Global higher education
Equity and epistemic concerns with
distribution and flows of intellectual capital
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
Partnerships have become a more defining feature of higher education. Their strategic significance
has been increasing especially since the 1990s. As Van Ginkel (1996) observes, networking has
been one of the key words in higher education and increasingly networks are of an international
rather than a national character. They exist in many forms, some small, others large; some local
and internal, others global and transnational; some extractive and exploitative, others mutual and
participative; some temporary and project based, others more long term and programme based.
A distinguishing feature across all these partnership forms is the distribution and flow of
human and knowledge capital, which can be justified on six main grounds. First, is the opportunity they create for participating institutions and individuals to lock into global knowledge
processes which often elude single actors working in isolation. Second, is the potential to bring
both local and distant perspectives in the co-production of new knowledge essential for interrogating issues of common concern. Third, is the potential they create to enhance the international capital of universities, especially in the current environment where being international
has become the stock in trade of the contemporary university. Fourth, the investments required
these days in top research and education institutions can only be made by sharing resources.
Fifth, national rules and regulations in several cases require foreign institutions to partner with
local universities. And, sixth, beyond the assumption of increasing the stock of knowledge, there
is, among partnering entities, the hope of narrowing knowledge gaps and differentials among
institutions and world regions, but especially between the global North and South.
This chapter describes the strategic role of international partnerships in higher education
in the context of globalisation and internationalisation, and argues that partnerships between
unequal partners tend to exacerbate inequalities through processes that strengthen the already
strong, while weakening the already weak (see the Matthew effect on http://en.wikipedia.org/
The chapter begins with a conceptual discussion of seven key constructs that relate to the
notion of partnerships. It then utilises Stevens et al.â€™s (2008) four-metaphor framework to illuminate the role of partnerships as: (1) sieves, for sorting and stratifying society; (2) incubators for
the development of competent human capital and social actors; (3) temples for the legitimation
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
of official knowledge; and (4) hubs for connecting up knowledge and those who generate it in
pursuit of new forms of knowledge. Using both theoretical and empirical evidence, the chapter
ends with a critical discussion of the value of Northâ€“South partnerships.
The seven key conceptual ideas that are central to this chapter are briefly explored and defined
in this section.
Internationalisation and globalisation
Universities have always been in some form international, either in relation to the concept of
universal knowledge and research that is their stock in trade or in the movement of students
and scholars across institutions. Altbach (1998: 347) identifies the university as the one institution that has always been global while Kerr (1994) states that they are essentially international
institutions, although â€˜living, increasingly, in a world of nation-states that have designs on themâ€™
(p. 6). According to Scott (1998), though, we cannot call this notion of the university as an
international institution anything more than a myth or symbolic expression. Similarly, Neave
describes this idea as â€˜a pleasant legend untroubled by the slightest relevance, save to the romantically inclinedâ€™ (Neave, 1997: 1). These historical references to the university as an essentially
international institution ignore the fact that most universities originated in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries with a clear national orientation and function (de Wit, 2002: 3â€“18).
It is only in the twentieth century and in particular during and driven by the Cold War
period that higher education has become more international. In the 1980s, as de Wit and Merkx
the strengthening of the European Community and the rise of Japan as an economic world
power challenged US dominance, not only in the political and economic arenas but also in
research and teaching. In terms of internationalisation during this period, the international
dimension of higher education began to move from the incidental and individual into
organised activities, projects, and programmes, based on political rationales and driven
more by national governments than by higher education itself.
(de Wit and Merkx, 2012: 52â€“53)
In the 1990s, this process further evolves, as globalisation and the increasing importance of
knowledge in global economies continue to grow. Scott (1998), Altbach (2006), Van Vught
et al. (2002), Knight (2008), Maringe and Foskett (2010), Jones and de Wit (2012), and Varghese
(2013), among others, address this relationship between globalisation and internationalisation in
higher education. The broad interpretation of internationalisation under the impetus of globalisation, the shifting emphasis in rationales from social and political to economic, the move from
cooperation to competition, and the inclusion of new dimensions such as cross-border delivery
of higher education, have stimulated the emergence of different components, rationales and
perceptions, in an attempt to grasp better the different, sometimes even conflicting, dimensions
of internationalisation, as de Wit and Hunter (2015) observe.
