(Continuing the discussion begun in Globalization and Internationalization, June 7, 2006)
“Modularity” is an ill-defined concept as used in discussing globalization of the modern corporation, in that it may mean very different things to different organizations at different times. Generally, however, it has to do with breaking a process into separable blocks (modules) that have sufficiently well defined inputs and outputs that the blocks can later be fit together and recombined into a complete process. “Globalization” then has to do with accessing resources world-wide to produce those modules in the most effective and efficient manner. As shown by Berger’s research (see The many pathways to globalization, April 21, 2006), there does not seem to be any “right” way to define and produce the various modules of a process. Rather, the way in which a process is modularized by a particular company is likely to be highly dependent on the history and conditions of that company - its legacy.
Thus, examining modularity in higher education is unlikely to lead to a generic model modularization. However, the impossibility of achieving a single unique answer should not dissuade us from exploring some of the possibilities for modularity, and the role of globalization for those possibilities.
As noted in What business are we in? March 1, 2006, universities form a part of the knowledge industry. Our product is quite broad. University higher education involves both fundamental and applied research, and education at a number of levels - undergraduate, graduate (Ph.D., professional master’s and doctor’s), and continuing education at a variety of levels. It provides a broad range of services, often related to the research and/or teaching functions. This service might range, e.g. from provision of medical care by faculty and students of the medical school, to input to cities by faculty and students on school or transportation issues. Out of the research function comes new intellectual property, which can be shared freely with the world, or licensed to some organization to exploit. A large percentage of the students in universities are “traditional” students in the 18-25 age range, and consequently universities also serve a very large socialization role in society. We tend to do all of this in a rather integrated (rather than modular) way, with some important exceptions.
However, we should not assume that these functions must be carried out in an integrated way. Other parts of the industry have created modules of one or more of the components described above, and often “produce” those modules at a very high quality level. For example, colleges focus on undergraduate education and socialization, for- profit higher education focuses on several components of the educational role, and industry and government carry out research and create intellectual property as part of their larger activities.
With this as background and the assurance that there is no “right way” to look at this issue, I will look at research as a sort of super-module that might be optimized through better access to global resources in an upcoming post: Modularity in university higher education: Research. This will be followed by a look at education as a super-module : Modularity in university higher education: Education