WASHINGTON - Collaboration between U.S. and foreign nations is essential to higher education, said educators meeting this week in Washington.
"We believe always as educators, and as scholars, that we grow from interaction with others," said Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. "We grow from ideas from working off the developments of others. That's how knowledge advances."
"We're not just concerned about a particular country or a particular state," she added. "We are concerned about our impact on society and our impact on the world. And the only way we can do it is through better collaboration."
Students adapt better
Mary Dana Hinton, president of College of Saint Benedict in Minnesota, agreed.
"U.S.-China collaboration enlivens our work in higher education, both a professional impact on our students as well as what I would call a peace-building or humanistic impact," she said.
She noted that 97% of students who study abroad are likely to be employed within 12 months of graduation, according to a study at the University of California-Merced, compared with 49% of the population overall.
"So, U.S.-China collaborations, like other international education programs, equip our students to go out into the world and find employment," Hinton said.
Another benefit of global education abroad is that 80% adapt to diverse work environments better, and alums of global education programs make at least $6,000 more in starting salaries than those who don't study abroad, Hinton said.
"So, you can certainly make an economic, business or professional case for the value of global education," she said.
There's a transformational element, too, Hinton said, that comes out of U.S.-China collaborations: a "humanistic and peace-building" component.
She cited the nearly four-decade-long partnership her university has had with Southwest University in Beibei, China, where the two institutions have a robust student exchange program.
"When you have the student exchanges, it creates a climate of familiarity, a climate of trust, a climate of respect, that enables that research dialogue that enables faculty development."
Hinton quoted slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., to buttress her point:
"I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don't know each other. They don't know each other because they don't communicate with each other, and they don't communicate with each other because they are separated from each other."
"At its best," Hinton said, "a U.S.-China collaboration enables us to know each other, to communicate with each other, and to be together in the world."
Sense of misunderstanding lingers
Kenyon Chan, chancellor emeritus at the University of Washington, said he was a little more skeptical than his colleagues on the panel. He said he feels there's "a deep sense of disconnection and misunderstanding between the American and Chinese cultures.
"Between America and the rest of the world actually," he added. "Because we've faced hundreds of years of Orientalism where America has viewed the Orient as some mysterious thing and could never understand that thing over there called 'Asia,'" Chan said. "We always are 'the other,' and Asia continues to be, at the very least, a mystery to the American government, a mystery to many Americans, and so the foreignness, the lack of respect for that culture, I think needs to be overcome.
"So, when you do these student exchanges for collaborations, personally I think we first have to get them to confront their Orientalism and go over there with an open mind," he added.
Reasons for optimism
Sri Zaheer said she feels more optimistic.
"Frankly, the best thing that we can do as educators is to expose young people to international experiences, to have them have international students in their classes, to send them abroad as often as possible," she said.
Her school, Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, has an almost 100% student study abroad participation, which she feels has given them an advantage.
"We have about 2,700 undergraduates at the school at any time. They cannot graduate unless they have completed an international study experience," she said.
Carlson started its collaborative program in 1993 with the Warsaw School of Economics in a joint executive master's of business administration program. They now offer three degree programs in China.
"So our faculty had developed a global mindset" and "they felt that it was really important for our students to have that global mindset as well."
Employers are positive, too, about graduates with global exchanges.
"They wanted students who are flexible, adaptable, happy to move to other places, comfortable with dealing across cultures, across differences, and there's nothing quite like a global experience to make that happen," Carlson said.
Her graduates have had above average job placement, she added.