The very title of this volume, The Emergent Knowledge Society and the Future of Higher Education: Asian Perspectives, is misleading-on several counts. One, as we are all aware the future is a convenient fiction that we embrace to lend a measure of (sometimes fanciful) order to a very disorderly world. Second, at the very least we are faced not with the future but with multiple futures, some of which are far more readily probable than others. And third, as Peter Hershock makes very clear in his contribution to this volume (Chapter 2), the world we have entered over the past four or five decades, one increasingly dominated and given shape by the knowledge explosion, constitutes from many perspectives a highly complex system. A key feature of such systems on almost every level at which they can be found is their ultimate unpredictability. As feedback and feedforward mechanisms come into play over an ever increasing number of “systemic instances” the probability of unpredictable events occurring increases. Then why do it? Why fly in the face of such eventual certainty of error? Again, we make this choice for three reasons. First, this volume emerges from a set of conversations evoked by the East-West Center with the cooperation of the Malaysian Qualifications Agency designed to explore relevant aspects of how the emergent knowledge society is impacting higher education. Focusing all the collective efforts of this volume on “the future” (and accepting the above caveats) allowed the participants to develop a set of papers that range from the broad and systemic to more focused country-oriented case studies of higher education change. Second, the very unpredictability of this focused future is a virtue, in that it allows contributors to find within their own arena of concentration a set of elements that have distinct relevance for the subject of their explorations. Third, and again despite the relevant caveats, to speak of “the future” is an important convention within higher education. As several arguments will indicate within the chapters to follow, the degree to which this convention defines and constrains the efforts to achieve a variety of goals within Asian higher education is manifest. As a root generalization, higher education within this region is stressed between its historic tradition of statecentered bureaucratic authorization and oversight, and the increasing demands of emergent market societies, themselves manifestations of the unprecedented
rapidity of change impelled by knowledge transformations. In short, we employ this frame of reference because it is one employed in turn by most of the actors struggling to accommodate these change dynamics. They are the ones, hopefully, who may be drawn into the conversation initiated by the chapters of this collection. As we seek to gain insights into the ways in which higher education as an enterprise is changing within the emergent knowledge society, a discrete set of factors stands out as some of the primary characteristics and constraints that continue to define and redefine the higher education environment. Foremost among these is the exponential growth of information itself. Almost any current publication on the subject will anchor its analyses in a set of “factoids” intended to help the reader appreciate some measure of these changes. The chapters that follow will be no exception to this practice. The reader will find, for example, an emphasis on the fact that the amount of information produced in the world in the coming year will exceed all of that produced in the past 5,000 years; or that one half of what an undergraduate in a science or technology field learns will be obsolete within 18 months; or that by the year 2015 there will be over five billion handheld devices operating in a world of close to seven billion inhabitants; or that were Facebook a country it would be the seventh largest in the world . . . and so on.1 The critical issues for higher education in all its many forms are: (1) to make decisions about which aspects of this exponential knowledge growth should be embraced by higher education; (2) to develop (sensible) procedures for creating and aligning curricula in this environment; (3) to conduct such alignments with sensible relationship to overall changes taking place in society and especially within the economies within which higher education graduates will seek employment; and (4) to do so while ensuring quality of process and outcomes throughout higher education at all levels. Virtually every chapter in this volume addresses one or more of these critical issues. If the above phenomenon can be rightly termed the knowledge or information explosion, then a second critical factor addressed in many of the following chapters relates to the issue of creating higher education capacity to deal with or accommodate such an explosion. In 2008 the East-West Center convened another set of scholars to explore the interrelationships between issues of access, equity and capacity in Asia-Pacific higher education (Neubauer and Tanaka 2011). At one level the relation of these three critical elements is relatively simple. Driven by the almost universal belief that education and increasingly higher education is essential for economic development, states have organized themselves to expand capacity the better to achieve said development. The “access equation” as it were, can be resolved by determining which proportion of a society’s population has HE access, a policy development that was neatly and definitively organized by Martin Trow in the 1970s (Trow 1974). The access equation is complicated on at least three fronts. Without other direction it leads directly toward the policy outcomes of “more is better” and “one size fits all.” Further, absent other considerations, states can (and have!) moved from conditions of deficient capacity to overcapacity as the processes by which HE capacity
is added becomes misaligned with demographics: an outcome that has famously occurred in the past decade in Japan, Korea and Taiwan, but which in various ways “threatens” many other societies, especially those that have pursued capacity very aggressively, e.g., China and the United States (New England Board of Higher Education 2011). The issue of capacity growth is enormously complicated by the changing role of HE in the knowledge society as nation states are confronted simultaneously with three moving targets: the need to create initial capacity to meet socially defined targets of access and equity; the need to constantly add capacity to align the curriculum (however defined) with changing norms of scientific and social relevance; and the constant need to pursue alignment for graduates with market demands. Virtually all the chapters in this volume address these issues in one way or another. Hershock (Chapter 2), Hawkins (Chapter 3) and Neubauer (Chapter 14) offer differing perspectives on how these varied capacity and alignment questions are pursued. James (Chapter 4) examines particular university responses to alignment concerns. Issues of curriculum relevance are addressed by Hazman (Chapter 5), Tai (Chapter 6), Suwanwela (Chapter 7) and Arimoto (Chapter 8)—each from a different country perspective. Salazar-Clemeña (Chapter 12) and Chanana (Chapter 13) pursue the issue of relating capacity to equity on dimensions of the focused needs of students and gender respectively. And Hussein et al. (Chapter 9) and Lee (Chapter 10) tackle the very complex issue of seeking to assure HE quality within such a rapidly changing environment. Even as existing HEIs struggle to meet these various challenges, however, a new higher education world is forming around them, created largely by the entry into this environment by both