Dr. Emma Harden-Wolfson

Assistant Professor
Dr. Emma Harden-Wolfson
Contact Information
Email address: 
emma.harden-wolfson [at] mcgill.ca
Alternate phone: 

Education Building
3700 McTavish Street
Montréal, Quebec H3A 1Y2

Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE)
Professional activities: 
  • MA/Graduate Certificate Educational Leadership
  • MA Education and Society
  • PhD Educational Studies
Social Action & Sustainability Education
Areas of expertise: 
  • Higher education policy
  • The new geopolitics of higher education
  • Comparative and international higher education
  • Internationalization of higher education
  • International research collaborations
  • Right to higher education
  • Higher education leadership
  • Theories of system and institutional change, policy change / policy processes
  • Qualitative methods

Emma Harden-Wolfson, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education (DISE), Faculty of Education, McGill University. She is an international and comparative higher education policy specialist with regional specializations in Central Asia, Canada, Europe, and Latin America. Over the past two decades, Emma has worked in higher education research, teaching, policy analysis, consultancy, and university administration across four continents.

Emma’s research explores how and why education policy changes across contexts and the implications of policy change and reform. Focussing on higher education policy, Emma uses a range of qualitative methods to research the intersections between the policy process and lived experiences and the actors who are leading policy change. Cutting across her research is a commitment to increasing equity by examining the historic barriers and current challenges to inclusion in higher education.

Prior to joining DISE, Emma was Head of Research and Foresight at UNESCO’s International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean where she led research on the right to higher education, digital transformations, artificial intelligence, student mobility, and the futures of higher education.

Some of Emma’s current projects include:

Principal Investigator: The ‘great brain race’ in the postpandemic era: Addressing Canada’s increased vulnerability in international education

This highly topical research is mapping post-pandemic policies impacting international higher education in Ontario and Quebec and analysing the effects of domestic and international (geo)political dynamics on international students in Canada.

Funding: McGill Social Sciences and Humanities Development Grants Program (2023-24)

Co-principal Investigator: Review of climate change education ambition in Central Asia

This study reviews the state of climate change education policy in four Central Asian countries to identify good practices and support preparation for school-level pilots of the new UNESCO Quality Standard on Green Schools.

Funding: UNESCO (2023-2024)

  • PhD in Higher Education with Collaborative Specialization in Comparative & International Development Education, University of Toronto, Canada
    Thesis: Responding to Major Institutional Change: The Fall of the Soviet Union and Higher Education in Central Asia
  • MBA in Higher Education Management, Institute of Education, University College London, UK
  • MA (Hons) Russian Studies and History, University of Edinburgh, UK
Selected publications: 
  • Moscovitz, H., & Sabzalieva, E. (equal co-authors). (2023). Conceptualising the new geopolitics of higher education. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 21(2), 149–165. Full-length article as part of co-edited special issue, The new geopolitics of higher education.
  • Sabzalieva, E., & Pedró, F. (2022). Achieving mutually inclusive internationalization of higher education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Introduction to Dossier B. Higher Education & Society (Revista Educación Superior y Sociedad) [open access], 34(1), 390-395 (Spanish) / 396-400 (English).
  • Sabzalieva, E., El Masri, A., Joshi, A., Laufer, M., Trilokekar, R. D., & Haas, C. (2022). Ideal immigrants in name only? Shifting constructions and divergent discourses on the international student-immigration policy nexus in Australia, Canada, and Germany. Policy Reviews in Higher Education, 6(2), 178-204.
  • Sabzalieva, E. (2022). Surviving a crisis: Transformation, adaptation, and resistance in higher education. Higher Education Governance & Policy, [open access] 3(1), 1-15.
  • El Masri, A., & Sabzalieva, E. (equal co-authors). (2020). Dealing with disruption, rethinking recovery: Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in higher education. Policy Design and Practice [open access], 3(3), 312-333.
  • Sá, C. M., & Sabzalieva, E. (2018). The politics of the great brain race: Public policy and international student recruitment in Australia, Canada, England and the USA. Higher Education, 75(2), 231–253.
Graduate supervision: 
Currently accepting MA and PhD students whose research interests in comparative and/or international higher education connect with my areas of expertise and which use qualitative methods. Currently, research falls into three broad areas: the new geopolitics of higher education, equitable internationalization, and the right to higher education. Find out more on her website. Particularly interested in projects relating to higher education in Central Asia. If you are interested, please send an email to explain what you want to research, how you propose to study this, why this topic is important, and what motivates you to want to pursue research in this area based on your previous experiences and future plans.
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