Elevating Global Citizenship By Building The International Civic Engagement Movement Of Higher Education
Theme: Global Citizenship
Campus Compact’s next twenty years hold extraordinary opportunities to elevate education for global citizenship. Daily newscasts are a painful reminder that active, effective global citizens are in short supply — both in the U.S. and around the world. U.S. colleges and universities have developed an impressive array of programs that are strengthening the international dimensions of civic education. These developments occur in the context of a growing global movement in the civic engagement of higher education. One of the best opportunities for U.S. institutions of higher education to elevate education for global citizenship is to participate vigorously in this expanding international movement.
With concerted action and strategic support, the civic engagement movement can create a global community of active citizens. In addition it can leverage major contributions to the social and economic development of communities.
There is a general tendency for U.S. institutions of higher education to approach global citizenship with an exclusive focus on the development of U.S. students. We should strive to strengthen education for global citizenship in our individual schools, but do so in ways that contribute to, and are informed, by the civic initiatives of sister institutions in all parts of the world. A more fully international perspective on global citizenship can yield greater educational outcomes and community outcomes — at home and abroad — and also can guard against a developed countries bias with respect to the nature of the values and skills of global citizenship. Global citizenship should be about equipping students from all countries to be responsible and effective community leaders and policy advocates.
A Growing International Movement
There is broad public awareness of, and support for, the civic engagement activities of U.S. colleges and universities — symbolized by the celebration of Campus Compact’s 20th anniversary. Much less visible is the recent dramatic upsurge in civic engagement and social responsibility by universities in other parts of the world. An invisible revolution is underway in higher education on all continents — a growing movement to educate active citizens and to apply university resources to community needs. Civic engagement is reaching significant scale in terms of amount of activity and extent of impacts, a scale of impacts that is far greater than is commonly understood. The university engaged in and with its community is replacing the old, faded view of the university as ivory tower.
To cite just one example … Professor Ruth Cardoso, a Brazilian anthropologist (and former First Lady of that country) has led the organization of a National Literacy Project, a network of over 250 universities to combat illiteracy in the Northern and Northeastern sections of Brazil. Working in partnership with local government agencies and with private corporations, thousands of university students and faculty have trained residents of these poor communities to become local literacy teachers. To date they are trained and provided follow-up support to over 20,000 literacy teachers who have taught 4 million young adults to read. The National Literacy Project demonstrates how the person power of university students and professors can tackle a tough and important societal challenge. The experience has had a transforming impact on participating students and faculty, reinforcing their personal commitments and sharpening their skills as agents of social change.
Individual universities around the world have multiplied several-fold their civic engagement activities. Notable examples range from Methodist University of Piracicaba in Brazil, to The Open University in the United Kingdom, from Al-Quds University in Palestine to the University of Haifa in Israel, from An Giang University in Vietnam to the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. The proportions of students and faculty who are participating in these activities are far greater than one might assume. Over 75% of students participate in civic engagement activities at Afsad University for Women in Sudan, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Indonesia, the University Development Studies in Ghana, the University of Havana in Cuba, and the University of Western Sydney in Australia. Regional networks of universities have coalesced to support these efforts. And civic engagement is becoming a higher priority of major international education associations and initiatives, including the Association of Commonwealth Universities (500 members strong in 23 countries); the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education; the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy; and the Australian Consortium for University Engagement.
This is still a young movement characterized by impressive energy, ambitious plans and an appetite for increased collaboration among institutions. In most of the Global South, university engagement emphasizes efforts to alleviate poverty and to improve public health. In addition, a good deal of activity focuses on building the capacity of non-student constituencies such as the staff of Non-Governmental Organizations and local government personnel. This movement shows the potential to achieve critical mass and is no longer isolated from the central mission of many universities.
Opportunities to Expand University Civic Engagement
Three converging trends make this a unique moment of opportunity to continue to expand university civic engagement internationally:
- The growing scale of higher education. Today there are approximately 100 million university students worldwide, half of them in developing countries By the year 2030 that number will have doubled, to 200 million, with most of the growth occurring in the developing world. Think of the incredible person power and the knowledge resources that this figure represents.
- Increasing demands from outside of institutions of higher education that universities contribute much more substantially and directly to the development of their communities and societies. As national governments, Non-Governmental Organizations, and other groups wrestle with immense unmet social needs — and do so in the content of limited resources — they are demanding more from local universities.
- An expanding set of models, of approaches that work and that other universities can learn from and implement. There is increasing awareness of the effectiveness of higher education’s civic work as the evidence of educational outcomes and community benefits grows.
