‘The Future of University: post-Covid’

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The Covid-19 induced crisis presents all walks of society with an opportunity to re-evaluate. No more important is that, than in the university sector.

It is no secret that the university sector globally has been in crisis for some years. Pre-Covid, there were no shortage of predictions of the end of university; of the demise of between 40-50% of tertiary providers in the next 10 years (United States); the turning of industry’s back on universities (New Zealand); mass irrelevancy of qualifications (Australia); and the end of the Humanities (Global) to name but a few.

Predictions of sky-falling disruption have come thick and fast. From the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to the radical development of Artificial Intelligence, futurists have clamoured to predict ‘the end is nigh’ for traditional universities.

Interestingly, the end has not come, and universities remain a key element of the education, industry and economic sectors of the world; but Covid-19 might be the circuit-breaker for the (at best) steady plodding of the sector.

A rethink of the model of higher education toward a change-making, collaborative structure of knowledge discovery, geared toward the development of our collective societal ethics and the resolution of local, national and global problems is not merely required in light of future pandemics. Climate change, inequality, and food security are examples of challenges that should, similarly, challenge us on whether our universities are organised and structured in a way to best prepare us for what we need.

In terms of our research, standard of graduate, sustainability, and employability, the quality of New Zealand’s universities is outstanding. However, our community of Vice-Chancellors have spoken loudly about underfunding, the pressure of recruiting international students, and the imperative to retain our international standing.

It seems however, that these pressures (pressures felt the world over), have actually fed increased conservatism and sameness, rather than true diversification and innovation that we need.

No matter how hard each university attempts to improve its performance, it is clear we are missing a number of collective benefits which, if implemented, would act to further our institutions, and position New Zealand well for the future.

The first priority is likely the structure of universities. Previous suggestions have ranged from the adoption of the Californian structure of central administration and semi-autonomous campuses allowing for greater campus specialisation, to freeing up New Zealand’s system of approving new qualifications (that currently involves all NZ universities sitting in judgment over any new qualification offered).

The Government’s changes to the polytechnic sector have been extensive and have loomed large in the mind of many in the university sector. Whilst a monumental shift to a Cal-State system is not suggested here, we do believe that tangible steps toward a more refined collective approach by our universities are desperately needed.

Of priority is the establishment of a liberal and unified system of course recognition between our institutions. Under such a system, students completing courses at one New Zealand university would face no barriers to having that course recognised for full credit at any other New Zealand university.

The same level of respect and connection should be striven for with private providers and those training and education providers within industry through the innovative use of blockchain credentialing. Whilst this might seem technical, this move alone would liberate students to pick up, continue and finish their study across a mix of providers facilitating significant opportunities for retraining and lifelong learning.

Covid-19 and the rapid fallout from it, exemplifies how complex, intertwined and fast-changing our world has become, and why effective lifelong learning & retraining is essential. Our approach to education delivery, and therefore how we structure the university sector, needs to take this into account. Rather than eight entirely independent universities, our institutions need to act as a coherent whole albeit through semi-autonomous units.

Innovation in structure also needs to focus on funding. The adoption of innovative fee structures, such as ‘gym-membership’ or subscription style relationships between student and provider, might act to better reflect a focus on lifelong learning and a partnership approach with industry.

But it’s not just the structure of our universities that is brought into the light of change by Covid-19. What we teach, how we teach and how we research should also be under the spotlight. The development of degree apprenticeships, boot camps, micro-credentials, distance-block-blended-compressed modes, all through the development of a genuine digitally-enabled, online learning environment are opportunities largely left hanging by New Zealand universities.
But the reform of our teaching does not stop there.  We also need to discuss our academic disciplines.   Currently we have a one-size-fits-all format that typifies universities the world over – and has done for approximately 170 years. What we need in the future may not be best served by such a structure.

We believe there is great utility in the development of a complementary system of thematic groupings such as: sustainability, systems thinking, productivity, prosperity, justice, and health and wellbeing.

In this respect, our strong bicultural foundation is likely New Zealand’s most significant asset. Māori frameworks of thought, far from an irrelevancy in the modern world, offer our education system a unique opportunity to model an alternative paradigm to the prevailing Western notion of individualism and consumerism. In short, we (and the world) have likely more to learn from Māori than they do of us.

Practical knowledge is as important as our understanding of the way we think, interact, and structure our lives and communities. Universities are in the unique position of melding these together for the problem-solving benefit of society.

Mixed with the development of the core skills of communication, critical analysis, team work, the ability to act with agility, build resilience, understand ethical frameworks for living, and to work and live productively within a community, a post-Covid-19 New Zealand ought to show the world what it truly means to be ‘successful’ as a community.

Our universities should use Covid-19 to reimagine what a collaborative form of knowledge generation, dissemination and application might look like.

A change in mindset is therefore needed, away from, ‘my institution’, to ‘my community’ where universities, industry, political structures and civil society work together as partners in our advancement.


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A ‘New Global Institution’?

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Klaus Bosselmann

Ours are proving to be interesting times – going quite beyond lockdowns and bubbles.

Covid-19 reminds us that Nature is in charge of human destiny, not governments.

Countries the world over are trying to meet unprecedented challenges that are all occurring at once. Faced with such complexity, some political leaders have reacted like headless chicken; others in a more rational manner – all with a sense of urgency, yet unsure what to do next.

For the moment, they rely on experts of health risks, but they may increasingly need experts of systemic risks.

So, what is systemic risk?  And what is systemic change?

Systemic risk

A systemic risk is the possibility that a singular event may trigger instability or collapse of an entire system – in this instance, a global economy focused on consumers of goods (including tourism) rather than real people in their interdependences of each other and the natural world.  See Rod Oram’s column below of 22 March – almost ‘a lifetime of experience’ ago….

If a jumping virus can bring the entire economy to instability and potential collapse, this tells us a lot, not only about the fragility of such a system but also the way we humans govern ourselves.

To start with, epidemiological statistics show that Covid-19 is just one of countless (zoonotic) diseases that originate in animals.

  • They account for billions of illnesses and millions of deaths annually. Global wildlife trade has been a main driver. In China alone, the trade with wild animals has an estimated annual value of US$ 18 b.
  • In 2007, leading epidemiologists described the presence of coronaviruses in bats in combination with the culture of eating exotic animals in Southern China as ‘a timebomb’.

Clearly, a worldwide ban of wildlife markets is now overdue.

Connected with the disastrous commodification of wildlife is the ever-growing, economically-driven, appetite for land and wetlands, forests and natural resources. This is blurring the line between wildlife and human spaces, accelerating loss of biodiversity, destroying the natural world and deteriorating the climate.

Each of these environmental issues deserves our full attention, but they are interrelated and can only be tackled systematically.

Its effect on human thought

It would be too simple to blame politics, or capitalism, or over-population. The systemic problem goes deeper.

We need to rethink human-nature relationships. Humans are part of the natural world. Boundaries between species are not absolute, but mere markers for the continuum of life in constant ‘becoming’. The virus reminds us of that.

So when will ‘modern society’, supposedly educated in evolution and ecology, find a way out of the human-centred (anthropocentric) worldview that has dominated Western thinking for centuries?

Nature is not ‘the other’, and life is not something disconnected from humans. Over the last thirty years, scholarship in environmental science, philosophy and law has adopted non-anthropocentric strategies that recognise the intrinsic value of Nature and the life-supporting essentials of Earth’s ecological systems.

