Scholars told: think globally

August 6, 2004

Universities should improve communications to share expertise and learn from one another, administrators and academics at the International Association of Universities conference said last week.

Eva Egron-Polak, IAU executive director, told The Times Higher that improving intercultural dialogue between universities was a priority for the organisation.

A network of higher education specialists, due to meet for its first seminar in November in Budapest at the Central European University, was part of this process, and the IAU wanted "as diverse cultures as possible" to interact in this network, she said. She added that communications between broader associations - such as the American Council on Education or South African Universities Vice-Chancellors - could be improved.

The IAU has 650 universities in its membership - a small proportion of the worldwide total of 8,000 - and it is keen for more to join and use it as a focus for debate.

Brenda Gourley, vice-chancellor of The Open University, warned that no one institution could be responsible for ensuring greater dialogue.

Umberto Cordani, a geology professor at São Paulo University, emphasised the benefit of regional cooperation. "Intra-regional cooperation (within Latin America) is important but still underdeveloped," he said, adding that there was still more connection between North (America) and individual South American countries than among South American nations.

Subsequently, academic research and study in areas that were more relevant to the developing world - for example treatments for malaria - were not emphasised in such North-South partnerships and exchanges, and failed to attract sufficient attention, Professor Cordani said.

Hans van Ginkel, president of the IAU and former rector of Utrecht University, said greater dialogue was also needed within the student body.

"Students have lost the habit of dialogue and debate," he said, adding that students needed to be prepared to be world citizens.

Professor Gourley said the OU system was an example of "mass (virtual) networks" in which diverse students - geographically and socially - could share ideas. "If higher education doesn't teach students to be aware as global citizens, who will?" she asked.

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