US: Black colleges find role with overseas partners

Historically black universities in the US have seen dwindling international growth in recent years, but an ambitious new coalition of black colleges and universities hopes to change that.

The International Collaboration Group (ICG), launched in the spring, will support internationalisation efforts at 11 public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) including York College, Central State University and Texas Southern University.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, aims to internationalise HBCU campuses by facilitating faculty and student exchanges, collaborative research projects and humanitarian efforts with countries around the world.

"Our students need to not only be 'work ready', they need to be 'world ready'," said Johnny Taylor, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports 47 public HBCUs. "We decided to be very deliberate as a consortium in making sure we bring to our campuses a focus around internationalisation efforts."

The consortium identified four countries with which to partner, namely South Africa, China, Malaysia and Singapore, and sent a delegation of five of the member schools on scouting missions to explore how best to implement internationalisation efforts. The tour ended in March with a visit to Singapore.

"That was phase one," said Taylor. "Phase two involves putting in place specific internationalisation initiatives."

Some initiatives have already been implemented. The ICG recently signed an agreement with Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The partnership will foster bilateral student and faculty exchanges and joint research projects. The ICG has also entered into an agreement with the University of Science and Technology of China. US students will kick things off this autumn with the first exchange to Hefei.

The coalition is also looking to collaborate with less developed parts of the world. In partnership with the US Peace Corps and George Mason University, ICG will send students to Sierra Leone to help build schools and work on infrastructure initiatives.

"We wanted to create something that's really focused on changing the world," said Taylor. "This is about our students going to help [people in Sierra Leone] rebuild their country."

Before the recession hit in 2008, black students often went into the private sector where salaries and benefits were guaranteed. The recession forced many to look elsewhere.

"It was really hard to say you should go to a war-ravaged part of the world," said Taylor. "The unemployment rate in the US was so low for so long, our talented students had real opportunities to turn down."

Taylor said public HBCUs have also not focused enough on international growth.
"Too many of our students don't appreciate that the competitive landscape is global," said Taylor. "It could be that your next job is not in Houston, Texas but rather in Abu Dhabi."

The ICG also receives funding from private investors and government grants. Phase one cost around $500,000 and phase two will require an additional $4 million to $5 million, which will cover 24 months.

Taylor said there were no plans to expand the programme. "We think you can go too wide and not get anything done too well," said Taylor. "Our focus now is these five countries."