Universities’ focus on careers ‘fails to address global division’

Head of NYU Abu Dhabi says that undergraduates must be taught skills to create ‘a world of common understanding’

August 26, 2017
Camera through a fence
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Universities that focus only on preparing students for careers are partly to blame for the retreat of support for globalisation, a vice-chancellor has warned.

Alfred Bloom, who leads New York University’s outpost in Abu Dhabi, said that universities must provide students with a “global perspective” and the skills to create “a world of common understanding”.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Dr Bloom said that this worldview must be taught at undergraduate level.

“If we don’t bring it about, if we just educate for careers, I think you’re going to get a continuation of the kind of division and divisiveness that we experience so much today,” he said.

Dr Bloom, the former president of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, defines NYU Abu Dhabi as “a great liberal arts college inside a research university”.

As well as providing the depth and breadth of study typical of liberal arts institutions, the university also seeks to develop in students a “sense of real ethical obligation to take intellectual activity and put it to work in creating a better world”, he said.

He added that the institution also helps students to recognise the “commonality in human beings” and teach them that despite differences it is possible for the world to reach “common goals and common responsibility”.

He said that it is “always scary” for institutions to change, especially if they have a long tradition of excellence and a history of success, but was confident that NYU Abu Dhabi’s model of global education would gain traction in the way that other issues such as diversity have done.

“When people started to add the equality of women or diversity in general or environmental sensitivity [to their mission], nobody could say that it did damage to their enduring core goals of the university,” he said.

“It never was obvious, but now it’s obvious that this is something that universities need to do if they’re going to be leaders and models for their nations and the world.

“I hope that the model we provide will help to shape a view of global universities that are not only about providing excellent education for others but [are also about] providing a new way of looking at education that places as the highest priority developing agents of common humanity and agents of a more united world.”

What does the retreat of globalisation mean for such international universities as NYU Abu Dhabi, which has students from more than 110 countries?

“That we have to succeed,” said Dr Bloom. “I really believe that the future of improving the human condition and of sustaining the environment and of sustaining peace has to lie in cooperative effort.”

He said that while the barriers to internationalisation are not new, they are more “explicit” than they once were and more likely to be “expressed” by the public and “reflective in policy”.

He said that if members of the public “feel left out”, “feel like the regimes have not responded to who they are” or “feel that they need to protect themselves against difference” then higher education institutions have a responsibility “not to ignore them but to include them and find a way to bring about a conversation”.

“I think this is the kind of education that will do it,” he added. “We have to educate people who can provide inclusive answers and the kind of articulation of those answers that will reverse the feeling of exclusion and bring people to a sense of common human endeavour.”

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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