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Saturday, 20 May 2006

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Richard Edelstein

Thank you, Dean Iniguez, for your reactions to my earlier comment on the Bologna Process.

Your concern about giving too much value or credence to the place of the nation-state and national interest is certainly valid if it is for political and demogogic purposes. My focus was, however, on the fact that nation-states continue to have significant influence over markets, especially in Europe and that the education market may be even more "protected" given it's proximity to cultural identity issues. This tension between national or even regional interests and the forces of globalization is fundamental and unavoidable. Most of the literature on globalization addresses this tension in one form or another (see the work of Djelic or Guillen for example) The Bologna process is another venue for this struggle and is why the outcomes will necessarily vary significantly by region and country.

While I agree with you that Europe would benefit from a more open, market oriented system of higher education, I am just a bit more sceptical that it will happen in the near term. The U.S. is exceptional regarding the strong presence of private universities in our system. Interestingly enough, their origins have less to do with captialism and more to do with the religious, especially protestant, character of our nations early leaders. I would also suggest that a more open market leads not only to increased competition but also the strategic necessity of collaboration. Ironically The Bologna Agreement seems more focused on competition and restructuring national systems than on cross-border collaboration between universities. This seems odd since the greatest potential for innovation lies in international partnerships, in my view.

Bologna is an unprecedented opportunity to encourage and stimulate innovation and change. My main point is that this will require accomodations between the many interests involved and a recognition that institutional change of this magnitude does not come easily.

Thanks for raising the issue on the blog and engaging with me on some key issues!

Francisco Marín

In "The World in 2006" edited by The Economist, there is an article called "The class of 2006", written by Adrian Wooldridge from Washington, which I have found very interesting and related with some of the points that you are remarking. These are some of his comments:

"Why American universities will lead the world... America is well placed to take the best people in the world: the people who can redefine entire academic disciplines and high-tech industries.
(...)
The American higher-educational system is based on three principles. First, the federal government plays a limited but vital part. Limited because there are lots of different sorts of funding (private philantropists, corporations, student fees) and because there is no central master-plan. But vital because the government helps to fund basic research and student loans. Second, there is the principle of competition. Universities compete for everything from students to star professors to research money. Third, the power of the teachers (who tend to be locked in their own little worlds) needs to be counter-balanced by the power of the academic administration (which can pursue the overall interests of the institution).
(...)
The fatal flaw of European model is grating too much power to the state. In most European countries the state picks up most of the bills for higher education. (...) The result of this has been a twofold catastrophe. Universities have been progressively starved of resources as governments have forced them to "process" more students without giving them significantly more money. Universities have also found it increasingly difficult to excel, as the market for talent has gone global but they have been made to fish in purely national waters."

As former university student in Spain, I have only seen the university from this point of view. I try to explain it, in case it is interesting: I think that Bologna process could be a good opportunity to repair the actual state of the university. But, considering the usual sincerity and courage of politicians (main promoters of this plan, I think), I don't expect much. It seems to be all such in a hurry!, like EURO introduction, the European Constitution, the entry of more and more countries, etc.

There are also too many conflicts of interests and difficulties: powers of the teachers in their small "kingdoms", little interest to serve their "customers" (students, society), not much interest in really learning and growing (from most of the participants, including mainly students but not only), and not even focused on practical results in their research in many cases (getting funds seems to be more important than the research itself).

So, I am sure that the university (at least in Spain, which I know better) needs to be applied a deep "Business Process Reengineering" or something like that, and Bologna way can probably help, but it will also have to come accompanied by a "organizational culture change". I don't think they are all well prepared for a new way to work, teach, cooperate and compete. Although there is a big hope from most of us.

Unfortunately I think that the inertia of so many centuries with universities in Europe is working against us this time.

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