Alex Usher: Libros sobre educación superior 2018
Diciembre 13, 2018
December 13th, 2018 – Alex Usher
You all know the drill. I read a bunch of higher ed books every year (not all of them published this year) and then just before XMAS I give you my picks. Serious higher ed nerds seem to enjoy it, but some of you will want to skip this. Either way, here we go:
Fiction – I mostly read campus novels to satisfy my masochistic streak, because as a genre they are pretty awful (Lucky Jim made me want to tear my eyeballs out), but two this year were pretty good.  Stoner – which is a recently “rediscovered” 50-year-old American novel – is pretty good but almost certainly of greater interest to middle-aged dudes than anyone else. But Therese Bohmann’s Eventide, a quite fascinating Swedish campus novel, gets the nod in this category. Highly recommended.
Thematic and Historical Stuff – Starting waaaay  back – like, back in the Axial Age – there’s The Origins of Higher Learning by Roy Lowe and Yashihito Yasuhara, which is a comprehensive (if not exactly page-turning) pan-Eurasian guide to academies and networks of knowledge in the two millennia before Bologna. I also read Rashdall’s Medieval Universities, which is occasionally intriguing, but I only recommend it to anyone who is aspiring to a black belt in higher-ed nerd-dom. Richard Vinen’s The Long ‘68 is an interesting romp through a number of countries’ student revolts of fifty years ago.  Student Politics and Protest, a collection of essays edited by Rachel Brooks, is uneven but still contained some articles of interest.  Engineers of Jihad, by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, examines the question of why engineers are over-represented both among Islamic radicals and extremists of the far right (the answer is less reductionist than you might expect). But the best book in this category was probably The Diversity Bargain, by Natasha K. Warikoo. It is an excellent comparison of how top US and UK universities (and their students) frame issues of racial equity and diversity and is well worth a read.
American Higher Education – I read a couple of classics in this area, including re-reading Sheila Slaughter’s twin tomes on Academic Capitalism (the second one is more persuasive than the first). Nathan Grawe’s Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education is amusingly apocalyptic, and should give pause to anyone who thinks Americans aren’t going to come roaring back into the international student market in a couple of years.  Capturing Education, by Paul Boyer, is a very nice slim history of American Tribal Colleges, and someone needs to do something similar here in Canada. The edited collection Measuring Success: Testing, Grades and the Future of College Admissions is a very competent and thorough treatment of the technical aspects of using standardized tests (or not) in admission, but absent a section on philosophies of admission it’s a bit dry and not very satisfying. The less said about the collection Higher Education and Silicon Valley, the better (though I said some things about it here).
Two favourites in this category year this year. My first is Robert Kelchen’s Higher Education Accountability. It’s not exactly a knock-your-socks-off exciting book, but Kelchen nails every angle on the subject in gentle, concise and mostly-jargon-free pose. A pleasure to read. The second is Building the Intentional University about the Minerva Project, and which I will not bore you with because I wrote a three-parter about it back in the Spring.
Asian Higher Education – Not going to lie, these books are often pretty boring, and given more to platitudes than hard data (I found the IIE’s Asia: the Next Higher Education Superpower to be very much in this vein). I read a lot about India this year and two books stood out for me: the first was the edited collection Navigating the Labyrinth: Perspectives on India’s Higher Education and the other is the 2016 edition of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration’s India Higher Education Report (it’s an annual thing), which focused on equity. You can’t expect too much exact data out of India because their higher education is still mostly a mess (though it’s got a heck of a lot better in the past six years or so), but these two books are a good place to start in terms of policy.
European Higher Education – Hands down, the best book in this category is a review of systems in the ex-USSR called 25 Years of Transformation of Higher Education Systems in Post-Soviet Countries: Reform and Continuity (which I reviewed back here) edited by Jeroen Huisman, Anna Smolentseva and Isak Froumin. Nothing else comes close. This is how comparative national policy analysis should be done.
Higher Education in the rest of the World (including Canada) – Not much of a year for me in Canadian PSE publishing: the only book I read was Peter MacKinnon’s University Commons Divided, which I thought was a pretty good read despite mostly disagreeing with the premise. I liked Glyn Davis’s The Australian Idea of a University – certainly a very accessible introduction to the subject if you’ve never looked at anything down under before. But hands down, the best book in this category – in fact, the best book of the year, as far as I’m concerned, is Jonathan Jansen’s As By Fire, which is an insider-retelling of the #rhodesmustfall/#feesmustfall movements in South Africa and how they came close to breaking the system. An excellent warning to all about the dangers of allowing higher education issues to become overly politicized, but more generally it’s just an excellent mediation on what constitutes leadership in higher education.
Bottom line: Jansen’s As By Fire is my pick for the year, but I can also give strong recommendations for Bohman’s Eventide, the Huisman, Smolentseva, and Froumin-edited 25 years of Transformation, Warikoo’s The Diversity Bargain and Kelchen’s Accountability.  Gift any of these in good conscience to your favourite higher ed nerd or peruse them yourself.
Happy reading!


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