The Making of a Global Student: NYU’s Global Network

New York University Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Written by Jonathan Bach

On January 19th, the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” published a discussion on the question: “Are global universities good for U.S. colleges?” One example that was both complimented and criticized within the Opinion Pages was NYU’s endeavor in global education. The piece asks, what is the purpose of global education? Do people want it? And what is it exactly that NYU is working towards?

The call for global education stems from a prominent secular trend: the world is becoming increasingly interdependent. There has never been more of a need to produce leaders that are not just willing to work but are also capable to work with people from multiple cultures. The world steadily needs more people who are willing to revisit stereotypes and challenge assumptions built by borders, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Al Bloom believes, “The place we can do that is in an undergraduate education.” In fact, people entering university are steadily seeing the value of global education as well.

More and more, students from around the world are studying outside of their country. The Institute of International Education recorded that since 2000, the number of international students coming into the USA has grown by 72%. In that same time frame, the number of U.S. citizens studying away in another country has grown 100%. With 11 academic sites and three degree granting campuses, New York University is at the forefront of this initiative with more international students on campus and more students studying abroad.

NYU’s global network was built with the hopes of creating a ‘circulatory system’. Unlike the University of California with local campuses that have complete sovereignty, NYU has built campuses that aspire to possess integrated curriculums, faculty, and students. Now, this does not mean complete integration, as each campus possesses a unique identity, but the goal is to have a level of integration so that ideas, content, and people can flow through the system. NYU hopes to build an education system that is not bound by location. It believes that a higher form of learning occurs when you learn from different professors in classrooms with different students in different countries. It hopes to break borders, but each site does it in a different way.

New York University in New York City, founded in 1831, is located in one of the most diverse cities in the world. According to The Economist, over 800 languages are spoken throughout the five boroughs. NYU in NYC also has the most schools and programs out of all the degree granting campuses, as it is the oldest. Outside of the location endowment of the city, one of New York campus’ core advantage is human capital. With such a large population of diverse students, an endless number of activities, conferences, and events can be held. All students can find a community for their idiosyncratic interests.

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New York University in Abu Dhabi, founded in 2010, is much smaller than the NYU’s New York campus. However, while there are only 750 students in the school, there is an average of 69 countries and 58 languages represented in every class. This campus was established on the principle that by bringing an extremely diverse group of students together, the school would be able to mold culturally aware leaders. It also exists as an oasis of education within a region that does not possess the same views on rights and freedoms as the USA. This institution and academic research will hopefully ease these tensions and usher in new thinking.

New York University in Shanghai, founded in 2012, is the youngest degree granting campus of NYU’s global network, and is also located in one of the financial capitals of the world. Its identity is strikingly different from the New York and Abu Dhabi schools because of its composition: approximately 50% of the students are Chinese nationals and the other 50% are international students. Because of this makeup, it also has a larger focus on learning language. The rising junior class is ecstatic about living and studying in another country, most of the group planning to be away for a full year. It may not be an educational model NYU is accustomed to, but it could prove to be an interesting change. With no junior class existing on the Shanghai campus, we can only wait and see what comes next.

With three different models of education and miles between each campus, it is completely understandable and predictable that there would be friction, tension, and misunderstanding. There are faculty members in NYC who do not agree with the expansion. Deeming it imperialistic and value-destructive, news outlets were and still are quick to point out flaws. Even the student bodies express antagonistic opinions with complaints about classes not counting towards their major and the limited availability of courses abroad. Most recently, labor issues in Abu Dhabi have brought up a range of accusations and demands within and articles from internal and external parties alike. Clearly, the road to an integrated global university is a challenging one, but many groups are working together to further build the system.

Faculty, deans, and administrators have worked to build the global network, but this year is notable because of the number of students joining the conversation. In conjunction with the Abu Dhabi and Shanghai student governments, the Student Senators Council (SSC) has been working to improve student life and experience on the global platform by focusing on the international student experience, academic site experience, global event programming, academic consistency, and global club infrastructure. Students located at the academic sites and degree granting campuses have been video conferencing each other, sending hundreds of emails, and working to improve how students can use the global network.

Building a new category of education – global education – is a daunting task. It requires infrastructure in different locations around the world. It can be an operational and logistical nightmare to work between multiple time zones with parties that sometimes have polarizing opinions. NYU is, without a doubt, working towards a difficult goal with still much to accomplish, but it is leading the way thus far.

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