Magazine article International Educator

Acting as Global Citizens: A Challenge to U.S. Colleges and Universities

Magazine article International Educator

Acting as Global Citizens: A Challenge to U.S. Colleges and Universities

Article excerpt

HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS in the United States are increasingly using the language of "global citizenship" to describe the skills and habits they seek to cultivate in their students. The journey to global citizenship frequently focuses on the exploration of personal and social responsibility in the context of an interconnected world. In an earlier article for NAFSA's Trends & Insights series, I noted the variety of ways global citizenship can be interpreted: (1) as a choice and way of thinking; (2) as self-awareness and awareness of others; (3) as the practice of cultural empathy; (4) as the cultivation of principled decision making; and (5) as participation in the social and political life of ones community. Institutions can be proud indeed if they are succeeding in cultivating these worthy habits of mind in their students.

But shouldn't colleges and universities be models for global citizens as well? According to the International Association of Universities (IAU) and the growing global conversation around "rethinking internationalization," the answer is yes. Colleges and universities are part of a global system of higher education, in which their actions matter and have an impact on others. In "Affirming Academic Values in Internationalization of Higher Education: A Call to Action," a recent statement and call to action, IAU points not only to the widely agreed-upon benefits of internationalization, but also to warn of the possible adverse consequences that are increasingly apparent as internationalization efforts mature and intensify in the context of increased globalization. Such potential negative aspects and those already visible include the dominance of English at the cost of linguistic diversity; the pursuit of the single model of excellence of the "world-class university" at the cost of differentiated institutional missions and potentially unwise investments; brain drain; questionable practices in recruiting and the challenges of providing a quality experience for international students; unevenly shared institutional benefits of internationalization; and the pursuit of international reputation and resources at the expense of academic values. IAU calls on higher education institutions to affirm academic and socially responsible values and goals that underpin their internationalization efforts, and asks institutions everywhere to "act as responsible global citizens, committed to help shape a global system of higher education that values academic integrity, quality, equitable access, and reciprocity!'

In "Higher Education Internationalization: Seeking a New Balance of Values," a 2012 NAFSA Trends & Insights essay, IAU Secretary-General Eva EgronPolak elaborated on the values affirmed in the call to action. While no one in higher education would argue with these ethical values and morally sound principles, it is always easier to affirm values than to operationalize them. So what does this call to action mean concretely for institutions as they engage with the world? Below are several questions to guide reflection as institutions seek to live by their principles.

To what extent do our practices in recruiting and providing a positive educational and social experience for international students align with the values and principles we articulate?

The race to recruit international students is a global one. In the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, the drive for revenue has put intense pressure on institutions to diversify their sources of income, with international student recruitment figuring prominently among them. At the same time, institutions are sincere in pointing to the contribution of international students to increasing the diversity and intellectual vibrancy of the campus. We like to think that this reason is paramount, but the pressures of prestige and income are powerful and the dangers of their pursuit are well-known. The use of recruiting agents is controversial, and at the very least, they must be carefully chosen and supervised. …

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