|dc.description.abstract||This thesis presents a case study of a new and emerging university in the Global South. It seeks to understand the university’s practices and how globalisation has impacted on staff, students and management of the university. The institution is located in East Africa and aspires to be a leading research-led university, both in the region and internationally. My research aims to contribute to the debate and growing concerns about the impact of globalisation on higher education and to understand these processes in the context of the Global South, in particular, East Africa.
There are estimated to be somewhere between 18,400 and 28,000 universities worldwide depending on how ‘university’ is defined. An extremely small proportion are elite research-led institutions and these are nearly all located in the Global North, particularly in countries that have a long history of Western liberal democracy. These institutions are usually old, if not ancient, typically have English as a language of instruction, and occupy a hegemonic position with respect to university type, ranking and privilege in the world order. Newer institutions in developing nations that wish to adopt this same model of education find it near impossible to compete, and experience difficulty in embarking on a journey of development towards such a goal. In particular, problems arise from the effects of globalisation, and it is the consequences of globalisation that the present study examines.
Globalisation itself is a vast and complex topic that is multidisciplinary and used in different contexts and in both metaphorical and abstract ways. It has economic, political, cultural and ideological traditions and it can be difficult to know the precise meaning of the term when it is used. In this thesis I have adopted Steger’s historical treatment of globalisation and focused on what he calls the ‘modern period’ (Steger, 2017), which seems pertinent to a study about a contemporary university. This modern period has been characterised by two main forces. The first is the ideology of the free market and neoliberalism, and the second, the revolution in information and communication technology. It is these two aspects that are central to the thesis and the focus of this research. By adopting this theory, I aim to provide important insights that will partly explain how and why an emerging university faces challenges in realising its goals. Here I am interested in the exercise of power, and my ontological position and contribution to practice is one of seeking a more equal world, hence the data tend to be interpreted through a critical theory lens.
The data were collected in the field at an institution in East Africa that I have called University of Mokono. I have chosen to use this fictional name to ensure some anonymity for those who kindly shared their experiences with me. The case study is based on in-depth semi-structured interviews with staff, documentary analysis and my observations in the field. I interviewed senior administrators (n = 6), and academic staff (n = 6) with specific questions about how globalisation has impacted on policy, management and the academic practices in the university.
The study showed that stakeholder needs, conforming to expected international standards, and digital technologies were the key impacts of globalisation. These presented both opportunities and challenges that influenced decision-making and practices in the university. The university spent much time and effort to reach out to stakeholders, in particular aid donors, and it competed for grants and student tuition fees. To access these, it was forced to adopt international standards, including English as a language of instruction for both teaching and research. There was a clear digital divide between the established universities in the Global North and Mokono that the university actively sought to change through seeking opportunities for what it saw as a digital dividend. The best example was using technology to create digital heritage to enhance the Kiswahili language and ensure its presence in the digital world.
However, the university was faced with challenges from global forces. For instance, aid donors gave grants conditionally and could dictate the university’s direction. There was limited teaching and research capacity in a largely junior workforce that found it challenging to work to expected international standards. There were problems with a considerable lack of access to the internet, technologically skilled professionals, computers and even a reliable electricity supply. Importantly, there were tensions between prioritising the university’s strategies to meet local objectives and global expectations. Local needs were sacrificed and, although Mokono wanted to meet global expectations and local objectives, more priority needed to be given to serve national development and strengthen the institution’s domestic identity. It was unclear if both strategies were possible. Overall, the university had little choice but to embrace globalisation while experiencing limited options for what this could actually provide. If these outcomes are representative of the full forces of modern globalisation, then it seems likely that it will take many years for Mokono to achieve its aspirations to be a world class institution.
The thesis may have practical significance for higher education policy and practice in Tanzania, East Africa, or similarly positioned countries with universities that are trying to develop. The insights it provides into the process of globalisation highlight the type of complex decisions that need to be made. When these deepen inequality and inequity for the Global South, alternatives should be found. The findings may also inform other stakeholders in debates about how they might act towards a developing university and, in particular, the sensitivity and conditions around aid donation.
Importantly, opportunities for efficient resource use requires a competent, skilled and highly educated workforce and this is where globalisation can potentially make the biggest impact. Educating and upskilling the academic workforce improves capacity for change and development and without this, all other efforts may serve little purpose and simply highlight the pernicious effects of globalisation. Any higher education institution that would like to improve needs to educate and upskill its staff. This is a very-long term strategy for a university in the Global South, but this is where the main support should be targeted to reduce the gap between these institutions and those more established in the Global North.
Finally, this study offers new insights and perspectives on the modern period of globalisation and how both neoliberalism and digital technologies seem to influence all aspects of university life.||