Early in January, I had the opportunity to join approximately 100 presidential colleagues at the University Presidents Summit in Washington, DC, a forum on the future of international higher education convened by Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
As the organizers of this unprecedented gathering recognized, the future of international higher education is by no means solely an academic concern. International education issues have considerable economic, social and political implications as well, and these can be expected to increase in the future. Accordingly, the summit covered many areas, with panel discussions, ranging from global workforce development to the importance of global higher education in advancing scientific research and technological development.
To my mind, the most critical topic of discussion at the summit was the important role international education plays in what is sometimes called “soft diplomacy.” The international students and visiting scholars and faculty who come to the United States to study, teach and conduct research are an invaluable cultural resource. The same can be said of U.S. students, scholars and visiting faculty who travel overseas to participate in academic exchange.
Within our increasingly globalized economy, building goodwill, dialogue and cooperation across international borders is essential. The more active a role the U.S. plays in advancing academic exchange and collaboration, the more positively the nation is regarded overseas, and the greater our ability to reduce the cultural and national barriers that threaten our security and economic prosperity. Opening our doors to foreign students and visiting scholars and faculty from other nations always has been viewed as good, especially for graduate education and research. Now this priority is additionally critical to the advancement of U.S. research and education within a global environment.
As a public university with a long and distinguished history of leadership in international education, UB is well positioned to lead the way in addressing these key issues. UB is earning widespread recognition for its leadership in global education. Our selection to participate in the University Presidents Summit was due in large part to our prominence in the international arena. Likewise, UB’s large international population and long history of academic exchange were major factors in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s acceptance of our invitation to visit our campus this coming fall. You will find more details about this historic visit, scheduled to take place September 18–20, 2006, described in this issue of UB Today.
UB is truly an international institution, with some 4,000 international students and welcoming more than 400 visiting scholars from overseas institutions each year. This past fall, in fact, UB achieved the distinction of being ranked number 11 in the nation in international enrollment by the Institute of International Education. We rank first among the nation’s public research universities in the percentage of our enrollment that is international. And with 11 official international alumni chapters around the world, UB is supported by one of the most extensive global alumni networks of its kind.
More than 10 percent of UB’s undergraduate students participate in study abroad programs—more than five times the national average. UB conducts 55 of its own study abroad programs in 31 countries, as well as offering a rich variety of sponsored academic programs with institutional partners in Singapore, China, India, Japan, Taiwan and Turkey. In the summer of 2005, I had the pleasure of meeting with a number of the faculty, staff, students and alumni associated with UB’s branch campus at the Singapore Institute of Management. This summer, I look forward to traveling to Latvia, where UB has partnered with Riga Technical University in developing the Riga Business School, which has become the leading U.S.-style business school in the Baltic region.
As my opportunities to travel overseas have taught me, our students and alumni around the world play a leading role in advancing UB’s mission of academic excellence and international leadership. Higher education institutions like UB will play a leading role in the U.S. effort to promote global cooperation and collaboration. At the forefront of this effort are our chief ambassadors: the students and alumni who have helped to build the bridges that connect UB with the world around us.
John B. Simpson
President, University at Buffalo