In Global Peace Through The Global University System

2003 Ed. by T. Varis, T. Utsumi, and W. R. Klemm

University of Tampere, Hämeenlinna, Finland



Diversity and Change in a Global Context



B. M. Gourley

Vice Chancellor

The Open University

The United Kingdom



11th September 2001 is a date engraved upon our minds because of the shock and the horror of human tragedy, because of its consequences in Afghanistan and Iraq - and because it was the day on which the golden barricades of the First World were breached.


"Barricades" is a word used by the Shell Group in describing two equally plausible scenarios for the future of our world.  The first scenario they dubbed Ôthe story of barricades' where the biggest divide in the world is between rich and poor countries.  "The rich fear the turbulent politics of the poor world.  They see its spillover effects in refugees, lawlessness, the drug trade, and environmental damage, and they want to insulate themselves.  They are repelled by what they see as alien values: for example, Islamic fundamentalism and the tribal bloodletting in the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Africa.  They avert their attention inward and take steps to isolate themselves from these impoverished and disease-ridden countries.  For their part, the poor-country governments are suspicious of the motives of the rich, remembering their history of colonial exploitation, gunboat diplomacy, and political destabilisation.  The endless portrayal of rich societies as selfish, godless, amoral, and racist creates a deep alienation.  Fear and suspicion rule on both sides." (Jaworski, 1988).


The second plausible scenario is entitled "the new frontiers story."  This is a story where the liberalisation of economies continues and there is a shift in the centre of gravity in the world's economies.  Dramatic growth in the big-populous countries - notably China and India - combined with more careful economic policies in the present First World make this possible.  "Governments over time learn to pay attention to the very poor and to avoid social explosions.  They also learn to spread the benefits of growth more equitably and to provide the necessary safety nets."  By the end of the scenario period the world is a very different place and this is largely due to the fact that people, "rich and poor alike, have come to realise their economic, social and environmental interdependence." (ibid).


Manuel Castells (2000) tells us that the most striking consequence of the new global network society is its corrosive effect on equality and social justice.  In his blunt words: "Entire countries around the world and large segments of the population everywhere are becoming excluded."  This kind of society is based on a systemic disjunction between the local and the global for most individuals and social groups.  "It devours itself," he says, "losing the sense of perspective of continuity of life across generations, so denying the future of humans as a humane species."  Castells concludes that the system, over time, is not only economically and technologically unsustainable, but socially and politically unsustainable.


All universities have a social responsibility in doing what they can to move the world into one of "new frontiers."  The reality is that none of us, on our own, can undertake all that is necessary to the task.  Corporations, governments, international development agencies, institutions such as the United Nations, the organs of civil society: all these must be involved.  Universities must however involve themselves in this endeavour or forever abandon any pretence they may have to educating, in the words of the UNESCO declaration on Higher Education "for citizenship and active participation in society, with a worldwide vision, for endogenous capacity building, for the consolidation of human rights, sustainable development, democracy and peace, in a context of justice."


The Association of Commonwealth Universities document entitled Engagement as a Core Value for the University (ACU, 2001) makes the point that "21st century academic life is no longer pursued in seclusion but must rather champion reason and imagination in engagement with the wider society and its concerns."  It goes on to assert that "engagement implies strenuous, thoughtful, argumentative interaction with the non-university world in at least four spheres: setting universities' aims, purposes and priorities; relating teaching and learning to the wider world; and back-and-forth dialogue between researchers and practitioners; and taking on wider responsibilities as neighbours and citizens."  This engagement might well be the saving grace of a university model otherwise terminally doomed.  The work of Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (Castells, 2000), suggests that the university as we know it, in particular one that integrates teaching and research under one roof might be at an end.  Certainly management guru Peter Drucker thinks it is.


In a society defined as a knowledge society, as the ACU document makes so abundantly clear, "increasingly, academics will accept that they share their territory with other knowledge professionals.  The search for formal understanding itself, long central to the academic life, is moving rapidly beyond the borders of disciplines and their locations inside universities.  Knowledge is being keenly pursued in the context of its application and in a dialogue of practice with theory through a network of policy-advisors, companies, consultants, think-tanks and brokers as well as academics and indeed the wider society."  This has important implications for how a university constitutes itself and how it makes decisions, to say nothing of how it sets its research priorities and decides on teaching and learning agendas.  These are all issues of diversity.  It means that the institution must conceive of itself in much broader terms, cosmopolitan terms.  Also, it means that it is no longer possible to have all that you need to know within the institution; it means enlarging the number of partners and collaborations and making the borders of the institution as porous as possible; it means embracing diversity in all its shapes and forms.  It also means that, as the institution and the world beyond today's boundaries become more permeable, "our own values will be under constant review."


