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Colin Lucas:Universities and Globalisation (presentation at the Zhuhai Campus,Sun Yat—sen University)

Universities and Globalisation

(presentation at the Zhuhai Campus,Sun Yat—sen University)

Colin Lucas

        The theme of universities and globalisation has been much talked about in recent years.It is easy to understand why this subject is seen to be SO important.Globalisation is a simple word for a complex phenomenon in which rapid advances in communications technology have produced a growing sharing of information in the world and an increasing single world market within which regional and local markets need to fit together as easily as possible.One of the most important drivers of that global market is in fact the products that:develop the technology that created globalisation in the first place and all its many applications to the way we live and do business.So,the vigorous part of this“new economy’’is the high value——added products that require high skills and technology to produce.That in turn means that larger numbers of skilled,educated people are needed.They are needed to design and produce this great variety of modern products.They are also needed to consume them,to make up the market for them—the market is provided by an educated population that knows to employ the new technologies for their work and their personal use.Finally,people with advanced skills are required to manage a social economy based on this technology.

        One can see why this economy has been called the“knowledge economy”.Compared with quite recent times,it is driven by a high level of complex knowledge and depends upon a large supply of well-educated people.It is an economy where the collaboration of many minds is replacing the collaboration of many muscles directed by a few minds.Clearly,universities are one of the great sources 0{the material for this economy.It is universities which produce new knowledge and have innovation as part of their function;it is universities which educate students with advanced skills.Since the recent economic recession in knowledge based industries nobody believes many of the earlier predictions about the future.But,it is still true that the world and regional economies have been irreversibly changed,that the knowledge economy is here to stay as the source of prosperity and that universities have a prime role in it.

        So far I have said nothing new.University leaders have discussed many times how to produce appropriate research for the new economy,how best to direct investment,how to train students in needed skills,how to respond to society’s needs.I do not think that it would be interesting for you if I repeated today those debates.Let me discuss only one point in this connection before moving onto other themes.

        Universities and governments are preoccupied with how to improve performance and output in their particular university and region.That is natural.I t is the 1evel of excellence in university and population that makes them strong players in the global economy and attractive to investment.However,in the globalised knowledge economy,knowledge is evidently global.The new economy is marked by the rapid circulation of knowledge without barriers;it is a great pool of information in which the world fishes.So,no university will prosper by trying to stay separate and build its own special part of knowledge.Science has no nationality.It is available to all and universities share it easily and generously among themselves.So,the development of universities involves vigorous participation in this world exchange;it involves collaboration;it involves circulation around the university world.Collaboration is necessary,first,because beyond a certain point no university can make major innovation by itself.For example,the sequencing of human DNA has been an international effort and the second phase of the haplotype map(in which China is participating)is similarly international.Without collaboration a university will not be able to rise above a certain point and acquire new skills and funding.Second,however,it is important to be involved in the circulation of people in the world network of universities because it is from personal interaction,from direct debate of ideas,from working in laboratories alongside others and participating in seminars that the ideas and experience of individuals grow.It is mot enough to publish papers and read other people’s work in journals and on the worldwide web.That personal engagement is essential and a university like this one must develop more of it.

        Now,one implication of this argument is that knowledge and information are not the issue.These are easily acquired.The difference between people,institutions,and economies is how knowledge and in formation are used.The competitive edge lies in understanding and application.So,I want to spend the rest of the time here talking about some skills required for this.I want to talk especially about what students need to prepare them for life in the knowledge economy.

        The first problem of our new age is that information is itself now a problem.The amount of information generated in the world has increased by 30%each year since 1999.The amount being stored(that is to say,mostly accessible to US)has doubled in that time.That means that 800 megabytes of data—approximately the same as 800 books—was created for every man,woman and child in 2002.It has been calculated that new information stored in 2002 round the world amounted to 5equivalent of 500,000 libraries the Washington,which is the largest million terabytes.This is the size of the Library of Congress in library in the world.Now,of course,we access and sort through electronic information by means of search engines(Google,for example).I have no doubt that search engines will become ever more sophisticated.I have no doubt that this will also be driven by the sorts of technologies that some governments(notably the American one in its war against terror)are developing to monitor electronic traffic.And doubtless there are huge commercial possibilities here—to be developed perhaps(who knows?)in Guangdong.

