Comparative Higher Education: Knowledge, the University, and Development by Philip Altbach: A Book Review

Comparative Higher Education: Knowledge, the University, and Development by Philip Altbach:
A Book Review

This paper serves as a review on “Comparative Higher Education: Knowledge, the University, and Development” by Dr. Philip Altbach. Focusing on inequalities and on the center-periphery concept, the chapters of the book examined the complex relationship between universities in the industrialized world and the Third World.
As an assessment, the book is an excellent academic material for the comparative study of higher education and a good read for those who want to have a background of the history of higher education.

I. The Book
The title of the book is “Comparative Higher Education: Knowledge, the University, and Development”. It was published in 1997 and reprinted in 2006. The commercial edition was published by Ablex Publishers. The Asian edition was published by the Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong. The Japanese-language translation was published by the Tamagawa University Press, Tokyo, Japan. The Chinese-language translation was published by the People’s Education Press, Beijing, China.
The author of the book is Philip G. Altbach, a university professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. He served as editor of the Review of Higher Education, Comparative Education Review, and as an editor of Educational Policy. Dr. Altbach is also the chairperson of the International Advisory Council of the Graduate School of Education at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and is a Guest Professor at the Institute of Higher Education at Peking University.

(a) The structure

1. The book has a very insightful and summative introduction. The concepts, ideas, insights and histories were clearly introduced, thus, facilitating the reading of the chapters.
2. The book has four (4) main parts. The first part has four (4) chapters, the second part also has four (4), the third part has three (3), the final part has two (2). All in all, the book has thirteen (13) chapters.
3. As reading of the book progresses, it will be noticed that each chapter tackles different issues but also has some important details and core ideas mentioned in the previous and following chapters. Thus, reading the chapters in any order would therefore be okay and would not cause any problem with regard to the comprehension of the text. Reading one chapter of the book will prepare the mind of the reader to read any other chapter (not necessarily the next that comes after it) because each one reiterates the central idea of the entire book as well as allows the reader to catch a glimpse of relevant history. For instance, Altbach’s argument that the West tries to retain its central position (and keep the Third World in the peripheries) is clearly restated and briefly discussed in almost all of the chapters. It would therefore be interesting to conclude that two readers reading a chapter different from the other would both end up gaining knowledge on the idea about “centers and peripheries”.

(b) The general content

As described in its preface, the book “considers the contemporary university in an international framework in an effort to analyze four central themes (Altbach, 2006: viii).” The book is organized around four main areas:
1. The first four chapters focused on the exploration of the past, present, and future of higher education. They focus on the post-WWII expansion of higher education and the impact of the Western higher education on Asian higher education. The center-periphery concept (Galtung, 1972; Shils, 1975) – which will manifest several times in the following chapters of the book – is introduced here.
2. The second broad theme deals with the core actors in higher education, namely the teachers and the students. There is an in-depth consideration of the politics of students and faculty, as well as a chapter on professorial attitudes.
3. The third one deals with the relationships among academic systems worldwide, the dimensions of the student and faculty mobility phenomenon (i.e. exchange programs), and the “ebbs and flows” of scientific power worldwide.
4. The final section is a reflection on newly industrializing countries (referred to as NICs) as they emerge as significant academic powers.

The book revolves around the following interplays:
1.) Interplay between the West and the East
2.) Interplay between the industrialized nations and the Third World
3.) Interplay between the centers and the peripheries

The book unveils and examines the complex relationship between universities in the industrialized world and those in the Third World. Altbach states that it is the book’s subsidiary goal to illustrate the usefulness of a comparative research in the analysis of higher education (2006: viii). In the context of an increasingly differentiated and at the same time interrelated world knowledge system, the complex relationships among academic systems and among people – many of which are based on inequality – serve as the underlying theme of the book.

(c) The special concepts and points

Center-periphery concept
It is very important for the reader to understand this concept in order to grasp the author’s train of thought with regard to the inequality of universities, student mobility, faculty mobility, expansion of knowledge, etc. Altbach explains that the institutional and intellectual ‘centers’ give direction, provide models, produce research, and in general function as the pinnacles of the system (2006:30). Universities that are considered to be “at the center” are generally located in industrialized countries. On the other hand, the universities that are ‘peripheral’ are likely to be in the Third World. ‘Peripheral’ universities copy development from the ‘centers’ and produce little that is original (Altbach, 2006:30). Throughout the book, it is a conclusion that the ‘centers’ want to keep the ‘peripherals’ as peripheral and that it will be very hard for a peripheral university to move from the ‘periphery’ to the ‘center’. The book cited some examples of the failed attempts by peripheral universities (Kuwait and Nairobi) at moving from the ‘periphery’ to the ‘center’.

