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New, Really Global Minor

21 Jun Posted by in Academics, Business | 3 comments

As this gets registered, I’m in China and Japan, and in anticipation obviously have global issues on my mind. I’ve been further stimulated to some additional global thinking by two developments. First, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds, in a blog of his own, has wondered if higher education, internationally, is doing enough to help address global problems – and his strong implication was that it is not. Second, I’m visiting Japan largely to present an honorary degree from Mason to Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, a leading global voice for peace who has frequently called for additional educational efforts to promote fuller understanding.

I do think there is more we can think about. In my presentation to Dr. Ikeda, I will be talking about Mason’s success, largely with Russian partners so far, in exchanging faculty for short periods during which they present their expertise and perspective within regular undergraduate and graduate courses, thus bypassing the problem of developing an audience. The results so far, both here and in Russia, have been very encouraging in terms of student exposure to new viewpoints and a sense of how national policies are viewed from another country. We are hoping to expand this approach with other partners; it’s not cost-free, but it’s fairly efficient and, again, the educational results are positive thus far.

I also wonder if we can’t do more with international higher ed partnerships to work on specific global problems, avoiding a single nation approach and improving both the problem alleviation and the global understanding of participants in the process. But this would be an ambitious effort, dependent on funding opportunities yet to be developed.

The additional step that intrigues me most, in terms of improving student perspectives, may also prove too ambitious, and it certainly would involve some implementation problems; but I wonder if it could be explored. How about forming a global consortium of universities committed to offering a small course sequence – say five courses, or what in the U.S. would be an academic minor – around the theme of global problems and perspectives? Each participant would mount courses on themes like global poverty, violence and war, environment, and disease, which would form the core of the program. But each would also develop at least one course on the nation’s perspectives on global problems and priorities.  Students in the minor would have to take at least two of their five courses from another institution, either through study abroad (in a summer, perhaps), or more commonly by distance; and one of the courses must involve a project conducted jointly by students from several countries. The twin goals would be, at least for students from developed countries, a better sense of global issues than now often exists, and an active sense of how other societies, or at least some other societies, perceive these issues. Again, implementation issues abound, and the program would depend heavily on more mutual confidence than higher ed institutions usually venture – but this in itself would produce some really healthy conversations.

I’ll see what our Japanese colleagues have to say. There might just be some enthusiasm for this or some other innovation that goes beyond the ordinary.