new institutions of conventional form, most of which are in the private sector, and others which are taking a range of new forms, establishing novel forms of linkage between the provision of knowledge (as thus we can see them preeminently as knowledge suppliers) and those for whom they intend their services, which we can in turn see as knowledge consumers. The use of these essentially economic terms is apt as the vast number of such institutions is not only within the private sector, but within the proprietary private sector, and thus as organizations are almost entirely dependent on tuition dollars and fees for their operation. This economic exchange is singularly oriented around the vocational intention and application of the curricula they offer. At some level, current academic usage may fashion these students as learners (to emphasize their role in knowledge transfer), at the heart of the matter for these new institutions they are root and branch consumers. The economic transaction involved is “education” for the promise of a job in the constantly changing marketplace. We deal with this issue at some length in our concluding chapter, which examines some aspects of the changing social ecology of higher education. Another salient aspect of the role of HEIs within the emergent knowledge society is the continuous redefinition and reformulation of the university itself from traditional forms and functions into those embodying novel efforts to
accommodate broad patterns of social change, especially those fitted around and through the rapid and transforming dimensions of technology. Again, the chapters to follow touch on many different aspects of this shift. Here, let me mention just three. One is the growing ubiquity of research within traditional HEIs and its segmentation away from some of the emergent institutions discussed in the preceding paragraph. As Hawkins makes very clear in his analysis of UCLA as a “prototypic” American state university, increasingly every unit of the non-service side of the university is expected to conduct research-in large part because increasingly such institutions “live off ” their research funding in the face of declining contributions from the public sector. But perhaps even more interesting, many HEIs that have historically been viewed primarily as teaching institutions have also established expectations for faculty research. As I point out in Chapter 14, in these institutions (and to some extent within the complex doctoral institutions as well) the expectation and realization of a research role for faculty is a way of differentiating the “regular,” tenure-track faculty from the ever more numerous contract (or adjunct) faculty. However, even here, change is in the air as the research expectation is extended to this group as well. This prevalence is noticeable throughout Asia as well as the convention of what constitutes a “world class” institution comes to be one that scores well on league tables dominated by research criteria. A second form of university transformation is some form of “unbundling” of traditional faculty and institutional roles in the effort to approach new constituencies. This process, as explored further in the concluding chapter, can take many forms ranging from the importation of externally designed and completed content (such as complete courses made available by institutions such as MIT and Yale) that have been organized and distributed explicitly to satisfy some generalized goals of “creating and disseminating” knowledge for those in need of same, to the enveloping of research entities focused on technology transfer (which are in fact little different from private entities found outside universities), to a growing range of service contracts that HEIs perform for private industry (Hafner 2010). A third of these transformational elements is the emergence of a “bridge” role for universities to other forms of knowledge production within the society and perhaps more importantly within the still rapidly forming global political economy. The phenomenon that we term “globalization” and mean by it many very different things is distinguishable in part by the creation of what Saskia Sassen has called “circuits of exchange” and others term “vectors” by which they mean pathways through which the commerce, finance and all the vast signals of global communication travel are given coherence (Sassen 2004). As Hershock makes clear in his chapter, universities and other kinds of emergent HEIs are very much a part of these emergent pathways with consequences that are very far away from being predictable. This absence of predictability finds expression everywhere as “top tech companies” (read: Nokia) find themselves displaced from the lofty heights of supremacy with as much apparent frequency as new technologies and modalities (read: groupon.com) enter the market. And within it all, as Hershock again makes clear, the distribution of benefits and costs
of this hyper-environment are very uneven, as those who continue to constitute “the other side” of the digital divide are made continuously aware (Fox 2011). Finally, within the vast literature that has arisen around notions of the emergent knowledge society is a vision of the future encapsulated in the phrase “simultaneity,” intended to capture the world of instantaneous communication. Its manifestations-partial and realized-have become ubiquitous in our social world of exploding connectivity in which “being linked” is perhaps the most salient common feature of such odd linguistic constructions as “global peoples,” which with equal oddity, one can utter with confidence that most listeners will appreciate what is meant by the phrase. The university as the primary exemplar of higher education stands astride the emergent structures and practices of this feature of the present and near future. It constitutes much of what we identify as the changing social ecology of higher education. To preserve our metaphor, to the one side of this phenomenon the university stands as the traditional and historical guardian and articulator of legitimated knowledge, sanctified by long struggles wrought in the name of objectivity, truth, academic freedom and the public good. This is, if you will, higher education’s highest legacy. Yet, on the other side of the phenomenon are the press, clamor, stresses and rewards of not only accommodation to change, but rapid and effective accommodation. One result, observable in any number of ways, is the increasing blurring at the margin of all the institutional forms of higher education and their ostensible distinctions from other major organizations within the society, such as business or financial firms. In one form, that of the proprietary institutions which admittedly has been present in many societies for a long time, we observe a “bursting forth” into new forms to embrace many of the communication and information modalities of the knowledge society. In these new manifestations such institutions are seeking to “perfect their market reach” by embodying the received practices of contemporary business. But far beyond these institutional forms, traditional public institutions in virtually all the countries represented in this volume, faced with cutbacks in public funding support have adopted the practices of the marketplace in efforts to assure their standing and place in society. As these boundaries blur, new institutional forms are emerging with more to follow. The chapters of this volume are designed to allow the reader to gain some sense of this “flow into the future,” which in realistic terms is no more distant than tomorrow, while contemplating the very real differences that exist society by society across these broad avenues of change.