Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Global Collaboration of a Dimension Rarely Seen" -- A Report from the InterACT Presidential Summit on the Globalized University

"We have brought together the seven member institutions of InterACT, to consider how InterACT is doing, what the benefits are to our institutions and what we might do more of moving forward ... It represents a global collaboration of a dimension that is rarely seen ..." Dr. Jared Cohon, President, Carnegie Mellon University

"Global Collaboration of a Dimension Rarely Seen" -- A Report from the InterACT Presidential Summit on the Globalized University

By Richard Power

Globalization and cyberspace are radically changing how we live, how we communicate, how we create, what we consume, where we work, as well as how we relate to allies and adversaries. For years, I have been writing and speaking about the profound impact of globalization and cyberspace on crime, war and espionage, along with the geopolitical struggle overarching them all.

So it was a pleasure to listen to a panel of university presidents and other leaders from major educational institutions throughout the world discuss their impact on education and research. The brighter the light, the less shadow there is; and common sense, as well our common humanity, tell us that global collaboration in education and research is one of the best of ways to increase the light, and thereby lesson the shadow.

How do you prepare students for this 21st Century world, so different from everything that came before it? How do you give them the edge? How do you prepare them to work together? How can you ensure that globalization is about building a new world instead of simply carving out the old one like a pumpkin? Hopefully, in the years to come, the International Center for Advanced Communications Technology (InterACT) will provide some powerful answers to these profound questions.

The event was part of a two-day InterACT Presidential Summit held at NASA Advanced Research Center in Mountain View, California, home of the Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley Campus (CMUSV).

InterACT is a joint center between seven of the leading institutions in the US, Europe and Asia:

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley, CA, USA
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Italian Institute of Technology, Genova, Italy
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany
National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, Tokyo, Japan
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan

Founded in 2004, the center is affiliated with the School of Computer Science at each institution.

And InterACT's mission? Train students, staff and faculty to operate in international research teams across multinational and multicultural boundaries. The center offers international exchange programs, seminars and academies and facilitates cross-national research projects. Research on technologies, processes and policies that facilitate and improve cross-cultural understanding, cross-lingual communication, transnational cooperation and collaboration.

Here are some of my notes from the Monday night "Presidential Panel" discussion.

In his welcoming remarks, the engaging Dr. Pete Worden, Director of NASA Ames, outlined not only the human space flight aspect of NASA's mission, but also other vital, although less widely understood aspects:

"We do science. And this has been a really neat few decades for science. We have revolutionized physics, largely due to discoveries made with various NASA space probes. We now understand that the matter we are made of is only three percent of the universe, so each new discovery shows we know less about the universe, and as a physicist that's job security so I love it, but it culminated in a great honor, a few years ago, with John C. Mather, a NASA civil service employee winning the Nobel Prize. It has been great to work at an agency where a government employee can win a Nobel Prize. The next couple of decades, I think, are going to be the decades for biology. That's a really exciting area, and we are looking for partnerships. How did life begin? Where else is it in the universe? And what's its future? We have right here at this center, one of the coolest missions, called Kepler; we're trying to find if there are Earth size planets around other stars ..."

"NASA also spends about a quarter of what it does to help people here on Earth ... We are trying to develop environmentally responsible aviation, lowering noise, lowering pollution, but most importantly steering away from carbon-based fuels, that's a really exciting area. At this center, we are also helping develop the next generation air traffic control system ... It is also largely a NASA mission's initiative that has been able to characterize global warming and climate change, this is an area that is extremely important; and in the next decade or so, we are going to be able to get site-specific climate prediction ..."

Prof. Dr. Alex Waibel of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Director of InterACT, spoke on what InterACT is and what it is dedicated to accomplish:

"It is a somewhat unusual organization, or consortium, it's a network of universities that want to collaborate in preparing for a globalized future. Universities are by their definition and very nature typically local, and regional; they get funded by regional money, they are located in a regional area, and they teach local students -- traditionally. But the world is changing. We have spent the afternoon discussing the ways in which globalization and technologies really effect how we teach, and how universities will operate in the future. InterACT is a network of universities, so it it not export of education, it is universities that consider themselves top in the world, in different regions of the world, who collaborate and work together to do student exchanges, joint research projects, mutual faculty exchange, summer schools, and distinguished lectures, and thereby have a really active exchange between the best in the world, and in the major regions of the world. Our panel ... is the first time we have such a lucky constellation of getting the presidents of these top universities to come together in one place and actually discuss what this future would look like."

