NYU president: global engagement is a form of alchemy

Institutional partnerships are on the rise, but the sector must do even more to join forces to tackle global challenges, writes Linda G. Mills

九月 19, 2023
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This summer, as smoke clouds from Canadian wildfires hung over New York City, I could not shake the feeling of how intertwined we all are.

The orange haze covering hundreds of miles across two countries was a vivid reminder that our most pressing problems know no bounds. From climate change to inequality, the future of work to infectious diseases, the challenges we face are global and interconnected. To make a positive impact on communities around the world, institutions must be as far-reaching, not just in orientation but also in infrastructure. Universities need to step up to this role more fully.

Over the past 20 years, NYU has developed an unmatched global presence by creating degree-granting campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, in addition to our primary New York campus. We have strengthened that presence with a network of 12 urban academic centres for study and research. This structure has helped us break out of institutional and geographical boundaries, work across disciplinary silos and rethink the nature of a 21st-century comprehensive education.

Scholar-to-scholar connections have long been global. What has changed is the emerging interest in institution-to-institution connections. As NYU’s new president, I will build on this openness to support NYU colleagues around the world in coming together to tackle today’s most vexing questions.

This new receptiveness manifests itself in many forms. From the partnership NYU Shanghai has with East China Normal University to Stanford’s research hub with Peking University; from Europe’s Erasmus+ programme to NYU’s recent partnership with Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), which over the past year has brought together more than 100 faculty members from both institutions; from Georgia Tech’s collaboration with CNRS in France to Carnegie Mellon’s degree programme with ITESM in Mexico – what is demonstrable is a changing attitude. As at NYU, a growing number of universities share a belief in global engagement to foster cross-national, multidisciplinary and multi-institutional research.

Among students, the thirst for global engagement is greater than ever before. Last November, the Institute of International Education reported a year-on-year increase of 80 per cent in enrolments of new international students in the US, showing a pandemic rebound. At NYU, 23 per cent more students studied abroad and 32 per cent more faculty members applied for summer fellowships overseas, compared with pre-pandemic levels.

As new models for global engagement emerge, enabling new ideas to pour in from an array of disciplines and nationalities, I think about what Scott E. Page calls “the diversity bonus”. In his 2019 book by that name, Page, a University of Michigan social scientist, argues that “progress depends as much on our collective differences as it does on our individual IQ scores” and presents data to suggest that “diverse groups of problem solvers outperform the groups of the best individuals solving complex problems”.

As we open a new chapter at NYU, our global identity is woven into the watermark on every page. And yet we recognise that our approach is not complete. Our funding programmes and support infrastructures need to be developed further to connect more people to real-world problems, and to reinforce a variety of opportunities. At a time when critics of globalisation erect obstacles to international collaboration, our collective future depends on our capacity to convene, converse and collaborate across differences. There is no better place to begin than with university communities. The alchemy of this engagement will imagine and create a better world.

Linda G. Mills became the 17th president of New York University on 1 July 2023. She is also the Lisa Ellen Goldberg Professor of Social Work, Public Policy, and Law. Mills first came to NYU in 1999 as an associate professor of social work. She served as NYU’s vice-chancellor and senior vice-provost for global programs and university life from 2012 to 2023.



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