World Universities Forum’s Updates

Universities and the Illusion of Global Competition

Image courtesy of Christian Richardt / WikiMedia Commons | Article Link | by Takehiko Kariya

Before we start on any discussion of Japanese universities in the context of international competitiveness, we first need to address the question of why international competitiveness is an important issue.

Particularly if we are to compare universities in Japan with those in Britain, it is essential to understand the substantial differences of context that exist between the two countries and the different kinds of international competition they face. Unless we are clear on this point, it will be extremely difficult to make any meaningful comparisons between the two systems.

'Imagined' international competitiveness

We might begin by comparing universities with other types of institutions. No one has any reservations about measuring or questioning a country's 'international competitiveness' in terms of corporate productivity, diplomatic or military clout or the standards of its science and technology.

The reason is that, in all of these fields, what we might call 'real' international competition exists. Why 'real'? Because an actual context, or market, exists in which competition takes place on an international level.

In the field of education, though, any discussion of international competitiveness needs to be carefully qualified.

Take compulsory education, for instance. To be sure, it is possible to argue that basic education is relevant to international competition because of its impact on the quality and quantity of the 'human capital' that provides the basis for any country's economic strength.

The Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, test which measures the achievements of students in OECD countries, is the classic example of this line of thinking.

But competition in this sense is something quite different from the international competition we find in global markets in the various fields I alluded to above, where a setting for real competition clearly exists.