Colonialism, neocolonialism and education
In the book, colonialism is regarded as a powerful influence in the world of higher education. It discusses the effects of colonialism and neocolonialism on education in NICs and in the Third World. It further discusses that even for nations that were never formally under colonial domination (i.e. Thailand and China), western influence on their educational system is evident. Neocolonialism is currently one of the strong forces that keeps (and will keep) peripheral universities in the periphery and hinder them from moving from the ‘periphery’ to the ‘center’.

II. Assessment

(a) The book as an academic material

1.) The book clearly stated how having such international perspectives on issues in higher education be necessary in the comparative study of higher education.
2.) A good read for students who want to have a background of the history of higher education. The chapters of the book discuss the history of higher education in several Western countries and Third World countries.
3.) Further reading is facilitated because the book is clearly annotated and indexed and has a useful bibliography.
4.) The book’s language is very clear, accessible and straightforward. Confusion, misconception and misunderstanding are almost impossible. Important terminologies and concepts are clearly defined. On top of the clear definitions, examples are given.

(b) Critique

The creation of a modern university

In chapter 12 (Higher Education, Democracy, and Development: Implications for NICs), he argued that ‘it is not very difficult to create a modern university and ensure that it provides postsecondary education at the highest international levels to students (p. 258).’ He stated further that all that is required is “money, good academic leadership, a long-term commitment to the institution, and the ability to select high-quality students.”
In this case, I fail to readily adhere to Altbach’s perception of “creation”. Putting this in the context of newly industrialized countries (where it actually is), the road toward the fulfillment of these requirements might be a path full of roses. However, simply having these requirements does not translate to a creation of a modern university. Having all the necessary ingredients does not make a dish – it requires cooking. Gathering the “ingredients” would not be very difficult for NICs but the process of “cooking the dish” might be a different story. The notion that it is not very difficult for NICs to create a modern university is reasonable. However, Altbach ran short of justifying the relationship between the ‘requirements’ and ‘creation’, as well as the relationships among the ‘requirements’ themselves. Having the “ingredients” is just a pre-requisite in “cooking the dish”.
To summarize my point, I would like to put forth the idea that the creation of a modern university goes through two phases: meeting the requirements (“having the necessary ingredients”) and the process of establishing (“cooking the dish”).

III. Conclusion

After a thorough reading and assessment of the book, this paper concludes that “Comparative Higher Education: Knowledge, the University, and Development” by Dr. Philip Altbach is characterized with interpretive and predictive arguments, is a temporal and spatial comparative examination of higher education, and therefore, an informative and stimulating book.

(a) Interpretive and predictive

Philip Altbach characterized the book with arguments, insights and perspectives that are interpretive and predictive. Interpretive in the sense that, in every chapter, there is a considerable acknowledgement and analysis of history relevant to issues, developments and tendencies in higher education. Predictive in the sense that Altbach provides insights and perspectives with regard to the directions that the developments in higher education are likely headed for.

(b) Temporal and spatial

The book examined higher education both in temporal (reference to time) and spatial (reference to location) contexts. The book unveils the interplay of the past, present and future developments, issues and innovations with regard to universities and nations. The book also examined these developments, issues and innovations in their geographical and pseudo-geographical contexts. It is geographical in the sense that developments, issues and innovations at international, regional, national and local levels. It is also important to note that Altbach used geographical references such as “East and West” as well as “industrialized countries, NICs, and the Third World” in order to make the context more relevant to the study.

(c) Informative and stimulating
The book is an excellent academic material for the comparative study of higher education and a good read for those who want to have a background of the history of higher education.


Altbach, P. G. (2006). Comparative higher education: Knowledge, the university and development.

Boston, MA: Boston College Centre for International Higher Education.

Altbach, P. G. (1977). Servitude of the mind? Education, dependence, and neocolonialism. Teachers College Record, 79(2), 187-204.

Galtung, J. (1972). A Stuctural Theory of Imperialism. African Affairs, 1, 93-138.

