Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: A Time for Change

Global Citizenship and Tertiary Education: A Time for Change

Joy L. Hart
University of Louisville
Tom Jackson
University of Louisville
Kandi L. Walker
University of Louisville
Gregory Roberts
ACPA – College Student Educators International
Robert B. Ludeman
International Association of Student Affairs and Services

As the world has become more interconnected through globalization, the need for citizens with expansive views of society has increased.  Today’s problem solvers need to understand local, regional, national, and international issues—as well as the complex interrelations between such issues—to be effective.  Furthermore, tomorrow’s problem solvers will increasingly need such understandings, as well as the skills to work with diverse groups of individuals.  With such changes come increasingly expanded opportunities (and perhaps responsibilities) for universities to educate global citizens: graduates with broad perspectives and necessary skills to build and sustain a world that is just and fair.

In this series of three articles, we address strategies to ensure desired learning outcomes for the students of today and tomorrow, especially those outcomes crucial to becoming effective global citizens.  In particular, we examine integrating and internationalizing the curriculum, creating new and enhancing existing cross-unit partnerships (e.g., academic and student affairs), and designing and implementing meaningful global experiences for students.  Such experiences allow students to better understand and put to use the concepts they have grappled with in the traditional classroom.  After making the case for needed change and positioning our work in the scholarly literature (Part 1 of the series), we focus on two key experiential learning examples:  service learning and study abroad (Part 2 of the series).  We conclude the series by discussing preparation and results, including best practices for designing and implementing such programs (Part 3 of the series). 


What global companies look for is people [sic] who we think can take a global perspective.  Students are well placed to do this if they have taken opportunities to widen their cultural perspective.  The people that succeed can work in multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural and multi-locational teams.  If students have demonstrated they can work with other cultures and teams, that’s a big plus for us as we need students to be intellectually curious and culturally agile if they are going to work in a global context. -Sonja Stockton, Director, Talent – PricewaterhouseCoopers

Despite some educational strides, much work remains in order to ensure that tertiary graduates understand the global landscape and possess the skills to advance a more sustainable and just world.  The sheer volume of ongoing conversations about such issues is evidence enough of the vastness and pressing nature of this need.  Toward a just and sustainable world, embracing the “triple bottom-line” or 3BL approach, with social (people), economic (profit), and environmental (planet) components, is vital.  Using this 3BL lens for education and society requires timely promotion of democratic citizenship and creation of global competencies that move beyond the borders of comfort and familiarity.

The oft-used Kennedy paraphrase, “To those whom much is given, much is expected,” provides a touchstone for moving forward with education cultivating global citizenship.  It is imperative that “high performing” nations embrace global skills development and work to infuse it throughout their educational systems, especially at the tertiary level where students are ready to engage deeply with critical thinking, embrace multiple and divergent perspectives, and work diligently to forge relationships. Following Singmaster (n.d.), let’s briefly examine the actions of four nations toward developing global citizens.

  1. China – A mid-1990s overhaul of the educational system resulted in English language training beginning in primary school and world history and world geography infused throughout the curriculum.  More recently, China is engaged in further educational reforms, emphasizing “real world” needs, focused on 2020.  Students are engaging in real world applications, emphasizing alternative energy, health and well being, and preservation and conservation.  One indicator of China’s commitment to increased global education and citizenship is its plan to send 50,000 school principals abroad to gain new insights, experience other cultures firsthand, and determine best practices (Singmaster, n.d.).
  2. Singapore – Recent educational reform involves plans to strengthen curricula toward meeting “21st century competencies,” such as intercultural skills and global literacy (Singmaster, n.d.).  Indicators of competence include abilities to communicate (e.g., asking questions) and work in teams, as well as being knowledgeable about the nation and the world.  Focal skill areas center in developing: (1) confident, independent thinkers with well-honed communication skills, (2) self-directed individuals who take initiative for learning, (3) active participants able to work effectively with team members, and (4) engaged citizens committed to civic responsibility and improving social justice.
  3. Korea – Beyond the typical core curriculum (e.g., science, mathematics), considerable educational emphasis is devoted to world history, world geography, and humanities courses, such as art and music.  Further, students have been required to take English language courses for more than 65 years.  To ensure teachers are prepared to facilitate student skill development, the government provides a number of programs to support teacher travel and study abroad (Singmaster, n.d.).
  4. India – Although not widely regarded as a “high performing country” in measures of student assessment, India is working toward preparing students for the global economy and global challenges (Singmaster, n.d.).  Plans are underway to incorporate a worldwide focus into educational systems, as well as to increase emphasis on communicative abilities and analytical skills.  For example, world history, world literature and increased language study (i.e., three languages rather than the previously required two languages) will be required.  Other subjects, such as international business, will also be available.