The â€˜globalization of internationalizationâ€™, as it is called by Jones and de Wit (2012), is a
manifestation of the increasing importance of higher education in emerging and developing
countries. The sectors in these countries are shifting from a reactive and â€˜Westernâ€™ copied and
dominated system into a more proactive sector of public and private universities that challenge
Global higher education partnerships
â€˜Westernâ€™ dominance and its ways of internationalisation. According to de Wit and Hunter
(2015) two aspects are central in that process: increased regional and Southâ€“South cooperation,
and more attention to strategies that build on the social responsibility and civic engagement role
of higher education in these regions.1
The term is used here to describe any formal or informal working together by two or more higher
education entities in pursuit of common goals (Bullough and Kauchak, 2010). It recognises that
such relationships exist in multiple forms, including those that differ in size, in geographical
dispersion, in resource availability, and in prestige, power and influence. In higher education,
such partnerships exist among universities or departments therein; between universities and
schools such as those designed for initial teacher training; between government and universities,
such as those that have a responsibility for funding and quality assurance; between industry and
universities, such as those that facilitate work experience elements of university training; and,
between local and overseas universities, such as those that seek to pursue goals of philanthropic
organisations. While academic consortia are usually â€˜single missionâ€™, institutional partnerships
tend to have a â€˜general framework objectiveâ€™, as noted by Neave (1992: 65). Beerkens (2001)
mentions size, scope, nature of integration and intensity as critical dimensions of international
inter-organisational arrangements in higher education.
International networks and partnerships generally cover a range of activities (Stockley and de
Wit, 2011). However, Stockley and de Wit (2011) identify important dichotomies and issues
associated with partnerships. These include:
1 Exclusiveness/elitism versus inclusiveness in partnerships
2 Diversity versus harmonisation
3 Institutional versus academic/disciplinary networking
4 Branding of alliances versus branding of institutions
5 Small versus big alliances.
These dichotomies provide nodal points for exploring both the nature and purposes of partnerships on one hand and the impact such formations have in the context of higher education on
the other hand.
This chapter looks primarily at partnerships among universities and especially between
universities that are geographically dispersed in the global North and South. This focus is
prompted by two reasons. First, such partnerships are seen as the most prestigious (Aronowitz,
2000; Tienda, 2002; Frank and Gabler, 2006). And, second, they possess the greatest potential
to generate new forms of knowledge for partnering institutions and creating value in the
increasingly competitive higher education environment (Maringe and Foskett, 2010).
Global higher education partnerships
The term â€˜globalâ€™ is increasingly used in discourses in higher education to denote the interconnectedness and interdependence of the higher education systems, as well as a marker of quality
in that sector (Altbach, 2004). There is an increasing recognition that current problems have
multiple causes and therefore require a variety of perspectives and tools to understand and solve
them. Institutions that attain the status of â€˜globalâ€™ demonstrate a capacity to tackle such world problems through what some refer to as â€˜big science approachesâ€™ rather than small isolated projects.
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
For example, no one country can solve the challenges of global warming without the cooperation of the rest of the world. Equally, stemming human migration to the richer countries of the
North requires a concerted effort of both the sending and receiving countries. In this chapter,
we use the term â€˜global higher education partnershipsâ€™ to denote formal or informal working
arrangements between universities, especially those in the rich global North and those in the
poorer global South.
Originally coined by Stewart (1991), we use the term intellectual capital to describe not only
the human resources but also the knowledge, skills and attitudes that underscore the basic value
chain of universities. It is an institutional asset which includes all the informational sources an
organisation might have at its disposal that are used to drive profits, both tangible (monetary)
and intangible (prestige, status, power and influence). Talukdar (2008) and Marr (2004) view
intellectual capital as the sum total of the knowledge sources, both recorded and unrecorded,
which drive the organisationâ€™s profitability. Three elements are often identified as constituting
the notion of intellectual capital. These are:
v The human capital, comprising the skills and knowledge residing in the minds of
v Structural capital, as knowledge leveraged for employees through structures and processes
designed to support and enhance their intellectual work;
v Relational capital, as the relations the organisation has with other external organisations.
In general, in the context of higher education, the more a university invests in the best talent
within its reach, through employing the academic stars of the academy or through establishing
formal and informal contracts and links with the best brains in the world, the more it increases
the value of its human capital stock. The idea is to attract and keep the best talent available within
the institution. In terms of the structural capital, this is about creating an enabling environment
for employees to be productive such as in accessing research funding, publishing, and increasing
teaching staff to look after the ever increasing numbers of postgraduate students, especially
while freeing up time for others to pursue vigorously the research agenda of the institution. It
is also about creating the best facilities for employees to pursue the goals of the organisation. At
the same time, relational capital is the sum total of networks an institution creates with other
similarly prestigious institutions in pursuit of common goals. The more networks a university
has with institutions in the top echelons of the performance tables, the stronger its relational
capital and so too its intellectual capital.
