UNIVERSITY WORLD NEWS – Why universities should fight anti-globalisation

14/03/2018 | 12:00 Sciences Po médias  

Are populist movements, Brexit anxieties, United States President Donald Trump’s restrictions on immigration, and anti-globalisation sentiments among many university students a major concern for universities? 

The question was asked by moderator Anne McElvoy, senior editor at The Economist, at a panel discussion in Madrid on “Higher Education in Times of Anti-Globalisation”. 

The discussion took place at the ninth annual international IE University “Reinventing Higher Education” conference, on 5-6 March at IE University, which is a private non-profit business owned by the Instituto de Empresa SL in Spain. 

The experts comprised Ahmad Hasnah, president at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Doha; Vanessa Scherrer, vice-president delegate for international affairs of Sciences Po, Paris; Federico Valdés, rector of the Universidad del Desarrollo, Chile; and David Van Zandt, president of The New School, New York; but the most immediately challenging response came from panelist Assylbek Kozhakhmetov, president and founder of Almaty Management University, Kazakhstan, who said: “The big fear I have is of the ‘McDonaldisation’ of education; we need anti-globalisation views as a balance – we cannot simply allow globalisation to win.”

Scherrer argued that on the contrary, “we need to fight against these tendencies”. She said that there is a trend within universities of people who want less internationalisation and less cross-collaboration, and that this must be challenged. 

“The US is a divided society, universities are political actors and we must not avoid our political responsibilities,” she said.

Valdés backed the idea that universities must participate politically. “Anti-globalisation is still quite new and we don’t know where we are in the process right now,” he said. 

“Is it a short-term trend or a backlash? We don’t know. But we do know that Trump voters looked at the concept of globalisation and saw very little in it for them. It is not just an intellectual debate, it is a fight for votes, and universities must get involved.”  

McElvoy asked if academia should be more self-critical. Perhaps it should not try to be so distant from society and the ‘grubby political system’? 

Kozhakhmetov argued that his university always sought to break down barriers. “Our doors are open to competitors, other universities and businesses,” he said. “As a university we first have a social responsibility, and then we have a corporate one. Yes, they might take our ideas, but then we just need to move faster. Come on, let’s compete!” he said.  

“It is important to get a balance,” said Hasnah. “We have a duty to be locally relevant but globally active at the same time.” Scherrer agreed, explaining that one way her institution sent a political message was by requiring students to spend a full year abroad with one of their 400 plus university partners in order to get a degree. 

“But society isn’t listening, is it?” said McElvoy, citing Brexit as an example. “We are corporately responsible but cannot be responsible for everything,” came the reply.  

Valdés argued that universities do not need to convince 51% of the population of the value of globalisation, probably just 3%. “We need to change their perception of what globalisation might mean for them and their children,” he said. “We took public policies for granted and we should never do that again; we should convince our graduates to be more outspoken and say globalisation is good public policy.”

Moving on, McElvoy asked: “What should cross-collaboration look like?” 

“People in the street need to see an outcome from two universities collaborating,” said Hasnah. “An economist can go and give a lecture at a university, but this should be open to the public,” he said. 

“Students need to go to less economically developed regions and see what they are doing,” said Kozhakhmetov. “Anti-globalisation has a place […] we only speak English at global level but different languages offer different ways of thinking. What we need is ‘diversified’ collaboration.”  

Van Zandt said collaboration can raise important issues for faculty in a country like China, for example, where academic freedom and political openness might not be seen in the same way. “If you give a part of your brand away, there is a fear that you can’t get it back,” he said.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” said Valdés. “We look at other institutions that are doing things at a top level and we look to work with them.” Hasnah agreed on that, but emphasised that “collaboration is a two-way street; both parties need to get something out of it”. 

“When you collaborate don’t try to change the other side,” concluded McElvoy… “anyone who has been married for a long time will understand that.”  

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