CGHE series on international and global higher education – seminar 2: The global and the post-colonial

21st November 2019 : 12:00 - 14:00

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Higher Education

Speaker: Simon Marginson (University of Oxford), David Mills (University of Oxford), Xin Xu (University of Oxford)

Location: Department of Education, Seminar Room A

About the CGHE Seminar series on international and global higher education


What is the international or global space in higher education and how do we understand it? Scholar-researchers apply a range of disciplinary lenses and methods. Geography plays a key role in many but not all studies of student mobility or global science. Others analyse these dynamics through an economic or policy studies or linguistic frame. Some are hunting for an elusive universal perspective, others are very mindful of national or cultural differences. Some are especially attentive to the challenges facing education in emerging countries. Some look for signs of their own country everywhere they look, others are fascinated by what they see as foreign exotica, others are post-colonial. Many who research ‘internationalisation’ as student mobility and other cross-border connections, or work on ‘global competences’, don’t necessarily research comparative education in a rigorous manner, or take account of the literature on development education. The interesting and productive differences between an ‘international’, ‘comparative’ and a ‘global’ perspective are rarely discussed.

These differences shape the contents and impacts of higher education research and scholarship. The contrary knowledge produced in this field shapes our global imagining in fragmented ways – but perhaps this is a fruitful diversity? Or should we work to develop a common view? This series will explore six different approaches to imagining and investigating international higher education, highlighting similarities and differences between them, and drawing the participant audience into active discussion.

Seminar Abstract


What is ‘global’ higher education?

Simon Marginson

What is the global in higher education and how does it relate to the national domain where institutions and persons are primarily funded and ordered? To grasp this we need to set aside some common assumptions. First, the global and the international are not identities, or ‘dimensions’ integrated into the ‘purpose, functions or delivery’ of education in one university or nation. They can only exist as relationships. Second, global relations are understood in terms of connectedness – people, institutions and ideas crossing borders – but while connections are certainly part of the picture, to define the global in this manner leaves us stuck at the rim of the ‘national container’. We need a way of imagining the global in higher education that brings it into open view, enhances its potential value and interrogates relations of power within it (relationships are not always symmetrical), even while national and local phenomena can also freely appear. The paper will argue that the global is most usefully understood in terms of relational systems at the world and world-regional level, and globalisation as the process of integration on this scale. Just as national higher education is a process of nation-state building, globalisation in higher education and science is a process of world-building. Global systems are partial and uneven, but higher education – especially its knowledge-intensive components – is among the most global of all human activities and constitutes a form of global civil society.

From anti-colonial to post-global and back again: Geopolitical imaginaries and the study of ‘global’ higher education

David Mills

For anticolonial nationalists like Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe, the post-war British ‘Asquith’ university colleges represented a second colonialization of the African continent. Instead, Nkrumah argued, such universities, once planted, should ‘take root amidst African traditions and cultures’. These early postcolonial critiques shaped the evolution and Africanisation of universities like Makerere and Dar-es-Salaam. Contemporary visions for ‘post-developmental’ higher education, ‘pluriversities’, or knowledge decolonisation also seek to redefine the contours of higher education systems. In order to understand the influence of these contested geopolitical imaginaries on the field of ‘global’ higher education studies, this paper explores the relationship between policy scholarship, epistemic politics and disciplinary loyalties.

This seminar is free and open to the public. No advance booking required.




In 2019, the University of Oxford’s Department of Education celebrates the 100th year since the passing of a statute creating what was known in 1919 as the University Department for the Training of Teachers. To celebrate our centenary a year-long series of activities will be delivered to address some of the department’s top initiatives for 2019, answer some of the big questions facing education today and to reveal the advancements the department has made to the study of and research in the field of education. Join us as we mark our 100th year and discover more about our anniversary here.

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