Sunday, October 1, 2017

Flora Sapio: Reflections on "Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities"
(By Laurentius de Voltolina - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

In Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities,  I offered reflections on recent well publicized controversy within Australian academic circles centering around the relationship between the knowledge offered in Australian universities and the narratives preferred by some of its principal end users--Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities. 
Most universities have yet to grapple with this issue of student participation and societal expectations respecting the way that "facts" are selected for presentation in an appropriate interpretive form. But Australian universities now appear at the forefront of the reshaping of the conversation about narrative. A series of recent clashes between foreign (mainly Chinese) students and Australian universities about the way that knowledge is produced and interpreted (for the student in a way that is insulting to China) suggests the emerging contours of international student engagement in what had been local contests over the ideology of narrative and the presentation of knowledge.
I posited the problem in terms of the university as a corporate actor within a competitive sector (knowledge dissemination). 
More brutally put: if universities fail to provide students (and their parents) what they think they want to learn, and in the way they think they want to learn it, then the university will lose both market share and its reputational rank will be threatened as students (and their parents' money) go elsewhere. How is this equation affected where the students are foreign and the pressure comes from foreign states?
My colleague, Flora Sapio has produced a marvelous reflection on that post, which she kindly agreed to share here.  The Essay, On the Ideal Models of the University: Reflections on "Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities" follows below.
 (By Étienne Colaud - BNF, Français 1537, fol. 27v[1] "Svenska folket genom tiderna. Vårt lands kulturhistoria i skildringar och bilder. Andra bandet. Den medeltida kulturen". Edited by professor Ewert Wrangel. Published by Tidskriftsförlaget Allhem, Malmö, 1938, Public Domain,

On the Ideal Models of the University: Reflections on "Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities"
Flora Sapio

This post attempts to present some reflections provoked by my reading of ‘Internationalization and Engagement: How Foreign Students May be Reshaping What is Taught at Global Universities’. The post commented on various incidents occurred at Australian universities.

A feature common to each one of those incidents was the inability of university teaching staff to provide to some students the kind of education, and treatment, students expected in return for having paid their tuition fees. Those incidents would have gone almost unnoticed, had they occurred in connection to any other kind of market transaction. If they attracted attention from the international media, it is perhaps because those incidents highlighted a tension that pervades academic institutions globally.

This tension is produced by the coexistence, in the university, of four different ‘systems of rules’. These systems of rules may or may not be mutually compatible and coherent. At times, one of them may prevail on the others. Each system of rules produces a different role for teachers, students, and administrators. Also, it generates a different set of criteria used to assess the value of teachers, students, and administrators, and a different institutional role for each one of these groups.

Universities are institutions of higher educations where scholars conduct enquiries impartially and independently, in a climate of intellectual freedom, and where students prepare to face their lives and careers by developing independent, rational, clear, and logical thinking skills. The notion of the university as a community of scholars engaging in independent inquiries, promoting knowledge and progress in the absence of political and ideological influences is an ancient one.

To understand where this notion comes from, a short travel back in time to the 6th Century a.C. is necessary. Then, two trends emerged. Catholic cathedrals and monasteries began to establish schools to provide a religious education to the clergy. In the 8th Century, the Admonitio Generalis required every cathedral and monastery to create a religious school. In 1079, a decree by Pope Gregorius VII further regulated the creation of cathedral schools. The goal of these measures was helping the spread of Christianity in the Frankish kingdom, in Europe, and beyond. The first European university for Chinese studies, for instance, was created to train Chinese youths as priests, and let them return to China as missionaries.

At the core of one of the original nuclei of the university, an evangelizing mission could be found. However, at the same time cathedral schools were established, secular scholars and teachers were gathering in independent communities too. Based on norms developed by their members, these guilds did not depend on the church. Neither were they sponsored by local governments. They owed obedience and allegiance to themselves and their members.

Interaction between religious and secular scholars slowly led to the merging and aggregations between cathedral schools and guilds, until the first Western university was born in Bologna, in 1088. Soon, European scholars began to travel to Bologna to study canon law, civil law, and Roman Law. The presence of a large number of foreign persons, in a city as small as medieval Bologna, posed the challenges typical of any process of integration.

To allow foreign students and teachers to enjoy the same immunities and privileges of the clergy, and of the citizens of Bologna, in 1155 Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa wrote the constitution (constitutio principis) Authentica Habita. Among others, this document granted foreign students and scholars immunity from customary norms that allowed to punish foreigners for the crimes and misdemeanors committed by their fellow citizens. It allowed foreign students and scholars to enjoy freedom of movement, and granted them certain extraterritorial privileges. In turn, teachers and scholars had to wear the clerical dress, and respect the rules created by their own guild.

