The new politics of higher education and inequality

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The new politics of higher education and inequality

Global political economy is not all and global forces lead to different outcomes for every nation. These forces are influenced by politics and culture. However, global political economy is the only system that has lead to lateral changes across the world. Ubiquitously, wealth condones political influence and greater wealth inequality leads to greater unequal influence. Inequality is growing annually in over two-thirds of nations. The exceptions are countries have gained advantage from the dynamic economic modernisation and the dynamic growth of the urban middle class; or where there is joint social and political consensus on equality and common social rights, including universal high quality education such as the Nordic countries and Netherlands. In the latter countries, national government attempts to alter the unequalising impact of the global political economy.Further, while the global political economy can accelerate the modernisation of emerging countries and thereby resulting in greater equality between countries on a global scale; at the same time it also drives increasing inequality within countries without any means to an end.

The development is predominantly geo-spatial and driven by the growing significance in all countries of the interconnected global city – the focus on economic capital, jobs, skills and talents, social capital, education, knowledge and cultural resources in leading cities fused into a single system globally. It is important to note the progress of global cities is driven by the interconnection global economy/society than by elements at national level. As world urbanisation is progressing close to 60 percent and within that the large global cities are increasingly salient. The centralising and networking grounds of globalisation act in tandem across economics, communications, transport, science and services; thereby resulting in universal systems that influences those who are within the same global forces. However, at the same time they are of greater benefit to those globally effective agents and are less favorably to those who are not.

Inequality is not only dependent on the degree of urbanisation but also by the extent to which each urban community is itself an active and effective player at the global scale. While global cities like London, Frankfurt, Shanghai and Singapore are expanding significantly, economic capital and social value has negatively affected the medium-sized towns, villages and rural hinterlands. As regional cities worsen, their ability to support their own interlands in economic, social and cultural terms also worsens. Global and national connectivity, economic prosperity and potential for social and geographical mobility decreases as one stays further away from hubs of regional cities.

Therefore, for high research-intensive universities to have significant influence, they have to be key stakeholders in the global higher education networks of research cooperation and people mobility. ‘World-class universities’ or WCUs must also play a part in the innovation economy; thereby making their responsible in the political economy of growing inequality. Stratified higher education system reflect and recreate social hierarchies. Although there is a global participation in the education landscape, the top universities are typically occupied by the upper middle class. Concurrently, the accountability of WCUs for inequality should also be kept in proportion.

Firstly, not all international activities in research-intensive universities is socially regressive. In fact, the most essential international activity of research universities is research collaboration, which is mostly driven at disciplines rather than institutional level and is substantial in the dynamic growth of internationally co-authored papers.

Further, some global student mobility brings about democratic opportunity in student sending countries, when it realises in the form of scholarship opportunities for poorer students. Fundamentally, advantaged student mobility will result in increased equality between countries but tend to grow in social stratification and inequality within countries.

Secondly, global universities can and frequently nurture understanding of inequality and its costs through teaching and research. WCUs will not have to advocate a certain political position, but simply to discuss the world as it is. However, it might lead to an inconsistency in message between philosophers and business schools. In the longer term, it is largely dependent on the willingness of economic departments to nurture a more exceptional brand of political economy.

Third, WCUs with their global networking setting are not key drivers of national economic and social inequality in the countries where they are located. Affiliated social inequalities, global markets, wage determination and tax/spend policy are the greater culprits. Therefore, student selection is the only solution for WCUs to move forward.

Similar to global universities in global cities, regional universities are also encountering challenges about global intent and international student recruitment within a growing unequal national and local landscape. While challenges and possible solutions differ between regions, this is the back way for a minority of young people. However, this is not the solution for all, particularly those in older age groups who will not be able to attain higher education. In addition, with local government under-funded and local businesses facing uncertainties, the social responsibility of universities is in question.

Source: University World News

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