Rethinking The Geopolitics Of Higher Education

Scholarship on the geopolitics of higher education (HE) explores how national HE sectors and individual HE institutions are both subject to, and actors within, geopolitical dynamics. In large part this is because these institutions are ‘deeply embedded in the social fabric of individual states’ and yet also play significant roles globally, making them part of a new geopolitical landscape (Moscowitz and Sabzalieva, 2023, p.150). Research shows how HE actors have been used by national governments to exert geopolitical influence (e.g. Gallarotti, 2022), but also exert geopolitical influence of their own. Examples include French and American missionary universities (e.g. Bertelsen 2020), global rankings (Shahjahan and Morgan, 2016) and European university alliances (Marques and Graf 2023).
This conference builds on the extant literature to rethink the relationship between higher education and geopolitics in relation to three specific themes:

1. Capacity building? Many initiatives in higher education are intended to build not only the institutional ‘capacity’ of universities, but also to promote economic and social capacity locally, nationally, regionally, and sometimes internationally. We will draw on specific examples (e.g. the provision of scholarships and training) to consider the efficacy of such initiatives and the ways in which they are informed by, but can also serve to shape, geopolitical relationships.

2. Partnerships? We will explore collaborative partnerships between a variety of different actors including higher education institutions, national governments, regional bodies, national and international funding agencies, international organisations and private sector bodies. We will consider the power dynamics embedded in such relationships, and the extent to which they bring about change, and/or serve to reinscribe existing inequalities.

3. Conceptualising (cross-)regional spaces. We will examine the nature of particular regional higher education spaces (e.g. the European Higher Education Area, Eurasian, Central Asian), the spatial imaginaries that are brought into play in relation to these, and how regional borders and boundaries are established and maintained. We will also discuss the geopolitics entangled in cross-regional higher education spaces and flows, such as Africa-China academic mobilities.

The conference is organised as part of the ESRC-funded Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), by Tristan McCowan and Lee Rensimer (UCL), Maia Chankseliani and David Mills (University of Oxford) and Rachel Brooks (University of Surrey). The event will include contributions from their CGHE-funded research on the geopolitics of supranational higher education.