Is this of purely academic interest?  Not at all; in over twenty global agreements, nation-states have expressed a fundamental duty to co-operate in order to protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems (atmosphere, biosphere, oceans, water and land).

Talk is cheap, of course, especially at levels of global diplomacy and rhetoric. So far, hard economics have consistently trumped soft duties of caring for Earth. If taken seriously, however, this duty would revolutionise everything we know about economics. It would mean that the integrity of ecological systems sets the parameters for social and economic development – not the other way round.

Systemic change

The defining moment with Covid-19 will occur when we come out the other end.

That moment will do one of two things:

  • It will bring us back to where we had been before (business-as-usual), or
  • It will lead us to continue and advance the low-consuming, low-energy, low-mobility lifestyle that was forced upon us, but which may have been experienced as ‘not all bad’.

Maybe there is merit in exploring more sustainable forms of consumption and production. This could be what political philosophers refer to as a ‘constitutional moment’ – when society begins to think about the fundamentals of how it wishes to be governed and what kind of policies and laws it expects from its government.

Thanks to the ‘Greta effect’, climate action has finally become a stronger prospect, not least here in New Zealand. We may also realize a ‘Covid-19 effect’, especially in this country. It has to do with taking Nature seriously as demonstrated, for example, in the Te Awa Tupua Act 2017.

This Act gave legal personality to the Whanganui River and in this way recognised the intrinsic value of Nature. Embedded in the Act is the philosophy of katiakitanga as an expression of deep kinship between humans and the natural world – see Chris Finlayson’s column of 3 March.

A seed only, but PM Jacinda Ardern has promoted katiakitanga to world leaders at the UN in New York and at the Global Economic Forum in Davos. Perhaps now is the time to think further about this, and see how it can work here at home.

Environmental trusteeship would hold rampant destruction of Nature in check.  It would enable social and economic development to settle on firm, truly sustainable, ground.  In his column of 31 March, Colin James noted the recent call by former Swedish PM, Carl Bildt:

Anew global institution … would need to have the authority and the means to intervene as intrusively as necessary to stop a contagious outbreak in its tracks”.

Let us make environmental trusteeship the lasting legacy of this virus.

Prof Klaus Bosselmann is director of the Centre for Environmental Law (University of Auckland) and a member of the NZCGS Board.  His two most recent books are: ‘The Principle of Sustainability: Transforming law and governance’ (2017) and ‘Earth Governance: Trusteeship of the global commons’ (2015).

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The Geopolitics of Global Justice

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Ramesh Thakur

In March, the International Criminal Court decided to authorise a formal investigation by the chief prosecutor, of war crimes in Afghanistan alleged to have been committed by Afghan, Taliban, and US forces since May 2003.

The US Secretary of State attacked the judgment as ‘reckless’. The US would do ‘whatever is necessary’ to protect Americans from the ‘truly breath-taking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body’.

What are the implications of this development for the geopolitics of ‘global justice’?

The decision reversed an earlier ruling in April ‘19 by a pre-trial chamber that had been criticised for buckling to American pressure.  The US had threatened to put sanctions on the ICC and its judges, including prosecution in US criminal jurisdictions, if they visited the US (the site of UN headquarters). The visa of the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to enter the US was revoked – an action normally reserved for the worst human rights violators.

The ICC was, at the time of creation (1998), a progressive step in consolidating the international humanitarian regime. Many of us had advocated for it and welcomed it. The Court would hold perpetrators of atrocities against civilians to international criminal account, while the sibling norm, Responsibility to Protect, would aim to protect the victims.

But the Court has drawn much merited criticism for focussing mostly on crimes committed by individuals in smaller countries, almost exclusively African, turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of powerful countries.

Bensouda had sought permission in 2017 to launch a formal investigation on alleged Afghanistan crimes after her preliminary inquiries had concluded there was a case to answer. Amnesty International said that the pre-trial chamber’s decision last year was a ‘shocking abandonment of victims’ that would ‘weaken the Court’s already questionable credibility’. Had it been allowed to stand, it would have signified the death of the ICC.

Like India, the US is not a signatory of the ICC and does not recognise its authority over citizens. Unlike India, the US is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and, in that capacity, has participated fully in decisions to refer individuals and countries to the ICC.

This makes the US guilty of gross hypocrisy. In a breach of natural justice principles, UNSC members that are not ICC states parties are permitted to vote on decisions relating to the Court. Because the UNSC can refer cases to the ICC, defer cases before the Court, and adopt resolutions to enforce Court judgments, the geopolitics of the Council contaminate the Court’s judicial processes. For justice to be seen to be done, non-ICC states parties should be legally barred from participating in all Court-related matters before the UNSC.

The ICC’s institutional integrity was compromised by the way it handled allegations of sexual misconduct against an earlier prosecutor. The most sustained criticism came from Africans who faulted the ICC for targeting only Africans, jeopardising delicate peace negotiations in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Libya, and disrespecting African views.

The Afghan and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts will be litmus tests of the ICC’s ability to hold powerful countries and their client regimes to international criminal account for activities that have not been adequately investigated and prosecuted in domestic jurisdictions (the subsidiarity principle).

If China or Russia rather than the US had been in the cross-hairs of a full-fledged ICC investigation and threatened its officers, the Western mainstream media would have launched full-throated attacks on Presidents X and Putin.

Because it is the United States, expect a near-complete conspiracy of silence.

Ramesh Thakur, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General, is emeritus professor at ANU (Canberra), and a Board member of the Centre.  This column is adapted from an article in Times of India (11 April).

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The Global Economy – with virus

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Rod Oram

The upheaval that Covid-19 is causing in people’s lives around the world is wreaking even greater havoc in the global economy.

The impact will be far larger than the damage caused by the Global Financial Crisis. The remedies will have to be much faster and even more unorthodox, ambitious and far-reaching.

Quite simply, the virus is causing a dramatic slowdown in the perpetual money machine which is the global economy. Incomes enable people to consume, which stimulates production, which generates income for more consumption – a money-go-round generating some $150 trillion a year in global GDP.

The GFC was only a breakdown in the financial system, the lubricant of the economic machine.   This pandemic, though, is causing the economic machine itself to falter.

In response to the GFC one decade ago, it took Herculean effort by central banks and governments to fix the system. Austerity measures and other tools caused collateral damage to economies and societies.

The GFC caused only a brief drop in global GDP, although some countries, mainly European, suffered more. Even so, between 2008 and ‘10, government debt of the G-7 economies rose by 10 to 25 percentage points as a share of collective GDP. Government deficits worsened by four to 10 percentage points. Much of that was caused by lower GDP, which reduced tax revenue and increased spending on unemployment benefits and other measures. Fiscal stimulus was a far smaller cost.

But as I noted already, this pandemic is causing the economic machine itself to falter.

The Chinese economy is thought to have contracted by some 13% in the first two months of this year; JP Morgan’s latest forecast is for a 16% contraction in the US economy this year; and unemployment could reach 20% in the US and Europe.

The first shockwaves have hit here.

On Monday, Auckland Airport served 44% fewer international passengers than it did on the same day last year. In the week to Monday, international passengers were down 25%; Air NZ’s revenues this year could plunge from $6 b.to $1b.; the NZ Hotel Owners Association says its members could, in the most pessimistic scenario, lay off some 40% of staff because of plummeting occupancy rates.

Nobody in the world knows how long and severe lockdowns will have to be to stifle the virus and to buy time to develop a vaccine and distribute it widely. But even the shortest, easiest disruption is still far greater than the conventional economy, aided by conventional remedies, can endure without significant damage.

