Universities ‘failed to help’ losers of globalisation

Higher education institutions are partly to blame for the hostility they now face, says US vice-provost

September 15, 2017
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The US higher education sector is partly to blame for the hostility it now faces because it failed to support communities that lost out from the rise of globalisation, an institutional leader has said.

Stephen Dunnett, vice-provost for international education at the University at Buffalo, said that a year ago, higher education institutions were “congratulating” themselves on the progress of internationalisation and “did not see” that they were part of the problem of inequality.

During a panel discussion on the threats to internationalisation at the European Association for International Education conference on 13 September, Professor Dunnett spoke about how the election of Donald Trump as US president last year had forced institutions to ask themselves some soul-searching questions.

“Everything we ever believed in suddenly wasn’t popular and was being attacked, and somehow we were being blamed for the inequality,” he said.

But he said that it was right to criticise higher education for being blinkered.

“We didn’t notice the high cost of our tuition, which squeezed out minorities and the poor. We didn’t seem to notice that study abroad was largely for privileged students, largely for white females,” he said. “We didn’t seem to notice that we weren’t giving scholarships to students from other parts of the world – in fact, we were charging international students three or four times more than state tuition [fees].”

He added: “As individual scholars, we failed to notice that there were many losers of globalisation.”

When Pennsylvania’s Bethlehem Steel Corporation, once the US’ second-largest steel producer, went bankrupt in 2003, there were “no training programmes” or initiatives for its former employees, according to Professor Dunnett. “The universities didn’t say a thing,” he said.

However, universities are starting to “get over the shock” of the anti-globalisation movement and are beginning to “mobilise”, he noted.

“We realised that now we really have to stand up for what we believe in and what we are teaching, and we have to think about those who were not included and not part of the education system,” he said.

Professor Dunnett also commented on university funding, predicting that the US will “see huge disinvestment in public higher education over the next five years” and that funding for research from the federal government will also decline.

“We can’t sustain the never-ending war in the Middle East, the huge military budget, healthcare issues and also fund higher education, and we don’t have a lot of advocates,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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