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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.