As Prof Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas (University of California, Berkeley) points out, if virus-containment measures reduce economic activity to half its normal level for just one month, and then to three-quarters for two more months, year-on-year growth will fall by 10 percent.

The NZ economy, like those of other developed countries, is largely driven by its service sectors – retail, wholesale, distribution, hospitality, travel, entertainment – rather than manufacturing sectors. But we’re even more vulnerable because of our large international tourism sector, which until the virus hit was our biggest earner of foreign exchange.  Our government has announced $12 b. of measures in its first support package for the faltering economy. For example, wage subsidies will help small companies keep people employed. But they need to be for all companies, and to be closer to actual wage levels to minimise the drop in consumption.

The next step must a Universal Basic Income, as Bernard Hickey argues: https://www.newsroom.co.nz/corporate/2020/03/19/1086362/what-a-covid-19-coalition-could-do-with-qe

But that would still fall far short of filling the gaping financial hole companies will suffer from a steep drop in economic activity. Only deeply unorthodox remedies, rapidly applied, would work. Here are two which have surfaced already in the US:

‘Government as last resort’

The US government should step in as payers of last resort, argue Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, (University of California, Berkeley). The payments would cover wage and maintenance costs for businesses facing shutdown. This would be “a new form of social insurance, one that directly helps both workers and businesses.”

Their analysis of the US economy suggests that a nationwide lockdown would cause a 30% drop in economic activity in the US over the next three months, leading to a 7.5% drop in annual GDP.

But if the government compensated companies for 60% of their labour costs and half their operating costs (the latter would be down from pre-crisis levels because of reduced activity), the cost would be about 3.75% of GDP, financed by an increase in public debt.

The programme would be limited to three months, assuming the worst of the epidemic was over by then. With damage to employment and capacity reduced, the economy would rebound far faster, resulting in a greater pick up in government tax revenues.

“The direct output loss from social distancing measures would in effect be put on the government’s tab, i.e. socialised,” they write. http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/coronavirus.pdf

Government ‘bridge loans’

Alternatively, the US government should offer every American business, large and small, and all self-employed people a no-interest “bridge loan” guaranteed for the crisis and repayable after over five years, proposes Andrew Sorkin, one of the New York Times’ leading business journalists.


The only condition is that they employ at least 90% of the workforce and at the same wage they did before the pandemic. He also proposes that companies’ existing banks administer the programme since they already know their customers.

His rough estimate of the volume of loans, assuming a three-month peak to the crisis, is US$10 tr., equivalent to about half of US GDP. Assuming 20% of the loans wouldn’t be repaid because of business failures or avoidance, the cost to US taxpayers would be well over US$1 tr.

“But with interest rates near zero, there is no better time to borrow against the fundamental strength of the US economy, spend the money and prevent years of economic damage that would ultimately be far, far costlier.

The alternatives being proposed may be worse — because the size of the bailouts may be too small and come too late, and because the politics of targeted bailouts at specific industries and businesses would create a morass of anger and distrust.”

The special pleading has already begun. The US airline sector is already lobbying Washington for some US$50b. of emergency support; and on behalf of US aerospace manufacturers, Boeing is pushing for US$60 b. in loans and grants.

Some people might not stomach such support. After all, US corporates have led the world post-GFC in piling on low-interest debt to buy back their shares to supercharge returns for their shareholders.

American Airlines is one of the most egregious examples. In 2015, it reported a US$7.6 b. profit, an astonishing rise from US$500 m. in 2007 and less than $250 m. in 2006, thanks to long pay disputes with its staff, cramming passengers on its planes and charging excessive baggage and other fees. The multi-billion dollar profits kept pouring in over recent years. “I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again,” Doug Parker, its chief executive said in 2017.

Meanwhile, American boosted its share price by spending more than US$15 b. during 2014-20, buying back its equity. It also shrank its cash reserves and borrowed heavily to finance new planes and to fit more seats to old planes. In 2017 analysts warned it was running the risk of default if the economy deteriorated. But the airline just borrowed more.  Its current debt is nearly US$30 b., nearly five times the company’s current share market value.

This is not an isolated example. In 2018, the Bank of International Settlements, the central banks’ central bank, released damning analysis of what it called ‘zombie companies’ – those that earn too little to cover even their interest payments, and survive by issuing more debt.  https://www.bis.org/publ/qtrpdf/r_qt1809g.pdf

This BIS video offers a summary of its research.   https://www.bis.org/publ/qtrpdf/r_qt1809g.htm

The BIS estimated 16% of all publicly-traded companies in the US are zombies, and more than 10% are in Europe. Indeed, US corporate debt is now equivalent to 75% of US GDP (a record), and higher than before the GFC. Worse, the average US private equity firm has debt equal to six times its earnings. That’s twice the rate that defines a junk bond.

These are just some examples of the post-GFC corporate strategies which have generated unbelievable wealth for some investors.

Covid-19 is creating economic mayhem which will purge some of these excesses.

But once again, governments and citizens will bare these socialised losses. This is the price we shall have to pay to minimise the depth and duration of depression.

That’s acceptable if, this time, we fiercely defend society’s interests over special interests.

Rod Oram is a nationally-known columnist, who gives weekly interviews on RNZ’s Nine-to-Noon, and writes regularly for Newsroom.  He is adjunct professor at AUT and a founding member of the Centre’s Board.  This column is adapted from a recent contribution to Newsroom.

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The University in the Global Age: Pt IV

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In this final part, I wrap-up my thoughts on the fundamentals of university reform consistent with, and responsive to, the emergence of the global community.

Having argued to date that there is no magic sauce, no equation, no single road-map to university reform for the global age, I nonetheless maintain that reform does not, cannot, occur in the absence of design.

Ultimately, my vision of the global university in the 21st century is one that sees institutions leveraging the strengths of our current paradigm for the co-construction of our common future.

As such, while a strong employability focus acts to address one meta-narrative, there exists a plethora of other imperatives that cut to the core of nurturing future-focused citizens.

And all this in the era of COVID-19.

Yes, our graduates absolutely need to be employable on graduating, and our industries need educated employees to drive their innovation and development.

But our graduates also need to actively engage in reshaping our societies to meet our local and global challenges – living within the planetary boundaries, stabilising the climate, re-establishing strategic stability, making nuclear weapons illegal, handling global health pandemics, dialoguing for common trust among political ideologies and religious faiths.

Despite observing extraordinary innovation in the US tertiary sector during my time there as an Eisenhower Fellow, it was clear that work still needs to be done to position universities at the fulcrum of our collaborative enterprise in humanity’s progression towards peace, prosperity and well-being.  For me, the ‘university of the future’ is one that is connected to the local, national and global community through our collective enterprise of discovering solutions to our mutual challenges.

And oh – we give a few degrees out along the way. We are not degree factories; we are here to help set and actualise the normative framework of society in the development of a closer, more secure, understanding, sustainable and prosperous future.

We need universities to help us ask and answer the ‘why’ questions. Universities can do this this by constantly challenging our perceptions of the future through an increased focus on collaboration in research and teaching so as to empower all walks of society in our mutual responsibility of creating and disseminating new knowledge.

Universities ought not, therefore, see themselves as the sole creators and disseminators of new knowledge – as has been their tendency. They need to position themselves as collaborators and facilitators in the collective creation and dissemination of new knowledge.

With this vision, here are my recommendations on the fundamental characteristics of the university of the future.

