Promote a benign state of mind, peacekeeper urges global academy

Universities must foster in their students the “benevolent and amiable temper of mind” defined by the novelist Henry Fielding, a leading international peacekeeper told the Association of International Education Administrators’ annual conference, this year held in Washington DC.

February 21, 2012

Opening the event on Monday with a keynote speech, Abiodun Williams, vice-president of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute for Peace and a former United Nations peacekeeper, argued that all higher education institutions should embrace internationalisation, as “academic detachment from the world is not an option for the 21st century”.

But he also told more than 800 delegates from 45 countries attending the AIEA’s conference, Building a Secure World Through International Education, that spreading knowledge and ensuring students have an international outlook was “not enough”.

“Building a secure world is not just about producing educated people with skills and the outlooks required to meet the challenges of a changing world,” Professor Williams said. “Future peace builders must have the sensibility which underpins the idea of civilised life. In the 16th century, [Edmund] Spenser called the idea ‘courtesy’. In 18th-century thought it was called ‘good nature’.”

He quoted Fielding, who wrote that “good nature is that benevolent and amiable temper of mind which disposes us to feel the misfortunes and enjoy the happiness of others and consequently pushes us on to promote the latter and prevent the former”.

Professor Williams said: “Education that develops this sensibility helps to promote understanding among nations, peoples and religions.”

He added that every institution has a responsibility to work towards world peace.

“The world is interdependent as it has never been before,” he said. “We need cooperation between nations, faiths, cultures, and between peoples to solve our common problems and fulfil our common needs...Higher education institutions in developed and developing nations have an indispensable role to play in building a secure world. No department, no school, no university is exempt from such a responsibility.”

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