Shils, E. (1975). Center and Periphery: Essays on Macrosociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

“Philip G. Altbach”. Boston College CIHE. Retrieved 2012-11-22,


The Role of Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Approach in the Reformation of the Philippine Educational System

The Role of Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Approach in the Reformation of the Philippine Educational System

ABSTRACT: The K to 12 Basic Education Program is a major education reform implemented in 2012 in the Philippines. It serves as a response to the urgent need to improve the quality of Philippine basic education. The K-12 program aims at ‘decongesting and enhancing the basic education curriculum for learners to master basic competencies, lengthening the cycle of basic education to cover kindergarten through year 12’ (SEAMEO INNOTECH, 2012: 1).

This study seeks to discuss the role of Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Approach in the K to 12 Education Program in the Philippines. According to SEAMO INNOTECH’s K to 12 Toolkit (Reference Guide for Teacher Educators, School Administrators and Teachers), the new curriculum ‘ensures smooth transition between grade levels and continuum of competencies through spiral progression where learning of knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes increase in depth and breadth’, ensuring integrated and seamless learning (p. 4).

Keywords: Jerome Bruner Spiral Approach Education in the Philippines


K-12 stands for universal kindergarten, six (6) years of elementary and six (6) years of secondary education. – all of which are compulsory. Prior to the implementation of K-12 program in 2012, basic education in the Philippines only had four (4) years of secondary education.

On top of the lengthening of the basic education cycle, the curricula of the subjects in this new program differ from those of the old one. As a whole, the Philippine K to 12 science curriculum is learner-centered and inquiry-based, emphasizing the use of evidence in constructing explanations. Unlike in the old curriculum where learning tended to be more focused on fragmented and disintegrated content, K to 12 curriculum fosters the development of critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, team-work and informational literacy .

The K-12 curriculum follows the spiral approach. Jerome Bruner is the proponent of this approach with principles derived from John Dewey. In the book The Process of Education, Bruner argues that curriculum should be designed in a way that it pursues a spiral progression that starts from simple to complex and requires revisiting prior knowledge (1960/1977). In short words, students continuously build upon what they already know.

From a cognitive constructivist’s point of view, learners construct new ideas based upon their previously learned knowledge. Gradual mastery of the desired competencies is achieved through revisiting core ideas in several passes and relating new knowledge or skills with the previous. Therefore, unlike the old curriculum where so much knowledge was expected to be learnt within a limited period, the K to 12 curriculum on the other hand is decongested and seamless. It has its focus on understanding for mastery and it ensures smooth transition between grade levels and continuum of competencies through spiral progression (SEAMEO INNOTECH, 2012: 4). In the old curriculum, students were expected to learn so much knowledge, skills, and values within a limited period of time. Learning tended to be ‘more focused on content, which was fragmented and disintegrated’ (p. 4). The K to 12 Education Program aims at addressing these shortcomings.

The K to 12 curriculum is decongested, seamless, relevant and responsive, enriched, and learner-centered (p. 3-4). In this paper, we will focus on the manifestation and contribution of Jerome Bruner’s Spiral Approach.


Learning should not only take us somewhere; it should allow us later to go further more easily.
(Bruner, The Process of Education, 1977, p. 17)

As reflected in his book The Process of Education first published in 1960, Jerome Bruner subscribes to the theory of constructivism. Constructivism is the theory that learners construct their own knowledge based on the things they currently know and have known in the past.

He argues that the curriculum should revisit basic ideas and repeatedly build upon these ideas until the learner understands fully. He suggests that the early teaching of a subject should put emphasis on grasping the basic ideas intuitively. He advises that the curriculum should revisit these principal ideas repeatedly, building cumulatively upon them, gradually making connections between fundamental ideas and new ones until the students understand them fully. Bruner recommends that the curriculum be built upon the natural thinking processes of the learner. He argues that the child should be presented with ideas that are not too distant from his or her natural way of thinking.


In the K to 12 Education Program, the spiral progression approach by John Bruner will be used in teaching Science, Mathematics, Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies), MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health) and Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao (Values Education).

In the old curriculum, learners were taught Science and Mathematics using the discipline-based approach. In the K to 6 Mathematics curriculum, the subject had to be learned comprehensively and with much depth. On the other hand, in the new Mathematics curriculum, there is a continuity of learning from K to Grade 10 (p. 37). On top of this, the spiral approach is followed, in lieu of the discipline-based approach utilized in the old curriculum.

