Last week Dr. Lefton had a guest column in Crains Business magazine and his topic was the globalization of our economy and what that means for the university as they produce the next generation of business and community leaders. As always, Dr. Lefton is very articulate and thoughtful in his message. And after visiting with a couple of our local Kent corporations this week I can tell you that he was also right on target. The corporate employees joked that while they technically work in Kent the only time they ever see each other is in airports or in some hotel half way around the world. It’s just the way business is conducted today.
As the corporate guys reflected on this current state of business affairs they pointed out that with the world as your backyard it’s hard to maintain a community focus that their own corporations used to have. Whereas the last generation of corporate leadership had the time to devote to local service clubs like Rotary or to community causes like United Way this generation said that they missed so many meetings due to travel that they stopped signing up.
And when they don’t get to participate in these sorts of community functions they don’t develop the same sense of connectedness to their business home. That loss in connection in turn is hard on the community who used to be able to rely on their proud hometown corporations to step up and pitch in on important community projects.
This isn’t to say that Kent companies don’t care about Kent anymore. They do — and many give a lot of time, talent and money to help keep Kent moving forward. What has changed though is the decline of the role of the larger, global companies. The local companies still have that local feel but the big guys (who often have more resources to help out with) are busy circling the globe so it’s hard to get their attention to the smaller local matters. This doesn’t mean their bad guys, they’re great guys, they’re just not home much anymore.
Of course this didn’t happen overnight and we won’t fix it by first thing tomorrow morning, but I’m encouraged by Dr. Lefton’s words to improve Kent’s global connectedness. Maybe one of our local CEO’s will read it on their next trans-continental trip and be inspired to call us empty-nesters at home back here in Kent.
In global race, higher ed remains vital cog
By LESTER A. LEFTON
Our world is indeed flat, and changing at an unprecedented pace — faster than most Americans realize.
One of the most profound of these changes has been the advent of a truly global economy — an economy comprising millions of businesses and perhaps more than a trillion devices, all linked through the web. In such a world, jobs flow to the places where work is done efficiently and effectively, whether it’s Akron, Ohio, or Agra, India.
Although the effects of this new reality are being felt by Ohioans and residents of every state, some citizens miscalculate the extent of global changes and miss the implications for the local environment. Not among that group of citizens are the Ohioans and other Americans who have seen factories shut down, jobs disappear and towns decline because of outsourcing to other countries.
We can all understand the growing expressions of frustration and disappointment about the outflow of jobs, and the angry calls for more fortified boundaries and an insular economy. Justified as these frustrations are, they have spawned some unfortunate, misinformed reactions to the reality of globalization.
It’s time to accept the fact that Ohio’s economy competes not only against the economies of other states, but against the economies of the world. Ohio’s performance is reflected by the state’s balance of trade. It is impressive that, overall, our international exports have continued to increase steadily. According to the Ohio Department of Development, “Ohio is the eighth largest exporting state. In 2006, Ohio companies exported $37.8 billion in goods, an increase of 8.7 percent over 2005.”
In short, exports to foreign countries create jobs in Ohio and make Ohio a major player in a global market. But as China and other nations work toward their own “major player” status, we must do more to retain and build our capacity to compete. In a world in which virtually every field demands workers with sophisticated technological and problem-solving skills, higher education is the key.
An important mission of a 21st century university is to contribute to the ability of its local economy to compete globally. A university does this in many ways: by generating
new knowledge and ideas with commercial potential; by supporting and modeling innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship; by working with business and industry to provide regionally relevant work force training and retraining; by serving as
a source of business development and capacity building; and, above all, by producing graduates who are fully prepared to take on the challenges of a global economy.
In addition, the university’s role has evolved to include education that nurtures cross-cultural skills and transnational understanding, and that provides international experiences for students. During the course of their education, today’s students must experience world cultures, politics and the dynamics that shape world economies. They
must interact with people beyond their geographical borders and learn about the changing nature of global competition.
These are not educational extras; they are economic imperatives. As is the case with individuals, industries, regions and states, universities cannot afford to miscalculate
the extent and impact of global changes. To do so is to fail in our responsibility as beacons that light and lead the way to a more enlightened and prosperous future.
At Kent State and many major American universities, the realities of globalization have compelled us to launch multifaceted efforts to internationalize the education and experiences we provide for our students. We are building curricula that are multicultural and multinational, and forging productive partnerships with leading universities
across the globe — something made possible by faculty members whose research and recognition transcend borders.
As we see it, a Kent State diploma must be a passport to global citizenship and leadership. College student or not, everyone would benefit from learning the lesson that all great universities are teaching students in every major: Strategic participation in an integrated global economy is inevitable.
It is heartening that Ohio’s governor, chancellor and legislative leaders understand that colleges and universities — as centers of scientific and technological innovation, entrepreneurial education, and highly responsive workforce training — are the keys
to ensuring the state’s success as it faces increasingly intense, global competition.
China and India are investing heavily in intellectual growth and development. Their investments are part of the reason that the United States ranks 14th in the world in the production of college graduates.
Each of us in Ohio must do our part to encourage the state’s investment in educational opportunities from associate degrees to graduate degrees; from internships to adult education. If we don’t, our inability to compete globally will lead to a bleak future for our great state, and to the unthinkable prospect that our children and grandchildren will experience a lower standard of living than we did.