In essence it means that we have to reflect on three issues: who we are, what we do, and how we govern ourselves.


Who we are is reflected in our staffing composition as well as the ranks and positions of the staff.  Who we are is reflected in our student body, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level and across different disciplines.  Neither of these is simply a race or gender matter.  Issues of class, origin (like urban or rural) and a whole host of other potential divisions need careful attention to make an inclusive and diverse staff and student body.


What we do is reflected in what we teach, both in the range and content of our courses, and what we research.  It is not what you say but what you do that will eventually be the benchmark by which you want to be judged.  "Universities continue to do their least impressive work on the very subjects where society's need for greater knowledge and better education is most acute." (Bok, 1990): public education, poverty and blighted urban and rural communities, corruption, social work and human services, refugee issues, war and AIDS orphans - to name but some.  In the matters determining war and peace, central to the ethics of solidarity and global citizenship, difficult moral questions and hard decisions need to be surfaced even within the boundaries of the institution.  We have debated before what it means to be educated, what it means to be a global citizen.  Never before have the answers been central to our very survival.


How we govern ourselves is the last area where diversity is to be given attention and where there has to be vigilance if we are to get the full benefit of a diverse community.  Who gets to make the important decisions?  How porous can our boundaries be made and how is this done?  How do we engage with the communities in which we are sustained?


The essential skills and capabilities of learning communities include the need for communities to aspire to be something different.  We stand at the dawn of a new tomorrow.  We can either embrace the rich mosaic of our human cultures, races, religions, gender, to name but some of what could reaffirm our faith in the triumph of the human spirit, or we could seek refuge within the familiar.  The natural reaction is not always the smartest.  In a global age it is even dangerous.  This is not a time for competition, for winners and losers, but rather a time for collaboration and reconciliation.  It is a time for strong intellectual leadership - leadership, which affirms the ties that bind us as citizens of the same planet, and which affirms the ethics of a common humanity.  Working together, towards a common goal, I believe it is possible for us, as Martin Luther King said "to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope" (King 1963, in Carson 2001).  We must believe it is not too late.





Bok, Derek (1990).  Universities and the future of America, page 122.  London: Duke University Press.


Castells, M.  (2000).  The information age: economy, society & culture - Volume 1: The rise of the network society.  Second edition.  Oxford: Blackwell.


Jaworski, Joseph (1998).  Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership (Introduction by Peter Senge).  San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Publishers.


King Jr., M. L. (2001).  "I Have a Dream,"  address at March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 28 August 1963, in Clayborne Carson (ed.), A call to conscience: The landmark speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., New York: IPM/Warner Books.



Articles and other publications


Challenges of globalization: South African debates with Manuel Castells.  (2001).  Muller, Johann; Cloete, Nico; Badad, Shireen (Eds).  Cape Town:  Maskew Miller Longman, Cape Town.


Engagement as a core value for the university: A consultation document.  (2001).  London: Association of Commonwealth Universities.


Higher education in the twenty-first century: Vision and action (1998, October).  Paris:  UNESCO Publication.



Author Biographical Sketch


Professor Brenda Gourley

Vice Chancellor

Walton Hall

The Open University

Milton Keynes MK7 6AA

The United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 1908 274066

Fax: +44 (0) 1908 653744





Professor Brenda Gourley has been appointed as the Open University's fourth Vice-Chancellor.  Professor Gourley, is the first woman to be appointed to lead Britain's largest and most innovative university.  Professor Gourley took up office on 1st January 2002.


Following a distinguished career with the University of Natal as Professor of Accounting and Business, Dean of the Faculty of Accounting and Management and then Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Gourley became Vice-Chancellor in 1994.  She was the first woman to be appointed to lead a university in South Africa.  Under her leadership the University of Natal has undergone a successful transformation increasing access to a wider variety of students and focusing on the demands of a "knowledge society."


Professor Gourley, chaired the South African Universities' Vice-Chancellor's Association from 1995-1997 and the Association of Commonwealth Universities from 1996-1997.  She is married with four children.