The global education imperative: Building bridges

For over a millennium now, the New World has inspired global imperatives. Explorers, warriors, priests and emperors have headed in our direction. For more than a hundred years, educators have joined their company as a way of mastering the future. In return, the women and men of the Americas have reminded us all that we need to first be clearer about what we teach in the present.

So I was particularly grateful to be invited to speak at CETYS Universidad in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico last week, to help launch their Global Impact series – which will also bring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman to speak at the campus this month.

CETYS Universidad President Dr Fernando León Garcia, who is also president-elect of the International Association of University Presidents (IAUP), is taking action to advance IAUP’s mission to promote peace and international understanding through education.

One of the great strengths of CETYS is that its trustees and faculty are together embracing globalisation as a way of building the university and extending its outreach beyond its campuses to the region in which it operates, which embraces both Mexico and the United States.

The work they are doing to promote academic ties is an excellent reflection of the Institute of International Education’s vision of the power of international education to advance scholarship, build economies and promote access to education.

At the Global Dialogue which took place within the CETYS event last week, Consul General William A Ostick from the US Consulate in Tijuana said that the United States recognises that global education is vital to our economic success. “We are an increasingly interconnected economy, and to have people who understand how to work and live in other countries, and other societies, is essential.”

He said that “the Cali-Baja region is at the vanguard of those efforts to integrate our students and define ways to make it easier for students to study in other countries”.

Marcela Celorio, Consul General of Mexico in San Diego, spoke about the importance of education in promoting bilateral trade in a secure environment and in boosting economic growth throughout the Cali-Baja region. These eloquent diplomats remind us how important and vibrant the relationship is between our two countries, both academically as well as economically.

My talk at the Global Dialogue was inspired by the late Octavio Paz, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990. "In Search of the Present" was the title of his Nobel Prize acceptance address.

What should we mean by the phrase "global education imperative"? Paz captures its essence when he observes: "Like every child I built emotional bridges in the imagination to link me to the world and to other people." His tools were "an old dilapidated house that had a jungle-like garden and a great room full of books”.

So from the earliest moment of education, part of the imperative for us as educators, in every time and place, is to understand and embrace what appears to be possible to us as children, and guard against those dynamics that close our doors and our minds later on.

Building a global perspective

The potential for each individual to build bridges suggests a foundation upon which education can build a global perspective. For me this translates into three imperatives today.

The first is to learn to speak other languages. A hundred years ago, every university in North America except the Massachusetts Institute of Technology required proficiency in a foreign language for graduation. Now none do.

It is a mistake of the present for us to think English is sufficient as a lingua franca to serve us all. No one should graduate without proficiency in another language and having studied in a culture beyond their own, to facilitate understanding and acceptance of other cultures. An international approach should be a part of what it means for everyone to be educated.

Second is a new imperative to accommodate the displaced and disconnected. It was only 18 months ago that the United Nations recognised the need to address the educational needs of refugees and displaced persons and at all levels. And there is no precedent for having 65 plus million persons affected who are so in need of reconnecting with education.

There are not enough schools for all who need them, and practically no universities in exile. They often cannot study where they are displaced, as they are not citizens of their host countries and cannot afford higher education as refugees. It is imperative for us to do something to accommodate this lost generation and prevent new, young foot soldiers – or what will be much worse, smart strategists – for the armies of the night.

Third, we need to make sure that what we assign and what we read includes the thoughts and observations of others with whom we do not agree, may have never met and who write and think in a different way. Today, it is even more important to ensure that same access to diverse opinions and texts within our curricula and discussions.

Future challenges

In many ways, we know enough about the future to guide our present. We are told that at least a third of today's jobs will no longer exist by 2050. If so, what are we doing now to provide the curriculum for such a global workforce and marketplace?

What are we doing to prepare today's students where a majority of citizens in America will speak Spanish and more people in China will speak English than live in the United States? How we respond to the present global education imperatives will shape our future.

These imperatives occur amidst some very dark hours for the world we share, where indifference and nationalism seem again on the rise. In another era of dark hours, statesmen of the old world immediately turned to the new. As Churchill observed in his second speech to parliament as prime minister after the fall of France and the need to ready for the Battle of Britain: his world would continue to struggle “until the New World with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old”.

So I conclude by affirming that education is the currency of the might and power of the present, and that it is not unrealistic to hope that the universities of Mexico can join together with those in its neighbouring countries to the North and the South to make the world of the present and future a less dangerous place.

Allan Goodman is the president and CEO of the Institute of International Education (IIE), a world-leading organisation in international education since 1919. As a not-for-profit with 18 offices and affiliates worldwide, IIE collaborates with a range of corporate, government and foundation partners across the globe to design and manage scholarship, study abroad, workforce training and leadership development programmes. For more information, visit