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Lessons to Ukraine?

Lessons to Ukraine?
 

I’m off to Kiev this week, giving several talks and participating in several forums on higher education. Audience and co-panelists will be mainly higher ed officials from Ukraine.

I’m sponsored by the State Department (and taxpayers will be relieved to know they don’t pay for business class airfares). The goal is to use discussions of American higher education goals, including globalization programs at places like George Mason, to stimulate change in Ukraine, where, by all accounts, higher education has not opened up as fully as might be expected from the systems that predominated in Soviet days.

I’m looking forward to the discussions and also to seeing if some specific collaborative opportunities exist for George Mason. We had a good relationship in Ukraine some years back, around programs in conflict analysis, but we haven’t built anything further recently.

I do have a couple of hesitations. Inevitably, though I’ve been given some guidance, I don’t know as much as I should about the higher ed situation in Ukraine. And I certainly don’t want to come off as an American know-it-all — a stance of this sort isn’t productive, and I believe deeply that discussions of educational goals and issues should always be framed in terms of mutual learning and respect.

Beyond this, it’s an odd moment in some ways to be expounding on the blessings of American higher ed. We’re under siege, in some respects, in terms of public funding (apparently an issue in Ukraine as well). We have a host of critics telling us we’re doing our job badly, that we need to be disrupted, that massive and salutary transformations may soon alter the landscape unrecognizably. I don’t go along with some of the most sweeping critiques and forecasts, but it’s certainly a time for reflection.

Which means that the best strategy, I think, is to talk in terms of probably broadly shared problems — how to address and assess student learning, how to do a better job defining and implementing global educational goals, how to evaluate the university’s role in the wider community. I don’t mean to imply that we have all the answers — clearly not the case — but we do know some of the current questions, around which, I hope, some open and fruitful discussions can occur.