CfP: The New Geopolitics of International Higher Education

Globalisation, Societies and Education, Special Issue

Events and trends of recent years are prompting critical transformations to the geopolitical landscape, with 2020 surely to be remembered as a watershed moment for global politics. From mounting backlashes to multilateralism and free trade, a resurgence of populism and nationalism, the Covid-19 pandemic, climate related emergencies, increased attention to structural racism, and the spread of grassroots social and political movements, we are entering an altered geopolitical environment accompanied by a new set of global challenges with societal implications of unchartered scope. 

These geopolitical shifts are occurring parallel to the increasing internationalisation of higher education. In internationalisation, we see the embedding and further expansion of features such as international student recruitment, regional alliances, academic mobility schemes, and international branch campuses. There has also been an intensication of the interconnectedness between higher education institutions and national systems, characterised by a sharpening of trans-border cooperation and competition. While inherently linked to national politics, higher education institutions and the policies surrounding them are increasingly interacting beyond the nation state. 

The enhanced interdependence between national higher education systems calls for a shift in focus from the prevailing studies on the national politics around higher education internationalisation towards an understanding of higher education’s place in global politics. Against this backdrop, this special issue explores how international higher education practices are being shaped by shifting political dynamics at the global level. Through an investigation of the new geopolitics of international higher education, the issue uncovers the power dynamics at play when global politics come into conict with policy and practice in international and internationalising higher education. 

As global actors still very much rooted in their national environments, higher education institutions are deeply aected by geopolitical shifts and challenges. This is evidenced for instance, by the (re-)emergence of regions and places of knowledge such as the Chinese led Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, these new centres jostle for inuence with existing regions such as the European Higher Education Area, altering the landscape of cooperation and competition in international higher education. Current global political trends also seem to be in stark contrast with nation-based higher education internationalisation agendas (Esaki-Smith, 2019; Sá & Sabzalieva, 2018). For instance, universities in Turkey are struggling to balance the demand from thousands of Syrian refugees for higher education with strong competition among domestic students (Browning, Ergin & Ishii, 2019). 

The growing backlash against globalisation and rise in populism and nationalism across the globe have seen a reverting back to the nation-state and challenges to international cooperation, including in the higher education sphere. In Canada, for example, diplomatic strains with Saudi Arabia have had a direct impact on international higher education as scholarships for students were withdrawn (Karram Stephenson, 2018). The Central European University was forced to move from Hungary to Austria in 2019 after a new law on foreign branch campuses came into eect (Redden, 2018). The Trump Administration’s June 2020 (soon after reverted) decision to deny student visas for online courses as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is emblematic of the tensions between anti-immigration rhetoric and internationalisation amid global challenges of unprecedented scale.  

Rooting the study of international higher education in prevailing geopolitical currents, the special issue underscores how both global forces and national/local forces with global impact act as catalysts for transformation in this sphere. An understanding of the impact of contemporary geopolitical trends on international higher education supports the notion that higher education institutions ‘operate in circumstances only partly of their own making’ (Marginson, 2018:2 ). Through this lens, the special issue also advances a reection on the tensions arising between global and national interests. Anchoring its developments in the global political arena, the issue further lends weight to the importance of moving beyond ‘methodological nationalism’ in the study of higher education (Shahjahan and Kezar, 2013). 

The special issue also aims to draw on the established eld of the geopolitics of knowledge (Mignolo, 2003), which examines epistemic power and legitimation of particular forms of knowledge by imagining ‘decolonial horizons of possibility’ (Stein, 2019 p.144) that question the control of knowledge and the conditions in which it is produced (Shahjahan, 2016; Walker & Martinez-Vargas, 2020). By making connections and contrasts to this body of literature, the special issue will support an improved understanding and denition of geopolitics as it pertains to higher education. An underlying premise put forth is that by highlighting the international dimension of higher education, we are better equipped to engage with its relationship to geopolitics. 

Themes of interest include: 

  • Shifting territorial politics and their impact on the international higher education space
  • Beyond the national: emerging global and regional actors in international higher education
  • Political/diplomatic conicts and their eect on higher education internationalisation agendas and practices
  • The resurgence of nationalism and challenges to internationalisation
  • The changing role of regions in international higher education
  • The impact of global challenges (pandemic, climate crisis, challenge of digitalization and its regulation, structural racism) on international higher education
  • Global and/or grassroots social movements and their impact on higher education internationalisation 

Submission Instructions 

We are seeking contributions from around the globe. We expect the special issue to feature papers representing all world regions and stemming from multiple knowledge traditions. Conceptually grounded empirical articles and theoretical discussions on the impact of current geopolitics on international higher education are welcome. Please send abstracts (500 words) by January 15 2021, to the co-guest editors of the special issue, Hannah Moscovitz and Emma Sabzalieva