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Commencement Addresses

The Challenges of Global Change

  • Date: 11/06/2000
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: NAFSA Region VI Fall Conference Radisson Harbour Inn at Cedar Point Sandusky, Ohio
  • That we live in interesting times is the understatement of our modern age.

    "Seismic rumbles of change," to use Chuck Vest's phrase, are transforming our traditional paradigms of higher education.

    Increasingly, as if on a roller coaster, we are thrown into peaks and valleys and sudden twists and turns - sometimes only to end up where we started.

    Cedar Point indeed serves as the perfect backdrop for the theme of this conference, "International Education: The Ride of Your Life."

    In this ever-changing world, amidst the many challenges facing higher education . . . we certainly are in for the ride of our lives!

    While change is the one constant and central theme in all of human history, change also is seen by many as something to be avoided.

    An editorial in the Atlantic Journal had this to say about "change": "The world is too big for us. Too much going on, too many crimes, too much violence and excitement."

    "Try as you will, you get behind in the race, in spite of yourself. It's an incessant strain to keep pace . . . and, still, you lose ground."

    "Science empties its discoveries on you so fast that you stagger beneath them in hopeless bewilderment . . ."

    "Everything is high pressure. Human nature can't endure much more."

    This editorial represents a prevalent sense of our world today. But you need to know that the material I just read to you was published in 1833, 167 years ago!

    Whether then or now, somehow, the prospect of change always seems to raise a sense of excitement and, simultaneously, a sense of risk.

    For some, risk becomes anxiety. And quite often, particularly in academic and political circles, anxiety leads to "analysis paralysis" . . . a condition whereby a problem or opportunity is analyzed without action, or is simply ignored, until it passes you by or becomes intolerable.

    But remember that risk and anxiety are two quite different conditions.

    A simple story will illustrate the point:

    The Surgeon General tells us that cigarettes kill more than 150-thousand Americans each year, and automobiles on our highways kill more than 50-thousand people per year. But, nobody seems to be afraid of cigarettes or automobiles.

    However, according to the Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health, everyone is afraid of sharks.

    The Navy says that there are about 50 shark attacks worldwide each year. The National Bureau of Health Statistics doesn't even keep a record of shark attacks because there are so few. (They know how many people are killed by bee stings, but not shark bites.)

    The best guess is that sharks kill two or three people each year in the United States.

    But, the fact is that if you went to a crowded beach and shouted "shark" - everyone would race out of the water, jump into a car, light up a cigarette, and drive home!

    That's the difference between anxiety and risk.

    Each of us feels this way about various things and some activities in our society.

    Some of you may even feel this way about some aspects of your university or of your community.

    How nice it would be if we could put risk and anxiety into perspective, and move to better distinguish the "sharks" in our lives.

    Indeed, where reason and calm prevail, there is always optimism, and much that can be accomplished for the common good.

    With these thoughts in mind, let me now share with you some perspectives on this Age of Global Change.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, let me acknowledge at the outset that I am not a scholar of Global Change.

    Rather, I am more a person wrought from global change: I was born in Mexico and Spanish is my native language. For all practical purposes, I have lived in the United States of America since age 11 -- having come to a boarding school in the 7th grade.

    I made my first comparative observation about global education quite early, simply by noticing that it was a full two years after coming here before I learned anything substantively new in school, other than a better command of English.

    I can also tell you, that I began to travel at age 4, and that as early as my 8th year, I was more interested in being a citizen of the world than of any particular country. I could not understand why we could not have a global passport or no passport at all.

    It may be of some relevance that about the only thing that I remember of Mexican history is that the first president of Mexico, Benito Juarez is credited with saying that "The respect for the rights of others is peace." ("El respeto as derecho ajeno es la paz.")

    I can also tell you that I largely see myself as a product of an eclectic American education; that I am a generalist in spirit; and that my travel has taken me to some unconventional places such as Siberia, Greenland, and Antarctica.

    As for my talk today, let me tell you that it has been influenced as much by my personal background and experience, as from selected readings.