Principles, Vision and Plan (Inspire, Lead & Explore)

The university in the 21st c. will not be an accidental educator conducting its business the way it does, because it is the way it always has.

It will have clear principles, it will articulate an inspirational vision, and it will work to a plan. In the facilitation of change (which is, in reality, a never-ending condition), it will apply its principles, have the flexibility to modify and evolve its vision, and found its plans on the notion of agility.   Institutional principles and vision will be informed by the meta-narratives of the time such as sustainability, equity, equality, social enterprise and entrepreneurship.

More specifically, the university will incorporate the themes of student success, equality of access, collaboration and partnerships, and collective problem solving and innovation, within both teaching and research.

This will likely become manifest in commitment to diverse academic offerings – including systems thinking, a commitment to life-long-learning, and digitally added pedagogy if not the possibility of digital delivery by distance. The global health crisis of 2020 will ensure fundamental change in this direction, whether we choose it or not.

Similarly, in research, such principles and vision will likely focus on collaboration, ‘grand challenges’, and a mix of blue-sky research and the creation of patents and commercialization of innovation.

Ultimately, universities will need to be proactive in their community leadership and should embrace their position as change-agent in contributing (if not leading) community discussion on the normative framework for our society in these times of rapid change and development – a discussion that is sorely lacking in our communities, leading to an inability for communities to disagree well, and forge unified pathways to address communal problems.

Budget & Structure (Ensuring structural agility)    

In order to inspire, lead and explore, universities will need to ensure they have sufficient agility to move, and the drivers and incentives in place to feed the creativity of academics, professional staff and students alike.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ of university operation – the strength of our institutions is that we are genuinely ‘multiversities’. Diversity is to be encouraged, and in fact nurtured, albeit within the envelope of clearly articulated and agreed principles, vision and plan.

To effectively support staff and student innovation, the university in the global age will need to ensure authenticity in its mission, and not regard its principles and vision as a mere branding exercise in which a new batch of modern managers and corporate marketers clothe old structures in new garments.

Tangible action will be taken to encourage collaboration in both research and teaching. Diversification in the internal budget mechanisms of institutions will need to occur to discourage hording of students and any nervousness toward collaboration. Cross-subsidization will always be a reality in a university. Business schools will likely always contribute more than science faculties. Tension will always exist, but a general balance of fairness and equity needs to occur in which innovation and development is rewarded and the playing field of competitive funding is at least transparent, if not ‘fair’, in light of identified priorities in spending.

As with the mechanisms of internal budget allocation, there is no magic formula in terms of structure. However, it is clear that structures will need to change. Future universities will not be bound to the traditional Newtonian approach to disciplines operating in isolation to one another and grouped together under outdated constructs such as ‘Humanities’, ‘Sciences’, ‘Business’, ‘Health’ and ‘Creative Arts’.

The addressing of ‘grand challenges’ and greater connection with society (social, industry and governmental) will require the rebirth of multi-disciplinarity and will result in the extinction of many contemporary degrees (and disciplines) and the creation of new areas of research and teaching interest based upon systems thinking and complexity theory. These latter approaches will also occur at scale – something that frustratingly eludes contemporary institutions.

Academic Decision Making

For many, our academic decision-making structures seem to strangle academic independence and creativity. Rather than research & development centres concerned with the creation, development and maintenance of a dynamic future-focused teaching and research curricula, our academic boards or faculty senates are often myopically concerned with ensuring compliance and regulatory adherence.

The future university will flip its academic decision-making processes by genuinely resourcing and prioritizing the academic boards as the institution’s centre of research and development. These boards will likely be small, (12-15 members), with members appointed on merit and from all levels of the academic, professional and student body. They will be charged with the authority to co-create the academic agenda for the institution in partnership with senior management.

Furthermore, it will act to empower the important aspects of institutional operation such as risk management, health and safety, and business case creation to be ministries of ‘how can we work together to make this happen’.

Innovation & Collaboration

In establishing themselves as collaborators in the creation and dissemination of new knowledge, the university in the global age will wed its fate to its community. University communities include staff and students as well as stakeholders, civil society and even the planet. Such universities will co-develop with local government and industry, and will plan to ensure campus as a community resource.

In other words, they’ll leverage public-private partnerships to build infrastructures of significance to their region.  The university will seek to join forces with local government and industry to lobby for an international airport. A maligned regional town to avoid? The vitality of the town will be recognized as inseparable to the fate of the university.

They’ll collaborate with local health providers to win lucrative construction grants and develop new approaches to health care delivery in the region. They will co-ordinate with local government on rejuvenation projects, public transport and housing initiatives, improve water quality, recycling and wider education initiatives. The future university will make it a badge of honour – perhaps even a principle – to stand ‘with, for and by’ their community in everything they do.

Management will seek to seed projects and innovation within a supportive and encouraging environment – rewarding success and accepting failure. They will be clear on their risk tolerance, and in what circumstances risks ought to be taken. They will not merely seek to establish an entrepreneurial hub or innovation lab (“because the competition has one and we must keep up”).  It will seek to nurture the philosophy of innovation across the entire institution.


I very much enjoyed my travels across the US as an Eisenhower Fellow. I hope you have found my comments interesting and provocative.

I have a vision for the tertiary sector – not merely for New Zealand but the globe. My vision was tried in the fires of the Christchurch earthquakes, and inspired by the leadership of students from whom I learned a great deal on effective community engagement.

As a planet we have numerous imperatives. As people, we have near unlimited capacity for innovation and development. Universities, I believe, sit at the intersection of these realities – if universities cannot leverage their incredible tradition and strengths to do something great for all humanity then I am not sure any sector can.

I am up for the challenge, and I very much look forward to playing a part in our discussion on the development of the future university in the global age.

Prof Chris Gallavin is Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor at Massey University, and a member of the Centre’s Board.

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The University in the Global Age: Pt III

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Last month, I offered the view that universities in the emerging global age need to conceptualise themselves as centres of collaboration for the collective creation and dissemination of knowledge.

I believe that the future of higher education (HE) is, actually, remarkably bright. I feel, in fact, quite ‘jealous’ of our youth, as we live in what I believe to be, perhaps, the most exciting of time in human history.

Global problems abound of course, but with that come opportunities to do things differently for the advancement and well-being of humanity; indeed, all life with which we share an existence on this planet.

In this third article, I highlight the nature of transformational change in HE – a sector I feel privileged to be globally numbered among, as it transforms in collaboration with other sectors, to change the lives of entire communities and, as a result, our entire world.

Let me highlight some leading examples.

The most important precursor to transformational change is the existence of a consensus over the need for such change.

The challenges for HE, which I identified in Part I are, for some among us, simply not challenges at all. A $30 bn. endowment fund tends to influence the view one has about problems, challenges and opportunities.

Other institutions may recognize similar challenges, yet actively address them by focusing on their traditional methodology and approach to teaching, research and community contribution. Our university system has been around for many centuries, after all, and slow incremental development has served us pretty well, so far.

There is, of course, no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to the modern university. It’s a misnomer to believe that without radical and revolutionary change, all HE institutions will tumble around our feet.  That is, I suggest, an unbalanced view.

Change in HE is not all about the preservation of our institutions. It is also about contributing to a collective approach in meeting community and global imperatives, in light of the fact that failure to address such imperatives will have disastrous consequences for humanity.  The current global pandemic emerging is the latest, and will not be the last, example.

We face, now, some imperatives which mean that, as a sector, we need to change – some institutions a great deal; others perhaps less so. The planet and humanity need our sector to embrace the truly great challenges before us, so as to ensure that we stand prepared to survive into the future.

