Questioning the higher education of a country in transition on its way to the knowledge economy
Kaunas University of Technology
Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania
Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Hamburg, 17-20 September 2003
The beginning of the 21 century can be characterized by the competition that is taking place among the states on their way to knowledge economy. It is already quite obvious that their economic success will be directly based on the production, distribution and use of knowledge and information. Thus, the importance of science system (in the broadest sense) and higher education is greater than ever.
This is quite a special race. One has to take into account the acceleration rate or, in other words, certain first mover's advantage that are enjoyed by the Western countries due too their earlier start. Meanwhile, the latecomers, especially the countries in transition are trying to catch up with this high-speed train.
How realistic are the possibilities of catch-up? It is a wide known fact that the knowledge economy is accompanied by the contemporary processes of globalization that create mega-level opportunities for speeding up the development of the knowledge economy in a particular country. At the same time, globalization can cause multiple challenges to many small newly-emerged market economy countries. D. Robertson (2000) notes that entire nations are learning the new behavioral patterns at times of globalization, not to mention the small states...
The small countries in-transition, such as the Baltic states face a particular need to make an intelligent use of the globalization opportunities and at the same time avoiding the global traps to national identity and resources.
What do these countries have to learn to become successful knowledge economies? First of all, how to obtain the potential to be treated as partners rather than 'third world' countries by their global counterparts? On the other hand, how to avoid an excessive drain (e.g. the brain-drain) of the newly acquired potential from a small country in a globalised environment?
Most authors seek an answer to the first question - how to obtain the necessary potential - by looking into the higher education. It is higher education in general and universities in particular that are considered as knowledge and competence producing institution. The universities have always been the agents of globalization. These activities are especially on the rise since the end of the 20th century (Sh.Rothblatt, 2000) with the diffusion of information and knowledge by all academic activities (L.Soete, 2001).
Many Western researchers analyze the question what the higher education and particularly the universities should look like so that this institution could execute its facilitator mission in the knowledge society and economy (B.R. Clark, 1995, 1998; P.Scott, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, R.Barnett, 1994, 2000, D.Bridges, 2000, et al.). The authors of the countries in transition still pay more attention to the reform of higher education (P.Jucevičienė (1999, 2000), D.Gudaitytė (2002), A.Poškienė (2002), L.Kraujutaitytė (2002), V.Šveikauskas (2000) et al.), i.e. how to acquire those qualities in higher education that would correspond to the European and global trends in higher education, meet the country's demand for modern qualifications, reflect and foster its national culture at the same time enabling its researchers effectively participate in international academic community. However, the question what essential qualities of higher education are at the source of the development of transition country (particularly a small one) into knowledge economy was not yet analysed. Are there any threats in the power of this source and, if so, what are they? How not only overcome them, but turn them into driver of knowledge economy? These are the questions to be addressed in our article.
The article aims to reveal the features of higher education that could be able to facilitate successful development of knowledge economy in the country in transition.
We will rely on the case study of Lithuania - a small country with 3.5 million inhabitants as well as with a successful track record of transition as marked by its future membership in the EU (in 2004) and one of the world's fastest growing economies (9,1 per cent GDP growth in I Q 2003).
The article consists of two parts.
In the first part of our work, we will try to show what qualities of higher education enable country in transition to enter the race towards the knowledge economy in partnership with the developed countries.
In the second part, we will not only look into reflections of these qualities in the Lithuanian higher education under reform, but will also reveal the paradox of this achieved quality, as illustrated by an example of brain drain. We will comment the results of the pilot survey on brain-drain carried out by one of the authors of this article, trying to analyse in-depth the reasons of this paradox. At the end of this part, we will attempt to emphasize the especially important quality of higher education in small state in-transition that would defuse the aforementioned paradox and help to solve the dilemma of effective participation in globalization without diluting its national identity and economic interests.
1. The qualities of higher education - for the race towards knowledge economy
The core methodological approach of this chapter that will help identify the qualities of higher education, facilitates country on its way to the knowledge economy is based on G. Denlanty's (2001) observations presented in his book 'Challenging Knowledge: The University in the Knowledge Society".