    Among those readings are a few I would recommend to you. In particular, I call your attention to the prescient volume by Kenichi Ohmae, published 10 years ago, entitled The Borderless World
    (Harper, 1990).

    There is also the more recent and much admired book by Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. . .
    (Anchor Books Edition, 2000),

    . . . as well as the just published one by John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldrige entitled A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization.
    (Crown Business, 2000)

    There are others that I will refer to in the course of my talk, and I also want to acknowledge my colleague, David Ayers, who shared important statistics and pointed me to several references.

    So what do I mean by global change?

    By Global Change I mean to have you understand the process of globalization. A process by which the peoples of the world are moving increasingly towards one another.

    Indeed, Globalization involves dimensions of social, cultural, technological, and economic change, which characterize the movement of our civilization away from the parochial and toward the global or universal.

    Dimensions that involve the vast array of technological change, our movement to a global economy, and the pervasiveness of new information tools . . . all creating for us radically new sets of capabilities and the kind of social adjustments so well articulated by Peter Drucker in his Atlantic Monthly magazine article entitled The Age of Social Transformations
    (Atlantic Monthly, The Age of Social Transformations, 1994)

    Just think about your own experience. About how, in your own lifetime, technology has affected what you do today, what you have yet to learn, and how rapidly other things are looming onto your radar screens . . . the rate of progress has become so fast, in fact, that we have to "construct artful analogies" . . . and tell interesting stories . . . because that is the only way to . . . "comprehend the explosive acceleration of speed and capacity" . . . in this age of Global Change.

    And where the nature of social transformations on a world-scale are concerned, perhaps no story tells it better than the one about the two global company executives returning to the U.S. in the first class cabin of the airliner . . .

    After a few drinks, they begin to relax and to contemplate their careers, where upon one turns to the other and says, "You know . . . I have finally figured out what this global economy is all about."

    "And what is that?" asks his colleague.

    "Well, I am finally going to get paid what I am worth . . . and I am scared to death of it!"

    In his new book, The Global Me, author G. Pascal Zachary argues that globalization is making it "possible to have both 'roots' and 'wings' - to develop meaningful affiliations without renouncing one's origins."
    (As reviewed by Alex Soonjung-Kim Pang, Atlantic Monthly, November, 2000, p. 118-119)

    Since globalization transcends national boundaries, these affiliations are characterized by "hybridization" -- trans-national partnerships and expertise, expanded and workable skills in several languages, and in-depth knowledge of other cultures.

    As Peter Scott, vice chancellor of Kingston University in London points out, it is important for us to realize that "The terms globalization and internationalization are often used interchangeably."

    Indeed, Scott tells us that the term globalization often displaces internationalization "because it sounds more modern."

    However, each refers to very different phenomena that, in reality, "are actually opposed."

    In his recent article, Globalization and Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century, Scott argues that "Internationalization reflects a world-order dominated by nation states."

    Globalization, on the other hand, transcends international borders and political subdivisions. Globalization reflects the rise of market capitalism around the world, and involves an "intensified collaboration" as well as "a global division of labor."

    According to Scott, "Globalization implies a radical reordering of the status quo as new regional blocs emerge and old enemies become new allies (and vice versa) and national boundaries are rendered obsolete by the transgressive tendencies of high technology and mass culture."

    Scott believes that "Globalization is perhaps the most fundamental challenge faced by the university in its long history." He says that "The forces of globalization are refashioning not only economic structures and life-styles; they are also challenging the authority of the nation state (in which so many of our notions of civic and democratic rights are embedded); they are penetrating deeply into the private world of informal associations, communities, families - and even deeper still, into the intimate world of personal identity."

    Scott then reminds us that "The modern university . . . is a national and novel institution. Three-quarters of the extant universities - even of the universities in Europe, its ancient heartland - have been established since 1900; half since 1945."
    (Journal of Studies in International Education, Globalization and Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century, Spring 2000, p.3-10)

    Parenthetically, I should tell you that I often like to remind my colleagues at several AAU institutions that had any of us been invited to join some of those same universities prior to 1945, we might well have regarded such places as beneath our scholarly pedigrees!

