Foreign Policy Blogs

Higher Education and Public Diplomacy

Members of the 2009 Class from Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar – Image Credit: Cornell University

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 (, 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.”



James Ketterer
James Ketterer

James Ketterer is Dean of International Studies at Bard College and Director of the Bard Globalization and International Affairs program. He previously served as Egypt Country Director for AMIDEAST, based in Cairo and before that as Vice Chancellor for Policy & Planning and Deputy Provost at the State University of New York (SUNY). In 2007-2008 he served on the staff of the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education. He previously served as Director of the SUNY Center for International Development.

Ketterer has extensive experience in technical assistance for democratization projects, international education, legislative development, elections, and policy analysis – with a focus on Africa and the Middle East. He has won and overseen projects funded by USAID, the Department for International Development (UK), the World Bank and the US State Department. He served on the National Security Council staff at the White House, as a policy analyst at the New York State Senate, a project officer with the Center for Legislative Development at the University at Albany, and as an international election specialist for the United Nations, the African-American Institute, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is currently a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Association and has also held teaching positions in international politics at the New School for Social Research, Bard College, State University of New York at New Paltz, the University at Albany, Russell Sage College, and the College of Saint Rose.

Ketterer has lectured and written extensively on various issues for publications including the Washington Post, Middle East Report, the Washington Times, the Albany Times Union, and the Journal of Legislative Studies. He was a Boren National Security Educational Program Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and in Morocco, an International Graduate Rotary Scholar at the Bourguiba School of Languages in Tunisia, and studied Arabic at the King Fahd Advanced School of Translation in Morocco. He received his education at Johns Hopkins University, New York University and Fordham University.

Areas of focus: Public Diplomacy; Middle East; Africa; US Foreign Policy

Contributor to: Global Engagement