November 19, 2007

Skorton Looks to China For Academic Partnership

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After spending nearly two weeks in East Asia promoting University aspirations and higher education abroad, President David Skorton and an eight-member Cornell delegation recently returned to Ithaca, ending a tour that included China, South Korea and Japan.
Welcomed to the region by government and university leaders, the delegation discussed ideas for future cooperative efforts between Cornell and the region’s academic communities including possibilities for creating and expanding programs in the performing arts, history, government and engineering, according to Prof. David Wippman, law, vice provost of international affairs and a member of the delegation.
He said, “We were primarily discussing how to develop further existing collaborations that we already have in place or, in some cases, to start some new collaborations … both building on existing relationships and talking about new respective partnerships that further faculty and student interests.”
Appearing in three extensive televised interviews, Skorton also took the opportunity to promote the University and the importance of higher education to a broader East Asian audience. This allowed Skorton a chance to speak of Cornell’s past achievements and current developments, raising Cornell’s profile in the region and encouraging students and parents to consider Cornell as a college option.
The delegation took the time to meet with alumni as well discussing the role that Cornell should play in the region and how to best meet the needs of a growing demand for education from students in East Asia.
“The response was incredibly positive,” said Wippman.
All of this was a part of a larger mission described by President Skorton as “a new global university initiative.” Elaborating on this initiative in an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Skorton said that universities, non-governmental organizations, businesses and the U.S. government need to begin large-scale collaborative efforts to increase the role of education around the world to improve social and economic conditions in struggling countries.
“I think Skorton is really to be commended for his leadership on this… our hats are off to him,” said Kerry Bolognese, vice president of international programs at the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.
The delegation’s activities on the trip were just a small part of this grand scheme, but important nonetheless said Prof. Chen Jian, director of the China and Asia-Pacific Studies program who accompanied the delegation. According to Chen, encouraging intercultural collaboration through development of new university programs like CAPS and opportunities for student exchanges is becoming increasingly important in the current age of globalization. He said that as the world becomes seemingly smaller with growing interconnectedness, it is essential for people to begin learning about other cultures to help promote positive relationships across borders.
He said, “We have to understand how [to deal] with a very diverse world.”
With growing importance of the East Asia region in particular, many other players are recognizing the need for this kind of intercultural cooperation as well. In addition to a number of other universities making similar trips to East Asia over the past several years — among them Princeton, Western Michigan University and University of California at Davis – the U.S. government sponsored a high profile delegation of college and university presidents led by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Assistant Secretary of State Dina Habib Powell in November of 2006.
“The importance of this attention is that in China especially, the doors are open and now is a great time to engage with those countries,” said Bolognese.
He said that right now NASULGC aims to increase the number of exchange students abroad four fold by 2010, sending one million students to study outside the country. According to Bolognese, exchange programs are a great way for students to broaden their world view and become more understanding of differences between societies — an essential lesson as global interaction becomes more and more common. He also hopes that there will be more opportunities for students from East Asia to study in America for the same reason. With so much focus on establishing and improving cooperative efforts between institutions from the U.S. and this region, he thinks Cornell and other schools active in the area are on the right path.
Bolognese said, “Collectively, universities can have a big impact.”
Prof. N’Dri Therese Assie-Lumumba, Africana studies, said that the University’s attention on advancing educational opportunities abroad is a logical next step for Cornell — pursuing its mission of knowledge creation and problem solving beyond Ithaca be it in East Asia, Africa, or elsewhere. As society becomes globalized, so too must Cornell, she said.
Assie-Lumumba emphasized the potential for positive impacts from university attention to global education, but cautioned that in the process of developing relationships and building programs, planners must focus on how these collaborations are being formed. She said they must begin to understand what the parameters for cooperative efforts are and how the best results for all parties can be achieved with the greatest effectiveness.