Distribution and flows of intellectual capital
Essentially, intellectual capital flows take place among the three elements discussed in the preceding section: human, structural, and relational (Solitander, 2006). For example, the human
capital generally stimulate the improvement of structural capital. In turn, when the stock of
structural capital increases, it helps to create a more committed and stable human capital with
greater loyalty and attachment to the organisation, who in turn will increase productivity. The
three elements are thus mutually reinforcing and any weakness in one will have a ripple effect
on the others with negative consequences. The internal flows within the organisation are much
easier, and less risky, to manage. The external flows, on the other hand, to which this paper is
Global higher education partnerships
centrally concerned, are more complex and riskier to manage for individual institutions. Four
key risks generally characterise the nature of external flows of intellectual capital:
v Divergent institutional ethos and cultures. For example, an institution that places emphasis on
research over teaching is unlikely to have much in common with those whose priorities are
v Knowledge leakages between entities. A huge risk any university takes is that of sharing its
secrets with another organisation. This is highly important in the increasingly competitive
environment. If a university wants to achieve a top-ten status on the performance table, it
has to displace other universities already in that circle and this can become a unscrupulous
exercise of enhancing institutional capacity at all costs. Head hunting, for example, has
become an acceptable way of poaching talent from other institutions, while salary adjustments and perks are now routinely used to lure talent from other institutions. When a
university enters into partnership with another, the chances that this kind of institutional
intelligence leaks across institutional boundaries increases.
v Systemic incompatibilities. These represent barriers at the system level, reflecting different
policy orientations, language, communication and even governance differentials between
the institutions. For example, some institutions insist that any research that is undertaken
internally should be authorised through the ethical processes of the institution. This often
requires that project leaders apply for ethics approval twice before any data collection can
take place. On the other hand, others only require the ethical approval of the partnering
institution to be in place.
v Exposure of tacit knowledge. Such knowledge is embedded within institutional work processes,
which belong to what may be called the private intellectual property of an organisation.
However, once partners are brought in, they become privy to such tacit knowledge and
this can potentially erode the competitive advantage of the host institution.
Equity and epistemic concerns
The term equity denotes a longstanding concern in higher education regarding the extent to
which the distribution of opportunities to participate at this level of education is the same for all.
Higher education has a long history of being a â€˜meritocratic goodâ€™, available and useful for a
select privileged few. Its value for the majority in society has only been recently demonstrated.
For example, people with higher educational credentials are more likely to live healthier lives,
choose healthier lifestyle options, participate in democratic elections, prefer peaceful means for
resolving conflict, be more patient with governments, and send their own children to university later on life (Bowen and Bok, 1998; Hunter and Bowman, 1996; Kingston et al., 2003).
However, study after study (see for example, Gerber and Cheung, 2008) in different parts of the
world show that statistics for participation, performance, outcomes, wastage, dropping out and
retention are significantly correlated with studentsâ€™ backgrounds, especially their socio-economic
status. Students from more privileged backgrounds have higher rates of participation, perform
better, obtain better quality degrees, and have lower rates of dropping out and non-completion
of study than those from disadvantaged communities. Similarly, those universities in the higher
echelons of global performance have better quality staff, larger financial budgets, and recruit students from wealthy families who regularly give donations and gifts to the universities (Maringe
and Foskett, 2010). They also attract staff from other institutions and keep those they attract for
longer periods of time. Thus, the question becomes, do partnerships solve these problems or
do they contribute to the reproduction and perpetuation of inequality in higher education?
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
That inequality is both unfair and unjust goes without question, but what we really do not know
is how to correct it.
Epistemic concerns (Morrow, 2007) are closely linked to issues of equity and inequity. The
term, however, allows us to focus on the assumptions behind knowledge distribution within and
across partnership institutions. These concerns pertain to the relative distribution of the three
forms of intellectual capital in the partnering institutions and the extent to which the partnership
formation seeks to equalise these distributions.
The notion of Northâ€“South in the global context
The notion of Northâ€“South is inherently confusing and problematic (Martin and Wyness,
2013). It has multiple meanings, two of which are generally used. First, is the geographical
sense of the idea, depicting a divide between countries to the north and south of the equator.