[Although]... the university is losing its role as the site of knowledge production, it is still one of the most important producers of knowledge, ... but... it is not the main user of knowledge. (...) The knowledge society refers to a situation in which knowledge is being used to produce knowledge and the conditions of knowledge production are no longer controlled by the mode of knowledge itself. (...) Cognitive processes not only produce knowledge as content, but also give rise to new cognitive structures and identities...
G. Delanty, 2001: 152
It means that the social space for knowledge production is expanding. It also reveals the growing importance of praxis. This is where scientific knowledge encounters practice, primarily, in a practitioner's mind, what gives birth to a personal knowing that is implicit. However, only when this implicit knowing becomes explicit knowledge can we talk about knowledge in-use that is already different from the basic knowledge.
University which seeks to get a new power in the knowledge economy and to have an impact on the development of knowledge society, has to obtain three kinds of communicative interconnecting:
(1) new links between the higher education and society;
(2) new links between the sciences;
(3) changing relations between the higher education and the state.
1.1. New links between the higher education and society
More than a decade ago, R.Barnett (1990) wrote about the reality of a changing relationship between higher education and society. This topic has been joined by more and more authors who focus on the changing role of universities, driven by the need to adapt to social change, be more responsive to the needs of society, and, probably, most sophisticatedly, to understand that higher education has no monopoly of expertise, but has to take part in a wide public discourse (G. Delanty, 2001: 8).
As an epistemological background, expressing new links between higher education and society, is Mode 2 of knowledge production, which, according to M. Gibbons, is a new model of knowledge creation, echoing the reality of contemporary human life.
Mode 1. The complex of ideas, methods, values and norms that has grown up to control the diffusion of the Newtonian model of science to more and more fields of enquiry and ensure its compliance with what is considered sound scientific practice.
Mode 2. Knowledge production carried out in the context of application and marked by its: transdisciplinarity; heterogeneity; organizational heterarchy and transience; social accountability and reflexivity; and quality control which emphasizes context-and use-dependence. Results from the parallel expansion of knowledge producers and users in society.
M.Gibbons et al., 1995:167
As a matter of fact, the difference between traditional knowledge production, a Newtonian model (Mode 1, in the words of Gibbons), and the new Mode 2, expresses the basic shift in understanding the creation of knowledge. At the same time, it acknowledges equal co-existence of Mode 1 and Mode 2 in knowledge production.
This opening requires not only a degree of motivation from universities, but primarily new scientific competence through the application of a new learning concept in knowledge creation, supported by the action science theories of Ch. Argyris and his colleagues (1985).
This problem has to be addressed both by the Western countries and the countries in transition; if solved, this would result in a new competence of higher education.
The novelty of the link between higher education and society is reflected by the responsiveness of higher education to the society's needs. Should the higher education be regarded as a facilitator to the knowledge society development, then we should emphasize its ability to produce many highly competent professionals, mostly the knowledge workers.
Such a situation calls for a mass education, a diversification of higher education and, as a result, for a changed structure of the higher education system (what structure goes well with what country: binary, unified or stratified?). It also calls for a new approach to study programmes.
Professional competence requirements, posed by the knowledge economy, stipulate the emergence of competence-based programmes. They stress the ability to act in real situations by implementing original cognitive structures and supporting professional qualifications with personal traits and values, particularly, with the social values. But the implementation of a competence-based study programmes system does not mean that all the programmes are oriented solely to the highest competence level. The higher education system has to educate many professionals of various competences. Of course, among them - the highest-level knowledge workers. In a standard perception, especially among the natural scientists, these are researchers. In the knowledge economy, however, it is not about them alone; they even do not come first. M. Gibbons and colleagues refer to these professionals of outstanding competence as symbolic analysts, people who work with symbols, concepts, theories, models, and data, produced by others in diverse locations and configure them into new combinations (Gibbons, M. Limoges, C., Nowotny, H., 1994: 84).
All of the aforementioned are factors that indicate the need to develop internal processes of higher education. It means its purposeful opening to the public, so that it becomes an effective source for the development of the knowledge economy and society.