These examples provide some evidence that the world is moving ahead in trying to cultivate global citizens with global knowledge and, in some cases, a commitment to the common good—or a sustainable future for all of us (Abdi & Shultz, 2009).  However, the United States, an educational innovator and leader at one time, is now losing its edge.  Following the Kennedy challenge, as a “high performing,” developed nation, much is expected of us—and we need to do more to meet the challenge of creating global competencies and democratic citizenship.

Why is it essential that we design educational programs with learning outcomes to develop 21st century global citizens?  Despite an array of considerations, the major challenge facing us is developing an engaged, global citizenry, and toward this goal, we must focus on multiculturalism, diversity, inclusiveness, global awareness, community service, dimensions of leadership, and effective involvement in governance (e.g., community, institutional).  In tertiary institutions, these aims are best met by fusing what have often been disparate facets of the university—the curricular and the co-curricular.  Partnerships between academics and student affairs can more rapidly and more meaningfully develop student skills.  To better serve current students—as well as work to create a more sustainable world—we need to assess possibilities, plan programs, and share best practices.  This series of articles is one step in that process.  The following examples show the extent to which such perspectives are embraced beyond the academy:

  1. Frits van Paasschen, Starwood Hotels and Resorts CEO and President, labeled the inability of U.S. citizens to speak a language other than English or function cross-culturally as a primary hindrance of being a U.S.-based company (Mulholland, 2011).
  2. CEO, Chairperson, and President of Manpower, Inc., Jeff Joerres noted that businesses need global capital and stressed that the paucity of employees with a global perspective and global skills must be addressed.  In his view, this “social skills” deficit is harmful (Mulholland, 2011).
  3. Further, according to Mulholland (2011), if we are going to produce the educated citizenry that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others desire, “We need to focus on how to provide students with greater access to an education that specifically nurtures critical global skills such as facility in a foreign language, an understanding of other countries and cultures, and the ability to function effectively in differing cultural contexts.”

Toward reaching such goals, we examine several facets of tertiary education.  In this first article of the series, we review academic literature relevant to these goals.  In the next article in this series, we discuss experiential education as a means to develop global understanding and skills.  We provide two examples—service learning and study abroad—and explore preparation and results.  Finally, in the third article in the series, we chronicle recommendations and best practices that may be useful as colleges and universities consider such programs suggesting central goals and action steps for administrators and institutional leaders.

A Time for Change

Few would dispute that monumental changes have occurred over the past few years or the rippling effects of these changes.  And change continues—population increases, climate change, depletion of resources, destruction of rainforests, disease outbreaks, just to name a few.  Further, globalization is a magic wand and a double-edged sword.  We can travel faster, communicate faster, and share faster than ever before, but just as the positive possibilities have materialized, so have negative ones, with far-reaching implications for local or regional actions.

As the world has grown more interlinked, the need for global awareness and understanding is even more pressing (Rhoads & Szelenyi, 2011).  Certainly, cultural awareness and cross-cultural skills have long been important, but in today’s world, such knowledge and skill is vital (Schattle, 2007).  Due to the increasing importance of such understanding and skill, a number of leading educational groups and associations call for action—priorities for civic education and engagement (e.g., Campus Compact, 1999; Council of Europe, 2006).  Because change has occurred and is occurring, these professionals call for a changed education system: one that foregrounds the global world and the knowledge and skill sets needed to navigate its complex systems and cultures.

With the changes over the last few decades come demands for new problem-solving skills as well.  Increasingly, problems are “wicked”—morasses of mess.  No longer is one expert enough to solve most problems.  Further, no longer is one area of expertise enough.  Rather, the problems of today and tomorrow require new orientations to solutions: ones that involve collaboration across bodies of knowledge or disciplines.  For example, addressing issues of hunger or disease will not be complete from only the perspective of public health scholars or practitioners; such issues require efforts from teams of collaborating health care workers, geographers, health communication specialists, biologists, agricultural experts, and so forth.  The task of education is to bring forth graduates who can serve on and lead such teams.  As Bringle, Hatcher, and Williams (2011) underscored, “Crossing cultural boundaries, navigating differences, and finding common voice to address complex social issues, around the world and at home, requires that college graduates are equipped with skills unlike those needed a generation ago” (p. 287).

In sum, as societies have become interlinked, so have many of the problems we face.  Thus, leadership skills also take key prominence in the global context.  Although the number of individuals graduating college is increasing slightly worldwide, still a small minority of the world population holds a university degree (Barro & Lee, 2010; Freeman, 2009).  Yet, these individuals are some of the ones most likely to be called upon to solve local and global problems. Global understanding and multicultural awareness enhance their chances of successful problem solving.

