In this post, supplemental to his regular column, Mike Woolf (and his contributing editors) introduce volume 3 of our Career Integration publication and provide you with a sneak preview of what is to be discussed in its (virtual and paper) pages.
A Labor of love
Preparing the third volume of Career Integration: Reviewing the Impact was hard labor, but a labor of love. This joint production of CAPA: The Global Education Network and the University of Minnesota brought the editors some sleepless nights, some frustrations (there are those among us for whom a deadline is a moveable feast), but ultimately much satisfaction. What we learned was that there is great creativity, and thoughtfulness in our field and that colleagues (even those who didn’t quite meet the deadlines) are committed to the work we all strive to do. We do this work because students are at the heart of these endeavors.
Our intention was to have print copies available this month but, as the Scottish poet Robbie Burns, told us: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men Gang aft agley”  which translates as “stuff happens.” Hence, we are reversing our usual publishing procedure of launching the hard copy followed by an online version. In short, our printed copies are in a warehouse somewhere in Massachusetts awaiting delivery, except the warehouse is closed due to circumstances unanticipated. Thus, we are pleased to let you know that you can access the online version in advance of the hard copies that will shortly (we hope) be on the way.
So, a sneak preview:
Pressures and Priorities
The centrality of career preparation and employability in the agenda of education abroad attests to a pervasive awareness of the responsibility of educators for the lives of students beyond their formal studies. However, there is no untroubled consensus about how to realize this responsibility; issues around career integration are contested and challenge ideologies and pedagogies in several and various ways.
Career integration has also created sets of pressures upon higher education. In an increasingly competitive environment, institutions are obliged to assert that the education they offer will enhance employment possibilities Thus, higher education is responsible for teaching the core elements of a specific discipline while also teaching students to describe what that discipline means in terms of acquired skills. Our students should be able to explain why their ability to overcome barriers abroad leads to a resilient, flexible, creative employee who can learn and lead on their feet in varied settings with colleagues from diverse backgrounds.
Colleges and universities in the US are subject to intense pressure from several directions to forefront employability within their strategic missions. Educational institutions, in response, must offer more than academic excellence. A key aspect is that education will be demonstrably related to future employment.
Higher Education institutions are also increasingly subject to political pressures that create imperatives to align their endeavors with the commercial and industrial market. Those demands translate into an expectation that colleges and universities will prepare appropriate candidates for the work environment. One consequence for universities is that new alliances and inter-departmental collaborations emerge. Career offices, therefore, enlist faculty as partners within an expanded educational agenda. At the same time, international educators have to reach beyond their specific responsibilities to ask questions about how they align the opportunities they create with career preparation.
Political pressure has also focused unevenly and unreasonably upon the humanities and social sciences as if what they teach is disconnected from the skills required by employers, despite the fact that employers repeatedly tell us that the liberal arts inculcate the broad skills they most value. Education abroad remains, to a large degree, rooted in the philosophies of liberal arts; these are entirely relevant to the expressed needs of employers. There is no necessary distinction between the liberal arts and career integration.
A particular benefit of a liberal arts education is the value it places upon the active skills of writing and speaking, and the passive skills of reading and listening. Students are taught to articulate and defend opinions based upon an analysis of evidence. Students abroad may have the added benefit of feeling, for the first time, the complexity of whose evidence is dominant or marginalized; they grapple with ambiguities they encounter.
No institution or discipline is immune from the obligation to build employability into their mission, in one way or another. The walls of the “ivory tower,” if they ever really existed, have become fallen masonry.
Employability in Education Abroad
There is a necessary and productive intimacy between US Higher Education and education abroad. That intimacy enables undergraduates to transfer credits seamlessly back into the domestic context. The provision of career preparation has, therefore, been embraced by international educators as a means of proving that what we do is not simply interesting or pleasurable; but is demonstrably as relevant as education in domestic environments.
A dominant narrative derives from the perplexing question of globalization. The idea that the world is more inter-connected than ever before is both true and untrue. Re-emergent nationalism and xenophobia would suggest that international realities are increasingly fractured. However, we are undoubtedly more and more interdependent. Pollution knows no borders. The movement of goods and services across the globe is not constrained by nationalist ideologies. A simple demonstration of this reality is to ask students to list the countries of origin of the clothes they are wearing. Simply, having some knowledge of worlds elsewhere is an important element in what defines an educated, productive person. Individuals acquire the breadth and depth of consciousness that enhances their potential contribution to the contemporary workplace and, of course, to the world they will enrich by their presence.
Situational Learning and Career Preparation
The purpose and function of education abroad is driven by any number of priorities but the overarching difference from domestic higher education derives from “situational” learning. The significance of where we teach becomes a critical part of how and what we teach. Our assumption is that context enriches learning and that the conjunction of new ideas in new locations brings greater breadth and depth to learning opportunities. The student gains perspectives beyond the parochial.
In the context of employability, students are then, to some degree or another, gaining skills and sensibilities that will prepare them for trans-national lives and careers. They learn to operate effectively within diverse environments; they learn new languages, perhaps a second or third tongue or, even within English, the nuances of usage that are effective and appropriate within other contexts. In one way or another, the implication is that students are better prepared for “global” careers because they have gained experience in unfamiliar national situations.
Limitations and Obligations
Across the world, in one way or another, universities are under increasing pressures to serve the needs of industry, commerce, the young, and the nation by making higher education an agent of individual advancement through employment. This is a comprehensible priority, but it also obscures realities; universities can only do so much and cannot be responsible for conditions that privilege some groups over others. Other factors such as ethnic or racial bias, gender distinctions, the perceived status of one university over another, class distinction, and so on, will condition, to variable but perceptible degrees, the fate of the lucky and unlucky, the privileged and under-privileged.
Nevertheless, it is an ethical obligation placed upon educators to seek to even up the uneven playing field, to bring natural justice to those parts of the environment within which we may be agents of change. Despite the limitations within which we function, preparing our students for creative, productive lives is a profound and necessary responsibility. The question of how best to achieve those objectives is open to interpretation and disagreement.
The Politics of Education Abroad
Education abroad is a political action based upon an ideology that privileges internationalism over parochialism and embraces difference as well as valuing the ineffable richness of a common humanity.
The absence of a consensus about how best to make these ideals manifest is not evidence of failure but rather of creative engagement. There is no single or simple way of achieving complex objectives. However, there is a common commitment to educational enrichment and to the creation of pathways that better meet our obligations to enable students to become enlightened and productive citizens.
An educated person open to the complex challenges of values other than those they inherited will, we believe, be more productive, happier perhaps, but certainly more likely to contribute to the future. That is what we wish for our children, our students, their children and grandchildren, and for the generations that will follow. We have a profound responsibility for the lives of those who will come after us. They will define and redefine the worlds in which we live. They will choose to embrace the power of openness to diversity or they will subscribe to the prejudices of closed protectionism. The prevailing ideological divide is no longer between communism and liberalism; it is between open and closed ideologies. The choice is ultimately between perceptions that enrich and enlighten life or attitudes rooted in darkness, moral impoverishment, and a fateful ignorance.
Those are issues debated in Career Integration: Reviewing the Impact 3. We all look forward to your responses.
Christine Anderson, Kim Hindbjorgen, Michael Woolf.