Globalisation and its Impact on Universities

With the advent of online teaching, pay-per-module, distance learning and MOOCs, we are in danger of losing our scholarly community. These models of globalisation further endorse the idea of students as consumers and institutions as the producers. They run counter to the original intention of education, and betray the economic strategies that underpin the urge toward globalisation. We should be doing what we can to resist the urge, or to at least build institutions that are capable of being both local and global whilst upholding the mission of analysing what is given to us as a normative state of affairs.

I found the following article to be particularly helpful when thinking about the effects of globalisation on universities:

Globalisation and its discontents

17 JANUARY 2013

Scholarship has long been international but the current vision of a ‘worldwide’ academy of rootless student-consumers and national economic competition is as contradictory as it is immoral, argues Thomas Docherty


Globalisation and its discontents

What is the relation of the university to the polity, to “citizenship”? In the autumn of 2011, Kenneth Clark, who was then Secretary of State for Justice, described August’s rioters as a “feral underclass, cut off from everything in the mainstream but its materialism”. What he called their “criminality” was conditioned and explained by their fundamental divorcement from regular forms of participation in the polity or society. This led to their disengagement from “the values of mainstream society”.

Such disengagement, however, could by no means be construed as the exclusive prerogative of a group of supposedly “feral” rioters in August that year. After all, it is precisely what is routinely threatened by senior financiers and others in our allegedly “global jobs market” when they indicate that they are prepared to abandon any commitments to the nation if they are required to pay more UK tax or to forgo inflated bonuses-for-failures. Nor is this local to the UK or even simply a product of the post-2008 crisis. In 1985, Rupert Murdoch famously became a naturalised American, abandoning his Australian civic commitments in order to circumvent US laws that preclude foreign nationals from ownership of US TV stations.

The question of disengagement from, or engagement with, national culture or community – citizenship – is surely among the most pertinent when considering globalisation in the university sector. Globalisation is an “imperative”, said Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, when he opened a World Universities Network conference at Bristol in February last year. Looking through the “visions” (that Blakean replacement for “mission statements”) of many UK universities, one finds an almost routine claim that we are “producing/delivering” graduates who are going to be “global citizens”.

A current danger is that, through endlessly rehearsed but unargued assertion, the sector will find itself endorsing uncritically that which it should critique. Globalisation may establish normative – but problematic – economic practices, and we may find ourselves simply conforming to those norms and ignoring the attendant problems of globalisation and its occasional consequence of disengagement from community or the modern commons. Yet if the university is to maintain its intellectual credentials at all, it must be our responsibility to expose and confront conformity. Our place is to critique and to call conformities into question, not to endorse unexamined norms set by others.

Globalisation, of course, is not global. It is unevenly distributed; it is experienced differently in Adelaide and Accra; it feels different on the sofa of a World Bank office to on a Washington park bench. Moreover, globalisation is not new, even for the university: it has assumed variant forms for well over a thousand years. However, let’s start from the assertion that, in its current form, it is accelerating so rapidly that it must be embraced if we don’t want to be left behind the modernising rush.

The claim often made is that globalisation responds to student demand. Ben Wildavsky, a senior scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, breathlessly points out that the rates of global student movement are increasing rapidly. “There has been an increase of 57 per cent in the last ten years,” he wrote in a recent blog; and that looks undeniably huge. But to look at this another way, what it means is that over 10 years, among the roughly 140 million students worldwide, another 750,000 of them participate as “global”, international students. In fact, the total percentage of such global students is about 2 per cent of the total worldwide.

Furthermore, this 2 per cent includes students who remain in their home country while being registered for courses “delivered” from another country, so the numbers actually moving across borders radically decreases. And the fast-approaching deeply globalised future? Current estimations are that worldwide student numbers will roughly double by about 2025. The cohort of students newly entering higher education to make up that figure come predominantly from social groups that are among the least likely to leave even their home town, much less their home nation, for their university education. In fact, the “global citizen” students actually crossing borders are decreasing significantly in percentage terms.

Universities have always had massive international presence and reach. At the turn of the 15th century, about the time of the Great Schism in the Christian Church, with two popes fighting for power and control over Europe and its institutions, scholars sometimes found that their papal allegiance gave them local difficulty. Prior to the Schism – which ended the Avignon Papacy – it was commonplace for scholars to travel for education to one of a small number of institutions. Thus, people from this island attended universities in Bologna, Salerno, Paris, Orléans and Avignon itself. Those institutions were certainly international (if not yet global) in reach.

