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Global Ambassadors for the Common Good

Principal and Vice Chancellor of Glasgow Caledonian University Pamela Gillies CBE FRSE discusses how to nurture graduates as ethical leaders supporting prosperity, equality of opportunity and health

Universities are the bastions of free thought.  Their staff promote learning in the sciences, arts and humanities; are engines of innovation and economic growth and help us understand how societies work, are governed and can be changed for the benefit of the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our citizens.

We know that the learning and research universities produce is of significantly greater quality when they reach out internationally, collaborating and cooperating with colleagues around the world.  This impact isn’t just about finding new scientific or technological advances, important as they are; it’s also about promoting social mobility and social justice through education as a common good.  It’s about nurturing graduates who, as ethical leaders in our societies, understand how to develop networks of trust and reciprocity, creating the social capital that lies at the heart of the community cohesion and resilience that supports prosperity, equality of opportunity and health.  To foster our new young leaders and global ambassadors, universities must not be daunted by the current popular political shifts, which have been underpinned by the global economic downturn and the rising relative inequality within societies.  Research from OECD demonstrates that income inequality is the highest it has been in member countries for the past half century – with the average income of the richest 10 per cent of the population about nine times that of the poorest 10 per cent.  These political shifts could herald movement away from, as Marine Le Pen, Leader of France’s right wing National Front Party, put it recently, “globalists to national patriots”.  The two need not of course be mutually exclusive. In Scotland, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has championed a global perspective whilst also focussing on the national interest, asking for partners in building a “progressive, outward looking, internationalist Scotland.”

There has never been a greater requirement for universities to hold their nerve and cleave to internationalisation as critical to their core purpose of learning.  There has never been a greater need for our university students and graduates to be global ambassadors for learning and problem solving, engaging compassionately, positively and collaboratively in our culturally rich and diverse world to solve seemingly impossibly complex problems such as climate change, refugee crises and terrorism. As our Chancellor, Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus has noted, our students are not just our future leaders at all levels of society, they are our leaders today.

All countries do however currently face the challenge of the rising cost of higher education and, specifically in the UK at the present time, restrictive immigration rules, which have significantly reduced the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for international students.  In these turbulent times, universities must find new partnership models to ensure that progress will be made in transnational education to produce a new cadre of global graduates and citizens, and there is a need to do this at scale.

Over the past five years, Glasgow Caledonian University has established two models of successful transnational partnership working which offer considerable promise.  Both of these operate in Africa to help unlock the considerable talent there, whilst also improving the global learning opportunities for our Scottish students and graduates and internationalising our curriculum.

The first is a partnership between the largest transport company in Africa, Transnet Freight Rail, the Institute of Railway Operators and the University Johannesburg.  Together, we have co-created and co-taught a new work-based GCU degree in Railway Operation Management that offers employees the opportunity to upskill in a way that is relevant to their company’s needs and opens new doors of opportunity in their careers.  At an affordable cost, this model has had a positive impact on the company’s productivity, but has also produced new mature graduates with a global perspective.  In return, Transnet have offered our Scottish students the opportunity to volunteer on their Phelophepa Train of Hope, providing healthcare to those in need from rural parts of South Africa and gaining valuable experience in the process.

This partnership model has been so successful that other companies across the African continent are now seeking to replicate it.

The second example is the partnership we have formed with the exciting educational entrepreneur Fred Swaniker to establish the first of 25 new universities for Africa. The African Leadership University network is seeking to produce 250,000 ethical, internationally-minded graduate leaders and ambassadors for Africa in an affordable way.  Glasgow Caledonian University, The University for the Common Good, is proud to be the foundation partner for this exciting new initiative in Mauritius, with the extraordinary Graca Machel at our side as new Ambassador Chancellor, championing access and education for women.

As the Ambassador of Equitorial Guinea Mrs Mari Cruz Evauna Andeme noted in this journal last July, Africa is awakening to the need to provide leadership in educating the resilient, ethical, global graduates the world needs.  I believe we must grasp this new opportunity, reinvent the elitist models of the past and fashion new sustainable modes of delivering high-quality higher education opportunities for all, whether in Africa, or Scotland or elsewhere. As President Obama said in his first inauguration speech: “the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart… is the surest route to our common good.”


Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is the University for the Common Good. Based in Glasgow since 1875, it is now a thriving, globally connected University. GCU was the first Scottish university to open a campus in London, and the first UK university to launch a campus in New York. GCU’s Strategy 2020 articulates its learning, teaching and research priorities by defining its approach to widening access, raising aspirations, building coalitions and partnerships, and achieving a global reputation for delivering impactful change through teaching, research and pioneering social innovation.  www.gcu.ac.uk



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