The University in a World Without Walls

Nieuws | de redactie
10 november 2009 | "The quest for a different globalization which can find broad support in our societies is by no means one for universities alone." Jo Ritzen sprak dit weekend in Berlijn op het congres over 'een wereld zonder muren'. Wat is daarin de opdracht én de kans van de universiteit?

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor for me to be here today inBerlin at this event to commemorate the fall of the Berlin wallwith you. I would like to thank the Institute for CulturalDiplomacy for inviting me. The need for intercultural dialogues isstronger than ever before in the world we find ourselves in today,so I appreciate the work the Institute does and recognize itsimportance.

Besides the importance of intercultural communication, today’srapidly changing reality also calls for new leadership. Theeconomy, the climate and health are all topical themes that clearlyshow that this is necessary.

Thus, the central question of my speech is: What are the essentialskills and competencies graduates need in order to become “newleaders” of tomorrow and how can universities equip them with theseskills and competencies? In order to answer this question, we alsoneed to address the role and responsibilities of universities inlight of current developments in the world.

Globalization and current crises

Globalization has taken societies by surprise: as a thief in thenight, in utmost stealth, it stole the nationalness or regionalnessof our knowledge, of our production, of our social cohesion, of ourinstitutions. Or so it seems to many of our citizens. We now findourselves in a state in which most of our national andinternational institutions have been overtaken byglobalization.

Universities are a prime example: most of them have been unableto adapt to the new globalized world and are thus insufficientlyserving society in providing global leadership. Globalizedleadership is the ability to function effectively on theinternational labor market in advanced positions; in the positionswhere strategic decisions are taken in the private and in thepublic sector.

These are the positions for which universities should develop theneuro-software which both reflects the past experiences in theselected fields of study while encompassing the potential to acontinuous intake of new experiences. This is a challenge for alluniversities. It is even an existential challenge for researchuniversities in the demographically declining countries. Theyeither have to adapt fast to become world universities (in qualityand attractiveness to foreign students) or will shrink and possiblydisappear.

The crises that we find ourselves right now in have effected”globalization”, if measured by trade and capital flows and bymigration. Roger C. Altman speaks about “globalization in retreat”in this year’s July/August edition of Foreign Affairs. The retreatin real flows of goods, money and people may be temporary. Theretreat in the minds of people or better: the fear for the effectsof globalization – as evidenced by the French, Irish and Dutch no’sto the spirit of the EU and as evidenced by increasingnationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic tendencies within theEU – may be more substantial and longer lasting.

The retreat of globalization in the minds of people needs to beaddressed as it is incompatible with the life styles of the peopleof rich countries. Without the flows of goods, money and people,our life style and our wealth can not be maintained.Isolationalism, autarky or protectionism simply are not an option.At the same time, global competition imbues legitimate fear for jobsecurity where jobs are lost to low wage countries, for health,education, protection and other public service, fear for socialsecurity, for public health, public education and other publicservices where taxation levels have experienced a persistentdownward trend which does not seem to have come to the point ofreversal. The quest for a different globalization which can findbroad support in our societies is by no means one for universitiesalone.

New Leadership needs to be discussed urgently as the financial andsubsequent economic crisis has raised new questions on leadership.This crisis propels the dilemmas of environmental sustainability,of climate change, of the limits of raw materials and of world widepoverty to the forefront of higher education, because it is clearthat it is not the preferred option to return to the old trajectoryof economic growth: that would only lead to disaster on the mediumterm. The renewal of concepts of leadership which go far beyondshort term profits are urgently needed.

New leadership

Universities traditionally have been bestowed with the mostprestigious role an institution can play: preparing young peoplefor leadership in society, in the professions, in the arts, inreligion and in civil administration. Compayre (1893) documents howthe early European universities emerged in the 11th to13th century in Europe and how the worldly and religiousleaders (the kings and the Pope) almost rivaled in their wish tofound or godfather a university to provide for society’s leadershipin their basically feudal societies.