England boasted two institutions at that time. When Scotland and England backed different sides in the Schism (Scots were for Avignon, the English for Rome), the movement of Scottish scholars to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge became fraught. Similar things were happening elsewhere across Europe. The consequence was the growth of domestic institutions within emergent nation-states, and the determination of those nation-states to use the universities essentially as institutions that would help to forge emergent national identities, cultures and committed affiliations. Universities, as seats of independent thinking, helped to forge the new nation-states, and national “citizens”, that would constitute modern Europe.

All this, of course, says nothing of what else was happening in the non-European world. In Fez, Morocco, the University of Al-Karaouine (founded around AD859 by a woman, Fatima Al-Fihri) has some claim to be the first modern university. Alongside this, between about AD760 and AD820, Bayt al-Hikma (Baghdad’s “House of Wisdom”, essentially a library) was constructed. Its project was the gathering and translation of the great knowledge of the world as it was at that time, from all languages. This was, perhaps, the first exercise in what we might now think of as scholarly globalisation.

Yet the contemporary formulation of globalisation is very distinctive, and it is disturbingly marked by a fundamental self-contradiction. On one hand, it praises the idea of the post-national world in which we live; at the same time, globalisation is important if the UK is to “compete” against other nations worldwide. This latter view of globalisation is really an economic strategy of competition, designed to enhance one nation’s wealth over that of others, and is a matter for politicians and government. Should the university institution simply rehearse and endorse, uncritically, the pronouncements of our politicians – especially when those pronouncements lapse into self-contradiction? Our business is reasoning, and here is an example of false reasoning to be exposed.

When we fail to engage in constructive criticism of such arguments, we fall into that version of globalisation that involves us in self-contradiction and places economic competition at the heart of our system. This reduces the university to a brand name to be “traded” elsewhere, primarily to bring in tuition fees. In this way, the academy becomes explicitly politicised, essentially in favour of advancing a neoliberal economic agenda.

We become party to an exacerbation of the already troubling worldwide trend – the global trend – towards increased inequalities. A 2004 report by the International Labour Office in Geneva, A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All, found that the current processes of globalisation generate “unbalanced outcomes”. It agrees that “wealth is being generated” but adds immediately that “too many countries and people are not sharing in its benefits”, and concludes that the resulting “global imbalances” are “morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable”. Yet in 2010, the American Council on Education could issue a Blue Ribbon report on “Global Engagement” that reduced the issues around globalisation to two simple questions: a) the free international movement of staff, students and ideas; b) the question of US economic competitiveness and sustained dominance. The concerns expressed in 2004 are thus simply ignored.

The contradiction between national supremacy/economic competitiveness on one hand and “free” cross-border movement on the other is glaring. It can be explained in a simple formulation: globalisation requires the existence of national political boundaries in order to transgress those same boundaries economically.

Put this way, we can see who benefits from the very high stakes of the globalisation imperatives. The investor and philanthropist George Soros offers a “narrow definition” of post-1960 globalisation as “the free movement of capital and the increasing domination of national economies by global financial institutions and multinational corporations”. Soros is chilling as he explores the logic. He points out that the development of international institutions has not kept pace with the development of financial markets, with the result that political arrangements lag well behind the globalisation of economies. This provokes a crisis in democracy (which is perhaps all too apparent today). There is a visible crisis of legitimacy in our institutions. For Soros, the greatest threat to our democracy comes “from the formation of unholy alliances between government and business”. It is an arrangement of affairs that, as he points out, is not new: “It used to be called fascism…The outward appearances of the democratic process are observed, but the powers of the State are diverted to the benefit of private interests”.

Joseph Stiglitz, the economist and Nobel prizewinner, endorses these views. He and Soros (hardly regular bedfellows) agree on one fundamental point: we have not established the necessary international institutions to deal with the problems of globalisation. Instead, we have simply started to endorse the general tendency to accept it as a truistic imperative, as something with whose demands we must comply. But who is giving these orders? Where can we find the institutions adequate to our global predicaments?

The university is perfectly placed to be such an institution: a location of critique that can address inequalities and threats to democracy. Another name for this democracy is “widening participation”; such that our supposed “feral underclass” and our finance sectors start to find that they can share civic commitments, or that they can at least engage each other in democratic dialogue. Surely the university should be recalled to one of its central civilisational functions: to enable more people to engage in reasoned debate, in a polyglot House of Wisdom, democratically open. The contemporary version of university globalisation, however, does not seem to centre itself on widened participation in democratic politics, or even on the relation of the university to the civic polity.