Second, is the divide based on the spread of wealth across the nations of the world (Adam Smith,
1776). The North generally is said to be host to about two thirds of the entire worldâ€™s wealth,
whereas the South generally includes poor nations with a combined wealth value of a third of
the worldâ€™s wealth (Beals, 2013). Both views are problematic. For example, countries such as
New Zealand and Australia, despite being in the South, are, in terms of wealth very much akin
to their wealthy Northern partners. Similarly, many of the countries in Asia, including China,
and those in South America and even some on the African continent, such as Nigeria and South
Africa are effectively mid-income nations no longer seen as poor countries of the South, also
referred to as emerging economies. We tend to us the term Northâ€“South to describe countries
differentiated in terms of power, wealth, and especially in relation to previous history of colonial
occupation and domination. Those belonging to the South are often poor and tend to have a
previous history of colonial occupation.
In higher education, the notion of Northâ€“South is also relevant, but increasingly more confused and intertwined. More and more universities from the â€˜Northâ€™ are operating via distance
education, franchise operations and branch campuses in the â€˜Southâ€™. The internationalisation of
current higher education, the mobility of people, projects and programs in higher education is
becoming more global than ever and does not always reflect the traditional divide between the
North and the South, although this is not always acknowledged as such.
We now examine the role of higher education using sociological theory and, in particular,
examine how this illuminates issues of partnerships in HE.
The role and purpose of higher education: a sociological analysis
Higher education only recently came under serious academic analysis after World War Two.
Prior to that, higher education operated as a secret garden, with access to a select few, and enjoying the freedoms to select, teach and assess students the way they saw fit. They had internal governance structures and the academic project was the defining purpose of the academy. Everything
else was secondary and even of little consequence. But with the rise of liberalism, in order to
maximise profits in a world that was decidedly becoming market oriented, layers of bureaucracy
increased and thickened as the management and administrative function grew in importance.
With the blessing of the World Bank and the IMF, governments began to reduce their support
as higher education became mass oriented and as it was argued that the higher education experience provided more individual than public benefits. Consequently, in many countries, students
now have to pay for going to university, or at least acquire their degrees through student loans
and versions of the now popular â€˜learn now and pay later schemesâ€™ (Johnstone, 2006).
Global higher education partnerships
These developments in part necessitated a parallel growth of the management aspect of the
university. Various terms have been used to describe this parallel development, including the
corporatisation of higher education, its bureaucratisation, and the growth of managerialism.
Corporatisation places emphasis on issues of profitability and financial prudence, while bureaucratisation places its gaze on the hierarchies and layers of decision making. On the other hand,
managerialism speaks to the shifting power bases in the academy representing the demise of
academic power and the rise of the power of management, and the rise of state control.
Despite these emphases, the terms have overlapping meanings. Broadly these changes
have been a direct result of three developments in higher education. First, was the world
financial crisis that hit the globe towards the end of the 1990s into the early 2000s. Cutbacks
on expenditure were needed and higher education was seen both as a luxury and not as a
strong driver of economic development in relative terms, compared to primary education and
manufacturing for example. So it became a logical casualty in governmentsâ€™ financial cutback
processes. Second, universities were seen as largely wasteful organisations, both in terms of
human and financial resources at a time when they were expected to tighten their belts like
all other organisations in periods of economic downturn. Third, and even more importantly,
universities started turning to status and prestige as the ways to project and protect their
images in the economic downturn. League tables grew out of this. In business, Forbes 200
best companies, Forbes 100 richest people and the like, have become the authoritative indices
upon which others benchmark their successes. Similarly in higher education, universities
now get ranked on several indices and the top 100 universities have earned themselves the
title tag of â€˜global universitiesâ€™.
Universities, now more than ever, treat their students as customers who pay for the services
of the institution; sit in universitiesâ€™ top decision-making bodies in Senate and Council; have a
significant role in determining what they like to be taught and how they like to be assessed; and
whose voice cannot be ignored. Staff now have to undergo performance management processes
where failure to make the grade often means dismissal or, more leniently, early retirement.
Targets have become the norm, in terms of viable class sizes, research outputs and research funding
among others. This has added numerous layers of bureaucracy in universities where several
senior-level bureaucrats take home salaries two or three times more than that of the ordinary
This characterisation of higher education is only partial and can be developed more holistically in the context of some of the major theories which examine the role and purposes of
universities. We invoke the typology developed by Stevens et al. (2008) to illustrate four broad
metaphors which capture these purposes and roles of our universities.
