Higher Learning Institutions and Global Citizen Education

By Jelinek, Vera; Formerand, Jacques | UN Chronicle, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Higher Learning Institutions and Global Citizen Education


Jelinek, Vera, Formerand, Jacques, UN Chronicle


Although the term global citizen dates back to ancient times, it is only in recent decades that it has gained extensive usage in academic circles. It is an objective of many mission statements and has also gained credence as a personal way of life, as an awareness of oneself not as an isolated individual but as one inextricably linked to others. Lest such common usage of the phrase become a cliche, I think it behooves us at the outset to define, albeit in broad strokes, what we mean by global citizens. Is it a shared sense of a world identity, even though human beings have not yet evolved into a world community? Is it a commitment to some common universal values? Or is it a way of approaching, embracing and attempting to resolve global challenges from a perspective that is much broader and more inclusive than the one that until recently placed sovereign states at the centre of global discourse. In terms of institutions of higher learning and what they offer, we will concentrate on the latter definition which we have implemented in our own university.

Were we to examine international affairs curricula in institutions of higher learning some 30 or so years ago, we would find an overemphasis on sovereign states as the arbiters of much that happened in the world. Even the name international relations implied discourse among sovereign states at the expense of other parties whose omission was not accidental. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations were minor players, if players at all, and had little or no voice internationally. That changed with the United Nations world conferences, with NGOs accreditation and representation in multilateral organizations and with private sector participation in policymaking. Area studies were fashionable whereas today, while not ignored, they play a much less significant role, primarily because there is a growing realization that regions are not isolated entities. Energy and environment rarely appeared in curricula, while today they are inextricably linked to and influence development, politics and security, not to mention the fate of the globe. International law was a rather rarefied sector whose applications were somewhat restricted to treaty enforcement and interpretation but did not extend as widely as it does today to the private sector, civil society and human rights organizations.

The world of 2013 is significantly different from and, for that matter, far more complex than that which emerged from the ravages of the Second World War. Variously described as "internationalized", "globalized", "liberalized", depending on one's vantage point, the spread of markets and the globalization of production, the expanding cross border flows of money, finance trade and peoples combined with the transformational impact of knowledge and innovations in communications and data processing have profoundly altered our hitherto familiar political, economic, social and cultural landscape. At the same time, global governance regulatory regimes have incrementally been put in place, covering virtually all human activities.

A host of public and private, domestic and international sub-state and supra-state actors have thus appeared on the political stage of this still emerging hybrid system of "post sovereign" governance. In their midst and between them, NGOs, associations, victims groups; coalitions and transnational advocacy networks concerned about women's rights, children's rights, environmental rights; community-based groups representing indigenous peoples or minorities; faith-based groups such as churches and religious groups; trade unions and professional associations; social movements (peace movements, student movements, pro-democracy movements); and professionals contributing directly to the enjoyment of human rights (humanitarian workers, lawyers, doctors and medical workers) vie for political attention and influence. Non-territorial global communities based on class, gender, ethnicity, religion and intercultural contacts, among other things, have superimposed themselves upon national communities. …

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