Fo­cus on ca­reers ‘cre­ates divi­sion’

Stu­dents must be taught skills to cre­ate a bet­ter world, NYU Abu Dhabi head tells El­lie Both­well

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - El­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Uni­ver­si­ties that fo­cus only on pre­par­ing stu­dents for ca­reers are partly to blame for the re­treat of sup­port for glob­al­i­sa­tion, a vice-chan­cel­lor has warned.

Al­fred Bloom, who leads New York Univer­sity’s out­post in Abu Dhabi, said that uni­ver­si­ties must pro­vide stu­dents with a “global per­spec­tive” and the skills to cre­ate “a world of com­mon un­der­stand­ing”.

In an in­ter­view with Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, Dr Bloom said that this world­view must be taught at un­der­grad­u­ate level.

“If we don’t bring it about, if we just ed­u­cate for ca­reers, I think you’re go­ing to get a con­tin­u­a­tion of the kind of divi­sion and di­vi­sive­ness that we ex­pe­ri­ence so much to­day,” he said.

Dr Bloom, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Swarth­more Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia, de­fines NYU Abu Dhabi as “a great lib­eral arts col­lege in­side a re­search univer­sity”.

As well as pro­vid­ing the depth and breadth of study typ­i­cal of lib­eral arts in­sti­tu­tions, the univer­sity also seeks to de­velop in stu­dents a “sense of real eth­i­cal obli­ga­tion to take in­tel­lec­tual ac­tiv­ity and put it to work in cre­at­ing a bet­ter world”, he said.

He added that the in­sti­tu­tion also helps stu­dents to recog­nise the “com­mon­al­ity in hu­man be­ings” and teaches them that de­spite dif­fer­ences it is pos­si­ble for the world to reach “com­mon goals and com­mon re­spon­si­bil­ity”.

He said that it is “al­ways scary” for in­sti­tu­tions to change, es­pe­cially if they have a long tra­di­tion of ex­cel­lence and a his­tory of suc­cess, but was con­fi­dent that NYU Abu Dhabi’s model of global ed­u­ca­tion would gain trac­tion in the way that other issues such as di­ver­sity have done.

“When uni­ver­si­ties started to add the equal­ity of women or di­ver­sity in gen­eral or en­vi­ron­men­tal sen­si­tiv­ity [to their mis­sion], no­body could say that it did dam­age to their en­dur­ing core goals,” he said.

“It never was ob­vi­ous, but now it’s ob­vi­ous that this is some­thing that uni­ver­si­ties need to do if they’re go­ing to be lead­ers and mod­els for their na­tions and the world.

“I hope that the model that we pro­vide will help to shape a view of global uni­ver­si­ties that they are not only about pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion but [are also about] pro­vid­ing a new way of look­ing at ed­u­ca­tion that places as the high­est pri­or­ity de­vel­op­ing agents of com­mon hu­man­ity and agents of a more united world.”

What does the re­treat of glob­al­i­sa­tion mean for such in­ter­na­tional uni­ver­si­ties as NYU Abu Dhabi, which has stu­dents from more than 110 coun­tries?

“That we have to suc­ceed,” said Dr Bloom. “I re­ally be­lieve that the fu­ture of im­prov­ing the hu­man con­di­tion and of sus­tain­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and of sus­tain­ing peace has to lie in co­op­er­a­tive ef­fort.”

He said that while the bar­ri­ers to in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion are not new, they are more “ex­plicit” than they once were and more likely to be “ex­pressed” by the pub­lic.

He said that if mem­bers of the pub­lic “feel left out”, “feel like the regimes have not re­sponded to who they are” or “feel that they need to pro­tect them­selves against dif­fer­ence” then higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions have a re­spon­si­bil­ity “not to ig­nore them but to in­clude them and find a way to bring about a con­ver­sa­tion”.

“I think this is the kind of ed­u­ca­tion that will do it,” he added. “We have to ed­u­cate peo­ple who can pro­vide in­clu­sive an­swers that will re­verse the feel­ing of ex­clu­sion and bring peo­ple to a sense of com­mon hu­man en­deav­our.”

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