Earlier this month the president of Cornell University, David Skorton, published an excellent essay in the Huffington Post on the role that higher education can – and should – play in public diplomacy (full essay is here). I have written about how higher education is often overlooked in current analyses of public diplomacy (the focus is often on communications and social media – see here). Skorton makes a compelling case to reverse that trend to include higher education:
Higher education has the potential to be one of the most effective tools of public diplomacy for the United States. Surely cultural exchange — music, art, dance, theater, film, fiction, poetry — reaches across the chasms we are experiencing. As small examples, some of the most memorable cultural events on my own campus have been staged by our international students and scholars and our glee club and chorus have been warmly received on tours to Brazil, Venezuela, China and elsewhere.
The world of business and its globalization, with all its problems and inequities, is another mechanism that links societies. The device on which I am writing this blog was conceived and designed in California, manufactured in China and marketed widely. And of late there have been efforts to promote sustainable global enterprise as a vehicle to improve the prospects of those at the base of the economic pyramid.
But the most far-reaching way to link societies across the world is through education. In virtually every culture, people recognize that education is an effective path to personal and societal advancement. Parents want their children to achieve security, to move to a higher standard of living. Throughout most of the developing world, primary and secondary education is becoming more available, albeit at varying rates and with varying quality. And educational organizations are using videoconferencing, the Internet and other technologies to bring together young people to learn about and share perceptions on global issues. Since 1998, for example, the Global Nomads Group (gng.org), an international NGO, has connected students with their peers around the world to discuss global issues related to civics, social and global studies, geography, world history, science, economics and politics in real time via videoconferencing.
Study abroad and international student attraction are traditionally at the core of this work but Skorton also notes the role of faculty-to-faculty linkages and the establishment of American campuses in other countries (much of this activity is focused on Qatar, the UAE, etc). But he rightly emphasizes that all of this work must be carried out in the context of a true partnership:
No matter what specific organizational structures we adopt to advance public diplomacy through higher education, a bedrock principle should be to improve over time the internal capacity of the host higher education system to develop its own faculty, matriculate and graduate its own students, develop researchers and research projects that will solve the country’s most trying problems, take advantage of the country’s most attractive economic development opportunities, and set the stage to advance the host country as a power in international education in its own right.
He notes that sustained government funding is required but that higher education must use their own funds as part of this effort for what he rightly notes is “the common good.”