Transnational Ed: Welcome to Singapore
The whole idea of Transnational Ed has a not-so-vaguely colonialist dimension to it. In the context of the WTO and GATS, there will be net exporters and net importers of Higher
Education services. It is not difficult to guess which nations will line up on which side of that divide.
Philip G. Altbach, director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, is unequivocal:
It is worth looking realistically at the prospects for educational "free trade." The fact is that the United States will remain a major beneficiary, and that, even with completely open markets, providers in other countries would have little scope to make major inroads into the huge U.S. postsecondary education market. (from International Higher Education, Number 31, Spring 2003)
But wait – there’s still the supply-side problem. Most countries of the world cannot meet their own citizens’ demand for tertiary education. Surely that justifies trade liberalization in Higher Ed services, the GATS proponents would claim. And maybe it does. Moreover, Transnational Ed relies increasingly on a range of different instructional technologies. Many believe such technologies, properly employed, can lead to a higher degree self-directed learning – which coincides with the stated goals of some developing nations.
Ziguras (2001) suggests that encouraging Transnational Ed providers could be seen as an instrument of national policy. Through Transnational Ed, additional tertiary slots are created locally at no expense. Through Transnational Ed, more students can stay home, rather than being forced to study abroad and perhaps not returning, (see “brain drain”). And through Transnational Ed, instructional technologies are employed to facilitate self-directed learning.
However, it is a good bet that none of the expected benefits will materialize without careful planning and management. Which is where Singapore comes in.
In 1998, Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) launched the World Class University program, aimed at attracting ten upper echelon institutions to establish a local commercial presence. The goal has been achieved; the ten current universities are:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Georgia Institute of Technology
Johns Hopkins University
Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania)
University of Chicago School of Business
Technische Universiteit Eindhoven
Technische Universität München
Shanghai Jiao Tong University
From the EDB website: These institutions conduct post-graduate education programmes, undertake both academic and applied research, and build strong linkages with industry.
With this foundation in place, the selective involvement of Transnational Ed providers has now entered a second round, focusing on specialized graduate schools in arts, design and tourism. The most recently imported partner is Cornell University’s world famous graduate School of Hotel Administration.
Clearly, the Government and the Ministry of Education of Singapore decided that non-Singaporean institutions were needed. So they went after the best.
Why has no authority paid similar attention to Transnational Ed at the undergraduate level? That might not be the prime path to prestige – but’s it’s the area of greatest need.