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Barrett on Globalization of Higher Education

In this article, Beverly Barrett, author of Globalization and Change in Higher Education, explains the orientation toward internationalization that is impacting higher education institutions in the Americas and beyond.

Given the reality of globalization, international cooperation is more important than ever. Strikingly since the end of the Cold War, this generation of globalization has witnessed the expansion of trade and travel, together with advancements in technology, that have corresponded with internationalization in higher education. Internationalization is ultimately the recognition of academic degrees across countries, alongside opportunities for the mobility of graduates and researchers.

The history, ideas, and institutions that frame our understanding of higher education are set out in my book, which provides a historical institutional theoretical perspective on change and an in-depth analysis of the Iberian countries Portugal and Spain. There are economic, political, and social explanations for the reforms that have taken place in Europe since the Bologna Process launched on June 19, 1999 in the historic university city of Bologna, Italy. Today’s internationalization of higher education is a response to the pressures of globalization, and it has origins in the Sorbonne Declaration - among the education ministers of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom - signed twenty years ago on May 25, 1998.

Through the internationalization of higher education, the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) has been established given influences of globalization (economic), intergovernmentalism (political), and Europeanization (social). Correspondingly in Latin America, countries have experimented with cooperation in recent years, from Mercosur Educativo in the 1990s to the more recent initiatives of the Pacific Alliance. Since 2011, the Pacific Alliance is an example of regional cooperation in higher education among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. The countries are committed to academic exchanges, specifically stating “cooperation on education” as an objective.

The Pacific Alliance is an economic powerhouse in the Americas, with more than 50 percent of the region’s trade taking place in these four countries that are committed to democracy and capitalism. On April 28, 2011, at the Declaration of Lima, the countries of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru pledged to deep integration to build a common market, which is in process. Common markets are characterized by four freedoms of movement for goods, services, capital, and labor. Mobility of graduates, provided by recognition of academic qualifications, complements the movement of labor in common markets.

The IberoAmerican countries of Latin America have historic ties to Portugal and Spain. Political will is required to elevate higher education issues and to develop more formal institutions of cooperation. The Interuniversity Center for Development (Centro Interuniversitario de Desarollo), known as CINDA, based in Santiago, Chile is an association of IberoAmerican member institutions that shares best practices. There is support for quality assurance and accreditation in higher education through the IberoAmerican Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (La Red Iberoamericana para el Aseguramiento de la Calidad en la Educación Superior), known as RIACES, based in Asunción, Paraguay.

The Bologna Process and the EHEA have been models for the regionalization of higher education throughout the world. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has developed its own Quality Assurance and Qualifications Reference Framework. The U.S. and Mexico, together with Canada, have opportunities to collaborate across North America, when able to overcome uncertainties around security, funding, and availability of academic exchange programs.

 With the European Commission as a partner, the 48-country EHEA continues to develop a higher education area where academic qualifications become recognized across countries. Competitive economic pressures are part of globalization, and domestic politics influencing international cooperation drive intergovernmentalism. After nearly two decades of the Bologna Process, the policy reform has positioned higher education institutions and countries for cooperation and recognition of academic qualifications. The change brought on by globalization has impacted institutions in Europe on multiple levels – supranational for the EU and EHEA, national, and institutional. In other world regions, including the Americas and Asia, institutions are learning from these experiences and increasingly are oriented to internationalization.

Beverly Barrett is Visiting Professor in International Business at Universidad de las Americas Puebla. She earned her doctorate in a fellowship with the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami. She specializes in Education Policy, Organizational Development, and International Political Economy.