April 2, 2014, by Sean Matthews

Beyond Global Citizenship: Reflections on the U21/KWBN Global Citizenship Workshop

KWBn U21 Empty Stage‘Global Citizenship’ is a term we come across more and more in relation to university missions or graduate attributes and outcomes, but one which most of us would struggle to define in anything but the broadest terms. If pushed, we would probably describe a Global Citizen as someone with particular qualities of ethical awareness, perhaps a commitment to sustainable environmental practices or support for those less privileged than ourselves, intercultural sensitivity and a critical awareness of current affairs, maybe a more than usual sense of obligation to making the world a better place. Were we asked what role universities might take in the fostering of these qualities, we’d most likely struggle still more, and I suspect many of us would point to extracurricular or co-curricular outreach projects rather than anything at the core of our assessed and accredited teaching and. And if we were pressed to articulate how Global Citizenship impacts on student employability and careers, or what perspectives of recruiters from industry, government or the NGO sector could have on the matter, very few of us would have anything to say at all. For fifty or so delegates from across U21 network, the U21 Global Citizenship Workshop at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus in Kuala Lumpur, which took place 13-14 March 2014, changed all that.

It was a unique event, for several reasons, and an extremely successful – and provocative – one. For a start, there was a special alchemy in the unusual combination of participants. Undergraduates and postgraduates mixed with colleagues from professional services concerned with careers and employability, student experience or exchange and mobility, along with academics from a variety of disciplines, very senior management (two Provosts, several PVCs, a former Vice Chancellor), and, for the second day, a high level panel representing international employers and recruiters. The format was highly discursive and interactive, and many delegates remarked on the energy and openness of discussions – particularly the students, who felt that this was all too rare an opportunity to sit as equals with such a broad array of institutional stakeholders. A key takeaway from the event, and a message for U21 partners and event organizers, was the feeling that strong student representation radically and very positively enhanced the event, and should be built into future event formats. Not as a mere formality, but on the basis of real trust, engagement and collaboration.

In terms of content, we explored an impressive array of projects from network partners which demonstrated the ways in which, on the ground, U21 enables us to realize projects which would not otherwise be possible. Two examples: on the first day, a keynote presentation from Derek Chambers Chair of U21 United Nations Millenium Development Goals Health Sciences Group, demonstrated how, for some disciplines, there is a powerful and effective overlap within the curriculum of all the primary elements we had associated with Global Citizenship. On the second day, colleagues from a multi-institution UK survey presented data relating to employability and careers which explored the impact of internationalization on students’ career options and employability, but also the distance still to travel in understanding and articulating the issues in this area.

The impact of the distinctive group dynamic was above all apparent at the lively roundtable discussion around Global Citizenship and Employability which began the second day. Following presentations from our invited guests (including the Malaysian government’s advisor on employment, PwC Malaysia’s Executive Director of Human Capital, and the Australian Government’s Education Counsellor), presentations which went some way to outlining the qualities, skills and capabilities top employers seek in graduate recruits, one student delegate expressed her frustration, her difficulty in relating her achievements and aspirations to the generic language of the panel. ‘Am I agile?’ she wondered. ‘Am I self-aware, resilient and active?’ More to the point, was the very aspiration to ‘Global Citizenship’ in fact something too onerous an aspiration for an ‘ordinary’ student? Those generalized attributes that we associate with the term which were mentioned earlier were, in fact, attributes that top employers expect of all graduates. U21 universities are probably all confident that these are capabilities we nurture in our students – but one overwhelming question was, nonetheless, how we might do more to foster better awareness in those students of their attainment of these aptitudes. The disconnect between our institutional language, the language of employers, and the discourse of our students, can be glaring. In this respect, one further significant takeaway from the event was that we might do well to move beyond the very term, Global Citizenship to a less portentous, more pragmatic, language. Whether the U21 partners can rally around ‘Metacognitive Capability’, which was one breakout group’s suggestion, will have to be explored at a subsequent event… What is certain is that the dynamism and drive of the Kuala Lumpur attendees, which were also evidenced in the wealth of proposals for follow-up activities captured in the ‘wrap-up board’ (see image – far too many outcomes to enumerate here), indicates that the U21 network, in and of itself, provides a unique and valuable platform for the exploration of these issues – both in the event itself, and in the research and activities that will follow.


This post first appeared in the Universitas 21 newsletter, Discover, March 2014

Posted in GlobalisationHigher EducationInternational campusesInternationalisationMalaysiaTransnational education