The University, State, and Market: The Political Economy of Globalization in the Americas
reviewed by Philip G. Altbach - June 07, 2006
Title: The University, State, and Market: The Political Economy of Globalization in the Americas
Author(s): Robert A. Rhoads and Carlos Alberto Torres (Eds.)
Publisher: Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA
ISBN: 0804751692, Pages: 359, Year: 2006
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Seeking to analyze globalization in its various manifestations is not an easy task, particularly when definitions are not very clear and many of the participants in the discussion seem to be operating with differing assumptions. Nonetheless, Robert A. Rhoads and Carlos Alberto Torres have brought together a group of thoughtful analysts who write from a broadly critical stance on the impact of globalization on higher education in the Americas.
The strength of the book is in the analytic chapters that focus on specific aspects of higher education in the Americas. The authors grapple with interesting cases of how higher education is responding both to domestic circumstances and broader international and global trends. Sheila Slaughter and Gary Rhoades discuss how privatization of public higher education is affecting research universities in the United States. They convincingly argue that the lack of public support for higher education and the increasingly close links between corporations and universities have skewed research priorities, reshaped definitions of intellectual property, and reoriented faculty work. They do not point out that the realities of research universities may not affect the less selective teaching-oriented institutions that constitute the large majority of American academiaalthough all sectors are directly affected by the downturns in state funding.
Attilo Boron writes on the need to reform the direction of Latin American higher education, arguing that mass higher education, declines in quality, and privatization, among other forces, have led to a crisis. He seems to argue that the introduction of fees and the inordinate growth of private higher education, linking academic majors with the whims of the market, academic decentralization, and the introduction of accountability and evaluation have changed the traditional focus of Latin American higher education in negative ways. He points out that the University of California (presumably the system) has a budget of $7 billion, while the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) has a $1.4 billion budget with approximately the same number of students. He does not make it clear if these amounts include all sources of income (California charges tuition and obtains significant funds competitively for research while UNAM remains free). UNAMs enrollments also include a large number of students in its affiliated secondary schools. The comparison, while interesting, is not very relevant.
Robert Rhoads, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Andrea Brewster also argue that globalization is negatively affecting the top public universities in Argentina and Mexico, the University of Buenos Aires, and UNAM, pointing out that inadequate budgets, combined with increased enrollments, have affected the roles of faculty, academic quality, and the like. They also seem to feel that the traditional provision of free higher education in these universities is both possible and desirable. Many have argued that, in an age of mass higher education, free higher education is no longer practicalit is also argued that such free tuition inappropriately subsidizes the rich, who attend the great public universities in Latin America in large numbers, while being able to afford to pay at least part of the cost of their education.
Several additional chapters analyze aspects of higher education elsewhere in the hemisphere. Estela Bensimon and Imanol Odorika critically examine Mexicos bifurcated faculty reward system in which professors receive payment from the state and their own institutions for specific job performanceespecially research productivity. They argue that this payment system introduces inequalities, favors research as opposed to teaching, and requires considerable bureaucracy. They do not note that the system at least provides some accountability and manages to retain some productive professors who otherwise might leave the profession or the country. Robert Rhoads and Gary Rhoades analyze graduate student unionization in the United Statesa peripheral, although interesting phenomenon from the perspective of this book.
Some important topics are largely missing. For example, there is not much discussion in the book of internationalization among academic institutions, and hardly any reference to the highly controversial GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) that is part of the current World Trade Organization negotiations. GATS, when (or if) adopted into the WTO, will have a significant impact on higher education, particularly in developing countries. Countries signing on to GATS will be required to open their higher education markets to institutions from abroad, and will otherwise be affected by treaty obligations. Flows of students across borders, the international market for academic talent, the advent of twinning arrangements among universities in different countries, and the franchising of academic programs (some refer to this as McDonaldization) is barely discussed.
The book is somewhat less effective in discussing the theoretical aspects of globalization and higher education. The editors chose to include a reprinted essay by Noam Chomsky entitled, A World Without War. It is vintage Chomsky, but it is not entirely clear how it is relevant to an analysis of higher education. There are a variety of definitions and approaches to globalizationwith and without specific reference to higher education. Authors discuss Fordist and post-Fordist realitiespresumably referring to the industrial and post-industrial world. There is some discussion of what some analysts see as the declining role of the state in higher education in the era of privatization, and how this may affect global higher education trends. Some kinds of globalization may, according to some of the authors, be a good thingglobalization from below. While other kindsneoliberal globalization from above, for exampledeserve to be opposed. As the books editors say on p 343: Challenging, defying, and demystifying this technocratic approach to social sciences, and particularly economics, is a most important generative theme of contemporary struggles.
For this reviewer at least, the detailed analysis provided in the substantive chapters in this book provide the most useful insights into how the realities of contemporary higher education in the Americas are affected by such global trends as the impact of mass enrollments, the changing role of the state, the rise of the private sector, and other related forces.