I’ve written before about the uphill aspect of expanding global goals in American higher education: the fact that U.S. faculty are less enthusiastic about global agendas than counterparts elsewhere, the lack of any formal government pressure or encouragement (again, a marked contrast to the situation in China, Russia and elsewhere).
Elements of the situation are clearly getting worse. The current higher ed climate in the United States complicates global goals in at least two ways. First, sheer distraction: the burden of attending to the mounting criticisms and budget challenges risks pulling leadership away from global interests that they otherwise would sustain. But there are more direct contradictions as well, the second point: the pressure to get students to get degrees more quickly, and efforts to cut costs to the bone easily threaten study abroad goals, to take an obvious example.
In this circumstance—a challenging framework getting more so—a couple of thoughts. First, it remains important to emphasize the basic validity of global educational goals. Giving students the tools for global citizenship reflects a key purpose of contemporary higher education, and there’s no reason to back off.
Second, we surely need to explain better some of benefits of global programs. Study abroad, for example, not only provides more international exposure. It also improves student access to some of the soft skills now so highly touted for their job relevance: skills in communication, in critical thinking, in collaboration.
And third, we need to encourage further innovation to link global education to contemporary needs and opportunities. Study abroad remains great, but let’s work also at internship possibilities that will help tie the global more directly to current job concerns. Let’s work on programs to help the growing number of transfer students include global activities as part of their transfer package, making such activities an advantage rather than an impediment.
And let’s use technology. There’s a legitimate concern that growing attention to online education may be another challenge to global educational activities. But technology can also facilitate study abroad: online programs can help study abroad students, for example, maintain contacts with essential elements of the home curriculum. Distance programs can prepare collaborative opportunities for students with international counterparts, in advance of an (often otherwise shorter than desirable) actual trip abroad, and they can correspondingly develop follow up linkages so that the foreign visit has continuing educational ramifications. Technology makes it easier to get international groups of students together, and we should build this into an active, imaginative global educational framework.
Again, we do face some new threats, but there are some new creative possibilities as well. The basic agenda remains vital.
It’s relevant to note, finally, that as Mason turns to its strategic planning process we benefit from a strong basic vision of the University’s global role, and the opportunity to match vision, and current challenge/opportunity, with appropriate new specifics.