Dr. Ed Frank, an Apple Vice President, and also a member of the CMU Board of Trustees (as well as a CMU alumnus), moderated the august. The questions Frank framed and poised, included: What are your current efforts to prepare for globalization? How will technology change the mission of a research university, both in terms of how you teach and what you teach? What will be possible and when? What pieces of technology will allow us to change how we teach and how students learn?

Here are three of the seven responses to Frank's question on what the member institutions were doing currently to prepare for globalization, one from North America, one from Asia and one from Europe --

Dr. Jared L. Cohen, President of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU):

"In the last decade, Carnegie Mellon has become much more global than it ever was before. We are striving to become a global university, even though no one knows what that is. When we get there, we will discover it. We are so committed for two reasons: First, the world in which our current students will graduate is already highly connected; it is a global economy, they have to know how to work across cultures, and be comfortable moving from one culture to another. Therefore, our university should be global in its composition, and in what it does. Second, for the future of Carnegie Mellon University we have to be where the growth in economies and influence is taking place. And we have acted on these two ideas. Today, 30% of our students in Pittsburgh are international students (i.e., foreign passport carriers), that is one of the highest percentages for any university in America ... We now have campuses here [in Silicon Valley], in Doha, Qatar, and in Adelaide, Australia, with major programs in Portugal, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and we're working on Rwanda and India."

Prof. Dr. Katsuhiko Shirai, President of Waseda University:

"Our main effort toward globalization was to found a university over in Hong Kong, we are less than twenty years old, eighteen years I think, and we rank extremely high in all the fields we cover: science, technology and business. Ninety percent of the faculty came from North America. That's five hundred faculty. About fifty-five percent from the top twenty universities, if we include Oxford and Cambridge as North America. It is a one hundred percent English language university in a region which is obviously overwhelming Chinese-speaking. The internalization effort in regard to our student body has exploded; we have now more than twelve percent of the student body coming from mainland China, but we also have an exploding body of European and American students, not just exchange but full-time. We are very welcoming of programs such as InterACT and other international collaborations. This is the healthiest way to move forward in terms of globalization; and we are playing a unique role in greater China, in so far as we are a very American university, we are the only very American university in the region, and yet, we have very strong ties to both our colleagues on the mainland and of course our roots in the West. And we are hoping that programs such as InterACT can provide the bridge that will lower the barriers across the entire globe."

Prof. Dr. Horst Hippler, President of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology:

"Our university has always been a very international university. We have had twenty-five percent foreign students for a hundred years or more. But I understand the question a little bit differently. Internationalization or globalization. Internationalization is fine, being open for people from other parts of the world to come to your place. But how do you prepare your students and faculty for the new challenges of globalization. That is a little bit different. For this purpose we ... promote social competences and other things, before they go abroad, before they go to industry, so they are prepared, that they understand that the world is different than at home. Even if they have good friends from the international community of students going to a another country is a different event in your life, and what is very important is that we have a very good language school to prepare those students in many languages, before you go into a different country, you have to learn the language. English is fine, but for me English is something like a tool; but if you go to a different country that is not England, or America, or Australia, you should learn the basics of this language. Globalization has something to do with learning the difference of the cultures, and doing this very early. And that is a purpose of ours, at our university, that is how we are preparing for globalization."

At the conclusion of the far-ranging, hour-long discussion, Dr. Cohon, provided a summarizing statement on behalf of InterACT, as a whole:

"We have brought together the seven member institutions of InterACT, to consider how InterACT is doing, what the benefits were to our institutions and what we might do more of moving forward. The seven institutions strongly endorse InterACT. We believe it has been very successful, we believe that all of our institutions have benefited from it, and it has produced real results in the form of research, and education. It represents a global collaboration of a dimension that is rarely seen, but is growing rapidly, and we will provide a lot of leavening for others. We received very good presentations on four technology areas: speech and translation technology, mobility technology, robotics and educational technology, and then talked about what all of these four realms might mean for education and research in our institutions. We concluded that we have no doubt that these technologies have already started changing our institutions and they way we pursue our business, and will change them even more just in the ways we have heard discussed by the panel tonight. As a group of institutions we want to embrace this change, develop the technologies further, and I should say collectively our institutions are leaders in these areas of technology, which is a very good thing. We want to continue to be leaders. But we want also to pursue how we can use these technologies to improve our own institutions. One new theme, in particular, that we recommend to our faculty colleagues is to pursue a comparative research project, taking advantage of the fact that we are three institutions in Asia, two in Europe and two in the United States, and to try to understand how these technologies may play out differently in those different cultures, with a special focus on education technologies. This would be a good way to leverage this unique global collaboration, and I commit publicly to doing what we can to find the funding to support this ..."