In the debate about globalization, one view is that a clear trend towards increased similarity in values and system design is the result of worldwide emerging models. Meyer, Boli, Thomas and Ramirez (1997) state that “[w]orldwide models define and legitimate agendas for local action, shaping the structures and policies of nation-states and other national and local actors in virtually all of the domains of rationalized social life — business, politics, education, medicine, science, even the family and religion.” Applied to higher education, world institutionalism predicts a growing trend towards isomorphism, rather than divergence, in for example the higher educational system (Meyer, Ramirez, Frank & Schofer, 2006). The fact that 29 countries are currently members of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, and have universities that public courses openly and share teaching materials freely, could be seen as further proof that global values and institutions are converging (OpenCourseWare Consortium, n.d.).
However, this theory is not without critics. Schriewer and Martinez (2004) differentiate between internationalization as a real process, and internationality as a semantic construct that can be referred to. They show how policy borrowing does not happen systematically, for example following a simple centre-periphery model, but rather is structured by the needs and discourses in any relevant society - tell me who you borrow from, and I will tell you who you are. References to other states are often employed as a rhetorical tool to promote change that is desirable by certain groups. To discover these processes, multi- country statistical analysis has to be complemented with very fine-grained analyses of individual cases of educational borrowing, taking into account the local context, including culture, history, power structures and discourse.
Gita Steiner-Khamsi and Ines Stolpe’s (2006) work in Mongolia is a wonderful example of a fine-grained national study. They show how the Mongolian state adopted a number of international trends, whether “New Public Management” from New Zealand, or the necessity for “girl child education”, but that the actual actions and outcomes were very different. In some cases, the terminology was adapted to lend credibility to desirable programs nationally, and in other cases, to receive funding from donors with specific priorities.
In my research, I will choose China as a specific country that has adopted the concept of OpenCourseWare, both in use and production, and use it to examine these two theories. I will explore how the program is constituted, what the reasons for its introduction were, and what function it currently plays, to evaluate whether this case supports the idea of growing convergence of values and institutional forms, or whether it is more similar to the Mongolian case of borrowing a name, but changing the concept radically.
In this proposal, I will begin by discussing the concept of OpenCourseWare as it is promoted in the West, both as an ideal norm, but also as a practical policy innovation perspective. I will then summarize some of the, mainly Chinese, litterature on Chinese OpenCourseWare, both to uncover how the program operates, but also to examine the kind of discourses used to describe it. Finally, I will outline some of the guiding questions, and methodologies, I will employ to attempt to answer my research question.