Friday, April 12, 2013

Towards a 'Global University'

U-Aspire is meant to be a 'Global University'. It is not unduly ambitious: This is indeed the plan. It is not just rhetoric: This is an article of faith in the founding team that a platform must be created to serve the groundswell of global aspiration. 

Higher Education is an innovator's paradise now, as most people seem to agree that it is broken. The Higher Ed sector collectively may not have made a smooth transition to post-industrial economy, and the need to do so is urgent. And, this transition will change everything: Not just the institutional structures and cost of delivery, which is a huge problem, but also the academic roles and cultures, and deeper embedded values. This isn't about public and private, whether or not Higher Ed should be a business, but really about finding a way to equip a global, aspirational, mobile generation, a generation of 'Makers', as Chris Anderson will call them.

In context, 'Global University' isn't a grand ambition, but just the minimal starting point. Because, for this generation, the generation that went to school after the full force of consumer Internet was unleashed, Global is default and national is exotic. Indeed, the nationally funded universities, steeped in cultures of pride, prestige and pedigree, do not get 'global': It is for them to solemnly proclaim the superiority of their respective national systems, which they promote as the only universally desirable way of learning, rather than accepting how culturally and industrially orientated they are. Indeed, beneath their radar, the culture of the Internet, of connecting, of creating, of sharing, have become powerful and ubiquitous enough now to empower a different starting point: This is what we are about.

Sceptics may argue that a GLOBAL PEDAGOGY is not be possible. They say, Indians (and the Chinese, and the Thais) love Rote Learning, and the Britons are so steeped in the Socratic tradition, but then, they must have been sleeping soundly for the last hundred odd years. The Victorian system of Education is what one still has in India: There is nothing Indian about the Indian system. And, we have nothing against the Victorian system - it was a product of its time and a great system that served the industrial age, with the expectations of predictable work, discipline and commitment. It may still serve some countries well, as they aspire to become industrialised or to run world's back offices. Britain (and other developed nations) may have moved on as the patterns of work has moved on, the demands of a post-industrial society have reshaped how the students are taught.

But, now, even the Indian education system is unlikely to remain the same. Unbeknown to those who missed out on the deeper values of the Internet, there is a global generation of makers on the rise everywhere: Those who will unleash a new industrial revolution, those who will employ the technology of bits in the world of atoms, those who grew up immersed in global networks of connection and conversation, of ideas, of creativity, of enterprise: This is a different generation needing not the illusions of non-existent middle class life, but the power to shape their own future, globally. And, for them, a Global University is just the minimal starting point.

The other challenge may be the creation of a GLOBAL CURRICULUM, because, indeed, the place has not stopped to matter. There are deep embedded values of the place, the 'local', which must be respected and enhanced. But this is where Internet thinking is challenging the parochialism of the Higher Education community: Place must be seen in context of the Global. It is no longer inside out vision of the world, it is outside in; Going global is no longer an adventure, because the current generation is born global; for them, local is to be explored, loved and respected, immersed into, an adventure in reverse. And, all of this is possible, if one stops thinking about curriculum, a prescriptive construct, and start thinking frameworks, a set of rules, ideas and competences, but to be filled with content drawn from global and local contexts in a balanced way.

So, will the Global University be an expensive proposition? It can not be, because the aspirational makers demand efficiency, and not bloated prestige. U-Aspire, therefore, isn't about creating new, expensive, capacity, but to reshape the existing ones, classrooms, libraries, and all, linked together with technologies of learning and human connections, a global social network united in value systems and commitment to a new kind of education. In its full expanse, the Global University will be a platform, a lean, efficient one, with a focus on making its students productive and to serve the new world of work and new communities around them, connecting and rebooting the existing educational enterprises.

A Global University, as conceived here, is a network more than a place: It is an idea to unify work and learning, ideas and conversations, private aspirations and public commitments. It will be one of those institutions which will embed students into a global network from the word go, allow them to move from one place to another taking their credits around, understand local contexts with a global perspective (just the opposite of what our nationally grounded curriculum teaches us), and commit themselves to global well-being, not just their own, or their nation's. Global University, in the end, is an old idea, then: A resurrection of the old humanist spirit well explored by the great thinkers through the ages, and a common age-old belief in our common global future. An old idea, but one whose time has finally come.

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