Instead, some institutions are determinedly growing branded campuses abroad. Others strive to implant the voices of their academic community through the massive open online course, or Mooc. The New York University academic Andrew Ross has pointed out that, despite the growth in foreign campuses worldwide – a development that is fundamentally intended to deal with domestic economic shortfalls – the real globalisers are organisations such as the Laureate Education group. Laureate now has well in excess of 600,000 customers in more than 20 countries. Everything is 100 per cent online and everything, including teaching, is done on a pay-per-module basis. Instructors need no previous experience of online teaching but will get a four-week course that “qualifies” them; contractually, they must be prepared to be on call and ready to respond to customers who can be in any time zone worldwide, on a 24/7 basis. Is this the globalised university system that we want? Without students, without scholarly communities at all?

These models of globalisation require us to think of ourselves as commercial producers of human capital or human resources who will fit neatly into a world that is organised around the primacy of competition for private financial greed. Indeed, one major UK university – in a statement typical of many – describes its graduates as a “product”, to be “delivered” to the waiting world as recognisable “global citizens”. Such a position is entirely inadequate to our situations and it represents a fundamental betrayal of the sector, its students and citizenship.

Vice-chancellors seem to be obsessed with global visions. It might serve us better if, instead of having grand visions of this kind, they really just opened their eyes to see what is happening locally as a result of the too-easy acceptance of the globalisation agenda. Globalisation has many discontents: is it not more properly the task of the university to be the international institution that can analyse those discontents and that can offer people the means of engaging more democratically in our social being and welfare?

Global citizens? Just citizens might do for the moment, to replace the primacy of conformist consumers of an ill-assorted world order.



Thomas Docherty is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Warwick.



100+ Club!


Officially part of the 100+ club with over 100 posts on my blog!

Also, thank you to the 3,000+ people who have so far visited. I hope that you have found the information as useful as I have found it interesting to write.

Here’s to the final countdown, with only 14 weeks until I submit my Masters dissertation.

Davidson and Triangulation

The metaphor of triangulation appears first in Three Varieties of Knowledge in Davidson’s discussion of radical interpretation. Interpretation must adopt a compositional approach in the determination of meaning. That is, it must recognise the interconnectedness of attitudes and behaviour; in turn attributes and behaviours are constrained by normative principles of rationality.

The holistic consideration is married with an externalist position in which attitudinal content determined by the interconnectedness of attitudes and behaviour is seen in the light of its dependence on causal connections between attitudes and objects in the world. Attitudes can only be attributed and attitudinal content determined through a triangular structure. The triangle is based on the connection between two creatures, and a creature and her connection to a set of common objects in the world.

The content of attitudes is causally fixed by the objects of those attitudes; in turn, the cause of an object is reflected in the cause of those attitudes. Identifying beliefs involves a process of triangulation, whereby the position of an object is determined by taking a line from each of two already known locations to the object in question — the intersection of the lines fixes the position of the object. Similarly, the objects of propositional attitudes are fixed by looking to find objects that are the common causes, and so the common objects, of the attitudes of two or more speakers who are capable of observing and responding to one another’s behaviour.

We may think of it as a form of triangulation: each of two people is reacting differentially
to sensory stimuli streaming in from a certain direction. If we project the incoming lines
outward, their intersection is the common cause. If the two people note each others’ reactions (in the case of language, verbal reactions), each can correlate these observed reactions with his or her stimuli from the world. The common cause can now determine the
contents of an utterance and a thought. The triangle which gives content to thought and
speech is complete. But it takes two to triangulate. Two, or, of course, more. (Davidson
1991, 159)

The metaphor of triangulation is extended by Davidson to explain the interconnectedness of knowledge of oneself, of others, and of the world. It is not possible, Davidson claims, to have knowledge of oneself without having knowledge of the other two concepts of others and of the world.

Triangulation has the implication that interpreting attitudinal content must proceed in conjunction with interpreting objects, be they in the world or in language, for otherwise we would not understand the cause of the belief in question. In the case of language, this takes the form of interpreting linguistic utterances or sounds. Thus, if we cannot understand an utterance we are unable to attribute attitudinal content. For Davidson, this means that non linguistic animals are incapable of thought, since thought is the possession of precisely that attitudinal content disclosed by a linguistic utterance.

‘Commonsense’ Definitions 1920s/30s


Commonsense, I suggest, is that native practical intelligence by which men test the truth of knowledge and the morality and prudence of action. I suppose that we can use it to describe not only this faculty of testing, but the product of thinking; at least common usage seems to indicate that we may.