Education focusing on civic engagement is one means of facilitating citizenship and problem solving.  Such education is believed to result in increased learning, contribute to quality of life for individuals and communities, as well as further campus learning outcomes/objectives (Bringle, 2011; Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont, & Stephens, 2003; Percy, Zimpher, & Brukardt, 2006).  But to achieve the desired outcomes, universities will have to reinvent themselves in ways that model what they are looking for.  No longer can silos exist where we isolate ourselves with disciplinary specialization.  Increasingly, we must strive for multidisciplinarity, even omnidisciplinarity.  Further, no longer can divisional or unit lines separate our thinking or our practice.  If we expect to produce students capable of working in multidisciplinary teams to address society’s challenges, we must be able to forge partnerships with our colleagues across the campus, even in areas not often coupled together.  As Jackson et al. (2012) noted, these educational goals “will not be achieved by the university of the past century.  Rather, new methods and structures of university education must be devised and enacted” (p. 3).

To meet educational objectives, a number of scholars and practitioners have called for changes in university structures (ACPA et al., 2006; Harper & Quaye, 2008; Keeling, 2004; Strange & Banning, 2001). One area for change involves interweaving curricular and co-curricular offerings and programs.  Through such interweaving, tighter links can be forged that result in deeper student learning.  Such collaborative efforts are likely to foster skill development and broaden awareness.  For example, experiential education programs, such as international service learning and study abroad (see Lewin, 2009, for more detail), often involve work across units and can fuel partnership growth (Bringle & Hatcher, 2011).  In the next article in this series, we examine service learning and study abroad in more detail, especially addressing the potential for student learning and furthering collaboration.

Discussion Questions

1.  Changing university structures is not easy, especially in terms of undertaking curriculum overhauls or shifting program requirements.  How can universities best incorporate cultural awareness and cross-cultural skills into their curricula?

2.  What buy-in from administrators, faculty, staff, and/or students needs to be in place to best incorporate civic engagement into the academic curriculum?

3.  What are the challenges and potential pitfalls of merging the curricular and the co-curricular?  How can these challenges and pitfalls be overcome?

4.  As universities reinvent themselves, what types of changes do you envision?  What will universities look like 25 years from now?


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ACPA, ACUHO-I, ACUI, NACA, NACADA, NASPA, & NIRSA. (2006).  Learning reconsidered 2: A practical guide to implementing a campus-wide focus on the student experience. Champaign, IL:  Human Kinetics.

Barro, R.J., & Lee, J.W. (2010).  A new data set of educational attainment in the world, 1950–2010.  Cambridge, MA:  The National Bureau of Educational Research (working paper no. 15902).

Bringle, R.G. (2011).  Preface. In R.G. Bringle, J.A. Hatcher, & S.G. Jones (Eds.), International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research (pp. ix-xvi).  Sterling, VA:  Stylus.

Bringle, R.G. & Hatcher, J.A. (2011).  International service learning. In R.G. Bringle, J.A. Hatcher, & S.G. Jones (Eds.), International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research (pp. 3-28).  Sterling, VA:  Stylus.

Bringle, R.G., Hatcher, J.A., & Williams, M.J. (2011).  Quantitative approaches to research on international service learning:  Design, measurement, and theory.  In R.G. Bringle, J.A. Hatcher, & S.G. Jones (Eds.), International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and research (pp. 275-290).  Sterling, VA:  Stylus.

Campus Compact. (1999). Presidents’ declaration on the civic responsibility of higher education. Retrieved from

Colby, A., Ehrlich, T., Beaumont, E., & Stephens, J. (2003).  Educating citizens:  Preparing American’s undergraduates for lives of moral and civic responsibility.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

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Harper, S.R. & Quaye, S.J. (Eds.). (2008).  Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations. New York, NY:  Routledge.

Jackson, T.R., Jr., Hart, J.L., Walker, K.L., Foster, J.P., Clark, T.J., & Mercer, L.H. (2012).  Serving the world through international service learning:  A partnership between academics and student services.  Proceedings of the Asia Pacific Student Services Association Conference.

Keeling, R.P. (Ed.). (2004).  Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience.  Washington, DC:  National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.

Lewin, R. (Ed.).  (2009).  The handbook of practice and research in study abroad:  Higher education and the quest for global citizenship.  New York, NY:  Routledge.

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Percy, S.L., Zimpher, N., & Brukardt, M. (Eds.). (2006). Creating a new kind of university.  Bolton, MA:  Anker.

Rhoads, R., & Szelenyi, K. (2011).  Global citizenship and the university: Advancing social life and relations in an interdependent world.  Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Schattle, H. (2007).  The practices of global citizenship.  Lanham, MD:  Rowman & Littlefield.

Singmaster, H. (n.d.).  How high performing nations teach global skills.  Retrieved from

Strange, C.C. & Banning, J.H. (2001).  Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work.  Hoboken, NJ:  Jossey-Bass.

About the Authors

Joy L. Hart is Professor of Communication, Tom Jackson, Jr., is Vice President for Student Affairs, and Kandi L. Walker is Professor of Communication at the University of Louisville. 

Gregory Roberts is Executive Director of ACPA – College Student Educators International.  Roger B. Ludeman is Executive Director of the International Association of Student Affairs and Services (IASAS).  A previous version of this work was presented at the 14th General Conference of the International Association of Universities in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Please e-mail inquiries to Joy L. Hart.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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