Global Wars, National Legacies, and State Controls: The Dilemmas of Institutionalism of Public Universities

  • Manisha Priyam


This piece attempts to analyse some of the dilemmas of institutionalism with respect to public universities in postcolonial societies and the developing world in the era of globalisation. Higher education in postcolonial societies has been developed on account of complex efforts to build national capacities. These societies aspired to build public universities and provide higher education to their masses as a part of their aspirations for nation building following the struggle for independence. Hitherto, universities had been seen as an exclusive institutional preserve of the Western world – the ‘core’ where these ideas grew as central public institutions. In contrast, in postcolonial societies, universities were like a less developed ‘periphery’ (as compared to the West). Yet, they were public institutions on which hopes of both freedom and development were pinned. In Nyere’s Tanzania, they were to be vehicles of both national self-reliance and self-respect.

However, the epochal transformations being brought about by globalisation is now dislodging national capabilities in the developing world, and creating economic competition on a global scale. State controls are being criticised for their command and control approach, and rampant privatisation is the way forward to address the challenge of increasing participation of the masses in higher education. These changes undermine the public character of universities as institutions of critical thought, and higher education as a public good. Some scholars, however, have been optimistic about the potential of globalisation for flattening erstwhile asymmetries between the centre and the periphery, and the possibility that a truly plural university world may come about in the future. With the rise of China and India, for example, the West may not disappear, but will have competition from global equals. In other words, the erstwhile ‘peripheries’ may have a real chance of developing universities of equal calibre and competence as in the developed world. An efficiency metric of global scale can measure performance of universities in a linear way. This chapter argues this may not be the case and provides an embedded critique of globalisation and its offerings for higher education in the developing world. Based on a review of many contemporary changes – such as a China-Africa cooperation in higher education, or the emergence of ‘BRICS’ as economic powers of significance, and of executive policy making in India – attempting to build a top-funnel of world-class institutions, it is argued that this race is by no means one of the global equals. Rankings reaffirm the domination of erstwhile academic superpowers, and the structural transformations associated with globalisation are such that universities are being judged less by their publicness and service of public interest. Further, there is increasing dualism and inequality in access to higher education in the developing world, especially as the socially disadvantaged now seek access to universities as a part of their struggle for substantive citizenship.


Public university Nationalism, Massification Institutionalism Political economy of higher education Global competition, globalization and higher education 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Manisha Priyam
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational PolicyNational Institute of Educational Planning and AdministrationNew DelhiIndia

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