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You’ve probably heard about the elaborate Olympic handover from Rio to Tokyo that included a video animation of Super Mario walking through Shibuya, jumping through a green tube, and then appearing at the closing ceremony in Rio. The super Mario custom dropped to the floor and there was, lo and behold, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, standing in a red hat holding a red ball, ready to take the helm of the Tokyo Olympics, which will take place in 2020. It was an unusual moment, to say the least, for the Japanese leader, who is typically reserved and anything but showy.

But the scene perfectly captured the contemporary push by the Abe administration to internationalize Japan. There he was in front of a global audience, showing off Japan’s athletes and pop-culture icons. Abe has been on a march to change Japan: he’s trying to alter the constitution to allow Japan to send military forces abroad, something that has not been done since World War II. And his administration started something called super-global universities, which aim to allow graduates to “walk into positions of global leadership.”

Reforms to Japanese education are not knew and we can learn a lot by looking at previous experiences. My guest today, Peter Cave, has a new book that explores changes in Japanese junior high schools in the 1990s and in the early 2000s.

Dr. Peter Cave is a Senior Lecturer in Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester. Through an ethnography of two schools over 11 years, he was able to detail how, if at all, educational reforms translated into educational practice.

And these insights can help us understand the reforms being proposed today by the Abe administration.

Peter Cave’s new book is “Schooling Selves: Autonomy, Interdependence, and Reform in Japanese Junior High Education”, which was published this year by the University of Chicago Press.

The internationalization of education is a topic that receives plenty of buzz these days. Many students easily move across boarders to learn outside of their home country. Branch campuses by Western universities are popping up around the world. And Education businesses operate globally, selling educational materials and services to any school will to purchase them.

But can the phenomenon of international education exist within sites where there these practices don’t clearly exists?

My guest today is Phan Le Ha. She is a Professor in the College of Education, University of Hawai’i. Professor Phan has a forthcoming book entitled Transnational Education Crossing ‘the West’ and ‘Asia’: Adjusted Desire, Transformative Mediocrity, and Neo-colonial Disguise. Today Professor Phan and I discuss parts of this book, particularly related the the dominance of the English language in many Asia countries.

Professor Phan is currently developing a new interest in engaging with the arts, the media and the digital world to produce multimodal multidisciplinary scholarship and to push research and knowledge production into new directions. Her youtube channel can be found here.

Consider this opening paragraph to an article in University World News early this year:

Many Asian countries have been setting ambitious goals to expand and improve their higher education sectors to respond to their growing aspirational middle class and as a result are on the way to catching up with and even overtaking the best higher education systems of the West.

Indeed, the Institute of International Education’s latest report on global education research entitled “Asia: The next higher education superpower?” finds that the total number of universities and tertiary graduates in Asia outnumber those in North America and Europe.

From the viewpoint of many Western policymakers and media elite, the rise of Asia in terms of education is understood both as an opportunity and source of anxiety. On the one hand, countries such as Australia view the rise of Asia as an opportunity to expand trade, increase student mobility, and grow research collaborations. On the other hand, as Asia becomes a dominate global education player, some Western governments — and universities — fear they will loose out to their Asian counterparts.

How do we understand these mixed feelings?

The guest on this show of FreshEd is Fazal RizviProfessor in Education at the University of Melbourne. He has a forthcoming book chapter in the Handbook of Global Education Policy, which will be published by Blackwell press in 2016, that uses a post-colonial analysis to understand Western discourses on the rise of Asia. Within these discourses, Rizvi finds an “us” versus “them” dichotomy that he connects to colonialism. The rise of Asia from this perspective “invokes conceptions of the Asian ‘others’ whose cultures must be understood, whose languages must be learnt, and with whom closer relationships must be developed – in order for us [the West] to realize our economic and strategic purposes” (Rizvi, 2013).

In the last few decades, higher education in Asia has seen rapid expansion of enrolment rates, institutional growth and change, an internationalization drive, and knowledge outputs that are comparable to many western universities. Nevertheless, the topic of Asian Higher education remains mostly understudied. The same can be said of Asian higher education research and its communities, which continue to be underrepresented in the international higher education literature.

My guest today, Hugo Horta, is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong. He has recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Higher Education Policy on higher education research in East Asia. Together with Jisun Jung and Akiyoshi Yonezawa, Hugo Horta’s special issue presents an understanding of the evolution of higher education research communities in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. The country level studies distill the unique organization and evolution of national higher education research communities offering a window into the common and dissimilar challenges each country faces in constructing a higher education research community.

Policy borrowing is a major topic in field of comparative education. On the surface the idea is relatively simple: one group of policy makers borrow the ideas of other policy makers to improve a system of education. This usually is described as borrowing “best practices.” But the work of many comparative education researchers has shown that who borrows what policy and for what reason is much more complex. We cannot, as Michael Sadler warned in 1900, assume a picked flower in one part of the world will blossom in soil at home.

Routledge book coverMy guest today, Rattanna Lao, dives head first into the debates on policy borrowing in her new book, A Critical Study of Thailand’s Higher Education Reforms: The Culture of Borrowing, which was published earlier this year by Routledge.

She argues that although the Thai state has always been an active borrower of western ideas, the perseverance of a ‘Thai-ness’ discourse has often been used to suggest its so-called independence and idiosyncrasy.

Rattana Lao received a doctorate in Comparative and International Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and is currently a lecturer at Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat University in Thailand.