America, national neoliberalism, and epistemologies of university models

My obligatory vacation from last week is over, alas. Anyway, continuing the project of reading about academic neoliberalism in global perspective, this week we’re looking at a set of papers on “Neo-liberal conditions of knowledge” from Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. We read about South Korea, Japan and Taiwan; one of the papers we didn’t read goes on to discuss Hong Kong. I have to say, I’m a little perplexed by the absence of China and India, the two largest Asian countries, from this collection. I’m left wondering what’s happening in their university systems — any reading suggestions there?

The story about South Korea, Japan and Taiwan is familiar neoliberal territory, at any rate. Korea apparently has been trying to create “business universities,” which, as Myungkoo Kang’s article comments, “refers to the commercialization of management, finance, [and] knowledge-production and the training of a workforce that directly serves the interest of industry” (197). This involves reshaping of the undergraduate curriculum, and, as in Taiwan, new research assessment measures, which are problematically based on English-language, American-run, quantitative citation indices.

Japan, for its part, has merrily been “corporatizing” its universities, according to Ozawa Hiroaki’s piece; this involves decreasing state funding (187), worsening working conditions for teachers (186-7), quantification of research output targets (183), contract-based research funds (184), and top-down, “dictatorial” decision-making (185-6). Yes, it sounds pretty much like the usual list of neoliberal reforms. And, as in the cases I considered in my last post, the reforms depend on this peculiar logic of neoliberal nationalism, where universal compliance to global neoliberalism becomes the national project. As Ozawa comments in closing, ” ‘Society’ has become analogous to the ‘industrial world’, and ‘public’ and ‘universal’ are not allowed to cross the boundaries of the nation-state” (189).

What I want to dwell on here in more detail is the use of the American Model and the peculiar figure of America in global university neoliberalisms. As Davydd Greenwood and Morten Levin (among others) have pointed out, new European university models — as well as Asian university models, as we’ll see — are “built on fundamental misconceptions about the university in the U.S.” (98). If we look at the Japanese case that Ozawa presents, we can see that he presents a deeply partial vision of American universities, one which apparently inspired reforms that seem to bear little resemblance to current U.S. higher education.

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