UNIVERSALIZING GLOBAL LEARNING IN THE 21ST-CENTURY ACADEMY
The rapid pace of innovation and the increasingly complex nature of the systems that manage and direct human experience has led to the gradual realization that not bullion or oil, but rather intellectual capital will become the most important commodity of the 21st century. This global recalibration of what is necessary to fuel human progress, push the boundaries of knowledge and even extend profits requires, as a fundamental enabler, international higher education. Nurturing and affording access to this increasingly desirable commodity therefore demands a robust and responsive international higher education sector. The most salient aspect of intellectual capital and the most consequential feature of its value is that it performs within a global context. And yet, notwithstanding this dynamic, there is a frightening disconnect between the demands of the world into which we are evolving and the commitments of colleges and universities to prepare their students, particularly undergraduates, to succeed in this new world.
There are certainly pockets of awareness here and there. For example, accrediting bodies are increasingly calling for global learning experiences as part of the standards of education required in various disciplines. Despite various initiatives to address global learning at institutions around the world, the majority of institutions still accord global learning a marginal place in the curriculum (a single course or a single co-curricular workshop), if it is there at all. In short, there continues to be a conspicuous absence of a consensus for global learning in the curriculum as part of an intentional effort to align student learning with the demands of a global information age. Let us not forget that education is at the core of international higher education. Moreover, the character of such an education in the context of globalization must be global, where students have multiple, intentional and substantive encounters with global learning experiences throughout their respective programs of study.
There is therefore an urgency to universalize global learning in the 21st century academy, meaning that all colleges and universities come to understand that part of what defines their mission in this historical moment is the need to prepare students for global realities. This commitment must be expressed, not merely in a menu of education abroad opportunities, but more importantly, throughout their specific fields of study, the curriculum in general, and the co-curriculum. In addition to the demands of government and industry, and taking into account what is needed to push the boundaries of knowledge, the fact remains that the greatest challenges facing humankind are global in nature. These challenges can only be resolved by graduates/citizens who are themselves globally competent. The case for global learning in the academy is overwhelming. Action is expected and required of all institutions, regardless of size, mission, history, wealth or location. In the end, each institution must commit to making global learning a central feature of a curriculum that will impart the skills, knowledge and dispositions necessary for life in a global information age.