Posted tagged ‘globalisation’

Britain and the Continent cut off!

April 16, 2010

The cloud of ash from Iceland has provided us with an immediate reminder of the degree to which we are now a globalised community. Although nothing of any significance has been affected within Ireland, suddenly all schedules and arrangements have been thrown into complete chaos: colleagues cannot travel to attend meetings and other engagements, international visitors here to assist us in various ways are suddenly our guests and protégés as they find they are unable to return, urgent parcels and mailings don’t arrive or cannot leave; and all of this is aggravated by our not knowing how long it will last. I have personally had to make radical changes to my schedules for next week.

We are a global community depending on each other. It is hard to see how we could return to the self-contained units we once were. But this week’s events have shown us how fragile all of that is.

The significance, or otherwise, of national identity

April 6, 2010

Although my family moved to Ireland when I was seven years old, we returned to Germany in 1968. By the time I returned to Ireland I was 20 years old, and came with the experience of progressive political debate in Germany. I was therefore taken aback to discover that, in Ireland, the term ‘nationalist’ was often used in a positive sense, in particular when referring to the anti-unionist community in Northern Ireland. At the time the idea that nationalism could be anything other than totally reprehensible was inconceivable to me; it had, after all, been at the heart of the movement that caused the horrors of the Second World War.

Of course I came to understand what had made nationalism (however understood precisely) attractive to people in Ireland, but I have never lost the gut feeling that an major focus on national identity can be very dangerous, with a trajectory (at least if not properly managed) to xenophobia and racism. However, some have argued that nationalism may have value in a different context, as a protector of citizens’ rights in the face of large global corporations wielding excessive power, or of supra-national political associations that may threaten to overwhelm traditional cultures and customs. In this sense, some of those who have opposed the development of the European Union have sometimes argued that a properly understood nationalism can provide a counter-balance. For example the late British Labour politician, Peter Shore, suggested in a pamphlet in the 1980s that nationalism could and should be seen as a progressive, potentially leftwing force protecting the rights of people in individual countries within Europe.

This kind of argument has had a renewed outing over recent years as the debate in Europe has intensified about how far the EU should go and what political roles it should assume. And yesterday in the Irish Times Michael Casey, a former board member of the IMF, suggested that it might not be long before national identity would disappear completely in a globalised world.

All of this is a very interesting, but also very tricky, issue. On the one side there is the understandable and quite justifiable desire to ensure that the sources of real decision-making that affect our lives, in politics and economics, are not moved to such a high level that ordinary citizens can never hope to influence these decisions. If all law-making, for example, were to move to Brussels, then it would be carried out by a parliament that we never get to elect in any real sense; candidates in EU elections don’t stand on an EU-wide platform, so we never get to assess a proposed legislative programme. But on the other side there is the continuing and serious risk that using nationalism as the basis for such a critique also opens the way to racism and an unwillingness to experience, understand and tolerate other cultures.

In truth we have not really developed a mature understanding of how globalisation can be harnessed but also kept in check, and what philosophical or ideological perspectives can be used in this debate, without the risk of creating a fractured society along the way. I don’t believe that globalisation – whether as a political, economic, cultural or demographic phenomenon – could or should be reversed, but I do believe that we need to ensure that it does not mean the disenfranchisement of citizens. There is still a lot to be done before we have cracked this problem.

Going global – the big new world of higher education?

December 9, 2009

According to a report that has just been published in the UK, we can expect that globalisation will have a much more visible impact on universities in the near future. Until now, the international dimension of higher education in this part of the world has mainly been experienced through overseas student recruitment, the development of some sort of tangible presence by universities of one in country in another country (mainly through smaller branch campuses or marketing offices), and the establishment of multi-country research teams. These phenomena, while more in evidence now than they used to be, have not however fundamentally altered the shape of higher education.

Now, according to a report commissioned by Universities UK and prepared by the law firm Eversheds, all that may be about to change dramatically. The document, entitled Developing future university structures: new funding and legal models, predicts a number of new developments, including a wave of mergers and clusterings between institutions (including some non-HE institutions), more private sector involvement, the establishment of branches of US universities this side of the Atlantic, the private take-over of some publicly funded institutions, multi-jurisdiction universities, and (intriguingly) the possible alignment of some higher education and health service organisations.

Of course it is impossible to predict any of this with accuracy, and to me at least some of the predictions seem a tad fanciful, but it is clear nonetheless that the structures of higher education and of the sector’s institutions will change over the next decade or so. In this particular world it will be important for individual institutions to be clear as to the alliance or cluster in which they will find their strategic partners. Some may exist outside of all this, and some of the large traditional institutions may not feel the need to change at all. But some of the new configurations may become very powerful, and may be more visibly involved in the translation of the knowledge generated or disseminated within the institution to its use in the community or in business.

Of course Irish higher education is currently being subjected to a more general strategic review. In this the emphasis has to date been on the reconfiguration of the sector within its domestic context. It may be time to factor in global opportunities and threats.