an education market. In western Europe, citizen formation appears to have given way to skills formation, nation-building to national economic competitiveness, though less in continental Europe than where Anglo-Americanism rules. This builds on Green's thesis drawn from a comparison of the United States, the UK, France and the Prussian precursor of Germany, in which the key factor accounting for the development of state education systems seemed to be not industrialisation or urbanisation but the need to weld together an inchoate population.

With his interest in citizenship and society's functioning, Green concludes that globalisation or no, western European governments could, if they wished, again pursue national citizenship goals in the modern terms of social cohesion and social solidarity; and on his evidence they ought to. Today's high-achieving systems in the East are statist, the high-achieving systems of the West integrate the social partners in decision-making. None has succumbed to what Green calls the dangerous and extreme scenarios of post-modernist and global theorists that for national systems of education there is a bleak No Future in which either international organisations or consumers rule over countless and hapless nations.

However, although Green sees the EU as part of the bulwark against the uncertainties of the market and global technology, he takes a lofty view of the process by which member states cede (and, he thinks, recover) powers to and from the European level. Neither the European Commission nor the EU nor Europe figure in the index. The EU is several times lumped with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank as an international agency. You would not guess its treaty-given powers.

Field's book is welcome as the first attempt to cover the community's educational activities since 1984. But he is more taken by a campaign than by an analysis. He wishes to put right both Euro-enthusiasts and Euro-sceptics. What is more, he has a lot of targets. He leaps through globalisation and the post-modern debate, European integration theory, the "relentlessly vocational, utilitarian and instrumental" approach that, like Sultana, he sees as characterising EU policies.

Field's strength is to show that the EU has a foot in national education institutions through at least three different routes: through the education and training cooperation programmes of DGXXII, the general directorate for education and training; through the research funding of DGXII; and, in some regions, through structural fund programmes administered by DGV, the social affairs general directorate. Through Field, the reader gets a sense of some of the procedures the commission uses to enlarge its empire, like its passion for pilot projects (Thatcher once forbade her ministers to approve any proposals for pilot projects made in the Council of Ministers on the basis that tiny acorns can grow into oak trees).

But he is a breathless and erratic guide to what EU integration of education and training actually means. If, as he argues, the Treaty of Maastricht, which for the first time gave the community direct but limited competence for "value-added" educational activity, makes for an inherently unstable compromise between national governments and the community, we need clear pointers as to why.

As it is, he confuses community competence and community cash, in making the (correct) point that some of the biggest funding opportunities for educational institutions lie outside DGXXII. He conflates the Council of Ministers created by the Treaty of Rome and the European Council created by Giscard d'Estaing (again the reader is not helped by awful indexing). At times, his use of EU is clearly a synonym for the Commission. In his text, member states often appear to be outside the process. Has he been too reliant on Commission sources?

Those interested in plumbing the largely uncharted waters of EU educational policy-making and implementation, where the key words are not regulation but subsidiarity and cooperation, can glean much from the University of Kassel reports. Teichler himself, a leading scholar of higher education systems and with some good people around him, has completed a seven-year study of Erasmus. The Tempus report, under the leadership of Barbara Kehm, covers six. The value of these reports lies in the facts elicited in an area where facts are scarce.

The Erasmus report describes the processes that have locked into the core processes of most university institutions in 18 countries (the 15 plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) and what the keys have been: the organised character of the exchange programme and, either, curricular integration to accommodate Erasmus students or a system of recognition. As the researchers put it, they could not evaluate the programme simply on the funding mechanisms. They had to look at the way the exchange element functioned, the improvement in foreign-language proficiency, the cultural learning and the subsequent careers of Erasmus students. They also looked at some of the institutional implications, which show that one reason for complex structures for decision-making and administration is that national representatives are involved at every level. Their conclusion: that Erasmus has had a high profile for good reasons. Though small in percentage terms (about 3 per cent of students a year), in most countries Erasmus has been a mobilising programme in every sense.

The Tempus story is a rather different account of how universities accepted the Euro-challenge. The programme, which will be altered and incorporated in Socrates, has been known as a luxury liner in comparison with Erasmus. Its launch was inspired by the historic opportunity of the Soviet implosion. As such it raised questions from the start, Field points out, as to whether the objective was university cooperation or an advance post in newly liberated economies, in which "domineering" western consultants wished to find a place. The ambiguities are confirmed by Kehm and her colleagues. The report's value, as with Teichler/Maiworm's, is in its detail.

There are modish pleas for citizens of the world to unite in the face of globalisation. Universities, as inherently international institutions, have a role. But as a way to conjoin the global and the grassrooted, the citizenship prescription is a bit vague for public policy. If we start with the view that institutions matter, we might be readier to see the EU as a structure designed to help the nation state. For what we can deduce from these books, and it must be a pointer to further work, Europeanisation is not a subset of internationalisation, globalisation or the other "-isations" we can think up. It is a political entity that extends the structures for expressing preferences. In the modest domain of education, it may be that what exists is acceptable. If not, the analysts and the actors should be doing still more to make the connections relevant.

Anne Corbett is researching a PhD on the Erasmus programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Education, Globalisation and the Nation State

Author - Andy Green
ISBN - 0 333 68315 3 and 68316 1
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £40.00 and £15.99
Pages - 206

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