Globalisation in an Educational Context

Globalisation is often discussed as a relatively new concept that has occurred since the onset of high speed travel, efficient communication links, (relative) stability of national states and the interdependency of world economies. There are others who suggest its origins can be traced much further back than the last thirty, fifty or even one hundred years. The starting points are as varied as the definitions. For the purpose of this essay the definition we will follow is as follows, the starting point is not as important. The effects on education have been most dramatic in the last 2 or 3 decades.

“…increased economic, cultural, environmental, and social inter-dependencies and new transnational financial and political formations arising out of the mobility of capital, labour and information, with both homogenizing and differentiating tendencies.” (Blackmore, 2000, p.133) 

It is of use to break this down into more understandable examples. Globalisation drives the integration of all aspects of regional cultures, societies and economies. It is made possible by the factors listed above, effective communication and technologies, the increase in movement of peoples due to transport links becoming more accessible, and the huge improvements in access to knowledge that has been enabled by access to the World Wide Web.

It also allows, for the most part, societies to access, assimilate or be exposed to different cultural outputs and norms.  Of the wide ranging benefits of globalisation there is little doubt, despite current financial difficulties being experienced throughout the globe, but it is unwise to suggest that this integration and access to global financial systems in particular is without its problems and that the balance of power in globalisation especially in developing or newly emerging markets has the potential to cause more harm than good. As Stiglitz commented in 2007

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the World Bank, were not only not doing all that they could to help these [developing] countries but were sometimes making their life more difficult. IMF programs had clearly worsened the East Asian crisis, and the “shock therapy” they had pushed in the former Soviet Union and its satellites played an important role in the failure of the transition.”  (Stiglitz 2007)

and previously “The problem is not with globalization, but with how it has been managed.” (Stiglitz 2002)

Within this background of economics, cultural influence and technological advancement a relatively less noticeable aspect of globalisation is occurring and this is within education. It is on this subject that the following essay will be based highlighting how these changes and factors are influencing global, and then more locally, Hong Kong education.

Education and Globalization

Education, as with most other aspects of society has not been untouched by Globalisation, in fact it can be argues that the requirements of working within a globalised world that education, along with trade and commerce, has been one of the areas most affected.

With the huge changes that the global economy has and is continuing to undergo there has been a shift from both what a working environment can consist of and of what the employee that works within it looks like. Previously, and it can depend on the nation when these changes became apparent, there was heavy emphasis on industrialisation and manufacturing as the mainstays of national economies, this has moved, more quickly in some countries, to an increasingly knowledge based economy – an economy where access to  knowledge is the main resource and not personal and workforce.

This has brought both benefits in terms of GDP and increases in standard of living and unfortunately a host of obstacles to be overcome if the transition is to be successful. This transition can be loosely compared to the manufacturing principles of Fordism and Toyotaism.  In basic terms the move from a large standardised model to a more adaptable and flexible model. In an educational context historically mass education was introduced in an environment that is very different to the one we experience now.

“The whole system was invented — around the world; there were no public systems of education, really, before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism.” (Ken Robinson 2006)

If it is accepted that there is a transition from industrialised to  knowledge based economies how and to what extent does this affect education in terms of delivery, access and conflicts

As highlighted by Ken Robinson in the quote above education, at least for the masses was an idea that came from the time of the Industrial revolution and was and is still based on a pyramid of academic achievement and teaching skills that were relevant for that period.

 Traditional models have required a set of hard / tangible skills to be taught, skills that would allow the students to take their place is a relatively stable workforce. It was majority teacher led and students who excelled could continue, financial circumstances permitting, to undertake higher level education. Students are required to learn the material the teacher provides usually to pass a test of some description and creativity, problem solving skills, research, relevance to the needs of the workplace and innovation are not prioritised.

To fulfil the requirements of a more flexible, varied and dynamic knowledge economy there needs to be a paradigm shift within traditional educational models. Though there is still importance placed on the teaching of knowledge it places increased emphasis on the teaching of other additional skills including being able to access knowledge, idea generation, innovation, adaptability, problem solving and creativity. It encourages society to embrace lifelong learning and to work flexibly with others. It is a move that some societies, especially those that are considered to be more influential globally, have found less difficult than others.