Higher education as a sieve
The metaphor of higher education as a sieve speaks to the social stratification role of universities
and of education more broadly. The notion of social stratification has two strands â€“ enabling
and disabling â€“ resembling Max Weberâ€™s idea that education has a dual nature of both facilitating and constraining social mobility. The enabling element speaks to the role of education in
achieving social mobility, the ability to pass through the little holes of the sieve, as evidenced by
differentiated capacities of people to access good schools, opportunities for excelling and progression, and for acquiring good outcomes from their degree studies. Labaree (1997) and Meyer
(1986) speak of education as performing a meritocratic function. In this analogy, the sieve has
standard holes which only allow grains of a certain size to pass through (those who merit it
and are from privileged socio-economic groups, such as middle-class and upper-class children),
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
while the rest (mainly those from poorer and working-class backgrounds) remain at the top and
are often thrown away as chaff (allowed to drop out, fail, or not proceed). However, the chaff
is sometimes ground into smaller size (through, for example, repeating courses) taking longer to
be prepared for the opportunities that others had without having to go through the debilitating
process of rehabilitation. The disabling element of social stratification relates to the nature of the
obstacles that prevent access to opportunities which generate upward mobility. Higher education is culturally and socially built around the values of the middle and upper classes. Those
who come to it from the poorer and working-class backgrounds might not possess the cultural,
cognitive and social capital to facilitate success, persistence and progression. Statistics across
the world show that students who join higher education from disadvantaged socio-economic
backgrounds have lower success rates, higher non-completion rates, and lower progression rates
(Jencks, 1972: Karen, 2002; Roksa et al., 2007). Social justice and political imperatives have
driven nations to address this intractable problem, resulting in a whole raft of redress, corrective
and compensatory strategies, which have generally increased physical but not cultural access
Higher education as an incubator
An incubator generally adds value to the life of others by providing an environment which
nurtures and protects that life in ways that natural systems are not quite able to achieve and in
ways that enable the new lives to face the challenges of the world in a robust and competent
way. For example, placing eggs in an incubator ensures that all the eggs are kept under the
optimum conditions of temperature and humidity, thereby protecting the developing embryos
inside. Universities are assumed and expected to provide this kind of nurturing to those
participating in their programmes. The incubator metaphor thus deals with the university lifecycle experience of students from the time they consider applying, through to admission and
finally to graduation and to their role as alumni. This metaphor suggests that everyone shares
similar experiences across this experiential life cycle. Much educational research challenges
the assumption of homogeneity of the experience of university students across the life cycle.
Research on choice and decision-making in higher education (see for example Ball et al.,
1998; Brooks, 2003; Hodkinson and Sparkes 1997; Foskett et al., 2004; Payne, 1998) suggests
that the choices students make can be rational or irrational as well as informed or uninformed;
and they can be facilitated or constrained by structural, informational, cultural, social, political,
economic factors (Gambetta, 1998). In other words, aspiring students experience the process
of choice and decision making in widely different ways. Research on the life-cycle experience
of universities has also provided significant findings in this area. Seminal work in this area has
been done by Tinto (1997) and Crosling et al. (2009), consistently showing that variations
in student persistence, retention, dropping out and performance in university assessments are
strongly linked to socio-economic background factors and to the social and cultural capital
students bring to their studies at university. The incubator thus, apart from providing a uniform environment for all, fails to provide uniform experiences for everyone and exerts variable impact on students from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Most recent
research on university experience identifies different types of spaces students occupy during
their time at university, and shows how these spaces are both available and unavailable to some
depending on their cultural, social and economic capital (Ndofirepi, 2015). This research
supports the Bourdieuian views on the ways in which college peer cultures may reproduce
social inequalities and how this stands in sharp contrast to how the field of higher education
approaches student experience generally.
