The Geopolitics of Knowledge: The British Educational Diplomacy After BREXIT
The sociological turn in International Relations has helped to better understand the role of ideas and knowledge for power. Concepts like Joseph Nye’s soft power, John Ikenberry’s socialisation and Robert Cox’s hegemony had been seminal in this context (Cox, 1981; Ikenberry and Kupan, 1990; Nye, 2004; Gill and Cutler, 2014). This paper draws on this scholarly discussion in order to explore the geopolitical dimension of the internationalisation of higher education (HE). With this focus it seeks to further develop an emerging field of study that frames international HE as educational diplomacy (Knight, 2014; Lomer, 2017; Allison, 2014).
At the centre of the paper are the current efforts of the UK to make use of its universities in order to strengthen its global position after BREXIT. Using HE for geopolitical purposes is not new, on the contrary, it has a long colonial legacy that has remained widely unchallenged to date. The House of Lords underlined in a report in 2014 that “[t]he UK’s education sector is a major contributor to the UK’s soft power” (House of Lords, 2014: 98). This long tradition is well reflected by the 57 heads of state or government who were in power in 2018 and all educated in the UK (Hillman, 2018). With 485,645 international students in 2018/19, making the UK the second most important destination, educational diplomacy has gained in scope and scale in recent years. However, the UK also faces important competition. Germany increased the number of its international students by more than one third between 2009/10 and 2017/18 alone, from 244,775 to 374,951 students. Other countries also strive for becoming major destinations, increasingly emerging countries with China at the forefront (for Australia, see Marginson, 2018; for India, Malaysia, China, and Iran, see Ham and E., 2018; Hong, 2014; Wu, 2019; Rana, 2016; Banikamal and Ra’ees, 2018). In this paper, I will focus on a key feature of educational diplomacy: the alumni networks. I will present findings of a study that examined the different strategies of British government to strengthen alumni networks. This study provides interesting insights into important transformations of educational diplomacy and casts light on tensions between geopolitical and economic interests, as well as between the different public and private - not-for profit and for-profit - actors involved in establishing alumni-networks.