Where will this movement lead? How far will it develop? There is, in all parts of the globe, a compelling opportunity to harness and channel the intellectual resources and human energies of university students and faculty to both serve society and at the same time to elevate what students learn in the process of doing community service and social change work. If managed creatively, this process can enhance university education on core subjects, not distract from them. As Juan Vela Valdes, Rector of the University of Havana, has stated, “Civic engagement means that the students learn more, the teachers are more profound in their thinking, and the university is more useful for society.” Monica Jimenez de la Jara, President, Catholic University of Temuco in Chile, comments that through community engagement “our students learn more and better, and our society benefits from our research.”
This movement ultimately can be about nothing less than renegotiating the social contract between society and higher education. The new deal can be: increased public support for higher education tied to increased community benefits provided by universities.
The Talloires Declaration on the Civic Roles and Social Responsibilities of Higher Education
Last fall Tufts University, in conjunction with Innovations in Civic Participation, convened an historic first gathering of the heads of universities from 23 countries on six continents to advance the civic mission of higher education. The participants forged a consensus vision and issued the Talloires Declaration on the Civic Engagement and Social Responsibility of Higher Education, committing to a series of action steps. The Declaration states “Our institutions recognize that we do not exist in isolation from society, nor from the communities in which we are located. Instead, we carry a unique obligation to listen, understand, and contribute to social transformation and development.” The conferees established the Talloires Network, a collective of individuals and institutions committed to promoting the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. All parties interested in promoting the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education are invited to join the Talloires Network. The Network fosters exchange of best practices and collaboration on a common global project to reduce illiteracy.
A Future Vision
In the spirit of exploring possible visions for the future, I offer the following the suggestions about what the international civic engagement movement of higher education could look like and achieve in the next two decades. Some of these snapshots extend components of the Talloires Declaration. Each of these is a practical vision because each already has started to develop.
- Thousands of universities in all countries of the world are engaged significantly with the communities in which they are located. They support programs to prepare future community leaders. They are partnering at wholly new levels with governmental agencies and NGOs to build civil society and to promote social and economic development. This phenomenon is notable both for its quality and its scale.
- The visible community impacts of civically engaged universities have elevated dramatically the public support for higher education sectors around the world. Their achievements in preparing community leaders and in accelerating community development have built a shared sense that universities are a good investment. In the many nations that are financially strapped, civic engagement has built a new rationale for increasing the public budgets to universities. A growing number of foundations and international NGO are investing in the civic engagement work of third country universities.
- In universities around the world, institutional rewards criteria and systems — including those that relate to faculty tenure and promotion — have evolved to support excellence in civic engagement. Civic engagement activities are featured regularly in university publications and websites. Annual awards recognize outstanding community contributions of students, staff and faculty, and community partners.
- Universities have developed and are maintaining networks of partnerships with community organizations to enhance economic opportunity; empower individuals and groups; increase mutual understanding; and strengthen the relevance, reach and responsiveness of university education and research.
- Universities have established partnerships with primary and secondary schools and other institutions of further and higher education, so that education for active citizenship becomes an integral part of learning at all levels of society and stages of life. Students matriculate expecting that active citizenship be part of their university experience, as well as an important part of how they will live their lives.
- Civic engagement has become an attractive dimension of many international exchange programs. Students from South Africa who study for a term at Charles Darwin University in Australia participate in the community partnerships there. They both share the experience of community practice in their home institutions and bring back with them new insights and perspectives.
- Scholarship programs support young people who excel both academically and in terms of their potential as community pleaders.
- After vigorous debate over the internet, students around the world have made the Graduation Pledge, started in the U.S., a fully global initiative. (“I pledge to explore and to take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”)
- In the majority of countries where university alumni associations previously did not exist, or were very limited in scope, civic engagement activities have helped to organized ongoing alumni groups. Why? Because the civic engagement programs of their alma maters are a resources to the community work of alumni and because alumni are contributing to those programs.
- Increasingly, professors in diverse disciplines bring to their faculty roles the transforming life experiences they had doing community service while they were university students. This experience is part of who they are, part of their skill-set, integral to their strengths as teachers and scholars. The professorial ideal has shifted from teacher-scholar to teacher-scholar-citizen.
- Through the Talloires Network tens of thousands of students, and their professors, at hundreds of universities, are collaborating on a global assault on illiteracy. Mobilizing their resources as editors to teach people, young and old, to read. In the process these tens of thousands of students have strengthened their values and skills of community leadership and social change.
- An annual international survey of university students shows a steady increase in their commitment to civic values and a steady rise in the proportion of students who are planning to incorporate active citizenship in their professional careers, whether they are headed into engineering, business or government service.