    But continuing with globalization, a recent issue of Business Week magazine reports, likewise, that globalization could well become the great equalizer. "(It) has created millions of jobs from Malaysia to Mexico and a cornucopia of affordable goods for Western consumers."

    "It has brought phone service to some 300 million households in developing nations and a transfer of nearly $2 trillion from rich countries to poor through equity, bond investments, and commercial loans."

    "(Globalization) has helped topple dictators by making information freely available in once sheltered societies."

    "And now the Internet is poised to narrow the commercial and cultural gulfs separating rich nations from poor even further in the decade to come."
    (Business Week, November 6, 2000, p 72-100)

    Indeed, science and technology speak the universal language that is the driving force behind globalization. By making possible the sharing of vast amounts of information virtually instantaneously, advances in telecommunications and computers offer the world unprecedented opportunities to increase the international standard of living.

    And while much of that information sharing is done in English, we should not assume that it will one day become the universal language, even though it is widely spoken throughout the world.

    Consider the fact that there are " . . . three times as many native speakers of Chinese as native speakers of English," asks Barbara Wallraff In this month's issue of Atlantic Monthly.

    Indeed, there are 15 times more people in the world whose native language is other than English!

    And we would all do well to remember that each language is hardly the same across the country or the world. Those of you who traveled to Australia for the Olympics certainly learned that. And all of us who know Spanish have long been aware of nuances in usage across Spanish speaking countries. And so it goes for other languages as well.

    What is more, Ms. Wallraff points out that (according to David Graddol of The English Company in England) there are ". . . a dizzying array of eventualities that could transform the world language picture: political alliances that have yet to be formed; the probable rise of regional trading blocs, in such places as Asia; the Arab world, and Latin America, in which the United States and other primarily English-speaking countries will be little involved; the possibility that world-changing technological innovations will arise out of nations where English is little spoken; a backlash against American values and culture in the Middle East or Asia; or the triumph of our values and culture in those places."
    (Atlantic Monthly, November 2000, p 52-66)

    All that said, globalization should bring new opportunities for those of us in higher education, because in today's knowledge-based economy, education is society's infrastructure.

    Education is that internal system that, like the tiny pieces of a fine watch, is the basis for what makes society tick.

    Education gives individuals the basis for generating the ideas and technologies that enable both personal and economic progress.

    Education creates knowledgeable individuals who can apply their analytical and problem-solving skills to shape our industries and our society.

    Education produces knowledge, and knowledge is universal.

    Education is infrastructure.

    It is sobering, however, to consider whether the United States will have the continued capacity to accept the challenges of global change.

    Indeed, the latest report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development notes that the world dominance that the United States has enjoyed during this past century is being eclipsed by the achievements of other countries.
    (Education at a Glance - OECD Indicators, 2000 Edition, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Centre for Educational Research and Innovation)

    Thus, the U.S., which was the first nation to have compulsory secondary education, now lags 22 other countries in the percentage of its population that completes secondary education.

    The U.S. now also lags in higher education. Indeed, the dramatic increase in college graduates that was spurred on by the G.I. Bill and made the U.S. an economic powerhouse has now been overshadowed by three countries.

    Today, Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands all boast of a higher percentage of their population participating in higher education than does the United States.

    In this global, competitive environment, the winners enjoy success because of their ability to create and sustain new wealth. And the key to that success has been a more highly educated populace.

    Indeed, economists agree that research, best defined as the production of new knowledge, as occurs daily on our campuses, is the most direct avenue for generating new wealth.

    When that new knowledge is quantified in a market environment, it creates fuller employment, capital formation, growing profits, and surpluses for reinvestment.

    Just think of it - microelectronics, the dominant industry in today's economy, did not begin until 1947 with the development of the transistor.

    And biotechnology, which is today a trillion-dollar industry, began only 30 years ago, in 1970, with a seminal discovery in a University of California laboratory.

