GPA Member Addresses Global Temple Conference

Christiaan Morssink, for GPA -- The Global Philadelphia Association’s Christiaan Morssink was featured as the keynote speaker for Temple University’s “Global Temple” conference in November. He addressed UNESCO and the role of students and faculty in bridging global gaps. A transcription of that address is below:

Higher Education is undergoing a transformation on a spectacular scale, an academic revolution worldwide, with national borders becoming but an earmark. Global Temple is to be understood in that larger context of the shifts in the knowledge reproduction market and you are to be applauded for taking positive, constructive steps to claim and expand your share in that market.

When I studied in Amsterdam in the sixties, studying abroad was a necessity for the students who came from foreign lands where hardly any university existed or was big enough to accommodate local demand. And when you look at the history of the independence movements in the twentieth century, I claim that in almost all cases, studying abroad had a direct bearing on the emergence of the “new” nations. Gandhi, Ho Chi Min, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Senghor, all these fathers of their nations had studied abroad.

UNESCO strives to build networks among nations that enable moral and scientific solidarity, by:

Mobilizing for education: so that every child, boy or girl, has access to quality education as a fundamental human right and as a prerequisite for human development.

Building intercultural understanding: through protection of heritage and support for cultural diversity.

Pursuing scientific cooperation.

Protecting freedom of expression, especially press freedom: an essential condition for democracy, development and human dignity.

When I was your age, I knew of UNESCO as the provider of very interesting cultural exchange programs. In Amsterdam I saw the Russian Red Army Choir, the Senegalese Ballet and the Argentinian Tango spectacle, all made possible by UNESCO. In Suriname, we were visited by Dancers from Brazil, actors from South Africa and sitar players from India, all made possible by UNESCO.

More importantly, in Suriname I witnessed an educational, regional conference of UNESCO, where the very high literacy rate of Suriname was applauded as well as the extent of its tertiary level of education, including nursing, oral health, and technical colleges, and the national university.

Indeed, UNESCO’s major structural contributions are in the realm of education, especially higher education.

I am mentioning UNESCO so much because this agency provides the overarching policy sounding board for understanding the relevancy of Global Temple and for that matter, all programs of studying abroad. Next to organizing fora on accreditation on an international scale, UNESCO is the place where treaties around higher education, research and dissemination of findings are developed and implemented, thus providing a reference for hosting and sending institutions in the member states.

UNESCO also developed the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) to facilitate comparisons of education statistics and indicators across countries on the basis of uniform and internationally agreed definitions. It publishes the International Handbook of Universities and it maintains the WHED Portal of the International Association of Universities.

And UNESCO maintains a neat database of mobile students, a great tool for policy makers at governments, and at universities. It tells us, for example, that in 2012, 4 million students worldwide studied abroad, 1.8 percent of all enrollments. Of those 4 million, 700,000 students came from China, followed by India at 200,000 and Korea with 125,000. About 60,000 American students studied abroad, a relatively small portion of the total global outbound stream. However, in terms of hosting, the United States has the largest number of students, 740,482, or 18 percent of the global total, followed by the UK at 11 percent and France at 7 percent.

The U.S. hosts students from 140 some countries. We host 17 students from North Korea. The market for knowledge exchange and innovation is expanding and is global. The Medieval ideal of the university as a universal knowledge center is returning, it seems. We are entering a new phase in tertiary learning, a planetary phase, where we use new technology for worldwide, almost instant communication, where storage of data is virtual and transportable with just a fraction of costs and where global institutions supplant the national professional associations that have become the hallmark of the late twentieth century labor markets.

For example we now have the World Heart Federation, the International Association for the Study of Obesity, the World Water Forum and we have the World Cancer Research Society, among many others. Melanoma research for example is coordinated between the United States, Australia, Israel and South Africa as the main contributors.

Academia also knows fierce competition and need to succeed for the operators in this new planetary market with growing demand and many moral consequences.

Each operator will need to find a niche, make a “sellable product” and make money. In the Netherlands, several universities have degree programs that are completely taught in English, the Queen’s English I believe, but nevertheless English. Dutch students have to adjust. All universities, governmental agencies, NGOs and most businesses in the Netherlands have their websites in English. It is a no-brainer to do so if you want to stay competitive. And as you sit here, all of you have passports and most of you have travelled overseas for a conference, a congress, a teaching post, a research assignment, or a negotiation. That what once was exceptional is now avantgarde, ahead of the curve, the first of many, whatever we want to call it, but Global Education and Research will have to be interwoven into the menu of activities at any university, however small or specialized.

Where does that leave you, as the individual student, the individual researcher? You are to embrace the idea of a cosmopolitan mindset, a willingness to see all of humanity - all of planet earth - as your reference, your familial others. You will not experience culture shock anymore, as you are already well aware of the diversity of the human interactions and you have shed your ethnocentrisms. You will be shocked by the human condition in many parts of the world, be appalled by the politicians who deny facts from science and you will be morally driven to use scientific reasoning to bring justice to all parts of the world, bring equity into the lived experience of the many and overall improve the quality of life for the next generations. And as you go through the world, be aware of your roots, your own otherness. So, as you pursue that living, abide by a few fundamentals:

a. DO THE RIGHT THING

b. Have EMPATHY for the other

c. DIGNIFY the other and thereby yourself