The second wave of new universities emerged in the period of theearly 19th century. Von Humboldt (1809) and Newman(1852) can perhaps be viewed as the great-grandfathers of therationale for these universities. They both emphasized the secularnation as the entity for which universities should educate theleadership. The US state and the US endowed institutions very muchfollowed suit (Slossen, 1910).

Civic leadership in the secular nation is closely related to thearts, the social sciences, the humanities and law in the European,early 19th century, university. Sciences and medicineplay a minor role. This in contrast to the US, where around 80% ofthe 19th century students in the elite (state andendowed) universities were enrolled in the sciences, agricultureand medicine. Nevertheless, the notion of educating for societalleadership is still strongly present in these universities.

In many respects, the US universities were better prepared for themassification of higher education than the European ones. Theincrease in enrollment in Europe in the 20th century inthe sciences, agriculture and medicine often took place in separateinstitutions or institutions with little attention to the idea ofleadership in the nation state. They were very utilitarian: theemerging industries needed scientists and engineers.

Between 1960 and 1980, enrolments in European universities almostexploded (as a 10 fold increase might be considered). It was thelabor market combined with social demand which caused the increase.Social demand drove up the participation rate while the risingnumber of graduates could be easily absorbed by the labor market.”Nation building” became less and less prominent as a goal ofuniversity education.

The mass systems which characterize Higher Education today hardlyclaim any more civic leadership for their graduates – whether inthe nation state or beyond. Governments have come to see themalmost entirely as suppliers of manpower – with the Government rolemainly focused on guaranteeing equality of opportunity.

There is a tremendous challenge ahead for universities to provideworld leadership in a way analogous to Von Humboldt’s notion ofnation building. This is more than just providing for theglobalized labor market. It also includes the preparation to workpeacefully across cultural and language barriers in national andinternational formal and informal institutions.

This translates in challenges for universities in”internationalizing” education so that students can learn tounderstand and appreciate cultural differences. The Bolognaprocess, in which most European countries cooperate to bring theirhigher education systems more into line, facilitates universitiesin these challenges. The growth of the number of foreign students(often from within the region, sometimes from far away) helps inthe process.

So how does Maastricht University position itself in the globalizedworld of higher education? The strategy of Maastricht University isas simple as it is challenging: to be leading in learning and atthe same time to educate students in a truly internationalenvironment for a globalized world. Leading in learning means thatwe constantly challenge ourselves to include the most recentresearch insights in our problem-based approach to learning inorder to be top in education performance in the national andEuropean rankings.

We are presumably the only research university of a substantialsize which uses problem-based learning in all degree courses. Thisis far from easy as problem-based learning is costly and does notalways match with the preferences of teachers to lecture in aclassroom instead of guiding the students through their learningprocess. Yet not only the costs are high, but so is also the valueadded in knowledge, in the problem solving orientation and inlearning how to work in teams.

Responsible graduates are alumni of responsible universities.Therefore, we need to address the question how our education shouldbe more embedded in the context of the responsibility of thegraduate for the future. This is not a new discussion. In medicaland science education, the social and ethical implications havealways been an important component of the curriculum spurred fromtime to time by people like the physicist Oppenheimer who raisedquestions about the involvement of scientists in weapons of massdestruction.

Yet, it appears that the introduction of the bachelor master systemin Europe took place in an environment dominated by thinking interms of isolated professions and (sub) disciplines. In otherwords: it is time for a renewed effort to put university educationin the context of social responsibility, for a new reflection onuniversity education for life. Such efforts are constantly neededto create more space for interdisciplinary programs and for minorsin degree curricula, in a world which still tends to favor the safeconservatism of the mono-discipline.

The international classroom / interculturalcompetency

Besides the drive to be innovative in learning and teaching,another motto of Maastricht University is: “Based in Europe,focused on the world”. Over the years, Maastricht University hasbecome the most international university in the Netherlands. Thevast majority of our degree programs is taught in English and oursystem of problem-based learning attracts students from all overthe world.

The Bologna process has further contributed to increased studentmobility. Almost half of our student population comes from abroad,many of which from Germany. All in all, Maastricht University ishost to 70 different nationalities. It is not only the students whoform a diverse international group. Staff is increasinglyinternational as well, with 30% of academic staff originating fromabroad.