The new Science curriculum ‘strongly links science and technology, including indigenous technologies to preserve the country’s distinct culture’ (p.39). In the old curriculum, Science was taught using the discipline-based approach in the most part of high school (Biology in 2nd Year, Chemistry in 3rd Year, Physics in 4th Year). In the new curriculum, spiral approach will be applied in teaching science concepts and applications in all subjects. SEAMO INNOTECH’s K-to-12 kit states further that ‘concepts and skills in Life Sciences, Physics, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences are presented with increasing levels of complexity from one grade level to another, thus paving the way for deeper understanding of key concepts’ (p. 39).

Integrated Language Arts
The Integrated Language Arts aims for the ‘development of oral and written communicative competence of learners in three languages: Mother Tongue, Filipino, and English’ (SEAMO INNOTECH, 2012: 36). In the new curriculum, the spiral progression of the competencies across the levels should be observed. However, there is ‘greater emphasis on reading comprehension of various texts, writing and composition, study and thinking strategies which are all in support of critical and creative thinking development’ in the high school level.

Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health (MAPEH)
With regard to the new Music and Arts curricula, the learner both receives and constructs knowledge, skills, and values necessary for cultural literacy and artistic expression. The curricula have a student-centered design which is based on John Bruner’s spiral progression. In addition to this, the curricula are also grounded on performance-based learning. The learner, therefore, is ‘empowered, through active involvement and participation, to effectively correlate music and art to the development of his/her own cultural identity and expand his/her vision of the world’ (SEAMO INNOTECH, 2012: 43).


The K-12 education program, as previously mentioned in this article, serves a response to the urgent need to improve the quality of Philippine basic education. The aim of this reform is to decongest and enhance the curriculum so as to facilitate the mastery of basic competencies. This paper concludes that the spiral approach by John Bruner can contribute to the achievement of this aim. Integrated and seamless learning, as one of the salient features of the K to 12 Education Program, is indeed not impossible because the new curricula of the subjects follow a spiral progression where learning of skills, values, knowledge and attitudes increase in both breadth and depth.


Bruner, J. (1960/1977). The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

DepEd Order 31 s. 2012 “Policy Guidelines on the Implementation of the Grade 1 to 10 of the K to12 Basic Education Curriculum (BEC) Effective School Year 2012-2013”

DepEd Order 32 s. 2012 “Implementing Rules and Regulation of the Republic Act 10157”

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1910/1997). How We Think. New York: Dover Publications.

Papong. E. (2012). The Influence of John Dewey’s Educational Thoughts on Philippine Education.

SEAMEO INNOTECH. (2012). K to 12 Toolkit: Reference Guide for Teacher Educators, School Administrators and Teachers. Quezon City: Philippines.

西班牙殖民统治菲律宾时期明代中国与西班牙的关系 关于《中国和菲律宾史》(作者 贝特霍尔德•劳费尔)的读书报告

关于《中国和菲律宾史》(作者 贝特霍尔德•劳费尔)的读书报告


读者应该特别注意劳费尔的《中国和菲律宾关系》是在一百多年所著。二十一世纪的读者在阅读这本英文书籍的时候,可能会遇到的最大问题是作者所用的拼音是韦氏拼音这种旧拼音方式。比如说,“Hsiao hsi yang”(汉语拼音:xiǎo xī yáng / 汉字:小西洋)这个词可能会给读者带来理解上的困难,因为读者大多没有足够丰富的汉语言文化背景去适应韦氏拼音。但是,书中的韦氏拼音后面常常会接上带括号的翻译,这些翻译无疑在很大程度上减轻了阅读问题。

十九世纪末期,出现了许多描述记载中西(中国与西班牙)关系的历史资料。但是,这些历史资料大部分是由西班牙的作家所著,而资料的书写则开始于他们与东方的早期接触。在这本书《中国和菲律宾关系》(英文名 The Relations of the Chinese to the Philippine Islands)当中,西班牙和中国两方面关于同一事件的描述同时被引用并检查。劳费尔相信中国一直是关于外国的敏锐观察者,同时从数量惊人的文献当中可以发现许多关于邻国地理、历史和人种的有价值报告(劳费尔 1908:248)。作者主要使用的中国资料来源包括明朝编年史、广东福建编年史以及东西洋考。