I believe that real leadership in tertiary education requires this:

  • acknowledgement of the imperatives of our times,
  • understanding of the exact position of our individual institutions,
  • recognition of the ability of our institutions and communities to move, and
  • commitment to push the parameters of our comfort faster than that imposed by the imperatives.

I leave the ‘calls to action’ to those best-placed to have their voices heard.  For the rest of us, it is important to lead our communities on achievable transitions that successfully clothe the ‘revolutionary’ as ‘evolutionary’, resulting in tangible, sustainable and effective change.

Here, I would like to focus on particular aspects of transformational change that I encountered within the US education sector as part of my Eisenhower Fellowship. I structure these around the three elements of my project, enhancing engagement by leveraging digital and disruptive innovation, for the advancement of the imperatives and meta-narratives of our time.

Engagement, Recruitment & Retention 

Much has been written on the role of universities in perpetuating inequality and class divide. Predominantly, HE is expensive and inaccessible. Generally, we subscribe too readily to ‘human capital theory’ where we equate education with professional employment, with social mobility, with prosperity.

The system however, is far from linear and is more organic. For education to be truly liberating, universities need to be more cognizant of the organic factors that lead to community well-being, and shy away from a more binary system of analysis.  To focus first on mere wealth production – income from capital investment as outgrown wealth-creation from employment in the US, meaning societal, cultural and family position – is proving to be an increasing important factor in wealth-creation over employment.

A myopic concentration on employment as the only factor in the creation of wealth for example is, therefore, problematic for universities. Undoubtedly, education does equate to more and better employment outcomes, but it also provides many other important and tangible contributions to a healthy and wealthy society.

Examples of colleges that are starting to recognize this, and which are actively engaging communities in different ways to ensure universal student success, include Georgia State and Arizona State. In their use of student analytics, and from a foundation of institutional flexibility, these institutions seek to ensure student success through institutional movement rather than a reliance on a traditional deficit model in which student difficulty is seen as a problem with the student.

As a result of their efforts, their figures of student success across ethnic and class divides are most impressive. If colleges are to deal effectively with engaging all quarters of our communities, when swathes of professions are rendered extinct over the coming two decades, then significant advancements need to be made in engaging the disenfranchised now.

A recurring theme across the institutions I visited in the US was that we in HE need to learn how to engage more effectively with our communities. Surprisingly, universities are not hardwired to play nicely!  Our tendency is to tell communities (including industry) what we think they need. When we finish with them, we often leave them hanging in limbo, annoyed at what they believed was to be an ongoing and genuine partnership.

As an initiative to train their institution to effectively engage and disengage with the external community, I was impressed by the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University St Louis. They are doing credible work, built upon a focus on civics within the undergraduate academic curriculum. Seek them out for their wisdom and expertise in the area of collaborative community engagement. Staying with St Louis, I was also most impressed by Cortex in the heart of St Louis. Ravished by the Global Financial Crunch, the economy of this great city took a significant battering.

While innovation hubs are certainly not new or particularly novel, I found the foresight of Washington University St Louis, and its partners in establishing Cortex a number of years ago, both bold and visionary.

Digital & Disruptive Innovation

Here I focus on two aspects: digitally-enabled pedagogy and university funding.

There is a great deal of digital-teaching innovation in operation in the US.  But the success of Southern New Hampshire University, with their distance programme, is something to behold. With 90,000 online students (and growing) plus a sophisticated system of student support, analytic-driven intervention and guidance, and tailored career guidance, SNHU has shaken the traditional model of educational delivery.

Of course the EdX initiative of Harvard and MIT, with its 140 international partners, is similarly impressive, albeit with more work required to find a financially-attractive platform for the Humanities courses they provide.

Disruptive innovation is strongly evident at the borders of traditional HE as well, with private providers such as LaunchCode and General Assembly providing coding courses, and facilitating work placements, in order to meet the insatiable demand for coding and web development expertise within the US.

Clearly, in the context of the US, the mammoth size of the HE sector with its many thousands of providers allows for market correction, development and competition on a grand scale.  In the context of New Zealand, the sustainability of eight large, internationally-ranked universities, a struggling polytechnic sector, and a largely diffuse cohort of independent training-providers, is ripe for disruptive innovation.

The NZ market needs a more secure foundation of regulation and guidance within which the various levels of HE can operate and innovate. Digital innovation in all sectors, including pedagogical development, is a tool in the development of a mandate and mission. In the absence of the latter, either regulatory or institutionally-created, digital innovation can be seen as the answer to an unidentified problem, giving rise to increased chaos over clarity in the operation of the system.

Imperatives and Meta-narratives

For clarity in thinking, I think it best to divide imperatives from meta-narratives.

Community and global imperatives include global justice, sustainability, ideological intolerance, economic development, and multiple crises in biodiversity. These contribute to the creation of the meta-narratives of equality, inequity, entrepreneurialism, social enterprise, and all facets of sustainability.

While the provision of education for the purpose of fulfilling employment is important, and goes someway to fulfilling one imperative (economic development), it is certainly not the only pressing imperative of our time nor is it the only way in which education can contribute to their advancement.

In my travel, addressing imperatives separate to skill-provision and employability appeared largely isolated from the more traditional structures of university operation. Occasional niche programmes looking at systems thinking or complexity theory certainly exist, but little action has occurred for such programs to happen at scale.

Grand-challenge funding is starting to gain traction. But again, only a few universities are even contemplating novel ways of reconstructing the traditional Newtonian system of departments, programmes, faculties and colleges beyond traditional disciplinary lines.

What is needed is the servicing of more imperatives through the engagement of meta-narratives at scale. In this regard, I was most impressed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainable Development in HE (Philadelphia). Their system for the nurtured development of university sustainability means that institutions wanting to advance sustainability, not only in their operation but also in their teaching, research and outreach, are no longer alone in doing so.

From systems of top-down control, the creation of separate unencumbered university hubs/labs/incubators, to the seeding of bottom-up transformation, change comes in many shapes and sizes. Within the US, the size and diversity of the HE sector means that many institutions feel safe to sail above the challenges facing the sector as a whole, while others stand either ignorant or unable to move.

For a small band of universities however, which recognize the challenges and the opportunities of our times, great advancement has come in the development of the global university 1.5.

Our challenge, I suggest, is to envision the 2.0 of our sector in which the employment of education for the resolution of the imperatives, grand challenges, and meta-narratives of our time can be woven, at scale, into the fabric of our systems.

Our future requires HE to not only produce work read graduates, but also graduates skilled in the ability to change our community and global paradigms.

Prof Chris Gallavin is Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor at Massey University, and a member of the Centre’s Board.

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Painting Australia’s Bushfires:

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Eco-grief and Artivism. Both are new terms to me, but they’re beginning to define my life in Australia.

As a wildlife artist and animal lover, I’ve been so deeply affected by the devastating bushfires that it’s been hard for me to focus on anything else.

Every day, I pour my heart into my art. In my Extinction Series, I’ve been painting the landscapes and wildlife incinerated by the flames: koalas, kangaroos, cockatoos, platypus, wombats, and wallabies; iconic Australian species, some endangered and even facing extinction.

‘The Long Sleep,’ ‘Goodnight, Koala’ and the other artworks shown in this article are part of my Extinction Series. The Northern Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches, was already endangered before this year’s catastrophic bushfires and its survival as a species is in doubt.

