The New Geopolitics of Higher Education

Europe of Knowledge |

Hannah Moscovitz and Emma Sabzalieva

How are shifting geopolitics affecting higher education institutions and systems? What are the power dynamics at play when geopolitics comes into conflict with higher education policy and practice? What is different about today’s higher education and global geopolitical trends from their interactions in the past? These questions are at the heart of our inquiry in the special issue on The New Geopolitics of Higher Education in Globalisation, Societies and Education. In recent years, higher education institutions have found themselves caught up in various geopolitical crises and events, including a global pandemic, new territorial conflicts and military invasions, and a spread of grassroots movements calling for climate justice and a redressing of structural racism, among others. Bringing together a collection of ten articles, the Special Issue roots the study of higher education in prevailing geopolitical currents to explore how higher education policies and actions are imbricated in the changing geopolitical landscape.


What is “new” about the “new geopolitics”?

By qualifying the current geopolitics as new, the special issue emphasizes that we are currently witnessing a different set of geopolitical patterns requiring new ways of thinking about their intersections with higher education.  This “new geopolitics” also signals a need for a renewed and refined understanding of geopolitics as it pertains to higher education. Indeed, the literature linking higher education to geopolitics remains scant and scattered, opening opportunities to bring these together into a new sub-field. At the same time, we acknowledge that geopolitics are constantly in flux, and that those witnessed today will not always be “new”. Indeed, since we started to develop this novel conceptual approach, we have seen the new geopolitics continue to unfold before our eyes, with recent examples including Russia’s war on Ukraine, the incursion of armed forces into universities in Perú, and global solidarity with academic communities affected by earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria.

While the articles making up the special issue are concerned with issues and events of contemporary relevance, they also promote deeper conceptual questions on how to study the intersection between geopolitics and higher education. The special issue thus aims to offer flexible frameworks for future inquiries.


Conceptualising the New Geopolitics of Higher Education: a proposed framework

In our full-length opening article for the special issue, Conceptualising the new geopolitics of higher education, we introduce a new conceptual framework for investigating the new geopolitics of higher education. By interconnecting multiple scales, agents, interests and opportunity structures, the SAIOS framework offers a way to connect to broader geopolitical contexts and tensions at play in the higher education domain.

SAIOS framework developed by Moscovitz and Sabzalieva

SAIOS framework developed by Moscovitz and Sabzalieva

The framework draws from previous studies investigating the global dimension of higher education, in particular Marginson and Rhoades’ ‘glonacal’ framework and its subsequent development. Theoretically, the framework has its roots in relevant concepts including multi-scalar dynamics in higher education and the agent-structure connection. The SAIOS framework accounts for the multifaceted and complex ways in which geopolitical forces interact with higher education policy decisions and actions and aims to offer a flexible heuristic to analyse and critique the intersections of the new geopolitics with higher education, which can adapt to ongoing shifts in the geopolitical environment.


Advancing a Critical Geopolitics Approach to Higher Education

The SAIOS framework is also an important development in promoting a critical geopolitics approach to higher education. Concerned with making explicit the discursive and manifest interactions between space and power, and recognizing that politics, space and territory are contested notions, a critical geopolitics framing of higher education leads us to the identification of four themes where we see intersections between critical geopolitics and higher education studies. As we discuss in the paper, each theme represents a form of rupture away from dominant understandings of power and organisation in relation to geopolitics and higher education. The ruptures are from i) hegemonic notions of world power, politics, and knowledge production, ii) the fixation on the national scale to understand territorial sovereignty and power, iii) the strict domestic-foreign binary and iv) the emphasis on macro perspectives and a need for scaling down to the micro.

The themes and inquiries advanced in the articles of the special issue advance one or more of these ruptures, promoting rich and timely insights into the new geopolitics of higher education.


Towards Context-Sensitive Approaches to the New Geopolitics of Higher Education

The articles making up the special issue approach the notion of geopolitics of higher education from a specific geographical scale or context, from the perspective of specific agents and their distinct interests and motivations and underscore different ways in which geopolitics collide with higher education policy and practice. Taken together, the ten articles make the case for examining both empirically and theoretically the new geopolitics of higher education. Each contribution points to critical transformations occurring in the higher education policy domain as a result of shifting geopolitics. Yet, while widespread, these transformations are in no way fixed. The special issue therefore aims to shed light on the context-specific ways in which higher education is evolving in the current global landscape, with articles highlighting the new geopolitics between and across borders. They also offer a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches to inquire into this connection, providing worked examples of the variety of entry points into our SAIOS framework.

Through the SAIOS framework, the call to engage in critical geopolitics, and through the combination of the ten articles in the special issue, we set forward an ambitious agenda for a new subfield of higher education studies, one concerned with geopolitics as a main reference point.

The entry is based on the special issue “The New Geopolitics of Higher Education” and its opening article “Conceptualising the New Geopolitics of Higher Education”.


Dr. Hannah Moscovitz is postdoctoral research fellow at the Danish School of Education, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Dr. Emma Sabzalieva is Head of Research and Foresight at UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education (UNESCO IESALC).



Moscovitz, Hannah & Emma Sabzalieva (2023) Conceptualising the new geopolitics of higher education, Globalisation, Societies and Education 21(2): 149-165