Global higher education partnerships
Higher education as a temple
The temple is a place of worship: sacred and sacrosanct, visited by those who have faith in its
promise of an everlasting life and unquestioned in its judgement and decisions. The role of
higher education as a legitimator of knowledge has a long tradition in the field of education
and the sociology of education. Talcot Parsons noted that the role of higher education was to
preserve, promote, and inculcate the modern cognitive complex universalistic mode of thinking
(in Stevens et al., 2008: 8). This fiduciary role is what provides for its fundamental legitimacy
in society. Teaching, research and scholarship is fundamentally about preserving, promoting and
developing new forms of knowledge. Higher education preserves through reproducing ideas;
promotes through reprocessing old ideas into new insights and finding channels for disseminating
them; and inculcates through teaching to the next generation of scholars. Most company CEOs
tend to have an MBA or higher degree acquired from universities. That way, universities play a
gate-keeping role and in a sense validate the kind of knowledge required by those who run some
high profile organisations. Similarly, head teachers and school principals gain access to those positions first and foremost because they have a university qualification which has prepared them for
that role. Apart from this legitimating role, Meyer (1977, cited in Stevens et al., 2008) argues that:
In this approach formal education not only certifies social capacities, it produces a distinctive
kind of social actor: the legally and normatively autonomous, rights-bearing, rationally cognizant citizen of Enlightenment modernity. Because this production process entails the formal
organisation of knowledge into curriculum, it also defines what counts as legitimate knowledge.
So, universities enjoy the privilege of educating some of the most elite citizens with knowledge
that is highly valued by society. This makes universities the â€˜high priestsâ€™ of society (cf. how
Durkheim saw education as serving a moral function). In what ways does such a powerful
knowledge-legitimating institution ensure that it provides knowledge forms which are of equal
worth and which lead to equal rewards in the workplace?
This question relates to what we described above in terms of higher education being a public
good and playing a role in social cohesion and civic engagement. Terms increasingly used in this
context are global citizenship and global engagement, where the commodity-driven role of HE
is more related to terms like global professionals, global competency and competition for the
brightest. The final document of the UNESCO World Conference in Paris, 2009, pays a lot of
attention to the role of partnerships in social cohesion. The European Commission (2013) in its
important document on â€˜European Higher Education in the Worldâ€™ suggests that the North is
still struggling with equity, self interest, and social responsibility in partnering with the South.
Higher education as hubs
Hubs basically do three things. They (1) act as a focal point for other significant societal organisation, (2) generate, and (3) disseminate. That is precisely what partnerships are meant to do as
well: generate knowledge relevant for the solution of mutually identified challenges and use this
knowledge to solve the problems. Once that happens, the partnerships become a source of new
understanding that can be shared by others in the academy. But partnerships are not neutral in
any sense. They are highly selective by nature, in the same way people just do not befriend any
one they come across. It is because of this selectivity that partnerships may serve to reproduce
inequalities. For example, there is evidence that universities select partners who are like them.
However, sometimes they select partners in lower echelons of the university strata ostensibly
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
for philanthropic reasons but chiefly for exploitative reasons. There are many â€˜Africanâ€™ theorists,
for example, who have never been to Africa and yet they provide a world view of the continent
that impacts significantly on how Africa is understood and conceptualised. Similarly, universities
in the North have been accused of drawing people from the South to take part in programmes
that further the interests of the North. Africa is generally presented as a needy continent and
not one with assets upon which its strengths can be developed and grown. The continent is seen
as one that needs to be fixed, with Western money so that the Western ideology finds space to
bed in for the next level of exploitation. So yes, universities are hubs, and partnerships illustrate
this role quite well. But are they complicit in furthering the empire dreams of a neo-colonialist
agenda of the powerful nations of the North? In what ways are these partners creating equality
and not re-establishing the status quo of inequality that has hitherto served the highly extractive
relationships that characterise North and South partnerships?
Reflections on empirical studies
Research undertaken to determine how participants in global North and South partnerships
perceive of the value of working together and ways in which partnerships reproduce inequity
(Maringe, 2015) shows the following:
v While partners from both the North and South agree that the potential to generate new
knowledge systems is the single most important value of working together, they also agree that
the value generated is not evenly distributed. The knowledge outlets for many partnership
formations tend to be located in the North and authorship arrangements frequently tend to
favour the Northern partners.
v In a rapidly globalising world where institutional performance, measured through university league tables has become an integral component of the culture of modern universities,
the importance of partnerships is widely recognised as a reputational value-adding process.
There is a prevailing belief that both institutional and individual reputations are impacted
positively through partnership working. However, the distribution of such value is seen to
be heavily in favour of the Northern partners rather than the Southern partners.
v Because of the way decisions are made and most importantly the funding arrangements
which support such partnerships, there seems to be a sense especially by the partners from
the South that partnerships could be seen as opportunities for rubber stamping the hegemony of the West, which exerts its authority using Western knowledge and discourses,
money and financial incentives to export solutions to an unsuspecting global South.
v There can be no doubt that partnership projects have layers of leadership and leadership
enactment. It looks as if the bulk of leadership enactment for the Southern partners is more
concentrated at the operational levels while the Northern partners offer more strategic and
knowledge-based leadership. The knowledge frameworks that support the partnership seem
to be dominated by Western or global North knowledge models which in this case appear
to have a pervasive influence both in terms of the content and directions of change moulding the partnership project.
v Partnerships involving multiple national formations tend to be compromised issues of a cultural
and linguistic nature. Southern partners tend to come in to these formations with assumptions
of linguistic incompetence both in terms of their expressive and communicative competence
and also their ability to make sense of linguistic registers used by their Northern counterparts.
