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5th Global University Summit
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the 5th Global University Summit. I want to recognize several people for all their hard work in making this great day a reality.
I want to thank:
•Pradeep Khanna, Associate Chancellor;
•Ilesanmi Adesida—Ade, Dean College of Engineering and Chair of the Summit Organizing Committee;
•Barbara McFadden Allen, Executive Director of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation;
•Shelley Mix from Public Engagement; and
•Trish Curry from the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.
Welcome to one of the great global cities in the world, Chicago. A city that, in the words of Paul O’Connor, the founding executive director of World Business Chicago, “invented the skyscraper, split the atom, made our river flow backwards, created a lakefront from scratch, figured out the transistor, drew all the railroads to us, built the number one manufacturing city of America, won more Nobel Prizes than any city on earth, communicated more data on a daily basis than any other city on earth, threw away more basic industries than most other cities ever had, you know, like, hog butcher, stacker of wheat, steel capital of America. Should we tell anyone?”
I think the world already knows. As Adele Simmons writes in the introduction to the book Global Chicago, Here in this great city, “the local florist’s lilies come from Holland, the grocer’s grapes from Chile, the computer assembler’s chips from Taiwan, the bicyclist’s brakes from Japan. While those goods are flying in, Chicago academics are flying out—to advise the governments of Chile, Indonesia, and Nigeria, to name a few…Chicagoans import and export goods, ideas, and people hourly. To us, this is no big deal.”
Well, today is a big deal. Whenever you have men and women representing 85 universities with 60 university presidents in attendance--the largest gathering of international academics ever assembled at a Global University Summit--that, my friends, is a big deal.
I am so humbled to be among you today at this great gathering and to represent the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a public research campus with the largest number of international students of any U.S. public university and a global brand that is increasing in stature and ambition.
We have legacy of innovation that includes 26 Nobel Prize winners and more than 140 national and international sciences award recipients. Our campus maintains 263 active institutional linkages with international partners representing 57 different countries around the world, and we plan to increase those linkages going forward.
I am also delighted to have this opportunity to speak with you this morning about a subject that I am so passionate about and one that I believe you are passionate about, too.
I present the subject in the form of a question: How do we plan the future of higher education so that we reach as many people on this planet as possible?
To answer that question is to envision nothing less than the very future of higher education itself. Nothing less than innovating a new educational system that reaches a greater and broader demographic of this planet’s inhabitants. It’s an ambitious question but an appropriate one given that we are meeting in Chicago, the home of the great architect Daniel Burnham who once said, “Make no little plans.”
Why do we want to reach as many people on this planet as possible?
Because I believe providing education to all corners of the world is the right thing to do. Not just from a bottom line of admissions numbers and fees, but from the place that stirs our hearts and souls as human beings, that special place in which we want everyone to have an equal opportunity to succeed. Because all people have value and potential. Because we do not ever want to deny access to learning to that bright child whose only impediment to success is a lack of paper, books, transportation, or an Internet connection. Yes, it is the right thing to do.
One of my great passions as chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is my commitment to increase diversity. Our goal of educating as many people on this planet as possible is also about increasing diversity, not just here, but all over the world. We need to reach people who have not had access to higher education in the past.
That includes places such as Africa. One of the amazing members of our University of Illinois alumni family is Patrick Bergin, the CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. He is committed to empowering local communities and governments in Africa to be stewards of their resources.
When Patrick was asked what is the first word that comes to mind when he hears the word Africa, Patrick does not say poverty, AIDs, civil war. He says the word rich.
Patrick continues, “I mean that in every sense of the word. Rich: economically, financially, culturally, and rich in terms of its heritage. Africa is a continent that most scientists overwhelmingly believe is the mother ship. It’s where we all came from. It’s where humanity began and when people go back to the east African savannas, it has this really dramatic effect on them. I somehow think the human spirit recognizes it as its birthplace because it resonates so strongly with most people.”
I like that answer. Every corner of the world, from the west side of Chicago to the Horn of Africa holds a richness of opportunity in the form of human potential, idealism, and, yes, that immeasurable quality called spirit.
I believe we are at a crossroads in higher education. In this digital age the teaching and delivery of education is certainly in flux. As the world continues to “flatten” more of the world’s residents who have been traditionally denied knowledge will now have access to higher education. We can now look across horizons and see that large segments of this planet’s residents need not only basic necessities like food, water, and safety, but they also need basic education.
Ladies and gentlemen, we should commit to helping these young people. All of us in this room this morning know that a more educated, empowered citizenry will lead to a better planet.
To begin to grasp such a daunting subject we need to come to terms with the idea that the traditional way we deliver education is evolving, and evolving quickly.