However, in the case of the country in transition, the factors mentioned above are not sufficient. The opening up of higher education should also mean making public use of its international experience and opportunities. In the case of countries in transition, the internationalization of higher education itself is of crucial importance, as these countries for almost half a century have been separated by the 'Iron Curtain'. So, higher education still needs to be assisted at its internationalization. M. van der Wende (1997: 19) perceives this internationalization as "any systematic, sustained effort aimed at making higher education (more) responsive to the requirements and challenges related to the globalization of societies, economy and labour markets". For most countries, and especially the Central and Eastern European states it means the approximation of degree system, the introduction of multicultural and European dimensions in study programmes, increasing the teachers and students' mobility etc.
However, we consider that one of the most important factors behind the internationalization of higher education in the transition countries is knowledge internationalization. We thereby mean the approximation of national thesaurus at least with the thesauruses of main science languages, particularly with the European thesaurus. This procedure of approximation is linked with the production of new knowledge by seeking the synergy of distinct Eastern and Western European knowledge thesauruses (P. Jucevičienė, 2000).
1.2. New links between sciences
According to R. Barnett (2000), the activities of individuals and organizations are growing in their complexity. They are based not only on the knowledge created by academicians, but also the knowledge that comes from practice, i.e. generated by the cognitive structures of practicing individuals and organizations. R. Barnett (2000: 6) refers to such situation as supercomplexity, and explains the term through the example of medical doctor. When the doctor is faced with many types of drugs and instruments in the medical market, he is in a situation of complexity. It exists when an individual is faced with a surfeit of information, knowledge or theoretical frames within one's immediate situation.
However, a contemporary physician fulfils a multitude of tasks that are not directly related with his professional cognitive or operational actions. Doctor is both a member of his organization, the consumer of resources and the provider of medical services. These activities are subject to managerial disciplines. The doctor's legal relations with patients is subject to law discipline. And what about the questions of ethics? So nowadays the doctors are working not in the situation of complexity, but supercomplexity, at the same time handling multiple frames of understanding and action. This multiplication of frameworks has been called by the term supercomplexity (R.Barnett, 2000).
The knowledge workers will perform in such situations of supercomplexity. Therefore, if the higher education seeks to be a source of knowledge society and economy development, it has to ensure the cross-disciplinary communication between disciplines and sciences. All this changes the internal structure of universities (G.Delandy, 2001: 8).
These changes are conceptual and reflect the idea of multiversity where multidisciplinarity is achieved by emphasizing the links between the departments and researchers from different disciplines through common work on multidisciplinary research and study projects, analysis of supercomplex situations, consulting the professionals in such type of situations.
1.3. Changing relations between the higher education and the state
This changing relationship is linked with the growing role of the state as regulator of the university performance. It is more true about the European than American higher education, the latter more influenced by the market. However, this is a very relevant problem to the countries in transition.
First and foremost, it is the state-level strategy to develop the knowledge economy, what is very understandable. The state has to mobilize its resources and higher education is one of them. It means that on the state level HE reforms are influenced via financial and managerial measures. However, as the higher education and particularly the universities reach the stage of effective facilitator to knowledge economy/knowledge society processes, it would be misleading to rely on the strict outside regulatory mechanisms. It is widely known that the university autonomy as well as the academic freedom are two necessary preconditions for ensuring the critical thinking and knowledge creation at the universities. Once the limits of constructive regulation are crossed, these conditions may be broken. So the question - how to strike a right balance between the regulation of institutions of higher education, especially in the course of reform of higher education, and institutional autonomy, i.e. its borders, could apparently have only one answer: by an open dialogue between the state and the university.
2. Features of Lithuanian Higher Education, as a Knowledge Economy Development Facilitator: a Paradox of First Successes
In order to find out the status of the reformed Lithuanian higher education, a knowledge economy development facilitator, we will systematically review the features of higher education as a knowledge economy development facilitator, which have been singled out in the first part of the article. The features are listed and reflected on in Table 1.
Table 1. Higher Education as a Knowledge Economy Facilitator: Reflection of the Case of Lithuania
Features of the facilitator
Reflection on the situation of Lithuanian higher education
Questions to be answered
1.1. New links between higher education and society:
Related discussions have been going on among the academic community and practitioners. So far, the protagonists of Mode 1 knowledge creation are more numerous among academia; practitioners still lack competence for employing Mode 2, but this competence is increasing.
Does the academic community have enough possibilities to update its epistemological knowledge?
What managerial solutions should be introduced in the spaces of higher education and innovation in order to promote Mode 2?