    At The University of Akron, our Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering program is ranked second nationally by U.S. News & World Report, and we are attracting some of the best and brightest international students. International students make up approximately 50 percent of our students enrolled in the polymer program, and 40% of our research is sponsored by industries, all of which are global companies.

    Also through our Institute for Global Business, which organizes programs in international business education, and our Global Polymer Academy, we are becoming a major world technology research center, which will attract even more international students.

    And that is because "We make the new materials for the new economy!"

    As a nation, however, we would do well to consider the international distribution of research funding. For example, in the United States, 70 cents of every research dollar funds research related to biomedical science, while the reverse is true in other nations.

    Thus, we could suggest that - proportionately - The U.S. is comparatively underinvested in those basic disciplines that underpin industrial manufacturing and productivity. (NSF, Science Indicators)

    Yes, biomedical research is immensely important to our health and well-being, and we should support a doubling of the funding for our National Institutes of Health. But, if we are to keep pace with our global competition, we should simultaneously call for a 3- to 5-fold increase in the funding to our basic science agencies!

    According to NAFSA, the United States remains the leading destination for international students, with one in three choosing to study in this country, and science is the leading field of specialization.

    During the 1998-99 academic year, nearly 500,000 students from abroad studied in the United States. (NAFSA)

    International students bring nearly $12 billion into the U.S. economy and have made education this country's fifth largest service sector export.

    During that same year, 1998-1999, however, only 114,000 U.S. students studied abroad. And while this represents a 14.6 percent increase over the previous year, and a more than doubled participation in international programs from 10 years ago, it is still a very small fraction of our total students and threatens to make the U.S. a globally inept nation.

    What is more, competition for international education is
    growing. For example, in recent years the number of International students traveling to Australia has increased far more rapidly than to the U.S.

    Indeed, changes in international student flows are worthy of careful examination, both as indicators of competitive pressures and of the growth of educational excellence abroad.

    International educational exchanges advance the process of globalization, but the common practice of one experience in one country is no longer enough. Consider the fact that the typical global company executive today has lived in two to five countries and speaks two to four languages fluently.

    Of course, I was pleased to note that NAFSA'S strategic objective received a big boost from The White House this past April when the President issued an Executive Memorandum on international education policy.

    Two key components of that policy are promotion of study abroad for U.S. students and enhancing the capacity of U.S. universities and colleges to develop programs that build international partnerships and expertise.

    In today's global economy, a sound international education policy is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity. You, the members of NAFSA, must continually remind others that such a policy will take a concerted effort on everyone's part - universities; federal, state and local governments; businesses; and other non-governmental organizations.

    In Ohio, we believe that the process of globalization is critical to the state's economy, but currently, insufficient numbers of Ohio residents have the opportunity to study abroad due to a lack of funding.

    During the past academic year, only 4,000 of the approximately 200,000 undergraduate students enrolled in Ohio's 13-state-supported institutions studied in other countries.

    In order to remedy this situation, the Ohio International Consortium has proposed a major initiative aimed at increasing the number of Ohio-resident, undergraduate students participating in study-abroad programs.

    The initiative calls for doubling the number of Ohio-resident, undergraduate students participating in study abroad during the program's four-year phase-in; increasing by at least 25 percent the number of study-abroad programs offered by the participating institutions, with increased diversity of location and focus; and increasing inter-university collaboration in study-abroad programming within Ohio.

    In closing, let me say this to you:

    As the process of globalization advances, we should remember that the future is what we make of it, and I believe that the challenges of global change bring new opportunities.

    Former President Ronald Reagan once said, "There is a flickering spark in us all which, if struck at just the right age... can light the rest of our lives, elevating our ideals, deepening our tolerance and sharpening our appetite for knowledge about the rest of the world. Educational and cultural exchanges... provide a perfect opportunity for this precious spark to grow, making us more sensitive and wiser internal citizens through our careers."

    I know that NAFSA shares those values.

    And in an increasingly complex and interdependent world, finding solutions to problems requires shared knowledge and understanding, and a shared commitment among all peoples of the world.

    Our common future and the common good depend on it.

    Thank you!

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