Anglo-American report 'imperialist', say critics

August 6, 2009

A report advising UK and US universities to work together to retain their international primacy has been criticised for its imperialistic overtones.

The report, Higher Education and Collaboration in a Global Context, claims that by working together, Anglo-American universities could aid the development of a "global civil society".

It reiterates the need for a "special relationship" between the two countries and recommends mergers between UK and US universities.

The report concludes that the "challenge ahead is to focus on ways of extending the UK/US model to third locations".

However, some in the academic community believe the document smacks of imperialism. They also claim that it attempts to undermine the aims of the Bologna Process, which places the UK at the heart of the European sector.

Bob Osborne, professor of sociology at the University of Ulster, said: "The assumption that the US is the most important higher education system to relate to is fallacious."

He said that the report, which was commissioned by Gordon Brown, "represents the outcome of an undue fascination with US society from a Prime Minister who should leave universities to forge their links where they see the best opportunities".

Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy at Liverpool Hope University, said the report showed "ignorance of, if not contempt for, the Bologna Process".

"Our European higher education partners - if we have any left - are right to be suspicious of us, let alone our former colonies," he said.

Concerns were also raised in the US. Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, Minnesota, said he worried about the notion of exporting higher education.

"I think that higher education must in part be shaped by the culture within which it is formed, as must any institution," he said.

"I do worry about the efficacy of large US or UK institutions establishing 'outposts' around the world."

Rick Trainor, principal of King's College London and a member of the transatlantic group that drew up the report, denied allegations of imperialism.

"The report is about being internationalist, advocating the further internationalisation of higher education on an equal basis," said Professor Trainor, who is also president of Universities UK.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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