Being a highly international institution, Maastricht Universityfaces the questions: How can we make the most out of thispotential? How do we create truly intercultural education? How dowe foster cross-cultural thinking and the development ofintercultural competency in the classroom?

First of all, what exactly do we mean when we talk about”intercultural competence”? In the context of her study on theidentification and assessment of intercultural competence as astudent outcome of internationalization, Darla Deardorff conducteda survey among administrators of U.S. postsecondary institutionsstrongly committed to internationalization. The majority chose thefollowing definition as the most appropriate and suitable one:”Knowledge of others; knowledge of self; skills to interpret andrelate; skills to discover and/or to interact; valuing others’values, beliefs, and behaviors; and relativizing one’s self.Linguistic competence plays a key role” (Byram, 1997).

Some academics believe that the activation of cross-culturalcommunication within the classroom endangers academic excellenceand the learning goals which are to be achieved (Otten, 2003).Intercultural dialogues should obviously not become a self-evidentlearning goal. Nevertheless we cannot deny the importance of thisskill in an ever increasingly globalised world since the evidenceshows that the labour market for graduates is international.Graduates often move across borders for work or stay in their homecountry with frequent interactions with graduates in othercountries. It is expected of new leaders, such as managers oftransnational companies, that they are able to deal with culturaldiversity effectively and almost effortlessly.

An international classroom characterized by a high degree ofintercultural communication and understanding cannot be establishedby simply assembling a number of students with various culturalbackgrounds in a classroom. The potential present in the classroomneeds to be tapped into and activated by teaching staff (Otten,2003). Awareness and attitude are the key words here, valid forboth students and staff.

In practice, staff can actively encourage intercultural dialoguesamong students within the PBL-system of Maastricht Universityby:

  • making an effort to get to know students in class: ask abouttheir origin & background, their culture, their familiesetc.
  • specifically involving the cultural backgrounds of students inthe PBL-discussions (“How is this issue dealt with in yourcountry?” etc.)
  • establishing a culture of mutual respect in the classroom
  • not singling out certain students in class; also involve thequieter ones who perhaps have trouble adjusting to thePBL-system
  • interweaving the development of intercultural competence intoevery course of the curriculum
  • create one-on-one experiences in the classroom: intentionallyteam up two students with different cultural backgrounds for atask
  • monitoring the language use in- and outside (whenever possible)of the classroom: it should always be English.

“Sharing common values, mapping out relevant differences, andcommunicating across these differences are the major challenges inthe international classroom. To constitute a classroom whereintercultural learning really occurs, means blending concepts of’foreign’, ‘strange’ and ‘otherness’ into teaching strategies thatmake an effort to integrate the cultural input of students; to usedifferent backgrounds as a source of learning and to make an effortto see students with ‘otherness’ as resources themselves.Intercultural learning does not ‘simply’ happen” (Teekens,2000).

The acquisition of intercultural competence is an ongoing process.There are different methodologies to assess the level ofintercultural competence of students at different points in time.According to Deardorff, “recommended assessment methods areprimarily qualitative in nature, including the use of interviews,observation, and case studies, as well as the possible use ofstandardized competency instruments” (Deardorff, 2006). Theanalysis of narrative diaries, the use of self-report instrumentsor focus groups are other possible ways to measure the degree ofstudents’ intercultural competencies.

In order to monitor in how far students develop their abilities todeal with cultural diversity during their studies in Maastricht andthus in order to assess how successful we are in our attempts tofoster intercultural competence, we are currently in the process ofdeveloping a project which will assess the level of interculturalcompetence among students over a period of time. The results willgive us insight if we are indeed making use of the rightinstruments to prepare our students for the challenges ahead,namely leadership in a changed world.

Lees Ritzens persoonlijke herinnering aan de val van de Muurin 1989 hier in zijnbijdrage aan ScienceGuide-reeks

Schrijf je in voor onze nieuwsbrief
ScienceGuide is bij wet verplicht je toestemming te vragen voor het gebruik van cookies.
Lees hier over ons cookiebeleid en klik op OK om akkoord te gaan