(ii) Structure of higher education system
(iii) Types of study programmes
Number of students in the age group between 19 and 24:
In 2001 - 34,1%;
In 2002 - 39,9%;
In 2003 - 48,4%.
Diversified structure (19 universities and 24 colleges); a binary structure has been declared.
Universities hold academic programmes, and colleges have professional programmes. Kaunas University of Technology is the only holder of a competence-based programme (in teacher education).
Don't these quotas impair the quality, having in mind limited financing of higher education (for e.g. 4,4 % of the national budget in 2001) and the increasing numbers of higher education colleges springing from technical schools?
Doesn't the absence of a unified structure retard the process of higher education becoming an empowering facilitator?
Wouldn't it be reasonable to start pedagogization of universities (Paris, Higher Education conference idea), preparing university teachers able to create and implement competence-based programmes?
Preparation of symbolic analysts could be traced in Master's studies (ratio of Master's students comparing to Bachelor students is 1:5); study programmes lack epistemological knowledge enabling application of Mode 2.
Is limitation to the conceptions of preparing Doctors of science and Master's of science reasonable? Is a Doctor and Master in profession not necessary?
Shouldn't the quality of preparing PhD holders be improved? Particularly, are the questions of science philosophy and methodology emphasized enough in doctoral studies?
A current system of Bachelor's, Master's and Doctor of science degrees has been implemented since 1991.
These programmes have been especially emphasized in social sciences and humanities; programmes in natural and technical sciences should be revised to make them more socially and multi-culturally purposeful. Teaching languages has been stressed, but not enough.
Quite big numbers of Lithuanian students and smaller numbers of teachers in Lithuania participate in exchange programmes. The numbers of foreign students and teachers coming to Lithuania are considerably smaller (e.g. the ratio of foreign students coming to Lithuania and local students going abroad is 1:10)
Shouldn't a programme for internationalizing preparation of highly qualified researchers on the state level be introduced?
Oughtn't special attention be paid to teacher training along the dimensions of multiculturalism and European dimensions? Wouldn't it be reasonable to train learning consultants?
Wouldn't the creation of Very Important Academic Links Bank (VIALB) be useful?
Despite separate attempts to create comparative lexis, Lithuania has not yet joined a European Thesaurus. Several groups of researchers are taking local initiatives to move this direction.
Isn't it necessary to create top-expert groups in various research fields, first of all, in education, which would solve a national problem - creation of a Lithuanian contemporary Thesaurus and its interconnection with the European Thesaurus?
Wouldn't it be reasonable to address EU countries and countries in accession asking for a European level coordination on expanding European Thesauruses?
1.2. New links between sciences:
Research in most departments at the University has been centered around disciplines; there is more communication and cooperation among relevant university departments on a national and international scale than among departments of different fields within one university.
There is a lack of multidisciplinary study programmes; they have not been sealed in relevant higher education documents. Some interdisciplinary study programmes can be found, as, for instance, Informational education technologies study programme.
Wouldn't it be useful to introduce a special programme on the level of higher education system management which would facilitate the development of a multiversity?
Isn't it necessary to create special programmes inside colleges and universities which would stimulate interdisciplinary and multi-disciplinary communication between researchers and university teachers?
1.3. Changing relations between higher education and the State:
Systematic and effective attempts have been made since 1990 to reform Lithuanian higher education; legislation basis have been created, local and international evaluation of the institutions and study programmes have been obtained.
Boundaries of an autonomy have been discussed but reaching the consensus is still on its way
Shouldn't the creation of legislation for joint degrees as well as for Accreditation of Prior Learning be regarded as a priority task at a current stage of higher education reform.
Wouldn't it be useful to impel more flexibility for study programmes, stressing less bureaucracy and more autonomy?
2.1. Reflection of the Qualities of Higher Education, a Facilitator of Knowledge Economy Development, in the Context of the Lithuanian Higher Education Reform
As it can be seen in Table 1, all the features of higher education as a facilitator, to a lesser or a bigger degree, have found a response in Lithuanian higher education. The leap of a mass higher education which occurred during the last couple of years, is impressive, but at the same time, this brings in some suspicion into the issue of quality.