Education Accessibility and Globalization

This leads us on to accessibility to education, especially higher education in a globalised world. The global education market including school and higher education has grown from approximately 2.5 Trillion US dollars in 2005 to 4.4 Trillion as of 2013 with the fastest growing segment being e-learning. This is forecast, according to IBIS to become over 6 trillion by 2017. In the UK there are over 400,000 international students accessing institutions and in the USA over 750,000.

Almost all universities of note have developed online and distance learning courses and others have commissioned partnerships or campuses within other countries. These increases in international student numbers globally, and not just uniquely in the West, can be attributed to a number reasons not least of which comprise of attractiveness and financial.

In terms of attractiveness to the consumer the explanations are evident, the top 100 list of universities, though slightly different depending on the source and year it is accessed, is dominated by Western Universities, in particular those from the UK and USA.

To enter a global economy it is of distinct advantage to gain an education from a reputable institute, it also has advantage of being taught in English which is the lingua franca of business (this will be discussed in more detail shortly). In terms of the benefits to the universities they have been encouraged to move from the provision of a public service and to become a private one.

In practical terms this means they cannot rely on the same amount of state funds to operate and they must make the transition to the more neoliberal market model. This, for those successful universities, enables them to charge high fees to increasing numbers of international students for the ‘privilege’ of studying there.

This free market system of education has its casualties as well as its beneficiaries, local or less well regarded universities or colleges are less likely to attract a large share of this lucrative market and with less funding it is increasingly difficult for them to substantially improve and both these universities and those attracting more students may find themselves putting income above both quality and educational values.

It also creates a secondary market for degrees or equivalents for those potential students who do not have the financial backing to access these levels of higher education, this secondary market may have quality and relevance issues and it also creates a potential qualification hierarchy and therefore an imbalance in the access to opportunities.

These conflicts within education, two of which have been highlighted above, are the prohibitive fee structure and qualification value meaning those that do go on to access higher education  may find themselves with irrelevant qualifications and high debts in their push to obtain a H.E qualification. With global access to education markets and the increase in online access to education local, specialised or smaller institutions may found themselves struggling to fill places.

If this results in closures we may find place numbers reducing. This could result in a homogenised education system that resembles only one model, that of the West. This may result in conflict or resentment in other areas of the world whose cultural and societal values differ and who are unwilling to allow a hegemonic takeover of their educational arrangements.

It has been concern among Western academics that education was becoming increasingly standardised locally and that there is a strong case for smaller more specialised models that cater for local needs, if internationalisation of education continues it may be considered that this concern may have global implications rather than regional ones.

The other big issue is conformity. We have built our education systems on the model of fast food...You know there are two models of quality assurance in catering. One is fast food, where everything is standardized.The other are things like Zagat and Michelin restaurants, where everything is not standardized, They’re customised to local circumstances we have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.”  (Ken Robinson, 2010)

Exam Side Hustle

Education and Movement of people

With the movement of people and the increase in higher level qualifications worldwide we are seeing one of the largest mass movements of people in history. Although globalisation can help to distribute wealth, and it can be argued it has enabled impoverished nations to greatly improve their competitiveness, it also enables the brightest and most able of those nations to leave and take with it their skills and knowledge to a country that will pay more. If significant numbers take the opportunities afforded them by globalisation it can leave their countries experiencing a ‘brain drain’ that then affects their ability to innovate and remain competitive within the global economy.

The impact of globalisation on our local area is ever present and in this final section this essay will discuss the impacts responses and reforms that Hong Kong has experienced since education started to reform from a local service to a global commodity.

Hong Kong and Educational Globalization

Hong Kong has a symbiotic relationship within the international economy and to maintain this relationship is has been recognised that education has to play an integral role in the city’s attempt to continue this relationship. If it fails to achieve this there are many competing regions, Singapore, Shanghai, and Taiwan for example, that could become more attractive to the huge number of multinationals that operate within the city. To enable its workforce to acquire the skills needed to fulfil the new demands of a knowledge economy the city has tried to make some significant educational reforms.

