One of the things that I attempted through writing Deeper Learning in Leadership was to propose models of learning and leadership that would be relevant in the global environment of the 21st century. My experience prior to, and as I was writing, was exclusively U.S.A.-based and European. As I've become more aware of the Arabian Gulf region and the incredible things happening there, I've tried to figure out what's the same or different about higher education in these three geographic areas.
As my previous posts have noted, a lot is in the news regarding the emergence of higher education in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. However, this coverage is about the focus of these three independent, and in some ways competing countries. Interestingly enough, the three are adopting and adapting primarily U.S.A. models. But, is there a real understanding of both the strengths and shortcomings of higher education in the U.S.A.? Recent critiques of American higher education such as Derek Bok's Our Underachieving Colleges and the PBS documentary Declining by Degrees paint a pretty dire picture. At the same time these critiques are underway, new models are emerging that propose how to enhance learning both before and during the collegiate years.
One of the more interesting descriptions of how higher education can be enhanced came out of a study group convened by the American Association of Colleges & Universities. The College Learning for the New Global Century report critiques American higher education and proposes the importance of liberal education and integrative learning. The committee, which incidentally included Derek Bok, George Kuh, Ron Crutcher and others, combines ideas of globalism, experiential learning, integration of in and out of class learning, and the importance of creativity and the arts into a fascinating challenge for the future.
In addition to this U.S.A.-based perspective, Europe is also fashioning a global perspective to assure that their future is secure. The Lisbon Declaration of the European University Association defines a cooperative effort throughout Europe that will foster innovation, sustainability, and workforce preparation.
The question then becomes, with the Arabian Gulf investing proportionally more than either the U.S.A. or Europe into higher learning, and importing the best of both of these sources of "Western-style" learning, what is actually being imported and does it function in ways that truly enhance learning and build the capacity of the citizens of the U.S.A., Europe, and the Gulf? We live in interesting times where higher education appears to be at least one of the keys to a prosperous future. However, as new perspectives are proposed and resources pour into higher education, how do we figure out which models have the greatest promise? I proposed some ideas in Deeper Learning in Leadership but there need to be more. And, as leaders in higher education, we need to give our full and best conceptual energy to the challenge ahead. Will pushing the boundaries of global 21st century higher education be pushed independently and competitively or will they be pushed collaboratively and with global improvement the goal?