As a matter of fact, systematic efforts on the level of higher education management should be undertaken to enable all university teachers to acquire a new pedagogical competence. That is, the work of university teachers should be professionalized so that they could create and implement competence - based programs. Moreover, the system of Accreditation of Prior Learning should be created on a national level, and the conception of preparing symbolic analysts in various study fields should be developed. By all means, the efforts of improving the quality of higher education should be related to the increase in its financing. Unfortunately, at present, these numbers are hardly comparable with the data of any Western country.
Openness of higher education to society, especially unclosing of universities to business organizations and industrial enterprises, should be continued. The value of knowledge created according to Mode 2 should be legitimated in science and this should be reflected in evaluating researchers' work and their publications.
In spite of the fact that the number of multidisciplinary research projects and programs is increasing, this process should be encouraged by a systematic introduction of the multiversity conception. Internationalization of Lithuanian higher education is developing rapidly, but there has been little systematic effort devoted to the creation of a Lithuanian Thesaurus in different fields (the Thesaurus in education should be given a priority) and to interconnection of this thesaurus to a European one. Besides, there is a lack of balance in the process of mobility: there are relatively large numbers of students and teachers who study and teach in Western countries, whereas very small amount of foreign academia, especially students, come to Lithuania. A system to keep the equilibrium should be created.
The influence of the State on higher education is quite strong. A national reform of higher education has been implemented since 1990; a modern system of degrees and a modular credit system have been introduced; most study programs have successfully passed national accreditation, some of these have been approved by international experts. The system of recognition of diplomas obtained abroad has been developed; the Center for the Quality of Studies is operating. However, in spite of positive changes, there still are many problems. First of all, a mutual agreement concerning the boundaries of university autonomy should be reached. Then, more opportunities for flexibility would be welcome in individualizing study programs and innovating their contents. Legislation on joint degrees as well as on Accreditation of Prior Learning should be created.
Thus, in summarizing the reflection of the Lithuanian higher education on the features important for the facilitator, it should be noted that all the features can be detected, to a lesser of bigger extent. The weakest is Thesaurus (with only scattered attempts), and the strongest is the mass scale of higher education (raising certain questions about its quality).
2.2. Brain Drain: Phenomenon and its Causes
By all means, Lithuanian higher education generates qualities which can be compared to similar qualities of higher education in foreign countries. Thus, a part of students, usually the ones highly committed to studies and research, acquire rather high competencies. For several years, a certain process can be noticed: the graduates leave for working abroad; some of them get highly qualified jobs.
The question arises, if Lithuania is going to encounter a paradoxical situation, when the higher quality of university education creates a more intense process of brain drain. The losses in their economic expression could be higher than the profit of Western business investment to Lithuania. In this way, a small country in-transition can lose its resources and, eventually, become unable to join globalization processes under the conditions of partnership, and be non-competitive in the market of the knowledge economy. This is quite a serious problem requiring the investigation of its sources.
In order to see the reasons of brain drain and to suggest the ways to defeat them, we are going to introduce the work of the author of current article, P. Juceviciene, co-authored by R. Virzintaite and G. Jucevicius (2002), "Brain Drain and its Reflection on Lithuanian Intellectual Capital: Pilot Research".
The research aimed at analyzing the reasons and nature of brain-drain in Lithuania, as a country in transition, at constructing an appropriate research methodology and instruments, and at providing the main policy advice to overcome the problems identified.
The survey encompassed 40 respondents. A standard respondent was relatively young, around the age of 30, single, without children, a university graduate, most likely, with a graduate-level diploma; he/she had lived abroad for approximately 4 years and had worked as a specialist for 3 years in the USA or in Northern Europe.
The methodology has taken the form of a "balance" measuring relative advantages of foreign and domestic environments which have been considered by the respondents based on their perceptions of "good life" and their competences.
The respondents' perceptions of "good life" were dominated by the economic and self-actualisation factors, such as development and choice opportunities, interesting job, implementation of own ideas, and financial sufficiency. Social-cultural factors, such as local environment, participation in cultural life, were of relatively less importance. The respondents also scored lower on the pro-active factors, such as perceived importance of career, professional responsibilities or need to influence the outer environment. This indicated that respondents tended to prefer the expert-type career path and to act in an established system rather than to shape it.