The capacity for collaborative knowledge creation is obviously hampered by the incompatibility of cultures, language and linguistic registers of participants in Northâ€“South partnerships.
Global higher education partnerships
Discussion and conclusions
Partnerships and a new transnational intellectual stratification
In a globalising higher education environment, the national-value-creation role of universities, while
remaining an important aspect, is becoming secondary to the more important internationalvalue-creation role. The global terrains are, however, congested and provide uneven playing
fields. Yet that seems the only space worth occupying for the global university. The congestion
creates fierce competition for resources and talent. Those that survive the competition and thrive
tend to engage in the following:
v They aggressively recruit top talent from around the world, offering lucrative and sometimes outrageously competitive packages to those deemed to bring maximum value to the
new host institutions. The net impact of this is the strengthening of the already powerful
institutions and the weakening of the often weaker ones.
v They are scrupulously selective about whom they partner with, often identifying those that
are similar to them, especially in terms of prestige and position. This creates a power concentration and dilution in the global academy, which promotes and entrenches stratification
along the contours of intellectual talent distribution.
v They make or greatly influence the rules of engagement in which the hegemonies that
characterise the powerful dominate those of the less powerful. In Northâ€“South partnerships, this is achieved in two main ways. First, the intentions of the donor communities
have to be met before partnership processes take effect. Second, the universities of the
North are required to take effective leadership and accountability of the partnership arrangement. This maintains a â€˜vertical rather than a horizontal relationship between partners which
accentuate the contours of authority, constraint, imposition and power imbalancesâ€™
(President Diouf quoted in Boak and Ndaruhutse, 2011: 24).
v There is often much less that is done to strengthen the Southâ€“South partnerships beyond the
rhetoric of intention. If anything, the tendency is that individuals from the South often end
up studying or working in the universities of the North, increasing the stratification between
the universities of the global North and South. Writing about the impact of an Irishâ€“Southern
African partnership on the quality of Teacher Education in Lesotho, Oliphant (2013) wrote:
â€˜the partnerships did not quite result in the development of institution-to-institution long
term sustainable partnerships. Nor did it leave a legacy of ongoing professional partnerships
among the individual teacher educatorsâ€™ (quoted in McCloskey, 2013: 135).
Nevertheless, there is an inclination by the global South universities to accept this inequity
and adapt to that for short-term interest, in particular economic (institutional and personal)
purposes. Both in Africa and Latin America, there is still a strong inclination to look for
the North instead of looking for intra-regional partnership and/or partnerships between the
Partnerships and transnational intellectual incubator role
Partnerships play the role of intellectual incubation in a number of ways.
v They bring groups of intellectuals from different universities and other knowledge concentration spaces to grapple with issues of common concern. However, as we have seen in the
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
case study reported here, the determination of what is important is often made by the
financers and the universities in the North making the matter of â€˜common concernâ€™ a
rhetorical intention which does not quite materialise in practice. Ishengoma (2011) on
partnerships in Tanzanian higher education and Samoff (2004) on external support to
higher education in Africa, concur on the conclusion that academic partnerships have and
continue to be rooted in the assumptions, understandings and practices of foreign aid and
that they unfortunately perpetuate a dependency syndrome on the continent.
v They use donor money to spend time away in conducive environments to generate knowledge, which is assumed to have mutual value. In the main, the Southern partners benefit in
the sense of accessing per diems, interacting with esteemed colleagues from the North, visiting
overseas intellectual locations, and perhaps in the process falling in love with the other world
and eventually migrating to the North. However, as we have seen above, these new intellectual hubs are often not properly aligned to the strategic intentions or to the prioritised
intellectual projects of universities in the South. In that sense, they tend to further the interests
of the partner institutions in the North more than those of the South.
v The new hubs tend to become cultural cauldrons where the dominance of Western language
and knowledge processes prevail and in the process do not contribute much to the growth of
indigenous knowledge systems.
