Globalizing Higher Education




Universities and higher education systems worldwide are being transformed by new and changing actors, practices, programs, policies, and agendas. From notions of 'global competency' and 'international branch campuses,' to ever more common perceptions that international collaborative research is a desirable objective, through to the phenomena of bibliometrics, rankings and benchmarking that are framed and operate at a global scale, contexts are changing. This massive open online course (MOOC) itself, developed in Madison and Bristol and hosted on the Coursera platform in Silicon Valley, is a perfect case in point!
Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the 'Knowledge Economy' is designed to help students better understand some of these complex changes.
Our specific objectives are to:

  • Provide an integrated 'big picture' regarding the globalization of higher education and research.
  • Reinforce the value of thinking about processes of change by focusing on emergences -- the forward edges of change -- as well as the frictions associated with these processes. We attempt to make this tangible by highlighting the role of relevant logics, thinkers, institutions, networks, technologies, ideas, temporalities, and regulations.
  • Highlight the role of relative and variable forms of power in shaping agendas and practices, as well as uneven development patterns and outcomes.

In the end, we hope to stimulate some exciting globally oriented learning about how key aspects of the higher education sector - from research to teaching, learning, and service (the 'third mission') - are changing. We don't have the answers, but together we're hoping that we can all use this MOOC to collectively learn more about this increasingly important topic.


We'd like to pass on some information about a few other aspects of this course so you know what you're getting into!
1. First, the design of this course is very different from most Coursera-based courses in that it does not rely on video lectures and associated quizzes. Rather, the content will be rolled out weekly via a 4000-7000 word long text with integrated multimedia elements (audio interviews with experts, visualizations, photographs, select videos, and hyperlinks to documents, reports, articles, etc.). This approach reflects our assessment of what works best with respect to the topic we are focusing on, as well as the practical realities of jointly developing a course on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean six time zones apart. We're also excited by experiments underway in long-form journalism, blogging, and e-textbooks. Indeed, a Department of Geography (UW-Madison) student helped put together the New York Times' 'Snow Fall' story (see and we took select formatting ideas from the story and the subsequent online stories that were inspired by it.
2. Second, and on a related note, the course is intended to function as a free and open-access resource. Therefore, all submitted material during weekly exercises will be automatically associated with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license, which gives others considerable freedom to share submitted ideas. Students who submit work to the course's forums retain copyright to it, but irrevocably grant anyone permission to use, copy, modify, and adapt it commercially with attribution. As a result, the course should de facto resemble a MOOR (a Massive Open Online Resource) – a trading space for ideas. The goal of adopting this approach is to enable the MOOC/MOOR to facilitate the building of networks between participants, the sharing of resources, and the stimulation of new and needed debates about the course topic. In short, we encourage you to contribute, discuss, debate, borrow, reformulate, and help everyone build a useful MOOR! And, if things go well, we hope this course will serve as a model for hybrid open-closed online and blended courses at universities that are available both to regular for-credit students, but also to curious members of the public.
3. Third, we've attempted to, as much as possible, adopt a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to the production of the MOOC. We don't believe MOOCs should be developed at considerable expense in the current fiscal context, especially in public higher education. While we've being assisted by two wonderful online course staff (Kevin Thompson and Phil Curran), we've used free or low-cost technologies to produce the content, we've recorded the Q&A sessions ourselves (e.g., via Skype), we've sourced the development of the visualizations via the University of Wisconsin Cartography Lab (which employs students), and we've processed most of the files via free programs. This is, after all, how most faculty will need to operate in the digital era. This MOOC inevitably won't match the production level of some MOOCs out there, but it is not designed to.
4. Fourth, we designed this MOOC to be relatively accessible in contexts associated with low levels of internet bandwidth. The presence of audio and the absence of video helps on this front, clearly. We've also designed it to be mobile device-friendly regardless of mobile platform. If you use an Apple iPhone or iPad, you can download the relevant Coursera app here:
We hear that Android versions of these apps are coming soon, but they are unlikely to be available by the time our course is finished in May 2014. It is our view that text vs. video enables people to better engage with the content at variable paces depending on your own approach to scrolling through text, as well as visiting the rabbit holes (aka hyperlinks to articles, stories, websites, and so on) we have provided. We're also aware most of the experimentation with MOOCs is in video-heavy courses, and we're keen to experiment with text, audio, and visualizations. Your feedback on how to improve our adopted format is thus very much welcomed.


Each theme will be presented through through the text and multi-media elements associated with seven different yet linked topics (see below for titles and keywords). The materials are not being transferred over from a previously existing course – this model has been built from the ground up. This said, the course structure is inspired by reactions to talks both of us have given to diverse non-academic and academic audiences (including university governing boards/councils). 


  1. Universities
    • Keywords: collaboration, competition, global competency, globalization, internationalization, learning, logics, mechanisms, mission, mobility, models, technology.
  2. City-regions
    • Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, cities, city-regions, competition, hubs, gateway cities, global cities, innovation systems, liberal arts colleges, mobility, R&D, networks, urbanization.
  3. Nations
    • Keywords: competition, denationalization, exports, mobility, nation-state, revenue, services, students.
  4. Regions
    • Keywords: collaboration, competition, geopolitics, higher education areas, interregionalism, regionalism.
  5. Globals
    • Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, competition, desectoralization, framing, governance, hegemony, knowledge, intergovernmental organizations, publishing, R&D, rankings, thinkers.
  6. World Class
    • Keywords: assessment, benchmarking, bibliometrics, competition, desectoralization, governance, metrics, models, world class universities, world university rankings.
  7. Singapore
    • Keywords: academic freedom, branch campuses, city-state, competition, developmental state, global cities, hubs, innovation systems, nation-states, networks, R&D, rankings, regionalism, services.


Professors Olds and Robertson began collaborating via a Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) exchange scheme in the mid-2000s. The University of Bristol and University of Wisconsin-Madison are both members of the WUN. We very much look forward to engaging with you about this topic.

Kris Olds

Kris Olds is Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. He is also a Senior Fellow with NAFSA.
Kris' current research focuses on the globalization of higher education and research. This research agenda relates to his longstanding research interests in the globalization of the services industries (including higher education, architecture, property), and their relationship to urban and regional change. He makes heavy use of digital outlets to engage, serve, and engender informed debate including via GlobalHigherEd (which is cross-listed on Inside Higher Ed), and Twitter @GlobalHigherEd.

Susan L. Robertson
Professor, Graduate School of Education
University of Bristol
Susan L. Robertson is Professor, Sociology of Education, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, UK. She is also Director of the University of Bristol's Centre for Globalisation, Education and Societies, and co-editor of the journal Globalisation, Societies and Education.
Professor Robertson's research focuses on the political economy of the education sector, and how education is the object and outcome of converging and diverging policies and practices around the globe. These include creating education as a services sector, the commercialisation of education, and the increased role of for-profit actors in the sector. An important aspect of this transformation has been the growth of international agencies and transnational firms in shaping these processes.
Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘KnowledgeEconomy’ - Syllabus. By Kris Olds and Susan L. Robertson

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