February 15, 2008

Skorton Addresses University Trends in Global Initiatives

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Poverty, malnutrition, violence and despair — this is what much of the world faces on a daily basis from the jungles of Sub-Saharan Africa to the rugged mountains of Afghanistan despite dedicated relief efforts by organizations like the United Nations and the World Bank. However, there may be hope for these regions, according to President Skorton, with a little help from Cornell.
At a time when over 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank, new players must come up with a new plan to address issues of global inequality, said Skorton in a public address last night on global capacity building. The new players, he said, should be American universities and the new plan, the Global University Initiative.
Initially presenting this concept of university-inspired global outreach at his commencement address last May, Skorton discussed the idea of a new sort of Marshall Plan that would invest in struggling foreign countries. Like Marshall’s post-World War II plan to revive war-torn Europe, Skorton’s GUI is a concept designed to help developing countries establish what is needed to build strong, healthy societies. But unlike Marshall’s emphasis on the economy, the GUI focuses on the transformative potential of higher education.
“Universities are among the most important assets, if not the most important asset, worldwide for improving personal, institutional, and societal capacity and thereby permitting innovation and change,” Skorton said.
Integral to the success of this initiative is international coordination between universities and development of multiparty research programs. In pursuit of these goals, Cornell has already begun working on inter-institutional collaborations in places like China and Japan as well as establishing new university branches abroad like the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar.
According to the New York Times, many other leaders in higher education have also begun exporting the American model around the world. Increasingly, schools are beginning to understand the significance of international education on a level beyond just study abroad programs. Skorton said this kind of expansion should continue to grow as a part of the GUI.
The Cornell Institute of Public Affairs has already established a number of programs pursuant of Skorton’s vision, promoting cooperative arrangements that may develop into the kind of integral components necessary to achieve the promise of a successful GUI. Tom O’Toole, executive director for professional development at CIPA, said that so far these have been an asset to this expansive undertaking and, more generally, Cornell’s educational outreach goals.
Two of these important developments include the more local Public Service Exchange Program and a more far-reaching collaboration with Mexico’s Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas. Both have been created to connect with other institutions and agencies outside the University to build partnerships that reach beyond Ithaca.
However, Skorton has yet to find an answer to how more universities throughout the U.S. can participate in this new initiative, acknowledging it will be costly and will require resources that many institutions are simply not ready to invest.
While all of the answers are not yet crystal clear, a new article is in the works by Skorton and his colleagues that may potentially spell out the answers to this dilemma.
Whatever the results of this article, he said, “All we’ve done so far in initiating the conversation is rhetorical and symbolic and so I think it’s very important that we … move to a period of concrete action to make some of these aspirations actually materialize.”