Book by: Lauren M. Portnoi and Sylvia S. Bagley (eds.)
Review by: Anthony Fucci
Exploratory and Pre-Professional Advising Center
University of Nebraska - Lincoln


As higher education institutions compete with each other for students, resources, and prestige, academic advisors and other student services professionals strive to help students find success amidst the numerous global and local tensions on college campuses. The journal New Directions for Higher Education’s Winter 2014 special issue, “Critical Perspectives on Global Competition in Higher Education” provides an overview and critique of the emerging culture of this growing, global competitiveness in higher education. The volume, edited by Laura M. Portnoi and Sylvia S. Bagley, gives particular attention to the rise of global university rankings and their effect on international higher education.

Global university rankings function as a catalyst for competition between universities by presenting education as a marketable commodity. As a result, highly ranked institutions enjoy benefits such as increased funding and student enrollment. Rankings serve as the “de facto gauge of excellence,” according to Ellen Hazelkorn in her chapter, “Rankings and the Global Reputation Race” (p. 14). Generally, administrators create policies designed to improve their global image, many times at the expense of local needs. The authors throughout the special issue draw attention to a bias toward research-based universities in more developed, financially affluent countries. To address this trend, Robert A. Rhoads, Shuai Li, and Lauren Ilano suggest refocusing the ranking criteria from the ground up by adding social justice-oriented measures like a university’s contributions to local communities, dedication to public service, and allocation of research funds to public good enterprises (p. 35).

Academic advisors need to be prepared to help students navigate the increasingly globalized higher education environment. “Critical Perspectives on Global Competition in Higher Education” provides academic advisors, as well as administrators and other student services professionals, with a sound introduction to the current state of international higher education. The volume effectively combines history, developing trends, and critiques related to social justice into one concise read appropriate for those with little to no background knowledge in the subject area. In addition, each chapter cites numerous research articles that serve as potential next steps for those wishing to investigate further.

It should be noted that Academic advisors and other student services staff are not the primary audience for this book. While this volume introduces the topic of global competition in higher education, the amount of tangible applications for practitioners in entry-level positions on university campuses is thin. Like-wise, a more robust and direct discussion of students’ experiences within this system of global competition would be fruitful. However, these issues may be outside the scope of this volume, and the authors contribute a useful first step for academic advisors and student affairs professionals hoping to better understand, navigate and work within the rapidly changing landscape of higher education. Particularly appropriate for university administrators, faculty and graduate students, “Critical Perspectives on Global Competition in Higher Education” is ideal for those with academic interests. Academic advisors and other student services professionals are encouraged to seek out additional readings in order to better understand how the growing culture of global competition among colleges and universities may impact themselves and their students.

Critical Perspectives on Global Competition in Higher Education. (2014). Book by Lauren M. Portnoi, Sylvia S. Bagley (eds). Review by Anthony Fucci. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 106 pp., $29.00, (Paperback). ISBN 978-1-119-01749-3 

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