Koala Sleeping
Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches
Koala, shown sleeping here as fire approaches


My response to the tragic loss of over a billion animals in this season’s fires has been one of overwhelming heartbreak. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried endless tears of grief. I’ve been trying to channel these feelings into my art practice, trying to turn traumatic personal experience into a call for climate action. What I’m doing can be described as raw artivism: creating art in the heat of the moment; emotional art to soothe my broken heart; political art to push for change.

It gives me a temporary escape from grim reality. The technique I use is called ‘encaustic’ or ‘hot wax painting’ – an ancient Egyptian artform that involves burning layer upon layer of melted beeswax and raw pigments into wooden panels. Because (ironically) I’m using fire in the process, it demands my full attention. Even a tiny error, such as holding the flame above the substrate for a second too long can wreck an entire week’s work, which, as you can imagine, helps me focus.

painting australia's bushfires
painting australia’s bushfires


But the meditative effect of my paintbrush and torch is always short-lived. With each new report of suffering and loss, my head pounds, my heart races and my throat constricts. It’s partly grief, I realise, and partly fear. It might also be a physical reaction to the toxic smoke that blanketed us for weeks, day and night, indoors and out.

It’s also rage.

It’s all I can do not to scream at the limp response to the bushfires from our political leaders in Canberra. ‘Don’t overreact,’ they say. ‘Bushfires are part of Aussie life,’ they say. ‘Stop being so emotional!’ Then they turn around and give the green light for another coal mine, while warning us – including those who’ve lost everything in the fires – not to listen to ‘reckless’ climate activists.

How can anyone witness the Morrison government’s blinkered, blundering response to the climate crisis and not feel anger and rage?

Political frustration isn’t new to me, I must admit. I’ve spent my career working to curb the spread of nuclear weapons, and I’ve seen policies being implemented that are dangerous and delusional. I pinch myself every time I hear politicians and officials (including here in Australia) espousing the security benefits of these horrific weapons. We now know that only luck saved us from nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War, which makes today’s nuclear brinkmanship even more terrifying – proof that humanity sometimes dresses up heartless, selfish, and self-destructive decisions in the language of rational action.

It’s hard to ignore the parallels in our failure to address the existential threats of nuclear weapons and climate change. As a scholar and writer who studies and critiques nuclear policy decisions – decisions that are sometimes based on narrow self-interest, lack of knowledge, and a failure of vision and courage – I know how important it is to speak out. And as I’ve done this, I’ve begun to regard rage as a positive emotion, despite my training as a dispassionate academic. Why? Because without personal rage, individuals won’t be spurred into action. Until masses of enraged individuals come together to peacefully express their joint rage, governments will continue to downplay the science on climate change and feed the world’s irresponsible addiction to fossil fuels.  In other words, without rage, political leaders won’t be held accountable for what amounts to criminal negligence.

‘The Scorching Skies Above Us’, Encaustic Original (Triptych), December 2019

painting australia's bushfires
painting australia’s bushfires


My own rage is mounting daily. I can barely contain it. When it gets intense, my therapy is to pick up my paintbrush and mix another palette of fire-toned oils. I want as many people as possible to see the art that myself and other Australian artists are creating, partly because our profits are being donated to help wildlife injured in the fires, and because I want people everywhere to connect with our art on an emotional level, focus on the urgent need for change, and act on it. I want people to cry over our disappearing wildlife. I want people to rage over our fire-ravaged land. I want people to join the movement and stop sleepwalking into climate catastrophe; to realise what’s happening here will affect everyone’s future, not just Australia’s.

‘The Rescue’ and ‘The Scorching Skies Above US’ (detail)

koalabushfire2 roobushfire











Dr Tanya Ogilvie-White is senior fellow at Australian National University, adjunct senior fellow at Griffith University, Board member of the NZ Centre for Global Studies, and founder of Scorching Skies Art. 

To contact her about this article, please email [email protected] or call her on +61 466 465835. You can make direct contributions to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation via WIRES, WWF, Birdlife, RSPCA, National Parks Association, Humane Society International, The Wilderness Society, Nature Conservation Council, Animal Welfare League and IFAW.




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The University in the Global Age: Pt II

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In Pt I of my blog-column (6 Dec. ’19), I identified what I see as the main challenges facing tertiary education, globally.  These challenges, I suggest, have led many universities to an existential crisis as it dawns upon them that, for most, the traditional model of operation and financing has nearly run its course.

So, what to do?

In Part II, I detail my observations of US innovation in higher education which I had the privilege of examining, as part of my experience as a 2018 Eisenhower International Fellow.

The challenge of reform

The United States likely has the most diverse and innovative system of tertiary education in the world, due in large part to the fact that in the US, niche is massive.   But many US community colleges and regional, four-year institutions will, nonetheless, face closure or amalgamation if they do not reform significantly.

Outside the US, I believe the same is true. Whilst niche in the US is often still the economic size of small countries, the changing nature of employment and new digital capabilities mean that alternative providers and industry training opportunities can operate with profit globally.

This does not mean the end of the degree, but for those institutions operating almost entirely on a student-fee and government-funding model, even small changes in their operating environment can mean the difference between mere downsizing and bankruptcy.

This is particularly true in New Zealand where, like individual US states, maintenance of more than one or two large globally-ranked universities is increasingly beyond our capacity. With eight large, globally-ranked, comprehensive universities in New Zealand and a near bankrupt polytechnic sector, the reality is that the system is ripe for disruption.

However New Zealand is also well placed to be a global player in the provision of quality higher learning – not on a traditional ‘internationalisation’ platform, but as a distance provider of global significance.

Confronting the challenge

Let me convey my observations from my Fellowship travels around 14 US cities, visiting near 70 institutions and individuals. My travel took me across the US examining the most innovative university systems and alternative providers in the country. Primarily, I focused on three elements of university reform.

  1. Enfranchising people

How to structure qualifications and work with public and private entitles to better engage those traditionally disenfranchised from college education due to race, class or minority status?

Whilst universities are not the answer to all problems, our inability to effectively engage particular communities in terms of both student recruitment and retention will only increase as mechanization, globalization and AI makes extinct swathes of vocations in the near future. Our inability to engage will not only challenge the operation of our institutions, but will also undermine our ability to serve our societies in terms of economic prosperity and, even more importantly, to build safer, more secure, more trusting and sustainable communities.

  1. Managing info-tech

How might universities can leverage digital and disruptive innovation to implement those engagement and retention strategies identified under 1 above?

From fully online to public/private partnerships, through to block-chain credentialing – the future of life-long-learning is distributive, meaning that traditional providers are, and will be, only one of a number of options in higher education.

  1. Addressing the meta-narrative

How to leverage the first two elements to more effectively address the meta-narratives of our time, and not merely provide disparate qualifications to a client based system of students as customer?

The goal of facilitating the educational advancement of life-long-learners, in finding more rewarding employment, addresses one set of meta-narratives. But our emerging global community faces other pressing issues that revolve around two global challenges:

  • the normative structure of our communities; and
  • our relationship with the physical resources of our planet.

It is in these two domains that I regard the future of the global university to be headed. Building on the advancement of communities through educating individuals to be work-ready, the future also requires universities to more actively facilitate collaboration, both to frame the form of society we collectively want and need, and also work together to actualize that vision.

Let me, then, give an overview of my main conclusions from my travel.

Problem, Challenge or Opportunity?