Partnerships and the transnational temple role
As â€˜templesâ€™, universities play the role of legitimating knowledge required to contribute to development in various fields of human endeavour. They also provide the programmes that leverage
upward social and economic mobility. Partnerships have become the new way in which these
functions are served in the universities. This happens in the following ways:
v Global knowledge systems have assumed a significance which transcends local knowledge.
Thus, universities that demonstrate a capacity to tap into these new formations become the
â€˜high priestsâ€™ in the new temples of knowledge.
v The temples of the global North impose their dominance within the Northâ€“South partnership formations both advertently and inadvertently. This dominance is further strengthened
by the tendency of global South partners to migrate northwards, creating and entrenching
the asymmetries in the global academy.
v The knowledge created in these partnerships is more often than not captured, preserved,
and disseminated in repositories based in the North, serving to further strengthen their
hegemony and dominance over those in the South.
At the same time, institutions from the North are more than ever in need of valuable information
from the South, as global issues, such as environment, health, and poverty cannot be studied
without this input. This can provide institutions from the South a stronger position to negotiate
for more equal partnerships.
Partnerships as the new transnational hubs of knowledge
According to Magrath (2000: 255), the transnational linkages of universities will move from â€˜cottage industriesâ€™ to â€˜multinational consortiaâ€™ as a consequence of globalisation, and in particular in
response to the influence of digital and information technologies. It seems a logical, unavoidable
step, but all networks are a long way from such a concept of internationalisation; instead, they
Global higher education partnerships
still have a strong activity orientation. According to Robinson (1998: 92), â€˜globalisation means
that major universities have to be systematically and essentially international in character and
functionâ€™. However, it is clear that no institution, however strong or prestigious, can continue to
be entirely successful operating on its own. Universities seeking to respond to these challenges
can contemplate several different approaches to internationalisation. They can adopt strategies
involving the international expansion of a single institution through the establishment of off-shore
campuses. Alternatively, an existing institutional â€˜brandâ€™ can be franchised to agencies in other
countries. Or, there is an option that already has proven itself in other multinational industries: a
consortium organised as a network.
As hubs, partnerships facilitate the development of a new international scholarship at the
heart of the global knowledge systems. These new hubs are both facilitated and constrained by
institutional frameworks and tend to have the following characteristics:
v They are accorded high status as the preferred modes of knowledge enquiry in the global
higher education context.
v As such, they have become the new knowledge generators of choice favoured by international donors and funding agencies.
v They tend to utilise Western models of knowledge generation and cultural capital.
v They both empower and disempower, providing partners from the South with material,
knowledge and cultural and social capital which strengthen their capacities and interest to
migrate to partner institutions in the North.
v The responsibility to strengthen local knowledge generation within and across institutions
in the South and to establish lasting and sustainable collaborative knowledge-generating
spaces exists mainly in aspirational terms and has not quite been borne out in practice.
While the global South keeps rising on the horizon as the future centre for global development
and wealth creation, it is likely that more partnerships with the North are going to be encouraged
in the future. But the global South will need to be mindful of the need for a new discourse in
knowledge development and in the mobility and flows of its talent, knowledge, skills and values
as resources for this new way of development. Perhaps not all money should be accepted as a
stimulant for development. More importantly, institutions in the global South should become
more centrally involved in determining the agenda behind partnerships, working to ensure that
the flows of talent and the mobility of knowledge favours its developmental needs in the same
way they do those of the institutions in the global North.
Going back to our starting assumptions regarding the strategic importance of partnerships,
the evidence from both the existing literature and our own research enable us to make the following tentative conclusions:
v Partnerships leverage the potential for the growth of a new global knowledge in higher
v They largely enable physical access to dispersed knowledge systems in dealing with increasingly connected challenges in higher education.
v They do not equitably create the international capital sought by all participating institutions. The distribution of the benefits of working together trace asymmetrical contours that
favour the universities of the North more than those of the South.
v The contributions they make to the roles and aspirations of universities, while significant in
many ways, are nevertheless compromised by inherent structural, ideological and cultural
inequities, which they tend to reproduce and perpetuate.
Felix Maringe and Hans de Wit
We present these as reasonably competent conclusions, even as they can be used as the basis
for hypotheses for future research in the area of partnerships in higher education. Further, we
can reasonably and confidently declare that partnerships are being promoted on goals which
are uncritically assumed to be a good thing, yet the evidence suggests they can entrench and
perpetuate asymmetries of inequality in higher education.
1 For an overview of internationalisation in higher education see Deardorff et al., 2012, and de Wit and
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