        However,the point is that search engines only sort information.The more efficient they become,the greater will be the volume of relevant information identified for the searcher.They do not tell US what to do with the information.So,the point is rapidly approaching when it will not be enough for the student or the technician simply to learn the information and put it together in order to know how to make things or make things work.They will drown in potentially relevant information.We have to teach students to choose among information and to interpret,to give meaning to it in order to be able to put it to use.

        I think that we are seeing a new life for the value of education as distinct from instruction.I mean by that phrase that education is not about instruction——only telling students information and what to do with it.It should involve getting students to grow through thinking for themselves and learning how to select information that is relevant to an argument that they develop about the meaning of a complexity and the solution to a problem.When faced with a mass of information,it is important that people learn not to accept a statement as true simply because someone else says it is true.People must learn to be skeptical.They need to look at the information to judge whether it proves what they are told or whether some other interpretation is possible.Understanding why things are the way they are and why they work or don’t work is the very heart of creativity.This comes from the habit of questioning that develops an independent individual mind.It may be uncomfortable for us who teach. It is often annoying since students often waste time through questioning on the basis of ignorance.But the process itself is essential.  It is essential if we are to have a population that can do more than produce sophisticated technology developed on the basis of original ideas that have come from elsewhere.Lasting prosperity and leadership is based upon having new ideas and having a population able to develop them consistently.That requires a culture of innovation among all the university students who go out into the economy.The skills of applied information are made immeasurably greater by skills of the enquiring, sceptical mind.

        The second thing I want go say in this brief lecture is also about the skills required in this globalised world.It is another aspect of this same obvious point that globalisation is an international phenomenon.There is another necessary skill:this is how to understand the international world so as to he able to work with it and in it.I have said that universities need to circulate in the world in order to share ideas etc.It is true also of the students who will become leaders of the Guangdong economy.They also need to learn much more about the world with which they will have to work.In part,this is a matter of helping some students to do summer schools or temporary work placements in other environments.Of course.in any university in the world only a rather small number of students can do this,though encouraging students from abroad to come into the university is another way of achieving something in this area.Above all,however,it is a matter of using information to learn and to understand.The most obvious necessary skill here is foreign languages.It may be regrettable but it is a fact that much of the globalised world works in English and part of Guangdong’s success will depend in the long term on something as simple as the spread of knowledge of English.At the same time,we need to pay much more attention to the presence of humanities and social sciences course in the studies of students.It is these that can convey a knowledge and understanding of other cultures.

        Why is this important? It is important because in order to relate successfully to people from elsewhere—whether it is in business or something else — it is necessary to have a good understanding of where they come from.This means understanding how they think and why they think like that.It is easy to misunderstand different cultures and to misinterpret what comes from them and what people mean when they say things.That reduces the benefit from engaging in the globalised world.But,it is not just about economic benefit.The speed of information and the rapid decisions of the globalised world mean that mistakes in reactions to others are much more threatening,less easy to correct in calm surroundings.Understanding others is essential if we are to live in a stable,peaceful,prosperous world.

        This brings me to nay last point.One of the dangers of globalisation is that we shall slowly drift towards a basic uniformity of products,consumption,and thought which will most likely be rooted in the habits 0f the strongest economies.I do not want my children to live in a world without distinct patterns of thought and culture.Understanding others is not the same as being like others·It is important that universities do not forget that they are defenders of our own cultures and the rich diversity that makes the world such an interesting place to live in.Universities should certainly not comvey about one way being better than another.But we do need to understand where we ourselves come from,why we are the wav we are, why our community is specially different form others.and why in the end we like to be the special way we are·We do need to know what it is that we do not want to give up about ourselves when we work with all the mass of attractive things that the globalised world brings to US.

(原载《中山大学校报》,2003年11月18日)