Chancellor Gene Block on the importance of going global
Chancellor Gene Block. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Chancellor Gene Block on the importance of going global

Chancellor Block speaks about the vital importance of global education in this interview with Associate Vice Provost Gail Kligman. Publication of this article kicked off International Education Week 2016 at UCLA.

To be successful in this century requires a basic global sophistication, including language skills and an understanding of other cultures.

UCLA International Institute — With the start today of a weeklong celebration of International Education Week at UCLA, Chancellor Gene Block offers his views on why global perspectives and cultural fluency are vital for students to be successful in the 21st century. For this edited Q&A, Gail Kligman, associate vice provost of the UCLA International Institute and distinguished professor of sociology, spoke with Chancellor Block about global education.

Why are international or global studies important in the 21st century?

First, it’s highly likely that many of our graduates will be working for companies or organizations that have global reach, whether here or abroad. To be successful in this century requires a basic global sophistication, including language skills and an understanding of other cultures.

Second, we are facing huge societal issues that cross boundaries: Water shortages, epidemics and migration are global challenges that require global solutions. To address them effectively, you have to understand many cultures and issues from an international perspective.

So how do our students gain a global perspective and global competency? There are various ways: through study abroad experience, as well as the internationalization of our campus and of our academic offerings. Our approach to every academic discipline needs to incorporate a global point of view.

We have to be mindful that many of our students may not be able to afford to study abroad, although we want to find ways to increase such opportunities. That’s all the more reason to have a rich international experience on campus, whether through our own international programs or by giving students the opportunity to meet exchange students and international students who are getting their degrees here.

A few years ago, Mrs. Block and I were at move-in day and were shown a triple room. Two young women were just moving in, both freshmen from California. One of them said, “Our third roommate isn’t here now, but she's from Tokyo — it’s incredible!”

I’m glad you mentioned that international diversity is itself an important component of the richness of our campus diversity.

Yes, the perspectives of international students contribute to the diversity of views that we welcome and need on campus. While we are certainly trying to grow the number of Californians on campus as best we can, we have to have an adequate mix of international and out-of-state students to ensure that our students are exposed to the rich diversity of our world as part of their education in becoming globally competent citizens.

Another crucial aspect of international education at UCLA is the diversity of languages that we both hear and teach on campus. While language instruction is a source of pride for us, it’s always a challenge because it’s expensive to maintain the teaching of many languages, especially less commonly taught ones. But I can’t see how we could possibly abrogate that responsibility as a global university.

Could you talk a little about what “UCLA is a global university” means and how UCLA is going global?

The first thing it means is that UCLA has a global reputation, that we're engaged and networked internationally, that wherever we go, we are a recognizable brand because we have touched people throughout the world through education, outreach programs and our health system.

We also build our global reputation by being international on campus. That means making a highly organized effort to ensure that global perspectives permeate our curriculum and all aspects of our campus. That is where the UCLA International Institute plays such an important role.

The institute not only coordinates many activities, it is also alert to the many different international research and academic resources on campus, even creating some of them. The global studies and international development studies majors of the International Institute are very popular, as is its global health minor. And I know that new minors in international migration and global business are being developed.

The institute acts as a focal point to bring our international research and education centers together, as well as to manage UCLA’s institutional relationships with its international partners. I think that has played an important role in globalizing the campus. And the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars supports our global visitors here on campus.

Another part of being a global university is acting as ambassadors of UCLA to the world. Cindy Fan and the Office of Vice Provost for International Studies and Global Engagement have greatly enhanced the value of our international visits by coordinating everything from alumni relationships to student recruitment to government and research relationships. That’s the benefit of having a single office focusing broadly on all these different endeavors.

The UCLA Global Forums that Vice Provost Fan has developed are a great example. At these events, notable alumni address issues of importance to a given country or region. These speakers are not only very informative, but also draw alumni together and help build a sense of community. Our alumni are often donors, so there is also a development interest in cultivating international ties.

Could you talk a little bit about international education and the professional schools?

I'd say every professional school on campus has an interest in deepening its international engagement. The School of Theater, Film and Television, for example, is very interested in Bollywood and has hosted visitors from Bollywood. It also has a program that recruits women from the Middle East to learn how to become filmmakers.

An interest in international engagement and international programs has always been the case for the Anderson School of Management, and is increasingly so for the Geffen School of Medicine. I’d also add that scientists are actively engaged in international collaborations. Take CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland. If you’re in particle physics, not only can you not do certain experiments in the U.S., you’ve got to do them in Europe with European and other researchers. China has also developed wonderful research facilities.

So how do we pay for this expansion of global studies and the globalization of UCLA?

As a public university in the United States, we face the same challenges that nearly every public university faces: a reduction in public investment in institutions of higher learning. And in California, the reduction has been profound. Increasingly, students have to pay for a larger share of their education. Having fewer institutional funds also makes it harder for us to engage in international initiatives in areas of interest.

How do we get around that? The first thing that comes to mind is philanthropy. Clearly, people who believe in our mission as a global university are helping shape our future. We are focused on trying to raise money for scholarships for students so that they can travel abroad, particularly those from low-income families. I also hope we will be able to raise funds for endowed chairs for faculty in international studies, as well as for doctoral research abroad. I should mention that we are fortunate to have some special resources that we can use to provide a substantial match to scholarship gifts. We are hopeful that the Centennial Scholars Match Program will make it even more attractive for donors to support our students.

But there is potentially something bigger. I can imagine someday a school of global studies at UCLA. Such a school could become a defining feature of UCLA and would be a huge draw, given what I know of our students and their backgrounds, as well as our very diverse Los Angeles community. I think such a school is a great opportunity for the future that will require philanthropy. Being mindful of that, we just have to sell our vision to the right folks who believe in us.

How would you explain to young high school students and their parents the importance of global studies in their education?

I would say to a young person, “This is not optional. If you want to keep your options open, you need broad international exposure in your education or you're going to be hampered in your career opportunities. People working together from different backgrounds bring different outlooks. To be an educated, well-informed and responsible person these days, you have to be much more knowledgeable about the world. To be able to understand what is happening around you and express your opinion in an intelligent way, you have to have an education that involves global perspectives and some deep understanding of other cultures.”

Also of interest: Vice Provost Cindy Fan's interview in The Daily Bruin about International Education Week 2016.

Abstract updated October 2017