Global citizenship in HE a ‘loaded’ and ‘patronising’ concept

Researchers in South Africa say focus instead on developing ‘globally competent graduates’ 

February 4, 2017
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Rethink: ‘the issue of global citizen versus globally competent citizen needs to be debated more by higher education’

The concept of universities producing global citizens has become one of the most ubiquitous phrases in higher education in recent years, particularly among university leaders tasked with internationalising their institutions.

But two researchers at a South African university have criticised the use of the term “global citizenship”, arguing that it is a “loaded” concept that is “patronising” towards countries in the less-developed global “South”.

Nico Jooste, senior director at the office for international education, and Savo Heleta, manager of internationalisation at home and research, both at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, argue that “it is hard not to see global citizenship, as currently promoted in the North, as a push by the well-off parts of the world for solidarity with the ‘backward’ South”.

In the paper, “Global citizenship versus globally competent graduates: a critical view from the South”, the authors argue that countries in the South have been “largely excluded” from debates about the concept of global citizenship and that the movement has “disregard for non-Western values, norms, and standards”.

They also argue that the notion is “not offering anything new” to higher education, but “only attempting to repackage basic common sense and human decency, social responsibility, and good critical thinking skills, coupled with the knowledge, awareness, and care for global issues, into a new movement”.

Instead, the research calls for universities in the South and elsewhere to focus on developing “globally competent graduates”, a concept that they argue is more inclusive, less loaded, and more relevant as it can be “taught and measured”.

“Rather than jumping onto popular and currently fashionable buzzwords, the aim of HE institutions should be the development of globally competent students ready to function, work, succeed, and make a difference in a constantly changing, diverse, and complex world,” the paper says.

It adds that this could involve developing graduates who “possess critical thinking skills, value diversity, and can communicate and collaborate with people from different countries and cultures and work in a complex and constantly changing world”.

It would also empower students to understand the world and their place in it, the paper continues.

“The difference here is not only about semantics. Global citizenship is an abstract concept, whereas global competence can be taught and measured,” it says.

Dr Jooste told Times Higher Education that “the issue of global citizen versus globally competent citizen needs to be debated more by higher education”.

“We use these terms without really thinking through how they affect everybody, both in the North and South,” he said.

“We should refrain from using terminology in higher education that could damage the whole concept that we want to enhance.”

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