Book Reviews

Book by: Rosenfeld, Stuart A., ed.
Review by: Thomas G. Fairbairn
Head, Student Advising
Ontario College of Art & Design (Toronto)

 

 

We live in a brave new world where companies can literally pack up and move halfway around the globe overnight or, without moving, simply shift operations to a decentralized model. This has had an iconoclastic impact on higher education. Like it or not, the Ivory Tower is under siege by external (and need I say, global) economic forces. Universities have not quite caught on yet; as institutions they are far behind this particular curve.

This book addresses that changing relationship between higher education and the so-called real world. This is not an end report, but rather a work in progress that begins in 1988 with the formation of the Consortium for Manufacturing Competitiveness (CMC) – an alliance created, under the auspices of the southern states’ governments, to help rescue a region on the verge of an industrial collapse (p. 215). This book is based upon proceedings of the conference that celebrated the tenth anniversary of the CMC. It showcases over a dozen prominent educators and business persons who attempted to articulate our still evolving understanding of the new paradigm of an information economy. CMC now consists of 16 alpha community colleges, including Augusta Technical Institute, Georgia, Wytheville Community College, Virginia, along with 14 European community colleges (Scotland, Wales, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Belgium, Finland, South Africa, Wales, England), all of whom are committed to meeting the challenge “to systematically monitor economic trends and continually look for and demonstrate better ways to meet the needs of members’ communities and economies” (p. 217).

The stasis within our university systems has left the job of building bridges between higher education and the corporate sector vacant. Administrators from North American community colleges, and similar institutions in Europe and Asia, are happily exploiting these opportunities. They have taken the lead in responding to “… the growing demand for highly skilled technical and management workers and help attract (to local communities) more research and development-oriented companies” (p. 21). And, they are doing this with aggressive creativity. For this tenth-year anniversary, conference organizers reached out to top industry leaders and encouraged their input on how to adapt the community college curriculum. Indeed they asked for input into how to adapt the institutions themselves in ways that will allow for the creation of truly globally-tuned learning environments.

Karl Anderson, Saturn Corporation, spoke about the experience of “… living in the white-water rapids of change” (p. 101). Joanne Steiner, a principal of the Danish biotechnology firm Novo Nordisk A/S, addressed “change in the psychological contract between employees and employers” (p. 117). Phillip Cooke, the University of Wales, encapsulated the intent of the forum: “In brief, regions are now usefully understood as politically defined areas between the local and the federal or unitary state levels. This ‘meso level,’ as it is sometimes known, has become an area of fascination for policymakers and analysts alike. The reason is that under conditions of fierce international competitiveness, with liberalized market conditions and porous trade frontiers – otherwise known as globalization – the region becomes the focus for organizing specific industry clusters” (p. 85).  

This text is an ambitious, yet easily accessible read. It is a worthwhile read for all those curious about all the buzz words so popular in today’s media: globalization, information managing, Gen Xers, dot.com age, age of information, life-time learning, think global/act local, value-added service, vertical versus horizontal structuring. If you want to understand higher education’s relationship with the corporate sector, then, again, this is a worthwhile book. If you seek to understand the world our students will inherit, then this book is a must read.

 


Learning.now: Skills for an Information Economy. (2000). Book by Rosenfeld, Stuart A., ed. Review by Thomas G. Fairbairn. 230pp. $33.00 (paperback). American Association of Community Colleges. ISBN# 0-87117-325-5

 


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