We are moving away from brick and mortar structures toward a blended model that combines the traditional lecture hall with online learning. As we focus on enhanced educational delivery we cannot ignore the need to provide a state-of-the art learning environment with redesigned classrooms and to provide for faculty development opportunities to help them gain new skills in teaching with technology. In fact, we need to find innovative ways to use technologies across all of our teaching and research activities.
Rising tuition costs have led parents to urge their students to finish their degrees quickly by taking online courses in the summer. They do not want to pay for a fifth year. And using the blended model where students can take classes in the summer means some students can finish in three years without compromising the breadth and quality of education that we now provide over four years.
Online learning connects with a generation of students who have never experienced a non-digital world. Online learning often teaches the way this new generation learns, whether they are in our college town or in another continent.
Secondly, the research, the knowledge that we create in our universities should be accessible to as many people in the world as possible. That knowledge must not stay imprisoned in academic journals and laboratories. It must be shared with the largest number of people we can reach. Again, it is that democratization of education I mentioned earlier.
For the University I lead at Urbana-Champaign I view us as a quality of life engine. The source of discovery translated into information, translated into knowledge, and translated into applications that make this world a better place for its citizens to live in. We are a public university serving the public good through learning, discovery, and engagement.
Education must have a purpose. One of those purposes is to equip future leaders of the future with the tools to find solutions to societal problems. The theme of our summit is, “Developing talent to drive innovation in a global society.” So how do we teach innovation? Some of the greatest innovators in our time did not graduate from a university. Out of the 400 richest people in the U.S., 63 entrepreneurs don’t have a degree–more than 15 percent of the list. People like the late Steve Jobs, who attended one semester at Reed College and has his name listed as one of the inventors on 323 patents. Bill Gates. Sean Parker and Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook, combined net worth of more than 5.6 billion dollars. What can they teach us about cultivating creativity?
Adobe recently surveyed 5,000 adults in the United States, the UK, Germany, France, and Japan on the subject of creativity.
What they found was fascinating: eight out of ten people felt that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two thirds felt creativity is valuable to society, yet a striking minority, 25 percent, believe they are living up to their creative potential.
On a cautionary note, and one that should concern us, is that Adobe found that there was universal concern that educational system is stifling creativity.
Creativity leads to innovation. Innovation leads to solutions. Solutions lead to a higher quality of life.
When asked, “What does it mean to be creative,” one of the respondents of the Adobe study answered the question two ways, “To make something that did not exist before one creates it is being creative.” And, “To solve a problem by means of unconventional thinking is being creative.”
So as we contemplate the purpose of higher education, again, preparing leaders of the future equipped with the tools to create solutions to societal problems, we need to ask, how do we prepare our students to face the world with an open mind that focuses on solutions? I believe one solution is to treat each student as an individual. At the University of Illinois we are the opposite of the industrial model of uniformity, where each and every product must resemble the one manufactured before and the one after it, or it is a failure.
Instead, we are committed to taking every individual student and tailoring a learning experience to what they want to make of it and then sending them out into the greater world to serve as leaders in the state, in their community and neighborhoods, in the nation and in the world.
Finally, we cannot tackle these questions alone, ensconced in an educational bubble. In this new global environment we must recognize the increased importance of public-private partnerships. I note with delight that we have at this summit several senior leaders from some of the most influential global companies on earth. The university I represent has partnered with many of them and I greatly value their support for our mission.
In addition to project by project support we also recognize and encourage the need for bigger and longer-term investments in each other. Cultivating the infrastructure and long-term sustainability of these relationships are very important.
Together I believe we can accomplish so much. We know that young people all over the world have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. We know this because of the incredible risk too many children must take to simply enter a classroom.
Children like 11-year-old Baranah, who secretly attends a run-down school near the town of Spina, Afghanistan, where there is no electricity, a lack of textbooks, and always the real threat of the Taliban lurking nearby. Yet, this brave little girl, this bright spark of heart and mind, who is so eager to learn that she will risk her life, says, “This place is still good. We still learn here. I want to learn everything.”
Here we are in a great modern city with information and knowledge at our fingertips. But we might heed Poet Wendell Berry, when he said recently, “We do not have to live as if we are alone.”
With those wise words in mind we cannot forget the plight of millions of those less fortunate who need our help, many of them young girls like Baranah. As the brother of one of these Afghani girls said, “They were so eager, like they were starving.”
Ladies and gentlemen, the young people of the world are calling to us. Let us feed their hunger for knowledge with books, ideas, and discovery. Let us fuel their dreams for a better life with the promise that education brings. Let us help the world’s young people realize their potential, direct their idealism, and ignite their spirit. Let us offer them hope.
I ask you, is there a greater calling? Thank you.