Leading a Global Transformation of the American Research University

We all acknowledge the extent to which globalization has in recent years led to unprecedented levels of change in areas from the economy to the environment, from the way we do business to the way we interact with media. With the pace of globalization accelerating and its impact expanding, universities have begun to change as well, seeing increasing numbers of students flow beyond national borders, coordinating if not standardizing degrees and calendars, and collaborating both in research and in teaching. Despite these efforts, there is still no consensus about what globalization will ultimately mean for how universities educate our students, interact with peers, collaborate with governmental and private partners, and define our fundamental mission. While the leading American universities all have substantial numbers of foreign students, offer a growing number of courses in a wide range of international subjects, support a broad spectrum of study-abroad programs, and engage in an expanding array of research collaborations with foreign partners, we have only begun to come to terms with the volume and velocity of global connections, and have not gone nearly far enough in altering our content and methods to support students in a deeply interdependent world.

At Berkeley we are leading what we believe will be a critical transformation of the American research university in the face of a new era when planet-wide problems -- from climate change, to the need to find sustainable new forms of energy, to the continued hold of poverty in the midst of rising levels of inequality, to new frontiers of public health in the face of epidemic disease, to political crises around economic and cultural disagreements -- do not recognize either national borders or the boundaries that have traditionally separated academic disciplines.

No single university can address this challenge on its own. Significant progress depends on the formation of a new, global alliance of academic and private sector partners that have the collective means to conduct the necessary multi-disciplinary research; the desire to develop new ways to quickly translate discovery into beneficial goods and services; and the capability to educate, train, and employ a new generation of leaders, thinkers, and scientists. Finding new ways to shape an educational experience designed to meet these global challenges will require intellectual collaboration on a new scale as well. Political, social, cultural, and economic theories need fundamental rethinking in a context that requires multiple perspectives, institutions, and goals, while linking theory and practice in settings that reflect new global histories.

These are the primary reasons we have decided to upend the global engagement model heretofore utilized by American universities. Instead of establishing an international branch campus overseas, as some other universities are attempting, Berkeley is going to build a "Berkeley Global Campus" (BGC) at home, on university-owned property along the shores of Richmond Bay, fewer than ten miles north of the main campus. BGC will be a new sort of international hub in which an exclusive group of some of the world's leading universities and high-tech companies will work side-by-side in a campus setting.

Along with its research mission, the BGC will have a strong educational component, centered on a Global College for Advanced Study that offers both undergraduate and graduate-level academic programs for U.S. and international students. The Global College will be a living laboratory designed to support interdisciplinary, international and public and private solutions for key 21st-century challenges in fields such as energy, computing, robotics, the environment, public health, and the global economy. The Global College's curriculum will provide international and domestic graduate students with the tools to tackle global challenges through a curriculum centered on global governance, ethics, political economy, cultural and international relations. This course of study will provide future leaders with a foundation in the primary challenges, intellectual models, and approaches associated with global governance. The program will also involve students directly in special projects that have global implications and applications: in the program's second year, each scholar would pursue a track within one of the BGC's collaborative research arenas -- for example, energy and sustainability, data science, global health, urban studies or precision medicine.

The new Global Scholar Program for UC Berkeley undergraduates will also supplement our traditional "study abroad" program by allowing students to study at the overseas campus of a BGC-affiliated university, followed by completion of research-intensive studies at that university's site at the BGC. Working side by side with other international students who are part of an international network connected to the Global College will give our students opportunities to combine "study abroad" with "internships" as well as bringing global best practices in research here to Northern California.

A global campus situated here in the Bay Area also offers significant protections from the kinds of challenges that face branch campuses located overseas. Not only can we offer "safe harbor" through the support for academic freedom, transparency, different forms of advocacy and political engagement, and protection of intellectual property, we can globalize in a context that will provide immediate local impact as well. As we develop new teaching curricula, research questions, and protocols for collaboration, we will be able to see how these innovations can unsettle and help shift some of the basic structures within our own university that have proved highly resistant to change.

BGC is more than just a new campus; it will also serve as a physical hub for an emergent "Star Alliance" of top-tier global universities. The idea that we must also build a new global ecosystem of universities is, at one level, a basic response to the recognition that the salient challenges and opportunities humanity faces are now global in scale. Ultimately, our global interdependence is not just a contingent outcome of new forms of transportation and communication, but also an opportunity to attain levels of mutual understanding, recognition, and insight. Successfully confronting global challenges requires collaboration that reaches beyond the governmental level to institutions of higher education that have the resources to marshal innovative intellectual resources for developing solutions and strategies.

Yet there is far more to it than this: universities are at once among our most trusted institutions and our most cosmopolitan, making them ideal vehicles for developing and sharing global ideas, values, projects, and products. If we install these aspirations as primary, indeed as constitutive, in our collaborations and agreements, we can in turn work with governments, corporations, societies, and special interests to trust each other, to genuinely depend on each other, to give us hope for a future in which knowledge can be rendered progressive rather than dangerous, as fundamental to openness, progress, peace, and a better global society rather than the weapon of the powerful and the dominant. In this way a global consortium of tightly interwoven universities can serve as a model for governments, industry, and societies about how to trust and collaborate with each other.

The stakes could not be higher: if the challenges we face are global in scale and transcend both national borders and traditional academic boundaries, then we are obliged to adapt the manner of our research and teaching accordingly. I am convinced that we have the institutional commitment to provide our students with the intellectual tools and the moral grounding necessary to think and act beyond the narrow parameters of self-interest or beliefs about the good that are restricted to private domains. And, while the public ethos at the heart of great American public universities was, for many years, primarily directed at domestic concerns and interests, we must develop the will and capability to translate and broaden our conception of the public good for our new global age.

Our particular institutional model is infused with a strongly held commitment to the public good, now with a sense that the public is a global public. In recent months the political battles in California around funding for public higher education have heated up as the state's disinvestment continues, threatening to undermine the preeminence and societal contributions of America's leading system of public higher education. For us these debates have had a clarifying effect, making it clear that our future ability both to retain our excellence and to advance the greater good will depend on a wider range and altered composition of partnerships. The time has come for the private sector to step up and provide support for public higher education in a manner commensurate with the benefits it enjoys through the research we conduct and the future leaders we educate. The BGC will also be a model for one arena in which these new relationships can generate mutually beneficial results, on both a local and a global scale.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post to mark the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2015 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 21-24). Read all the posts in the series here.