10 years of University World News, a global window on HE

The idea of producing an online higher education newspaper arose early in 2007 after a group of journalists from around the world who reported on universities realised there was an information gap in an increasingly internationalised higher education sector; a gap that was not being filled by niche publications such as Britain's Times Higher Education or America's Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

Times Higher Education Supplement or THES had adopted a new magazine format and had slashed its global coverage of universities, while stories in the latter two papers were largely focused on the United States.

Geoff Maslen had begun filing stories to the THES in 1980 by providing weekly hard copy reports to the Overseas Telecommunications Commission in Melbourne which then transmitted them via teleprinters to The Times’ offices in London.

But 1980 was also when the biggest revolution since William Caxton introduced the printing press to England in 1476 hit newspapers – and it was to cause upheavals to papers in almost every country. This was the advent of computerisation which was to transform the papers’ centuries-old production methods, wiping out the jobs of hundreds of thousands of linotype operators and compositors, while opening up the world to almost instantaneous transmission of news.

Pondering the implications of the cuts to its coverage of higher education at the THES, one of the few publications that provided global reports on university matters, it occurred to Maslen that the computer along with the internet and burgeoning world wide web offered an alternative.

He contacted as many THES correspondents as he could find, and we discussed establishing our own company to produce a weekly online publication to replace what the THES had effectively abandoned.

Over the next few months, more than 20 of us became shareholders and established a company in London. Maslen set up an editor’s office in Melbourne, Karen MacGregor created a co-editor’s office along with an operations base for publishing in South Africa, and we launched our first issue on 14 October 2007.

That first edition had a mere 13 news stories, two features and two off-beat stories in a ‘Uni-Lateral’ section. As we publish our 478th edition, the weekly paper regularly has more than 30 news stories, features and commentaries from our writers and contributors across the world, as well as a World Round-up section that provides brief reports with links to higher education stories in other publications.

Such was the initial success of the Global Edition of University World News that the Ford Foundation agreed to a proposal by MacGregor to fund a twice-monthly Africa Edition, under a partnership with the Centre for Higher Education Trust in Cape Town, which was running the newly launched HERANA – Higher Education Research and Advocacy Network in Africa. The Africa Edition launched in March 2008, and our sister publication has now reached its 206th edition.

Key achievements

As the world’s first global online higher education newspaper, University World News today has readers in more than 150 countries, with significant numbers in the United States, South Africa, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Egypt, India, Nigeria and Germany. The weekly Global Edition has 56,000 registered readers, and the Africa Edition 30,000.

Visitors to our website have increased dramatically since the newspaper's launch, as have the number of pages viewed per month. On average, UWN’s website attracts close to one million unique users each year and two million page views. The upward trend is also occurring on social media with 18,800 global followers on Facebook and 15,600 on Twitter.

Having reached its 10th anniversary, University World News is now regarded as a ‘must read’ each week by vice-chancellors, senior academics and higher education professionals, as well as top officials in governments and national and international organisations working in higher education around the globe. They, and the many journalists and academics who contribute to its pages, hope the next decade will prove to be even more successful.

University World News is proud to have been at the forefront of the media response to the internationalisation of higher education, and to have contributed to internationalisation while delivering news and information on, and analysis of, major issues, developments and trends in higher education.

This contribution is reflected in two books we have collaborated on with the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the United States, the first being the recent Understanding Global Higher Education: Insights from key global publications, and the second being Understanding Higher Education Internationalization: Insights from key global publications.

The strong reputation of University World News – and its Global and Africa Editions – is reflected in a range of partnerships forged over the years with leading organisations internationally, such as the British Council, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, International Association of University Presidents, the OECD, The MasterCard Foundation, the Talloires Network and UNESCO.

We also have editorial partnerships with University College London’s Centre for Global Higher Education, America’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education.

One of the highlights of which we are most proud was UWN’s role as the sole media partner of the once-in-a-decade UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education, last held in 2009.

UWN has also co-hosted two Worldviews conferences on the media and higher education in Toronto, and a third is being planned. With Dr Rahul Choudaha, UWN has produced a highly successful series of webinars.

Another major achievement has been forging networks of journalists and commentators around the world. The latter is largely a result of the work of Mandy Garner, UWN’s Commentary Editor. There is a particularly strong journalistic network in Africa, thanks to funding first from the Ford Foundation and now from the Carnegie Corporation, led by Africa Editor Sharon Dell in South Africa.

We are proud of UWN’s reporting on Africa – no publication comes close to covering African higher education in such depth, or sets the African content agenda and generates coverage in Africa rather than in the global North. Likewise, UWN’s Asia Director Yojana Sharma has built a network of journalists and consistently superb coverage of higher education across Asia.

UWN Global is owned and run by a network of journalists, many of whom continue to work on a voluntary basis while the publication finds its feet financially in an exceptionally harsh world for online media. Even top publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian and The Financial Times continue to rely on print editions with shrinking audiences for survival, while they struggle to generate income for expanding online content.

UWN’s journalists share with many – probably most – of our academic readers more of an interest in ideas and issues than in profits. UWN Global’s ownership predominantly by journalists, and UWN Africa’s status as a not-for-profit organisation in Africa, reflect the publications’ unusual composition and its vision to provide good quality reporting and information on higher education internationally; to be a ‘connector’ for people working in the sector; and to contribute to the development of higher education and to equitable global development.

UWN has a strong commitment to autonomy, academic freedom, internationalisation, inclusion and raising quality in higher education. It shares this commitment with the many outstanding contributors from academia who have helped to make UWN the high quality publication that it is today.

The future

The struggle for survival is fierce for journalism in the internet age – it is surely in the vanguard of professions that have been disrupted by the digital revolution. Although the latter brings with it great new opportunities, 10 years of publication is a significant landmark worth celebrating for any online publication.

But UWN is determined to push on from here, to further develop its offering, further deepen its relationship with its readers and extend its role in bringing academics together to connect on and debate important issues in future years, in the service of higher education worldwide.

We say thank you to all of our readers, partners and supporters for helping to make UWN what it is today. We hope you will continue to find ways to support us in the years ahead.

Geoff Maslen was founding editor of University World News and is Australian correspondent and science editor. Karen MacGregor is also a founding editor of University World News and is Africa director. Brendan O’Malley is chairman and the current editor of University World News.