Now, this native intelligence is, I further suggest, an hereditary factor in a man; a factor raised or lowered by the activity or sluggishness of the thyroid or pituitary glands, or both of them, or by some other gland. Individuals with their glands adjusted in a certain way have commonsense or the faculty for testing, etc; those with their glands ill-adjusted have a lack of it. No census could ever reveal how many people have this faculty for prudent action, so there is never likely to be any way of determining whether any group of people, or any nation, will act with commonsense in any emergency, or in its legislative halls. This conclusion if sound is disturbing, but it explains a lot of things.

R.S. Maynard, ‘What is Commonsense’ (1934)

The word commonsense is, I fear, a bête noire of philosophers, partly because it is used and quoted to defy their theories, and partly because it is very difficult to find any clear or precise meaning in its usage. I do not mean by it what may be called horse-sense, nor is it to be confined to sense knowledge, still less to public opinion. The word is chosen as convenient to express and cover certain activities of the mind and their content, which can, I think, legitimately be put under one category. By sense is understood what comes by way of experience. Experience, however, is also a vague word, and so I mean by it and sense what can be classed under perception, direct knowledge and judgement; all, in fact, that is opposed to speculation or reflective thought. I should add that in the use of these terms so far, no particular theory is insinuated; they are words of everyday use, and are intended to be taken according to that use.

The adjective “common” limits the kind of “knowledge” contained under “sense”, and again it is useful as excluding the ephemeral the conventional, the technical, and the trivial. There is a common stock of knowledge which all men and women use in the ordinary concerns of life gained from the primitive and inevitable experiences which every human being must undergo. This common experience is found in language, and used in literature and conversation, and presupposed and added to in the conduct of art and commerce. Were there no such commonwealth of meanings, language could never have become the easy means of communication that it is, and we should be perpetually in a worse plight than the builders of the Tower of Babel. When we are puzzled, as to-day, by certain modern writers of a new prose or Futuristic art, the cause is a conflict of a new set of meanings created by a theory with the old and established, and the latter will win the day unless the new can rid itself of the esoteric and show itself a legitimate development of what is sound in tradition.

M. C. D’arcy, ‘The Claims of Commonsense’ (1927)

The tension between truth and untruth in Heidegger (SZ period)

Obviousness is a special case of common sense perverting disclosive character and yet it simulates real truth through its certainty and clarity; herein lies Heidegger’s reason for doubting obviousness.

Being-certain is essential to Dasein; it is the reason why we orient ourselves to truth, for truth too is about being certain. So how do we have two senses of truth – the unconcealed and the obvious? And how do these interrelate, beyond sharing the appearance of the key characteristics of certainty and clarity?

Certainty is based on common sense. But what is obvious, i.e. based on common sense, perverts the real truth because it holds something up as open when the thing is still concealed. The consequences of this ‘improper certainty’ are two fold: both the being of that about which Dasein is certain, and Dasein’s own being, are covered up.

In contrast, proper certainty is based on convictions. Conviction in Heidegger’s sense is a holding of oneself in truth or maintaining of Dasein in truth. We comport ourselves to the unconcealment of real truth.

Das Man uses Dasein as a disguise. Thus, when we ask ‘who speaks out in certainty’, the They answers through the mouth of Dasein. This is further evidence of the improper certainty of obviousness, the perversion of unconcealment to mere appearance, or semblance of a coming into the light. In Heidegger’s words, a disguise is “something which has been disclosed [which] is still visible, but as a semblance”.

Only in the mode of genuine authenticity can Dasein fully lay claim to being in the truth, holding oneself in the truth. This is because genuine authenticity renders everything transparent, so Dasein cannot be misled. That is not to say that the threats to truth posed by das Man are warded off, but Dasein now has the power to combat them, not only for itself but also for others as ‘conscience’.

Genuine inauthenticity, on the other hand, is characterised by an indifference towards the substance of truth. Inauthentic Dasein is just ‘going through the motions’, putting on a display of being truth seeking, but not doing it for itself. Other adjectives relevant to this mode of being might be misappropriation and disownment.

When we cash out ‘genuineness’, we are faced with four types of character in two modes of being. Genuineness is appropriation, a concern with truth, and can be divided into proper and improper modes of being. The proper mode is that of the philosopher, whilst the improper mode is the philodoxer. Non-genuineness is misappropriation, unconcern with truth, and can be further divided into non-genuine proper and non-genuine improper. Again, the former is the mode of the pseudo-philosopher whilst the latter is the mde of the pseudo-philodoxer. Finally, genuineness is completed by authenticity, whilst non-genuineness is completed by inauthenticity, in the manner described above.

