Creating global citizens

As the International Association of University Presidents, or IAUP, prepares for its leadership transition in 2014, the departing presidency - having been in the 'global trenches' in higher education for the last three years - is in a distinctive position to render commentary on pressing issues that have 'risen to the top' in the international higher education conversation.

The IAUP has 22 regions around the world, with a member university president as chair of each, and has met in six semi-annual meetings in the last three years, each hosted by one of the chairs.

These meetings have taken place in Austria, Colombia, Mexico, Georgia, Jamaica and China. In addition, regional chairs have hosted IAUP sponsored meetings for and in their own regions in Austria, Georgia, South Africa, Zambia and Brazil.

IAUP has continued its very strong working relationship with the United Nations, with prominent attention paid to implementation of the United Nations Academic Impact, or UNAI, around the world - in concert with the secretary general's office and the department of public information, as well as being an active partner in the NGO operations of the UN.

For the fifth year, IAUP has partnered with the Institute of International Education, or IIE, and the Qatar Foundation to help organise and present the Education Leadership Program for new university presidents from the developing world, held annually in Doha, Qatar - as well as participating in the World Innovation Summit for Education, or WISE, conference as one of the Qatar Foundation's founding partners.

IAUP continues to show up and speak with a global voice in key venues around the world, including:
  • • As a delegation attending the 100th anniversary celebration of Henan University in Kaifeng, People's Republic of China, with IAUP President Neal King offering invited remarks.
  • • At the International Symposium on Education for Global Citizenship, hosted by Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico, with King and UNAI Director Ramu Damodaran as keynote speakers.
  • • At the Third Forum of Societal Partnership titled "Scientific Research and Knowledge Exchange", sponsored by the Scientific Research Deanship and the General Secretariat of Research Chairs Programs of Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with King offering invited remarks titled "Scientific Research and Knowledge Exchange: A global perspective".
  • • At the UN, with King making invited remarks as a panelist on "Unlearning Intolerance" and participating as a member of the Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Council to the president of ECOSOC.
  • • IAUP Secretary-General Jason Scorza served as a member of a US higher education delegation to Cuba which will likely lead to an IAUP delegation of US presidents to Cuba in 2014.
We have, in addition, re-engaged with the American Council on Education, sponsoring an international reception at their 2013 and 2014 annual meetings, serving to bring key issues pertaining to international higher education into focus for this body of US leaders; and re-engaged with the Scholar Rescue Fund of the IIE, encouraging all IAUP members and their networks to support its vital work.

IAUP recently joined the World University Consortium, being organised under the auspices of the World Academy of Art and Science, with King appointed to the inaugural board representing IAUP as a founding member. The consortium seeks to identify key elements for needed paradigmatic shifts in global higher education and the means to begin their implementation.

The World University Consortium now has the following confirmed charter members: the Foundation for a Culture of Peace; Green Cross International; IAUP; the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy; the Institute for Person- Centered Approach; the Inter-University Centre; the Library of Alexandria; the Mother's Service Society; and the World Academy of Art and Science.

We are now preparing for an orderly transition to the 2014-17 presidency-elect of Chancellor Toyoshi Satow, including planning for the 11-14 June IAUP Triennial Conference in Yokohama, Japan, for which the topic is "Creating the Future of Higher Education".

This will include dignitaries, thought leaders and university CEOs from around the world.

It is a good point to ask what have we learned about the state of global higher education in the last three years.

The following issues emerge as the most prominent.

New paradigm

There is a need for a new paradigm for global higher education that recognises shifting demographics and the shrinking of global society, given social media and other emerging and rapidly changing technologies.

This is a ubiquitous topic of conversation across the multiple settings described above and is at the core of the work of the Qatar Foundation's annual WISE conference as well of the newly forming World University Consortium - and is the primary focus of the IAUP 2014 Triennial Conference in Yokohama.

Key elements here are the desire to 'level the playing field' so that all citizens from all regions of the world have access to a quality education which prepares them in a meaningful way for productive and satisfying lives as global citizens in emerging generations, rather than higher education being primarily the preserve of privilege in the first world.

This new paradigm would need to address the design and applicability of school curricula and pedagogies around the world so that all social classes, both genders and all cultural traditions can build a solid foundation in the primary and secondary years in order to participate and thrive at the tertiary level.

Harnessing - and sharing - available technologies has been identified by many educators and policy-makers as key to providing universal access.

Much hope has been attached to massive open online courses, or MOOCs, badges and other non-traditional methods of granting credit toward an undergraduate degree. These objectives can seem utopian, given the history of disparate levels of access, funding and prioritisation seen historically in global higher education.

Such a call for the democratisation of higher education has enormous implications in such wide-ranging areas of society as the distribution of wealth and power, gender equality, and health and wellness - which alone carries implications for infant, child and adult life expectancy and overall quality of life.

Correlations have been demonstrated between levels of literacy and education and tolerance for difference - suggesting that greater levels of education would likely result in greater cross-cultural understanding and less conflict.

Tension between local and global

Closely related to the first issue is the second one of the tension between local and global, including the allocation of resources and which members of a given society have traditionally had access to education at which levels.

Where there have traditionally been disparate class or caste, gender, faith-based and other deeply ingrained cultural formulae which dictate who gets educated and who does not, it can be an enormous challenge to 'level the playing field' - or even start the conversation - as envisioned in the paradigm shift described above.

Much work needs to be done not only with professional educators, but also with policy-makers, governmental agencies, funding priorities etc. Courage, imagination and creativity will be needed in large measure to make the requisite investment(s) and begin an evolutionary process in this new direction.

Global citizenship

The challenges of global citizenship - which include but are not limited to the points made above - embrace the need to re-think and re-design curricula at all levels, retrain much of the contemporary professoriate and create a learning environment which can at the same time 'hold' - at a very conscious and critical level - the inherent tensions between being a citizen of one's own country while also a citizen of the larger global society.

While the encouragement of student and faculty exchanges - and other study abroad programmes - are definitely steps in the right direction, true global citizenship requires a cultural fluency and competence that is deeply ingrained as a part of one's identity and way of being in the world.

We do not currently have curricular models for these objectives, certainly on a global scale.

* Neal King, PhD, is president of the International Association of University Presidents.