1571年西班牙人和中国人第一次在民都洛岛相遇,这早于雷格斯比(菲律宾的征服者)第一次到达马尼拉(Blumentritt:1879:I). 明史志的第323章提到了福建人在西班牙人到达之前曾经在吕宋岛生活过(菲律宾最大的岛屿,位于台湾南面)。他们住在这个岛上是因为地理上的便利。这些人是富有的商人,数量有上万人,他们在这里住了很久直到他们的儿子和孙子长大成人。不幸的是,根据明志史的记载,当西班牙人抢走群岛的时候,西班牙的国王委派了一个首领镇压中国人。他担心这些中国人会造反,所以驱逐了很多人。那些留下来的人不得不要忍受他的折磨和羞辱。

积极的一方面是明代中国和西班牙殖民统治的菲律宾的政治关系发生了一些良性的改变。积极的政治关系因为林凤在1574年入侵北菲律宾群岛而开始,而林凤是当时中国臭名昭著的海盗。西班牙的军队力量(包括西班牙人和菲律宾本地人)与明代中国的军队力量联合以对抗林凤。为答谢中国对自己的援助, 作为西班牙殖民地的菲律宾派遣了使者(两名军队指挥官和两名奥古斯丁的修道士)。明代中国的战舰指挥官提出要将这些西班牙使者用自己的船带到中国。明史志和西班牙的文献都提到打败林凤之后,这些使者的确到达了中国。拉韦萨雷斯是当时菲律宾的总督,他意识到自己的主要任务是促成与中国的和平友好关系,因为单单是中国的海盗就会对于西班牙在亚洲的财富构成威胁。他期望中国能够租借靠近中国大陆的港口(类似于澳门)给西班牙。但1576年的明代中国并没有同意他的请求。中国的皇帝在读了拉韦萨雷斯的信件之后同意以和澳门割让给葡萄牙人相同的条件割让广东附近的一个岛给西班牙人。 不幸的是,那时拉韦萨雷斯 已经被桑德所取代,不再是菲律宾的总督。拉韦萨雷斯 和中国所形成的友好关系不复存在,取而代之的是桑德与中国的恶劣关系。桑德决定不接受这份提议,拒绝接收中国皇帝送来的礼物而冒犯了来自中国的大使。他甚至图谋以武装力量占领中国。在写给西班牙国王菲利普二世信件中,他分析了占领中国的可行性。但是国王拒绝了这个计划同时命令桑德继续保持与中国的友好关系。

另一个值得强调的政治问题是1603年的菲律宾大屠杀。这是西班牙人殖民统治时期发生在中国人身上的惨剧之一。在所有的惨剧之中,我之所以选择这个是因为其完善的历史记录,不仅仅有西班牙方面的还有中国方面的。而且两个来源在事实的展现方面是吻合的同时在事件顺序描述上也基本一致(鲍晓鸥 1998:22)。另一个原因是其他的惨剧发生于清代而不是明代。


在西班牙殖民者尝试和解以及中国愤怒表态之后,双方达成了一个新的和解而且叛乱很快就平息下来就像什么都没有发生过一样。以前的贸易关系重新恢复,西班牙殖民者继续允许中国人住在马尼拉,尽管双方都因为过去的事情而对彼此怀有怨恨。在1639年,在马尼拉的中国人又发生暴乱,比1603年那次更加顽强和持久(劳费尔 1908:273)。因为这次叛乱,在马尼拉的中国人聚居区被洗劫、居民被屠杀或驱逐。然后中国人又再次出现,而他们的居住行为又一次被允许。当明代被清代取代之后,西班牙人和中国人(特别是住在菲律宾的中国人)的问题在1709年又一次出现了,当时中国人以危害公共财富之名而被从马尼拉驱逐出去。但是,中国人毫不犹豫的继续卷土重来。






Blumentritt, F. “Die Chinesen auf den Philippines”. Leitmeritz, 1879.

Borao, J . “The massacre of 1603: Chinese perception of the Spaniards in the Philippines”. National Taiwan University: Itinerario, vol. 23, No. 1, 1998.

Lavezares, G. “Relación del suceso de la venida del tirano chino sobre este campo y de las demas cosas sucedidas acerca dello”. Manuscrito L-I-15 de la Biblioteca del Escorial, fols: 291r-298v. (edición de Juan Francisco Maura Anexos de la Revista Lemir (2004) ISSN 1579-735)

Laufer, B. “The relations of the Chinese to the Philippine Islands”. Smithsonian Institution Libraries. 1908.

My papers on comparative education and other academic stuff. Please do not plagiarize.