College administrators looking to improve students’ educational experience shouldn’t just think outside the box— they should think outside the country. A recent survey of employers reveals that a majority of U.S. businesses actively seek applicants with intercultural communications skills. College graduates who can operate across different cultures have a serious advantage.
Universities can empower their students to develop such skills by taking advantage of emerging trends in technology, recognizing global business trends, and rethinking international and experiential study.
What is it that students gain from an international education? For one thing they are likely to discover that citizens of the world do not necessarily look at issues or problems the same way they and their friends do. Exposure to diverse ways of thinking helps develop the ability to think in new and different ways. This is what drives innovation. We need to be educating students to the strengths of diversity. After all, global experience is a 21st-century leadership prerequisite.
At New York Institute of Technology, which I lead, relatively low-cost web portals and large telepresence classrooms are the backbone of our “distance learning classrooms,” where students from around the world learn together under one virtual roof. With the help of video uplinks and multiple monitors, our students in the Middle East, Canada and China can take part in debates in New York— live.
Collaboration between students on opposite sides of the globe fosters a sense of connectivity. Students can teach and learn from their peers, even though they are 12 time zones apart.
Technology isn’t the only thing narrowing the gap between cultures; so is language.
English is already the global language of business and the primary language of the Internet. Over 80 percent of the world’s peer-reviewed academic publications are in English, and top universities in Germany and Italy recently announced plans to teach graduate courses exclusively in English to improve students’ job prospects.
American universities can complement this trend by starting or strengthening English language education programs of their own— both at their international and domestic campuses. No matter where they’re located geographically, foreign-born students will benefit enormously from the ability to communicate fluently in English.
What constitutes English fluency for the workplace of the future is open to debate and evolution, but in the age of the Internet and WeChat, it certainly involves heightened listening and speaking skills as well as cultural literacies beyond textbook reading and writing. The American higher education system would also do well to encourage enrollment from international students and to draw on teaching talent from all over the world.
Modernizing their approach toward international study is another way for institutions to prepare students for the globalized economy. Traditionally, “study abroad” has meant spending a semester or two at a foreign university. Fully 96 percent of students who studied abroad report that their time outside the U.S. influenced their career plans.
Increasingly, however, opportunities for international study are growing broader and deeper. Notably, dual-degree programs let students split their coursework between their own university and a partner university abroad.
Some excellent programs are already in operation. The University of Kansas has partnered with the Korea University of Technology to enable students to earn joint degrees in engineering subspecialties. The North Carolina University system offers a one-year master’s in global management in conjunction with University Paul Cezanne Graduate School of Management in France. At New York Institute of Technology, we offer dual degree programs with partner institutions in Brazil, Turkey, China, and other countries.
About 30 percent of U.S. universities now offer graduate-level dual degree programs.
Much more needs to be done at the undergraduate level, however, if we are going to graduate future leaders able to function in our global and digital economy. From architecture to semi-conductors, American business will be ompeting on a global platform. It would be nice to know and communicate well with counterparts wherever they might be. A former classmate would make an ideal partner.
As everything from business to academic research and entertainment becomes more globalized, colleges and universities have an obligation to expose students directly to other cultures, values, and points of view. With the variety of technologies and education models available to today’s learning institutions, there are countless opportunities to equip students with the cultural competencies required for success.
Edward Guiliano, Ph.D., is president and CEO of New York Institute of Technology.