Higher education as a global commodity: The perils and promises for developing countries

In the context of globalisation and the knowledge economy, there has been a dramatic change in the attitudes of powerful international organisations and governments on the importance of higher education in developing countries, which is now perceived to be central to socio-political and economic development. At the same time, the formidable obstacles to the development of robust and high quality systems of higher education in many developing countries are acknowledged. In this context, foreign and corporate higher education provision may be seen as an attractive solution in countries where little higher education infrastructure exists and where governments are unable to readily acquire resources to commit to higher education. This paper warns, however, that the rush by foreign universities and corporate entities to offer academic programmes in developing countries needs to be treated with caution. The motivation for entering developing countries as well as the form and content of programmes offered need to be understood in the context of contemporary developments which have applied pressure on universities to treat higher education as a global commodity. Whilst this development offers opportunities for collaboration and development, there are also many dangers. This report raises issues for debate and discussion and outlines a research agenda which may be helpful in protecting developing countries from the most corrosive forms of commodification whilst encouraging international collaboration that may lead to genuine capacity building.

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