"Searching for Truth on the Global Horizon: Academic Freedom and International Education"

Peking University
Beijing, China
November 7, 2008

Introduction and Acknowledgments

First, let me thank the organizers of the Beijing Forum and the chair of our panel Ian Chubb, Vice Chancellor of my alma mater, the Australian National University, where I also worked for 13 years. It is an honor to be included among such a distinguished group to discuss the impact of internationalization on the development of higher education.

In June 2008, two eminent American statesmen—former Congressman Lee Hamilton (from our state of Indiana), vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, and Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey and chair of the 9/11 Commission, made a penetrating statement about the importance of global education. In a widely publicized article, they wrote:

“The United States cannot conduct itself effectively in a competitive international environment when our most educated citizens lack minimal exposure to, and understanding of, the world beyond U.S. borders. . . . Ignorance of the world,” they wrote, “is a national liability.”

This is as true of America as it is true of any other nation around the world.

An Era of Globalization

We live in an era of globalization. National boundaries are becoming more porous. Trade, energy, access to water resources, information technology, and population movement—each of these issues, and countless others, affect humanity on a global scale. The resolutions of pressing global issues that influence local circumstances require intercultural and international understanding and competencies in every field. Ours is an era that demands multilateral and collaborative solutions to our shared problems.

The Search for Truth and Academic Freedom

Colleges and universities around the world are in the vanguard of this new international era. But it is not always fully appreciated that this is driven by, and grows out of, in part, the imperatives of academic freedom. Academic freedom calls for the free flow of ideas. It calls on the world’s researchers to continually challenge, question, explore, and create new knowledge in their unrelenting search for truth. It is built on a firm foundation of logic, reason, rational inquiry, and the scientific method. These are the fundamental pillars upon which intellectual and scientific progress is built.

And this search for truth, in turn, has forged and united a truly global intellectual community. Together, researchers around the world ceaselessly search for answers to the fundamental questions raised by their disciplines, as Professor Komiyama of Tokyo University argued this morning. Together, they work to understand the causes of disease and discover cures for them, to develop new and cleaner sources of energy, to address the causes of poverty and hunger, and to gain a deeper understanding of the moral, physical, and metaphysical universe. Together, these researchers exemplify a world community where national boundaries recede into the background in the interest of understanding the human condition and changing countless lives for the better.

Truth Stymied by Ideology

But all of us realize that the global intellectual community is no utopian community. It exists within the same political, social, and cultural structures as other communities. Thus, the very search for truth that drives the global research community forward can unearth new knowledge that conflicts with prevailing beliefs. The search for truth can be stymied by politics and ideology. And this is true around the world. Take Lysenkian genetics in the Soviet Union, for instance, which was supported by Stalin but was in conflict with scientific evidence. Take stem cell research in the U.S., which was slowed by the policy decisions of the last U.S. administration though this can be expected to change under the new administration of President-Elect Obama.

These examples, and many others, reaffirm the vital importance of academic freedom as a vehicle for progress around the world. They reaffirm the importance of worldwide collaboration among our finest researchers driven by logic and reason towards truth. They reaffirm the words of China’s reforming leader Deng Xiaoping, who called upon the Chinese people to “seek truth from facts” as a pragmatic way of finding solutions to problems.

Expanding Internationalization

This is an international search that must continue and must expand.

Indeed, universities around the world are preparing the next generation for this search for truth. Just as we have an international research community, so too must we continue to cultivate an international community of students who are prepared for the challenges of the global future.

As we expand our search for truth, we must also expand our capacity to provide international education.

Elements of Expansion

In American universities, and indeed universities around the world, that expansion includes developing programs that will encourage students to study abroad in larger numbers in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and other areas. It includes providing assistance to students who may not have the resources to study abroad. In fact, the U.S. currently has pending legislation in Congress that aims to make study abroad more accessible and increase the number of participants four-fold over the next ten years. The Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act is awaiting a full vote in the Senate, and likely has a greater chance of being approved under the new Obama administration.

Enhancing international education also includes implementing a comprehensive strategy for attracting and retaining a diverse population of international students. It includes encouraging faculty to initiate, implement, and expand their programs abroad as a natural extension of their education and research activity without needing to specifically reward such efforts. It includes actively seeking research collaborations in technologically advanced and rapidly growing areas of the world, including China, India, Japan, and the Republic of Korea. And it includes building on partnerships with institutions overseas so that those partnerships become more than symbolic.

Internationalization at IU

Like universities everywhere, these are areas that Indiana University has been exploring for a number of years. With nearly 6,000 international students, about 660 from China, and nearly 2,000 IU students studying abroad annually, international education is a vital part of Indiana University. Through 200 institutional partnerships with universities around the globe, Indiana University has worked to develop a strategic approach to international collaborations that builds upon the strengths of both partner institutions. Addressing the reality of globalization requires international programs to play a central role in the education IU provides to its students.

IU’s International Strategic Plan

This year I approved a new international strategic plan for Indiana University. The plan provides a framework within which to pursue the university’s international goals. We evaluated all of our activities in the international arena in terms of what they contribute, directly or indirectly, to our core missions of education and research. We recognize that, to ensure their own success, our graduates will increasingly demand an international experience as part of their world-class education. Likewise, our finest researchers and teachers will increasingly reach out to colleagues around the world to forge disciplinary alliances in their search for truth.

Our own success as an institution depends upon our ability to develop strong international partnerships and affiliations that support the highest quality education for our students, and the strongest research programs for our faculty.

Our strategic plan identifies specific ways we can achieve this success.

We have begun to implement this plan, focusing on the following six international priorities. First, we are establishing new international strategic partnerships with highly regarded institutions of higher education abroad such as Peking University, with whom I signed a memorandum of understanding this afternoon, and Seoul National University and Sungkyunkwan University, with whom I signed agreements in Korea early this week. This agreement will deepen our partnership with Peking University in areas such as computer science, informatics, and music.

Second, we are increasing the number of our students studying in East and Southeast Asia through agreements with many of the leading institutions of higher education in the region.

Third, we continue to recruit highly qualified international students.

Fourth, we are developing a new undergraduate curriculum to commence in 2010-11, that substantially increases the global competencies of our 32,000 undergraduates on our Bloomington campus. This will be accomplished through a required course in world languages and cultures.

Fifth, we are providing new opportunities for the professional international development of faculty.

And sixth, as a key part of our next endowment campaign, we will be raising money to support study abroad activity for minority and low-income students. Our goal is to raise an endowment of at least $100 million towards this important effort, which would provide $5 million per year for financial aid for study abroad.


Universities around the world are working to achieve similar aims. We are taking steps to create more opportunities for our students and our faculty to study and conduct research within an international arena. We are also strengthening the foundations of academic freedom upon which intellectual and scientific progress is built. And together we are preparing for the global future.