The philodoxer and the pseudo-philosopher are united by their orientation toward the public realm, although they inhabit two sides of genuineness. The philodoxer fails to make distinctions and as such is often prone to being misled by the pseudo-philosopher, who simulates truth claims by putting on the appearance of authenticity. Meanwhile, the pseudo-philodoxer simulates allegiance to untruth through the disguise of das Man. The philosopher might be said to be addressing his claims to the pseudo-philodoxer for this reason, as the latter has a chance at being liberated since he was once oriented toward truth. The relation between the philosopher and pseudo-philodoxer is also characterised by absence – both are excluded from the public realm, neither can converge on common ground, and both therefore exist in solitariness.

Having got to grips with the four possible modes of being oriented toward truth, we can ask ourselves where obviousness might fit in. As we have said, truth is in the mode of genuine authenticity, because this is the only mode devoid of semblance. It is the philosopher alone who can lay claim to truths.

Obviousness, linked to common sense, would fit within the public realm. It cannot be said to be oriented toward truth because it obstructs truth, as we have seen above. Thus, obviousness gives rise to pseudo-truths. But it nonetheless shares a structural likeness with genuine inauthenticity, the mode of the philodoxer. One explanation for the undecideability of obviousness is that it reveals a tension in Dasein between being in truth and untruth simultaneously. Perhaps it is the fate of Dasein that this tension cannot be adequately resolved.

So what do we do? Hopefully this analysis has shown us that, whilst we can be certain in a pragmatic sense – it helps us to get on in the everyday course of our existence in the world particularly in our interactions with others – it is unwise to use that certainty to buttress a more essential view of truth itself.

This article was useful in analysing obviousness within Heidegger’s earlier thought.

Some thoughts on the idea of a truth commission

Even a cursory glance across the history of the twentieth century will reveal plentiful transitional periods precipitated by regime change. The struggle against apartheid in South Africa, the nationalist Serbian rule under Milosovic and, of course, the fall of German National Socialism: all of these represent regime changes that seem to demand an answer from the newly emerging democratic nation state to the question: should we forget or remember?

Transitional periods face many systematic challenges, but perhaps the most essential question is whether a nation can really face the present reality and future possibilities without confronting the past, however painful that process may be? On the other hand, what are the benefits of turning over the past? Or, more importantly, who are we trying to benefit?

The sense of delivering justice to those who were victimised is what constitutes the justification for bodies like a truth commission. The form that justice takes, however, is likely to far from conventional. In the cases of war crimes, genocides, mass rape and so on, criminal justice is deemed to be inappropriate or insufficient. Such is the gravity of the crime, that the parameters of justification must be enlarged from our everyday criminal proceedings, to capture additional senses: the political, compensatory, restorative, and transformative.

The entity of the truth commission itself has a specific set up. First, it is focused on the past. Second, instead of documenting individual cases, it aims to document the greatest number of human rights violations possible. Third, it is an extraordinary body, existing for a limited period of time and with the expectation that the final report submitted constitutes the closing of that particular body. Finally, it would appear to have a certain amount of authority, nonetheless this is granted by the political body that establishes it.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that there is no guarantee that facing up to the past ensures future stability in the emerging democracy. On the other hand, there is a stronger sense that best way a nation has a shot at moving forward is by creating a whole new moral foundation for the community. Regimes pervert a sense of right and wrong by appealing to their own ethical framework. Thus, it isn’t as simple, post regime change, as replacing the governing elites and instituting a new political framework, since the ethics of the nation – people’s hearts and minds – have become distorted. Hence the requirement for a new moral foundation.

It is not the role of the truth commission to come up with a new set of moral standards, by measuring what has passed before against a vision of the newly democratic nation in question. Rather, the commission facilitates a population’s ability to reflect, introspect, and ultimately come to terms with history rather than burying it deep down. In effect, the truth commission enables a mastering of history. Establishing the truths about a state’s past wrongs can help lay the foundations for the new order, but it is not up to the commission to say what that new order is.

Might a truth commission be bound to deliver an ‘official’ truth? How do we know for sure that it won’t be influenced by strategic interventions on the part of the new political order? In a sense, we can’t say with certainty that this won’t happen. Aside from the threat of strategic intervention, these are are real people and as such bring a set of real lived experiences to the table. It wouldn’t be possible to segregate those experiences, to look at the facts of the matter, because the process and the end result would be meaningless to practice. No, better to accept the limitations that bound the commission and the people who make it up, than to seek a purely objective insight into historical matters.

In sum, the objective of a truth commission is not to produce a new set of moral standards, but, in calling attention to the conditions in which violence etc can arise, to try to make sure  that such events can’t happen again.