Within the last 10 years there has been a Native English teacher scheme implemented in Hong Kong. It started within secondary schools and then moved into primary schools. The scheme places a native English speaking teacher into each school within Hong Kong, and a number employ additional Native speaking teachers within their staff team.

The aims of this are to allow students to experience English is different contexts and not just as a classroom language but also as a training aid for teachers to enable them to learn differing methods of presentation and approaches to teaching and apply them in their own teaching. Within higher education there are both tenured and visiting professors who can help to share knowledge and perspectives from other areas. These measures are an attempt to enable the Hong Kong education system to evolve into a more universal structure, the adapting of the 334 pattern of schooling also fits it to a more global system.

Within secondary curriculums the introduction of Liberal studies is an attempt to introduce more critical thinking teaching, group and project work and within primary there is, in some schools, General Studies being taught, also on occasion using English as the medium of instruction. Hong Kong has also expressed a wish to become tri lingual, and lists its official languages as English and Cantonese, although Putonghua is increasingly relevant.

The reasons are understandable, it sits, for the moment, as the gateway to China, enjoying considerably more freedoms that the mainland cities of Shanghai or Shenzhen and offers a way into the huge market for goods and services that China can offer, and as English is the lingua franca (as has been mentioned previously) it enabled the cities workforce to work deeply within both the world’s largest emerging markets and with some of the largest established economies.

This puts increasing pressure on Hong Kong universities in particular, but schools also, as they are completing in a narrow field and against some very stiff competition to produce a workforce able to compete in this environment, Hong Kong has only one university listed in the top 50 in the world ( as of this year) and in a list, that has been discussed previously,  dominated by already high regarded institutions mainly from English speaking nations (though not solely) It is in this environment that it must attract students, against some of the best in the world.

As has been mentioned with so many in Hong Kong and abroad now obtaining degree / post graduate level qualifications there is a hierarchy developing that can be based not only on students achievement but also the reputation of the university they attended. With the top universities being located in predominantly English speaking countries it is clear to see the advantages either perceived or real to choose to study abroad and not within the local systems if financial circumstances permit.

As Hong Kong universities have tried to benchmark with the top universities in the world, they are struggling very hard to compete for limited resources” (Deem et al, 2008)

Prior to university, education has not been immune to these perceived advantages of studying abroad / learning in English or both. Kindergartens, Primary schools, and Secondary schools have also succumbed to this marketization of education. There are multiple organisations that offer in instruction in English and Putonghua, though to a lesser extent.

There are international schools, DSS, ESF and EMI schools through to private kindergartens and tutorial centres all catering for the local population of Hong Kong to learn in a language that is not their mother tongue, and despite the increasing numbers of places the demand still outstrips the supply, requiring those that are able to look overseas for more than just their university places.

These schools with the exception of the ‘band 1’ EMI schools are self-funding and are outside, for the most part, of government control and they are able to teach other systems including more internationalised IB and GCSE qualifications. Though not necessarily a ‘through train’ to university it is highly likely that the chances of securing a place are greatly increased if the student has attended one of these more internationalised establishments. Those that do not have the money to buy this type of education are conversely more likely to find it more difficult to access higher education.

To help address the lack of access to higher education found within Hong Kong a system of associate degrees was introduced in 2000. Although there have been recent improvements regarding average salaries of Associate degree holders it has consistently been held with less esteem that a full bachelor degree, even when topped up to become a full bachelor degree.

Students found themselves trying to enter an increasingly competitive market with qualifications that were given fairly low value and those they found themselves competing against often had more attractive qualifications.

Hong Kong, and for that matter other countries in the region have a desire to increase their competitiveness and the global ranking scheme is of great consequence to them as a result. ((Deem et al, 2008) there are plans for centres of excellence throughout the major economic players in Asia, China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and of course Hong Kong.

