Students today, leaders of globalisation tomorrow

Globalisation has historically been viewed, on balance, as contributing to world economic success. Unfortunately, in today’s ever-changing economic and political climate, many Western populations have lost faith in globalisation’s benefit and this has complicated the conduct of business for international executives.

While Brexit in the United Kingdom, US President Donald Trump’s approach to international trade and the continued rise of right-wing movements in Europe have raised challenges, it’s now more vital than ever for the world to embrace globalisation.

Students, who will become the next generation of global leaders, will need to adapt to these challenges. Universities – and public policy schools in particular – must teach students about the changes they bring in relationships between regions and nations worldwide.

The challenges do not mean, however, that globalisation should be abandoned. Instead we need to pay ever greater attention to those who have been disadvantaged in globalisation. We also need world leaders who see that the advantages of globalisation far outweigh the disadvantages.

In teaching students to acknowledge the challenges ahead, we also need to give them an ability to constantly reinvent themselves.

Calm before the storm?

One crucial issue that international affairs students need to monitor is the balance of power between the United States and China.

Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, and former president of the United Nations Security Council, says: "The relationship between the number one power in the world (today the US) and the number one emerging power in the world (today China) is always the key global geopolitical relationship. In the past eight years, [former US president Barack] Obama and [Chinese President] Xi Jinping have done a brilliant job of keeping it on an even keel.

“Will Trump’s recent meeting with President Xi forge the same path? Will the US seek China’s cooperation on North Korea or go it alone? Or will Trump launch a new phase of Sino-American rivalry that could destabilise the Asia-Pacific region and our world? The stakes are high. It would be a mistake to take for granted the current calm. It could be the calm before a major storm."

Asia’s footprint on the global landscape of economics, politics, trade and security is large and continues to grow. That Asian presence must be a focus of international affairs programmes.

In Asia we can see the advantages of globalisation clearly. For much of the continent’s population, the so-called 'globalisation lift' has profoundly increased incomes and reduced poverty. At the Lee Kuan Yew School, our student body includes those from countries which have been directly affected by globalisation.

Teaching globalisation

These are exciting times to be thinking and talking about globalisation. Educators must adopt new strategies, meet the needs of this changing world and equip future global leaders with a deep understanding of this shifting global landscape.

Those of us in the teaching community need to tell our students about both the good and bad of globalisation. In the face of massive disruptions to globalisation, such as Brexit and the refugee crisis in Europe, we are also compelled to objectively speak truth on the intelligent management that globalisation requires.

Courses offered can include topics such as global power relations, world order, international economic development or the geopolitics of Asia, and the central narratives need to focus on real-life issues that directly impact the world as well as making use of case studies from Asia. At Lee Kuan Yew School we have also found it useful to analyse current policy issues in Asia and identify possible solutions.

Discussions should revolve around ideas about international trade, economic exchange and globalisation as the engine that has transformed both the emerging world and advanced economies, and students should be encouraged to engage in an open exchange of ideas.

Professor Danny Quah is Li Ka Shing Professor of Economics at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.