The Crisis of the Publics: An International Comparative Discussion on Higher Education Reforms and Possible Implications for US Public Universities


National systems of public higher education are in a state of flux. Throughout the world, a shift is occurring in the support and perception  of  the  purpose  of  public  research  universities.  Many  national  governments  are  attempting  to  bend  their  higher education  systems  to  meet  their  perceived  long-term  socio-economic  needs.  At  the  same  time,  there  are relatively  new supranational influences on higher education markets and practices that will grow in influence over time, including the Bologna Agreement, the European Commission, the pending General Agreement on Trade and Services, and globalization associated with broadband communication and internationalization of corporations.  England has embarked on a large range of higher education reforms intended to expand access, bolster accountability measures, and revise funding, including the inclusion of post-graduation fees and new infusion of monies from the national government. Australia has experimented also with post-graduation fees and has adjusted to lower levels of government funding by embarking upon a major mission of expanding revenue through accommodation of students from other Asian countries.  The  Bologna  Agreement  has  led  to  structural  reforms  in  Europe,  particularly  in  Germany  and  Italy,  and the  development  of matriculation agreements and a rising transnational flow of students. Japan is accomplishing major systematic change in the organization and funding of its public universities. China has announced an ambitious plan for the creation of twenty world-class research universities on par with MIT.  In the United States, reforms are focused largely on ways to cope with declining rates of public investment in public higher education,  rising  operating  costs  and  maintaining  access  despite  fee  increases.  There  is  also  interest  in  incorporating  new accountability schemes.  As visible as these changes are, little systematic analysis exists about how the sources of change and the reforms adopted or advanced in one country derive from or impact other countries, let alone how they might inform U.S. higher education. American higher education and American political culture have tended to be insular in their approaches to policy-making and ideas on reform. Changes in other countries have followed careful observation of what has made the United States successful, but the United States has not examined closely what has been done overseas in the context of the situations of individual countries.

Publication date: 
November 11, 2007
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
King, C., Douglass, J. A, & Feller, I. (2007). The Crisis of the Publics: An International Comparative Discussion on Higher Education Reforms and Possible Implications for US Public Universities.