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Global Challenges

07 Jun Posted by in Academics, Business | Comments Off on Global Challenges

I keep mulling over a recent statement from the Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds, asking whether universities were responding adequately to current global challenges, such as poverty, environmental degradation and the like. His strong implication was that they are not, that universities are stuck in business as usual while, at least in a number of crucial areas, global problems get worse.

I also feel a sense of challenge in the current American context, when in addition to overall global issues the nation is faced, like it or not, with important adjustments in its world power role, with the emergence of stronger and more independent voices from quarters such as China, or Turkey, or Brazil. A national temptation to assume that any derogation from world’s only superpower, or to insist that whoever is not with us down the line is therefore against us, could be supremely counterproductive, but also difficult to avoid. Again, an obvious invitation to more imaginative educational approaches.

These pressures come at a bad time in one sense, of course. The squeeze on our resources makes it difficult to think about stepping up to new responsibilities, for example in projects in some of the world’s poorer regions.

But without ignoring funding constraints, taking stock of our existing global-education approaches, and thinking about imaginative extensions on top of them, merits serious consideration. At least four possibilities come to mind, two already under exploration.

First: I am increasingly enthusiastic about short-term – 1 – 2 week — faculty exchanges, that bring faculty into classrooms across borders without the more difficult adjustments required in full semesters or years abroad. We’re having great success with exchanges of this sort with several Russian partners. Their faculty help our students understand perspectives other than their own, and our faculty encounter similar opportunities on their visits. Additionally the visits promote more extended discussions about shared research and program opportunities. The ventures are a bit demanding organizationally, but they’re not hugely expensive and they have real educational payoff.

I’m also increasingly interested — and I commented on this earlier — in the economic development/entrepreneurship angles of global university partnerships. There are real opportunities for mutual benefit here, and I think we need to add this more seriously to our globally-collaborative thinking.

Beyond this (and I did blog separately on this in response to the Leeds appeal) I do wonder about additional frontiers in inter-institutional international collaborations. I’d love to see, for example, the development of a Global Problems minor, with segments from several different universities in different parts of the world, which students could participate in either through study abroad, but in conjunction with a home-based curriculum, or through distance means. And I’d like to see more active and diverse examples of internationally inter-institutional partnerships to help deal with specific global issues, in places like sub-Saharan Africa, where the payoff would be serious interaction with African issues but also the benefits of a shared sense of mission and learning with at least one other international partner. Ventures of this sort would be hard to arrange, I freely admit, but could have serious results as well. Whether these particular ideas have feasible merit or not, I think the times do call for some additional appeals to educational imagination.