Globalized Education and Business

The aim is to be become the Asian centre of excellence and therefore attract more students both regionally and internationally.  To achieve this there has been some emulation of the Western models of higher education and with it comes some risks.

“If we copy policy practices without proper adaptation and careful contextualization, we might easily encounter problems, including in Asia, a process of re-colonization, resulting in reproducing learning experiences that do not fit the specific cultural and political environments in the East.” (Deem et al, 2008)

In this pursuit of excellence, Shin & Toutkoushian (2011), Hong Kong’s academics and policy makers need to be conscious that the reforms and changes they have made and are planning are tailored for the environment in which they are implemented.

That globalisation affects societies and cultures in a myriad of different ways is evident. Reviewing the arguments both for and against these affects it is also evident that the successes it can enable also come with a price, some countries have been better equipped to adapt and prosper and others have not fared so successfully.

This is true across all aspects of globalisation, culturally the dominance of American cinema is a clear example of this and economically china’s rise over the last 2 decades also demonstrates the affects that opening to a global market can bring. However it appears that as much as it brings benefits it can bring inadequacies as well.

Final Thoughts

Education is now a global business, there are strong indicators of elements of neo liberalism in evidence and a constant battle to raise standards, this however is taking on an increasingly homogenous feel and with the current push for access to higher education and the regard that Western Education is held it is also starting to feel like in other regions that local values are being given less importance.  

“Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model.  What we need, and the word’s been used many times during the course of the past few days, is not evolution, but a revolution in education. This has to be transformed into something else. (Ken Robinson, 2010)

There are concerns that hegemony in occurring over these other systems the adoption of new ideologies, especially within Asia, and therefore Hong Kong. There is nothing wrong, and lots to be commended about gaining new methodology, opening up their own institutions for others to access or allowing/sending students to study abroad and gain a more internationalised education.

This has to be done with a great deal of care and attention to the positives and negatives, not just imported as or perceived as a finished product. There is no educational system on earth that has yet claimed to have a totally holistic approach including those of Western education, reading educational publications in these countries will make this very clear very quickly.

To take these ideas and not research the potential drawbacks is naïve, and to take these ideas and not fully research the impact they will have on the local workforce and attitudes to work and education is worse. If Asia can avoid these pitfalls and take the positives from their own systems and integrate them thoughtfully and effectively with new and different ideas from elsewhere it may be that we will see the learning revolution that Sir Ken Robinson feels is so needed in this globalised world.


Blackmore, J. (2000): ‘Globalization: A Useful Concept for Feminists Rethinking Theory and Strategies in Education?’ in Burbles, N. C. & Torres, C. A. (eds.), Globalization and Education: Critical Perspectives, New York: Routledge.

Deem, R., Mok, K. H., & Lucas, L. (2008). Transforming higher education in whose image? Exploring the concept of the ‘world-class’ university in Europe and Asia. Higher Education Policy, 21(3), 83-97.

Robinson, K. (2010). Bring on the learning revolution. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2006). Schools kill Creativity. Retrieved from

Strauss, V. (2013, February 9th). Global Education Market reaches 4.4 trillion and is growing. Washington Post. Retrieved from

Stiglitz, J. ( 2006) Making Globalisation Work. WW Norton and Co. New York.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalisation and its discontents. WW Norton and Co. New York

Additional Bibliography

O Rourke, Kevin H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 2002. “When did globalisation begin?,” European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(01), pages 23-50, April. Retrieved from

Sachs, J. (2005) The End of Poverty. Penguin Books Ltd, London.

Shin, J.C., & Toutkoushian, R.K. ( 2011) The Past, present and future of university rankings. In J.C. Shin, R.K. Toutkoushian & U.Teichler ( Eds), university Rankings: 15 Theoretical basis, methodology and impacts on global higher education (vol. 3, pp.1-16) Springer, Netherlands.

Suraez-Orozco, M. & Qin-Hillard.(eds) (2004) Globalisation: Culture and Education in the New Millennium. University of California Press, USA.

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