Peer Review, Fall 2000

Fall 
2000, 
Vol. 3, 
No. 1
Peer Review

From the Editor

In April 2000, President Clinton signed a memorandum directing the Secretaries of State and Education to increase their support for international academic exchange. "Today," he wrote, "the defense of U.S. interests, the effective management of global issues, and even an understanding of our Nation's diversity require ever-greater contact with, and understanding of, people and cultures beyond our borders."

However, we haven't always heard such sentiments from the nation's policy makers. Nor have we heard them from the nation's campus leaders, for that matter -- most U.S. colleges and universities have permitted academic exchange to sit on the back burner for decades. Meanwhile, the major international donor agencies, such as USAID and UNESCO, have tended to overlook higher education altogether (since investment in primary schooling has long been regarded as the more pressing need in the developing world). Only in the past few years have they begun to devote serious efforts to building strong tertiary education systems, and to funding exchange programs for college students and faculty.

So why the sudden interest in academic exchange? Most often, the rationale is economic: emerging technologies and global markets have put a premium on workers with advanced training and intercultural experience. And it's not just the multinational corporations that now depend on such skilled labor. Wealthy and poor nations alike require growing numbers of professionals, people who can manage new industries and infrastructures and who can navigate across cultural and regional borders.

So too has it been argued that access to higher education promotes civil society, particularly in countries now struggling to transform their political systems, such as the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. For example, a recent UNESCO/World Bank report (available on line at www.tfhe.net) praises higher education's capacity "to embody norms of social interaction, such as open debate and argumentative reason; to emphasize the autonomy and self-reliance of its individual members; and to reject discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religious belief, or social class." Also, some believe that higher education and academic exchange can be instruments of global peace and security: the more educated a citizenry, and the more contact it has with the rest of the world, the less likely it will be to experience civil unrest or to make war against its neighbors. Further, it is hoped that increased educational exchange will lead to deeper understandings of ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences, both within and among nations.

But whatever the reasons for investing in academic exchange and development, the current demand for higher education threatens to dwarf the world's ability to provide it, particularly in the regions where that demand is greatest. For instance, UNESCO estimates that college enrollments in the developing world rose from twenty-eight to forty-seven million between 1980 and 1995, spurring the creation of countless new institutions (many of them fly-by-night operations), as well as a vast study-abroad industry in those countries that have the means to service it. (While the U.S. has long been the primary destination for international students, nations such as England, Australia, and China have also begun to compete for large shares of this market.)

Given higher education's astonishing growth worldwide, its potential for exploitation, its role in civil society, and its importance to the global economy, the question isn't whether academe will become more international -- the question is how it will do so.

Our goal in this magazine is to provoke informed debate over the shape that academic exchange will take in the years ahead. To that end, we offer concise descriptions of current trends, key players, and useful resources, helping readers to better understand the context for reforms that they no doubt have begun to witness, and perhaps direct, at their own institutions. Finally, we hope that this issue of Peer Review will prove of interest not only to international exchange professionals but to faculty, staff, and administrators throughout the campus.

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