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Cultural Impact on Conflict Management in Higher Education

reviewed by Rubén O. Martínez - July 18, 2019

coverTitle: Cultural Impact on Conflict Management in Higher Education
Author(s): Nancy T. Watson, Lei Xie, & Matthew J. Etchells (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: B07GFR64RP, Pages: 204, Year: 2018
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In this edited volume, the authors explore conflict management in higher education in a wide variety of countries. The volume consists of ten chapters, an introduction, eight content chapters, and a conclusion, most written by scholars from across the globe. As a whole, the chapters discuss the changing contexts and features of higher education that engender conflicts. Depending on the context, these conflicts cut differently across faculty, administrators, and students. Most authors call for conflict management training and, in some cases, for required courses for students.

The dimensions of the changing contexts depend on the specific country, but tend to include increasing enrollments, increasing diversity among students (including generational differences), market-based reforms, academic corruption, and the impact of technology on communications and teaching approaches. A principal goal of the editors and authors is to provide general guidelines for managing conflict in its various manifestations in higher education. An important dimension of the skills for managing conflict is understanding the different ways individuals approach conflict depending on their national culture. This requires a high degree of multicultural competence on the part of persons having to address conflict in their units. Each chapter provides models or approaches for conflict management, with most emphasizing dialogue and collaboration as the starting point where the organizational infrastructure is lacking.

In Chapter One, the editors provide a definition of conflict as a struggle between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, values, and goals (p. 2) as well as analytical models for engaging and managing conflict. That description is followed by an overview of conflict management intervention approaches that range from modeling to judging based on procedures and policies.

In Chapter Two, the authors focus on conflict management in public universities in Kenya.  Following an overview of Kenyas public higher education system, the focus turns to student-related conflicts, then to faculty conflicts and administrator-related conflicts. It concludes with a description of conflict resolution practices. In this case, conflicts are often induced by broader political and economic factors, especially intrusions by Kenyas government.

Chapter Three focuses on the massification, bureaucratization, and corporatization of Chinas institutions of higher education. These changes induce conflicts, especially between students and faculty, with institutions investing in conflict management programs with a focus on genuine dialogue between conflicting parties.

Higher education in the United Kingdom is the focus of Chapter Four, which highlights a series of major student protests against tuition fee increases. These led to political losses by Liberal Democrats and the passage of the Higher Education and Research Act, which, among other things, limits government intrusion in the governance of universities and provides safeguards for academic freedom. Much of the conflict seems to have been induced by the austerity measures imposed by promoters of neoliberalism.

Chapter Five focuses on higher education in Egypt and Lebanon. In Egypt, the government subsidized graduate student education, leading to increased enrollment, but then was unable to provide employment, resulting in widespread feelings of injustice. This has led to increased protests and strikes. In Lebanon, which has one of the oldest higher education systems in the Arab world, higher education is managed by a single government entity. Overall, this entity fails to provide a clear vision, strategies, and policies for the education sector (p. 85). This leads to conflicts in the areas of research, faculty promotion and tenure, and curriculum and instruction, especially with regard to online instruction.

The focus of Chapter Six is on higher education in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Canadas institutions of higher education have experienced major growth in the area of internationalization. Cultures of inclusion have mitigated the level of conflict, although conflicts have arisen in relation to sexual violence and mental health issues. Mexico experiences challenges in terms of budgets, limited access to technology, and inflexible and outdated curricula. A collectivist culture tends to result in accommodation rather than intentional change. With regard to the U.S., the authors focus on the multiplicity of generations of students enrolled in institutions of higher education. Recommendations are made for addressing conflicts arising from generational differences.

Chapter Seven describes higher education in South America, which differs according to national context. While funding for higher education has been increasing in some countries, there is great disparity across them. They also differ in terms of population literacy, institutional stability and diversity, orientation, research emphasis, and disproportionality. Features contributing to conflict in these countries include remuneration, power differences between faculty and administrators, limited research resources, heavy teaching loads, and teaching evaluation systems. Collaborative conflict resolution models are recommended.

Chapter Eight addresses higher education issues at institutions in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. In India, differential access across population segments is a major source of conflict at institutions of higher education already distressed by problems of underfunding, political intrusion, and academic corruption. Its system of positive discrimination for expanding access to population segments with limited access engenders conflict as well. Political and economic uncertainties plague those in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Sri Lanka, it seems, has the most developed conflict management process based on de-escalation, containment, and resolution.

Taiwan has a highly developed system of higher education as described in Chapter Nine. The traditional emphasis of Confucian values, however, is increasingly colliding with demands for freedom and rights. An admissions system designed to promote diversity provides notices in late spring and creates problems for students who do not get accepted in the first round of examinations. Sources of conflict include diversity among students and faculty in the classroom, differences between indicators and values in performance systems, differences in research and teaching emphases, heavy teaching loads for English-speaking faculty due to shortages, and student-teacher evaluations.

Overall, the volume provides an excellent overview of higher education in different countries, especially for readers who are not familiar with the differences in higher education systems across countries, and adds to the small but growing body of literature in comparative higher education. The editors provide a useful summary of the context chapters, highlighting the key points made by the respective authors. Readers are able to see similarities and differences across different national contexts, however whether or not conflict management in higher education can address conflicts that stem from the structural features of a given society is highly questionable.

In addition, while all the chapters are grounded in the premise that conflict is a ubiquitous feature of higher education, few of the authors provide empirical evidence to support their claim that this problem is getting worse. Further, the definitions of conflict are so broad that it is not clear if minor disagreements are included. Finally, and unfortunately, the editing process let many grammatical problems slip by, resulting in misspellings and lack of clarity in many instances.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 18, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22977, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 10:48:35 PM

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About the Author
  • Rubén Martínez
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    RUBÉN MARTÍNEZ is is professor of sociology and director of the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University. His research interests include institutional and societal change, neoliberalism and Latinos, education and ethnic minorities, diversity leadership in higher education, youth development, Latino entrepreneurship, and environmental justice issues. Dr. Martínez is the editor of the Latinos in the United States book series with the Michigan State University Press. He has several published books and recently co-edited a volume titled Occupational Health Disparities among Racial and Ethnic Minorities: Formulating Research Needs and Directions and a special issue of Diálogo on Latina/os in the Midwest. He is currently working on a special issue of Social Justice focusing on Neoliberalism and Public Higher Education.
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