Managerial talk these days dislikes the use of the word ‘problem’. As used in my first article, I described our collective points of concern as ‘challenges’. However, this presupposes perhaps my most significant observation from my time in the US. It is clear to me that for any ‘challenge’ to be addressed through innovation, and for that innovation to be successful – i.e. effective, scalable and sustainable – it is important for an institution (and therefore institutional leaders) to first clearly understand the landscape in which they find themselves and to understand one’s relationship with that landscape.

Without such knowledge, no foundation exists by which the competing array of problems, challenges, opportunities, strategies and tools can be identified, measured, addressed or applied. Too many institutions are beguiled by the notion of innovation without first understanding either their own operating environment, or their desired place in the world. In addition to this problem, too many strive to be something they are not – the world can only sustain so many Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities, and there is no shame at being an institution that balances workplace training, research-informed teaching, and aspects of research-led teaching within their operation.

In other words, let us be careful when supping from the cup of university rankings – the rankings elixir can lead us to conformity of operation that does not sit well with our particular institution and does not serve our communities.

So beware the temptation we have all felt at one time or another – of focusing on some new innovation in answer to a problem we do not understand and have not clearly identified. Let us not re-label ‘problems’ as ‘challenges’ until such time as we have clearly identified what impediments exist to our goals and objectives. It is clear, in my experience, that all the most innovative institutions in the US have these first-base issues nailed.

Make it Personal

There is no magic sauce, no formula, no one-way or right-way, but there are a number of wrong ways. Whilst we all face the same mega-trends, our relationship with those is necessarily different.  In case you missed it, Harvard University has a $30 billion dollar endowment and that changes the classification of problems or challenges for that institution. Digital innovation in pedagogy for example is an incredible opportunity for the likes of Harvard, it is not a challenge to their operating environment at all.

As a result, the way in which Harvard chooses to interact with digital innovation in delivery of courses (see EdX for example), is likely to be very different to a regional four-year institution or community college. All of the most innovative and dynamic institutions in the US have personalized the list of collective challenges – they are clear what each of those mean to their institution. They have achieved this by aligning those challenges with their history, community needs and their knowledge of the sector, to personalize their goals for the future.

Such an approach has allowed them to form a clear platform from which to assess innovation – what to adopt and what to reject. New Zealand, Australia and the rest of the world is not the United States.  An alignment of the challenges we face, with our different institutional history, community needs and knowledge of the sector from our position will result in likely alternative but equally progressive goals.

Sustainable Innovation is Not Accidental

Effective, scalable and sustainable innovation happens by design, it is not accidental. As indicated above, the examples of successful innovation that I examined in the US developed from both clear institutional goals and a clear process of institutional operation.

  • President Michael Crow for example, is near-religious in his consistency of communication around the purpose and direction of Arizona State University – likely the most innovative university in the US. However, he is also clear on the structure and processes by which the institution structures its academic units and makes decisions.
  • So too President Paul Leblanc at Southern New Hampshire University and ditto that at Purdue, Western Governors and Georgia Tech. It is crucial for university leaders to not only have a clear vision of the future of their institution but to also work together with their university community to align the operational with the mission.

A vision to work collaboratively with communities and industry on broad issues of societal reform for example, is put to naught if the institution is rigidly structured around isolated programmes that have little to no relationship with other programmes inside and outside their College, let alone society. And imagine for a moment, if our College Boards (Senates or Councils) operated as genuine units of research and development to produce a dynamic academic curriculum in which experimentation and progressive development were encouraged rather than the compliance and regulatory box-ticking regimes that predominates in many institutions.

I am sure we can all relate to the need to have a fleet-of-foot approach to the mission in the everyday operation of our institutions.

The Multiversity

Universities are complicated beasts – embrace it! Clark Kerr coined the phrase Multiversity in the early 1960s. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to university operation and leadership. At any one time a university serves a tremendous number of masters and that is the beauty of our sector.

What this means is that the commercialization of elements of university practice, on the one hand, need not mean an end to the development of a new theoretical narrative in the philosophy department by leading scholars, on the other. We are not corporate organizations yet have much to learn from the corporate world – we are also not entirely academically driven but that forms our backbone. We are hybrid organisations in a global environment where such complexity is the sign of the future.

Therefore, we are not an anachronism of the past – we are the symbol of the future.

Centres of Collaboration; not Centres of Knowledge

Traditionally universities have seen themselves as centres for the creation and dissemination of new knowledge: for me that is old world thinking.  The university of the future needs to conceptualise itself as a centre of collaboration for the collective creation and dissemination of new knowledge. The former is the stuff of ivory towers – the latter is the fodder of change-agents.

In Part III, I shall explore models of transformational change from the leading institutions I visited in the United States.

Prof Chris Gallavin is Dep. Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Massey University, and a member of the Centre’s Board.

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Earth Trusteeship:

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Klaus Bosselmann

 At the opening speech for last year’s Climate Week at the United Nations in New York, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern presented the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga as the key for combating climate change. She explained it in this way:

“It means guardianship. But not just guardianship, but the responsibility of care for the environment in which we live, and the idea that we have a duty of care that eventually hands to the next generation, and the one after. We all hold this responsibility in our own nations, but the challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond the domestic. Our duty of care is as global as the challenge of climate change.”

‘Guardianship’, ‘responsibility of care’, ‘duty of care’, ‘beyond the domestic’ – what does that all mean?

Can kaitiakitanga save the planet?

The Prime Minister called on UN Member States to take their responsibility for the global environment seriously. Yet, the many terms and expressions that she used to describe something quite basic is revealing. There is in fact no legally-relevant duty of states to care for Earth. As bizarre as it may sound, States have no enforecable obligation under international law to protect the natural environment, either domestically or globally. They may choose to do so, but they are not legally required.

States are legal entities, therefore ‘persons’ with rights and responsibilities. The concept of state sovereignty gives the State exclusive rights, both internally and externally.

  • States have, for example, the right to control their own territories, and to exploit the natural resources within their boundaries, as they see fit. And the right to prevent other States from interfering with their ‘domestic affairs’.
  • States have also responsibilities, for example, to not intentionally harm the territory of other states. And the responsibility to protect citizens from harm.

Fortunately, international law holds human rights in high esteem, so much so that States must respect and protect human rights and not just within their own territory.

One of the most important recent developments in international law has been the emergence of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. This requires States to uphold and protect human rights against States not willing or able to do so. As Ramesh Thakur shows in his blog (29 Nov 2019), R2P walks a fine line between state sovereignty and human rights and is often ignored, but it is unlikely to be discarded anytime soon.

Parallel to R2P and even more promising is the doctrine of sovereign States as trustees of humanity. Universal human rights are constitutional to international law, and a constraint upon state sovereignty. States must therefore act as trustees of human rights across national boundaries (Eyal Benvenisti). Anything less would, in fact, threaten the very promise of human rights.

The trusteeship sovereignty concept has great potential for meeting the two biggest threats of the 21st century: threats to human rights, and threats to the Earth system – our home.

Earth trusteeship is the legal response to the PM’s call for environmental responsibility. The ethics of guardianship are deeply embedded in Maori and other indigenous cultures, but they are also rooted in religious traditions and often referred to in contemporary socio-ecological texts. From a legal perspective, we can think of Earth trusteeship as an obligation of the State to protect the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems – including the atmosphere and oceans (climate system!). More than 25 international environmental agreements refer to the duty of States to cooperate in order to protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems. What is missing is the willingness of States to take this duty of care seriously, and accept it as a legal obligation.

Elements of Earth trusteeship already exist in many countries. Examples include constitutional obligations of the State to protect the environment, environmental rights or progressive environmental laws.

