Globalisation is far from being perfect. While it has raised almost every indicator of economic and human development, it had some negative side effects. Some communities were left behind and felt disenfranchised, and the hyper-connectivity of our world has made financial, health and environmental crises quicker to spread. While these things need to be addressed, they should not be used as an excuse to abandon the historic march towards getting our world and our communities more closely aligned.
The types of challenges that we need to train our students to address are global in nature and necessitate first-hand experience of what it means to be a citizen of the world. Challenges related to health, energy, demographics and the environment know no borders and the principle of global citizenship is an important construct for future-proofing our youth.
Education at all levels ought to focus on developing individuals who are aware of the global challenges and have the mindset and skills that enable them to collaborate with others from all over the world to address them.
Global citizenship can be cultivated through deliberate curricular design and meaningful experience. This in turn will result in the development of a global perspective as well as the honing of an individual’s leadership style.
Doing this within a global environment, where a diverse body of staff and students learn and grow, helps. Universities can provide this environment by having campuses in different parts of the world with regular movement between them of both staff and students.
Heriot-Watt University, with five campuses across the United Kingdom, Dubai and Malaysia is a good example. I would encourage universities which are not so fortunate, to replicate our advantages through forging strategic collaborative relationships with partner universities around the world.
In order to anchor education into the real needs of the world, it is desirable to align the learning experience to the most pressing global challenges. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are ideal in this respect as they cover a wide variety of challenges ranging from the educational to the environmental and from the economic to the provision of food and water.