Global Mindset

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by Dr Mark Pegg

I live near the international headquarters of GE Healthcare. As a good employer, GE actively engages with the local community. Each year, they meet me (in my role as governor at my son’s school) and a group of teachers from local secondary schools to share what they seek from the graduates of today. It is still surprising to the teachers to discover that GE particularly looks for good communication skills and the ability to work effectively in multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural teams as much as they seek high academic attainment in science. Academic talent is not in itself any use to GE unless these graduates are able to collaborate across global teams and draw strength and inspiration from them.

Working with the National Centre for Universities and Business, multi-nationals like GSK and PwC tell us at the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education that too few UK graduates have a global mindset and the UK is especially bad at helping them acquire one: with deleterious implications for personal growth and employment prospects.

So what is a global mindset, why is it important and, if it is, how can you get one?

What businesses say they need from a global mindset sounds to me like the requirement for a good university experience. Most of the businesses I work with regularly, large or small, must sell their services overseas – export or die. They want graduates who possess an openness in thinking, a wider perspective, an awareness of diversity across cultures and societies, an ability to see common patterns across countries: graduates willing to adopt best practice from wherever it comes.

This ought to be easy for the UK to achieve, where 45% of the UK population are university graduates. With net inflows of international students, they study in multi-cultural environments and have the power of the world wide web to assess global learning. It seems a little surprising a global mindset is not being rapidly acquired.

The power of the English language is the most likely factor, at once a gateway and a barrier to a global mindset. It gives the UK a global reach way beyond its size, but encourages a complacency that comes from speaking English as a first language. Learning a foreign language is the best way of knowing more about another society and culture, but studying other languages is something too few UK graduates sign up for. The UK has one of the lowest take ups of the EU’s ‘Erasmus’ initiative to encourage transnational academic exchanges.

The answer to this deficit starts with nurturing awareness in early years learning and probably lies outside the current core curriculum and examination structure. With teachers and senior leadership teams in primary and secondary schools, preparing children and their parents by helping showing how openness to global thinking and ideas is not only good for world peace and global understanding, but also good for greater cultural awareness that will help them find, create and develop jobs in the knowledge economy of the future.

Success here would mean undergraduates arrive at university with more receptive, open minds, and an expectation to build a global mindset eagerly into their required course of study. They will be more open to the enthusiasm and awareness of university faculty, who should seize the opportunity to build this into all they do – as much for their own job satisfaction as for the personal growth of their students .

Building a global mindset is a core part of what any world class universities should want to achieve – as part of an education that prepares all their graduates for life.

Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation