Experts Debate the Current and Future State of International Higher Education

Experts Debate the Current and Future State of International Higher Education

By Marissa Lombardi

International education experts recently gathered at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies for a discussion and debate on global higher education. Over 250 faculty, staff, and students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, and Northeastern University communities participated, both on-ground and virtually, to engage in an illuminating keynote by leading international education scholar, Dr. Philip Altbach and a panel discussion with experts in the field.

Dr. Altbach’s engaging keynote highlighted critical trends shaping the global higher education landscape such as growing commercialization, massification, competition, access, and the role of the English language in internationalization.

“You can’t stop massification, but massification means, I believe, lower standards,” Dr. Altbach said during his keynote. Dr. Altbach also discussed challenges facing the academic profession including what he called the “part-time-ification” of faculty and the lack of adequate pay for academics. Panelists responded to Dr. Altbach’s talk with varying perspectives (not always agreeing!), which made for a rich discussion and exchange of ideas.

Following are a few perspectives from panelists during the course of the event:

  • John LaBrie, Dean of the College of Professional Studies and Vice President of Professional Education, has championed internationalization at the College through several initiatives, including the expansion of international partnerships in Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Australia, and brought to light some of the positive outcomes of massification. “I have to believe, in my optimistic self, that massification around the world is a good thing”, he said. LaBrie also pointed out that massification brings more women into the education system.
  • Sasha Norkin, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at edX, noted that “edX is an answer to some of these issues,” arguing that edX provides global access to education, bringing outside education to places like Saudi Arabia, India, and Africa. She also rejected the notion suggested by Dr. Altbach that massive open online courses (MOOCs) could fail to serve those most in need and undermine local institutions because they have the potential to foster Western academic dominance. Instead, Norkin explained that many edX professors are not from Western countries and that several MOOCs are offered in languages other than English.
  • Hélène Bernot Ullerö, Senior Program Administrator at EP-Nuffic, Netherlands’ Foundation for the internationalization of Dutch higher education and expert on higher education in Africa, also weighed in on the role of MOOCs, stating that “Higher education in Africa is not for the African elite — they study here (in the U.S.). Private institutions are for the poor and a potential of MOOCs in Africa is about teaching teachers how to use these resources.”
  • Laura Rumbly, Associate Director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College emphasized the need for researchers, policy makers and practitioners to work together to find solutions to the problems we face in higher education and noted the importance of understanding what is going on underneath the data. “We’re living in an era with an unbelievable amount of data…We have a lot of fragmented information out there,” she said.

While panelists did not agree on all points, they did seem to agree on one thing: the continual expansion of globalization is changing the landscape of higher education worldwide and impacting institutions, faculty, and the student experience both here in the U.S. and abroad. This calls for the next generation of international educators and administrators to possess the specialized skills, knowledge and keen understanding of these trends, and their implications, in order to effectively lead our institutions into the new frontier of global higher education.

The new concentration and certificate in Global Student Mobility recently launched in the Master’s in Global Studies and International Relations program, is designed to prepare students to do just that.

The presence of this distinguished panel and its rich exchange of ideas, inspiring the next generation of international educators and administrators, is one example of Northeastern University’s identity as a global institution, a fitting venue for an extraordinary gathering.

Dr. Marissa Lombardi is the lead faculty for the Global Student Mobility concentration in the Global Studies and International Relations program at Northeastern University.

About Northeastern CPS

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