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Commentary: International education is more essential than ever for our students, our state, and our world photo by

By Alison Wrynn

The writer is senior vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the University System of Maryland.

Over the past several weeks, world affairs have moved to the forefront of our national dialogue, and an exchange of viewpoints is underway at colleges across the country, including those in Maryland. Global learning has never been more critical for fostering the mutual understanding and cross-border collaboration essential to addressing our shared existential challenges and to deepening our humanity.

Listening to and learning from diverse perspectives on global issues may seem particularly urgent now, but, in fact, the University System of Maryland (USM) has been calling for mutual understanding across cultural divides for a very long time. Acquiring greater knowledge about global issues and walking in other people’s shoes around the world are central aims of the global learning programs at universities across our system.

The term “global learning” — as opposed to “international education” — is ascendant because our emphasis must be on learning that develops students’ capacity to better navigate global conditions, more effectively address interconnected issues, trends, and systems, and cooperatively engage in finding solutions to the greatest problems facing our planet.

This type of education can, and should, take place in Maryland, and transformative global experiences must be opened to all students — including those for whom studying abroad was never an option. Because now more than ever, globalization affects us all.

We see its impact on our environment, our climate, our health — and our economy. Current and future students will graduate into a global marketplace. In Maryland alone, nearly one in five jobs depends upon international trade, and between 1992 and 2016, Maryland’s trade-related employment grew 3.5 times faster than total employment. And while our students are globally connected in ways that simply weren’t possible before today’s technology, they will nevertheless face even greater challenges when they graduate — challenges from automation, artificial intelligence, and global competition.

The University System of Maryland believes that intentionally designed global learning equips Maryland students with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to succeed professionally in an increasingly borderless society. In doing so, we advance the future prosperity not just of our students but of Maryland as well.

The senior international officers from the system’s 12 universities are tasked with leading international education efforts, supporting international students and scholars, and encouraging global research collaborations. In the early days of the pandemic, when travel restrictions threatened international education, these officers urged system leaders to recommit to global learning and to invest in the value it brings to Maryland’s students, research enterprise, and economy.

The message this group shared was that global learning is not a privilege for the elite, but rather an integral element of higher education — particularly public higher education, as it prepares students from diverse backgrounds to be professionals, leaders, and global citizens.

At the time, little could we have imagined how the next three years would test the system’s international education efforts. One of the core opportunities for learning about the world — studying abroad — was no longer possible. Yet, paradoxically, this abrupt stop in travel actually fast-tracked global learning beyond anyone’s expectations.

The sudden requirement that we teach virtually — combined with new teaching approaches adopted due to pandemic constraints — spawned more expansive and creative approaches to international education. There was an explosion of “global classrooms,” project-based courses joining Maryland students and students overseas to simulate the cross-cultural experiences they’ll have in their future careers; the integration of international guest speakers and experts into existing courses; and virtual global internships, through which students engage in research or service with global partners, analyzing how their actions can address worldwide challenges. While these initiatives cannot replace the immersive experience of studying abroad, they significantly expand access to global learning.

By sustaining these new approaches, Maryland can advance its leadership in global learning. Already, Maryland boasts some distinct advantages that lure international students and scholars to the state: desirable geography and natural resources, proximity to the nation’s capital, public policy characterized by a commitment to justice, diversity, and inclusion, and elected leaders who deeply value higher education.

Leveraging these assets — our location, our diversity, our values, and our people — we can advance a “new international” education appropriate to the third decade of the 21st century and beyond, one that takes advantages of technologies allowing rich, lower cost global experiences; one that is accessible to all students, regardless of circumstances; one that emphasizes global collaboration and connection; one that develops not only students’ global skills but their global understanding.


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Commentary: International education is more essential than ever for our students, our state, and our world