The result was an institution incorporating the rules both of religious communities, and of guilds of scholars and their students. Cosmopolitanism came to replace the universalizing mission of cathedral schools, and rational and logical thought replaced belief. But, at the same time, members of guilds had to wear the same garb of religious scholars, and they enjoyed some of the immunities and privileges granted by Canon law.

The episodes and dynamics described in ‘Internationalization and Engagement:...’, not to mention the controversies they caused, suggest that we live at a time when a transformation of comparable magnitude may be taking place.

There is no doubt the universitas is and remains a community of teachers and scholars who devote the major part of their lives to the pursuit of independent inquiries in a climate of intellectual freedom. The Authentica Habita is to the universitas what the Magna Carta is to English political life. Under this system of norms, members of the universitas are scholars. Their value as scholars lies in their ability to produce original research. Their role within the universitas is that of rulers, and assessors of their peers and of their work.

At the same time, the norms set in 1155 exist and operate side by side with systems of norms produced and enforced by the state, by the market, and by national, supranational, or foreign governments. Each one of these systems of norms attributes a different meaning and function to the university.

Understood as a state institution, the university is the site where education is provided to citizens. Members of the university are both scholars, and civil servants. Their value as scholars lies in their ability to produce original, independent research as assessed by their peers. Their value as civil servants lies in their ability to provide education, according to the policy goals and guidelines set by their governments. Their role within the university is that of rulers, aided by administrative staff responsible for those tasks that would subtract time from teaching and research. Academics have the duty to ensure each student has achieved a level of learning sufficient to access to more advanced knowledge. Tenured appointments are the norm. They guarantee both the intellectual freedom of teachers, and the impartial fulfillment of their duties towards students. Students are citizens who enjoy the right to education. Nominal education fees ensure access to education.

Understood as an institution operating under market principles, the university is a company that produces and sells knowledge to its customers. Access to knowledge as a commodity is obtained through the payment of tuition fees, which are determined by the equilibrium between the demand for the degrees offered by the university, and the actual supply of admissions to its courses. Members of the university are scholars, and employees. Their value as scholars lies in their ability to produce research that can reflect positively on the reputation of their university. Their value as employees lies in their ability to provide education according to the marketing plans of the university, to satisfy students, and to maintain standards of private, personal and professional conduct that do not decrease the value of the university brand. Their value as employees depends on their cost per year, versus the revenues they can generate through their teaching. Under this model, contingent teaching staff are most valuable than tenured employees. Administrators are more valuable than teaching staff, because they are the ones performing those task that bring in the most revenues. Students are customers, whose satisfaction can be guaranteed by – among others – taking disciplinary actions on teachers and administrators.

The best and most valuable employees are contingent staff who can secure external grants, or tenured staff who can obtain grants sufficient to pay their own salary throughout their careers.

This point brings me to the fourth and last ideal type, the university as a think tank or policy institute. Under this model, the university is a public (or private, or hybrid) institution producing knowledge to inform the policy of a national government, a supranational government, or even a foreign government. Government access knowledge through awarding grants following an application process. The amount of grants, as well as the kind and quantity of knowledge to be produced, is determined by the government that sponsors research. University teachers are primarily policy analysists. Their value as policy analysts lies in their ability to produce information that meets the policy goals and needs of their sponsor. It also lies in their skills as project managers. Under this model, the most valuable analyst is the one who is not bound by teaching obligations, or by research that does not serve to shape policy, and can therefore work full-time for his government, or a foreign government.

None of these four systems of rules, and the ideal models they shape, exists in isolation. The universitas as a secularized institution that obeys the logic of a medieval guild, the university as a public institution, the university as an enterprise producing and selling knowledge, and as a think tank exist within one and the same site. The four systems of rules coexist in a fragile equilibrium, one that is seeing the rules of the market and of interests of national, supranational, and foreign governments prevail over earlier systems of rules.

'Internationalization and Engagement:...' closed with the observation that it would be interesting to see how American and European universities will begin to resolve issues similar to these. Could it be that university governance structures, teaching staff, and administrators will just accept that history can repeat itself, and conform in deeds and attitudes at least to the prevailing system of rules?

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Flora Sapio, excellent text, it shows the utmost importance of transrational thought produced in the multiple perspectives brought together by the cosmoploitan UNIVERSITAS. My applause, Ulisses Schwarz