Globalising Graduates

Over the last twelve months or so there has been a growing interest in the notion of Global Graduates, that is, graduates that possess the knowledge, skills and behaviours to operate both through and beyond traditional borders and across multiple territories and cultures. A number of research organisations have explored and developed the notion to try and understand what a global graduate might look like, as well as how we might go about producing them. With the well documented issues surrounding graduate employment and the current changes in Higher Education now taking their predicted course, this juncture now appears extremely relevant in terms of how we might view, prepare and develop the next generation of graduates. In a recent report, developed with the support of CIHE and AGR, the think tank CFE interviewed a number of global organisations in an attempt to understand and clarify this emerging area of interest.

The report begins by outlining the context through which the need for globally skilled graduates has appeared. Changes within the traditional workplace and the rapid advancement of communication technologies has placed graduates at the centre of evolving commercial operations all around the globe. Their ability to navigate different environments and cultures has quickly become a necessity for the organisations they serve. As the world has got smaller, the range of skills that are required to interpret and negotiate it, have grown significantly larger. This growth, which is confirmed throughout the report, signifies that the overriding requirements for large global organisations is the ability to collaborate within diverse environments and cooperate with individuals, groups and organisations from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. If this is true, then the question becomes how do our educational institutions respond to this need? How do we create the experiences from which these skills can be developed?

In Richard Sennett’s latest book Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation this question is brought into sharp focus. Here, Professor Sennett has developed the themes from his earlier work Respect: The Formation of Character in an Age of Inequality, to place the notion of cooperation within its historical legacy. By doing this he has been able to ask the question; what effects have the changes (within our communities, workplaces etc.) had on our abilities to collaborate and cooperate? Unfortunately, his findings have been less than positive, even though our need to collaborate and cooperate has never been greater, our abilities to do so, according to Professor Sennett, have been dramatically eroded. One of the main reasons for this is a relatively simple one, with the rapid growth of modern communications and social media our ability to seek out likeminded individuals who share common values and interests has never been easier. The consequence of this development has been that our experiences of individuals that don’t share the same values and interests have been significantly reduced. Never before has the proverb ‘birds of a feather flock together‘ been more true, and in this sense, never before has the thirst for homogeneity been more rife.

For all of Professor Sennett’s diagnostic pessimism the book does present some optimistic insights, which in the context of developing graduates to be able to deal with a radically changing world, can only be good news. Throughout the book, Professor Sennett is at pains to present cooperation as a skill that requires many hours of both patience and practice, and he states that the dedication required to achieve this should not be underestimated. The book is littered with both first hand experiences and wider world examples of how this practice can be both developed and achieved within the types of environments we have described. But the question still remains; how will our educational institutions respond? It is clear that within Higher Education alone, the need to make use of the broadest range of curricula available will only be the first step. However, given the current appetite for reducing the role of the humanities, coupled with the age old problem of restricted academic specialisms, perhaps that first step may be the hardest of all to make.