  • A good example is New Zealand’s Resource Management Act if (!) implemented and interpreted correctly, namely to respect non-negotiable environmental bottom lines (2014 King Salmon decision of the NZ Supreme Court).
  • Notably, the 2014 Te Urewera Act, the 2017 Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Settlement) Act and the 2017 Te Anga Putakerongo/Record of Understanding for Mount Taranaki recognize certain ecosystems – a national park, a river and a mountain – as legal persons. They have to be represented by guardians who speak and act on their behalf.

This is the kind of Earth trusteeship (or guardianship) that Prime Minister Ardern had in mind in her plea to UN Member States.

Earth trusteeship is a new, but already widely supported concept. More than eighty human rights, human responsibilities and environmental organisations, including the NZ Centre for Global Studies, have recently formed the Earth Trusteeship Initiative (www.earthtrusteeship.world).

On 10 December 2018, the day of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they launched the ‘Hague Principles of a Universal Declaration of Responsibilities for Human Rights and Earth Trusteeship’ in the Peace Palace, The Hague. In my opening remarks for this event I said:

“What on Earth are we doing? For 70 years now we have human rights, yet more people are deprived of their most basic needs (material security, freedom of movement, freedom of expression etc.) than ever before. Treating all human beings as equal and in dignity is still an unfulfilled dream. And for 50 or so years, States produce policies and laws to protect the natural environment, yet these have not in any way stopped run-away climate change, biodiversity loss or growth madness. They have not reversed detrimental practices that could ultimately bring us down as a species. We are destroying Earth, our home, arguably because we have no firm sense of responsibility for her and for our common destiny. We urgently need a universal declaration of responsibilities for human rights and Earth trusteeship.”

The core message of the Hague Principles is that humans are members of the Earth community (of all living beings) that defines what responsibilities we as members have. Human rights are a prerequisite for any form of social organisation and totally indispensable. In fact, they require trusteeship responsibilities that each of us must accept and likewise our institutional tool of governance, the sovereign State. But human rights are not as fundamental as responsibilities that we and our political institutions have for Earth. The Hague Principles call for a legally-binding commitment of States to Earth trusteeship.

In the Anthropocene, Earth trusteeship exercised by people individually and collectively is the key. Without it, we would be saying that Earth doesn’t matter, and that human survival doesn’t matter either.

That simple.

Klaus Bosselmann is professor of law and director of the NZ Centre for Environmental Law (University of Auckland). He is also Chair, Earth Trusteeship Initiative, and a member of the Board of the NZ Centre for Global Studies.

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The University in the Global Age:

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Chris Gallavin

 Last year I had the privilege of travelling around the US as an Eisenhower International Fellow. The experience was the most amazing of my professional career.

In this column, I outline my Fellowship project – Global University 2.0

Let me convey what I see as the challenges facing the modern global university, the imperatives that face humanity, some of the options available for change within tertiary education and the possible form of the ‘new global university’.

My project is an area that I not only work in, but which regard as a life mission. It involves the exploration of implementation of my vision:

  • a vision of the university of the future;
  • a vision tried in the fires of post-earthquake Christchurch;
  • a vision that sees universities as community partners in addressing the imperatives of our time – sustainability, equality, equity, social enterprise, social justice, economic development and entrepreneurism, to name a few.

It is my vision that qualifications come as a consequence of a university’s pursuit of a meta-narrative mission. We are not degree factories.

I see universities as a community of scholars (academics, professional staff and students alike) working together and in collaboration with government, industry and society, to change the world by actualizing the society we individually and collective want to see.

The empowerment of individuals through attaining qualifications is a vital consequence of that mission, the importance of which must not be underestimated. But we are more than qualification attribution centres.

Humanity is capable of working collectively to solve all of the most pressing issues of our time. But that will not happen by accident; it will happen by design.

Predictions over the future of work, globalization, the advancement of AI, and computerization, have all combined with falling budgetary support for universities and increasing industry dissatisfaction with the skill and ability level of graduates. They are creating a perfect storm in higher education.

The challenges facing the tertiary sector globally are thus multifaceted.  They include the following nine.

  • The changing nature of employment. Whilst the commodification of education over the past 60 years has seen universities move increasingly from providing education as a deontological good (as an end in and of itself) to a utilitarian product of importance to the advancement of national economies, universities nonetheless find themselves flat-footed in the modern world. In this regard, the basic model of a single degree for life predominates. In its present form there are two fundamental difficulties with the predominant tertiary model.
  • First is an over reliance on a degree structure that does not support life-long-learning and is, at best, merely a filter for industry in recruiting the people they need rather than providing genuine focused preparation.
  • Second, universities provide neither highly-trained specialists nor truly flexible generalists who fully understand multi-disciplinary collaboration or complexity theory based upon systems thinking.
  • A multiplicity of competitors. Traditionally, universities have been based upon information discovery and dissemination.  But in the modern world, such tasks have been democratized. Alternative providers – boot-camps, industry based training platforms, specialist third party institutions – are often better positioned to provide tailored employment focused training more cheaply and just-in-time, than traditional universities.
  • A crisis of meta-narratives. More than ever, the world needs innovators whose thinking will act to change the normative foundation of our societies. These include citizens focused on sustainability, the development of alternative economic models, equity, equality, entrepreneurship, social enterprise and social justice. Therefore, citizens need to be prepared for the new century as well as employable on graduation.
  • A broken funding model. Whether it be the system of student fees in the US or universal access to tertiary as in many Nordic countries and New Zealand, the funding mechanism supporting tertiary education is in need of re-evaluation.
  • Over-reliance on a traditional credentialing model. Traditionally, universities have been secure under the predominant model of credentialing in which authority and legitimacy has originated from the State and centralized credentialing bodies. Innovations such as block-chain credentialing and industry training challenge such superiority.
  • Student recruitment and retention challenges. Currently most universities operate poorly in the realm of engaging the non-traditional student market. Minorities, first generation students, and alienating class divides, have stretched universities in their capacity to engage all communities. In light of futurist predictions of mass extinction of whole classes of vocations, the future is not bright for universities which cannot engage all kinds of peoples.
  • Inflexibility of curriculum. Universities are masters of Newtonian approaches to problems in which an ordered, rational approach is taken to problems by dividing them into logical units along traditional discipline lines. Rather than training people to deal with the organic and chaotic, universities are good at creating linear experts specializing in particular forms of thinking and problem-solving. It is not that the future has no need for such skills, but that an over reliance on such an approach fails to adequately prepare citizens for tackling the ‘Grand Challenges’ of our times.
  • Digital delivery models. Digital delivery deserves a category of its own albeit it is relevant to all other categories of modern challenge. Whilst representing a unique opportunity for brand development for some universities, for the majority it represents a significant challenge to the underlying financial model of their operation.
  • A silo over cooperative mentality of operation. Universities have traditionally defined themselves as centre of knowledge and learning, rather than facilitators and partners in social development. The latter will help define the new university paradigm.

When I was in the US I witnessed the most incredible innovation in the US tertiary sector.  In future blog-posts, I shall offer an outline of my ‘Eisenhower Project’, detailing the elements of my vision for tertiary and the collaborative approach that I hope will typify the 21st c. university for the global community.

Prof Chris Gallavin is Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor, College of Humanities& Social Sciences, Massey University. He is a member of the NZCGS Board (Coordinator of the Global Education & Citizenship Programme). This blog first appeared in his Linked-In column.

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