The respondents with a Ph.D. degree shared many of the above characteristics. However, of particular importance were such workplace-related factors as well-equipped workplace, work in accordance with the qualifications, sufficient funds available for science and studies.
Most of the respondents have indicated that their competences played a role in migration decision making. An area of concern was that the advantages offered by foreign environment were emphasized more than domestic drawbacks, as this potentially limits the effectiveness of policy measures. Moreover, the main 'foreign advantages' were described by the aforementioned economic and work-place factors, while domestic advantages are more associated with the less emphasised socio-cultural factors. Thus, it only strengthens the assumption of rational choice in migration decision-making.
The research has confirmed the hypothesis that still it is easier to keep intellectual capital at home, than to retrieve it. Although respondents were in principle willing to maintain ties with homeland and did not deny the prospects of comeback, the salary they were willing to receive upon comeback was substantially higher than that required before leaving the country. Thus, it is more rational to establish the policy framework oriented to (1) creating the conditions/incentive systems for keeping the intellectual capital at home and (2) making the best use of ties with the emigrant intellectual capital.
Despite the fact that the research did not aim at looking for the connection between quality of higher education and brain drain, the interview with separate "brain drain representatives" allows raising this hypothesis. Thus, we should ask if the country is not going to face a dilemma: is it worth investing its resources to seek for a better quality in higher education; that is, should we regard higher education as a strategic means in pursuing the knowledge economy, which, most probably, would create a bigger wave of brain drain? Or, maybe, we should look for other strategic means? Unfortunately, the suggestion to reject higher education, as a strategic tool, is unrealistic. Thus, what should be done?
2.3. Ways and means for brain concentration
We use the term 'Brain concentration' to emphasize that brain boost should be a process going on in any country wishing to fight major problems, possibly caused by brain drain.
Aiming at brain concentration, it is possible to keep to one or even two strategies:
Try to avoid the leaving of the brain; Seek using the brain when an individual already works in Western countries.
In order to implement these strategies, programs on the state level as well as managerial, material, and financial resources are necessary. In this work, we limit ourselves to highlighting a certain feature of higher education which would help solve the problem mentioned above.
The key-word here would be professionals' network, a structure, which can be initiated, created and maintained by a university or college so that it could team up with its partners (alumna is especially valued) for the dissemination of innovation, solution of problems encountered on the way to the knowledge economy. Masters' and PhD students, or even including Bachelors', should be included into such networks.
Partnership networks, in general, are direct features of knowledge economy and the agents of its development, ensuring the existence of learning communities.
Regarded as tools for fighting a brain-drain problem, they serve as organizational and psychological means, helping a future professional to join the work and to relate to other professionals in one's own country. This does not mean, however, that a network carries a national or local character. Such an idea would not contradict the efforts of higher education internationalization; it would even support such struggle. In other words, a future professional, first of all, learns to act in a local network, and, then, discovers international possibilities of this network. Even if a professional leaves for living and working abroad, a continuing networking with one's own country professionals will create real possibilities not only to participate in the processes of knowledge society and knowledge economy going on in this country, but to enrich these processes with Western experience.
It should be noted that Y.Ch.Cheng (2001) envisions the role of university as an innitiator, creator and supporter of networks, as one of major university missions which determines a paradigm shift in Higher Education. Greately appreciating this idea, we think, that implications of this mission in the context of the discussed problems should be the subject for further research.
To sum major ideas of the current work, the following points could be noted:
Higher education of a definite country could serve as a facilitator for developing knowledge economy in this country. This is especially important in the case of a country in transition, when this country is slow in the processes of knowledge economy and has to speed this movement up.
Higher education, aiming to be a facilitator of the knowledge society and knowledge economy development, should be questioned about quality implementation of its features on the following levels:
Have the new links between higher education and society been created?
Have the new links between sciences been created? Have the relations between higher education and the state been changed?
A paradoxical situation may arise: a high level of higher education, important for the development of knowledge economy, not only produces more successful knowledge workers, but also causes more cases of 'brain drain'. This could be a painful experience for a small country. Specifically Lithuania has already been experiencing this. Thus, to prevent brain drain and to strengthen the development of knowledge economy and knowledge society, we should emphasize one more feature of higher education: its competence to initiate, create and coordinate professionals' networks, which would become the space for 'nursering in action' of future professionals.
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