Working Paper 108
The New Geo-politics of Higher Education 2: Between Nationalism and Globalism
Published February 2024

In universities and science many countries are experiencing greater government intervention, and cross-border relations are being re-normed. Until recently the global space-making activities of universities appeared to be generally compatible with national politics and policy agendas. This is no longer the case. A more strident and often nativist nationalism is evident. The United States (U.S.) government has set out to decouple from China in science and technology in order to retard that country. Many states have imposed new restrictions on inward student mobility. The near universal support for internationalisation apparent in 1990-2010 has fragmented and universities engaged in both nationalism and globalism are under pressure to choose. Explanatory factors include the ebbing of globalisation in political economy, the failure of neoliberal capitalism to deliver the promised all round prosperity, and the rise of China and a group of non-Euro-American middle powers such as India, Iran, Indonesia, South Korea and Brazil. Arguably the reduction of U.S. and Euro-American dominance at global level, plus the climate-nature emergency and the inability of states to tackle it, are both fuelling destabilisation and insecurity in Euro-American countries, and these factors at the root of both nativism and the new emphasis on securitisation that is disrupting free academic exchange and global research collaboration.
Universities have a dual spatiality, coupling local/national embeddedness with an open mental horizon and the mobility of ideas, knowledge and persons. Free mobility has long been important in sustaining institutional identity, autonomy, and academic freedom. When it is compromised universities across the world are more politically vulnerable. Outside Euro-America there is not the same problematisation of mobility and global links, but there is again assertiveness by government in universities (e.g. India, Iran and China). More plural capacity in universities and science suggests the possibility of a more inclusive and diverse world-wide university sector but in the present conflictual setting there is no sign of this.

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