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Purposes Beyond Ourselves: Educating for Global Citizenship

Dinner Address by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, Chancellor of The Australian National University, to the Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization (ICCI), Indiana University, Bloomington, 17 May 2015

Thank you to Dean Lee Feinstein, both for his generous introduction this evening and for his invitation to me to spend some time in Bloomington as a visiting practitioner in residence at the new School of Global and International Studies, in its inaugural year. SGIS is a landmark addition to the ranks of this country’s great policy-focused international schools, and under Lee’s leadership will certainly consolidate IU’s worldwide reputation as a great internationally-focused university.

Indiana University is a leader not just in international affairs but in international education, nicely symbolized by President Michael McRobbie being a compatriot of mine – and I hope and believe not an entirely deracinated one! IU is in the top ranks of American universities in terms of the number of students it sends abroad, has some 6,000 international students on campus, is party to many significant education, research and outreach collaborations (like the Pan Asia Institute with my own university), and is a key driver in the development of internationalized curricula. In all of this Hilary Kahn’s Center on Global Change has been a key player, and I very much appreciate her invitation to speak this evening to this important gathering of international educators.

It was the Dutch scholar Erasmus who seems to have first used the expression ‘global citizen’:  Ego mundi civis esse cupio, he wrote to a friend in 1522 –  “I should like to be a citizen of the world’.   And in the 16th century it was universities, much more than any other institution, that made that aspiration possible.  But it was then only for the tiny handful of men of letters who spoke and wrote in Latin or Greek, moved comfortably around, and helped build, the great centres of learning and debate of the time like Oxford, Cambridge, Padua and the Sorbonne, and developed in the process a sense of common membership of the respublica litteraria: the ‘republic of letters’ or ‘commonwealth of learning’. [1]

Now, five hundred years later, universities are still playing that role – of developing that sense of membership of a human community quite distinct from one’s own nation state – but in rather different ways, and on a vastly greater scale. There are now around 150 million higher education students and staff worldwide, and some 3.5 million students travel abroad to study every year. (Perhaps I can burnish my credentials with this audience by telling you that a good proportion of them – some 7 per cent in fact of the world’s international students – fetch up in Australia; and that, with one in five students at every Australian university drawn from overseas, we in fact have the most internationalized higher education system in the world.)

Universities educate for global citizenship (whether they do so self-consciously, using those terms, or not) in three main ways: by giving adventurous students the opportunity to travel abroad and experience life and learning in a completely different environment;  by exposing domestic students to international students, living among them and sharing study and social time; and by the content of their curricula, inculcating knowledge and appreciation of other languages, cultures, histories and sensibilities –  and of how the world works,  geopolitically, economically and otherwise.

What is it that educators are, or should be, trying to achieve in ‘educating for global citizenship’? What is it to be, in the world of the 21st century, a ‘global citizen’? I think there are four crucial ingredients, three of which are implicit in what I have just said; the fourth is less obvious and requires rather more discussion.

First, to be a global citizen requires information and knowledge about other countries and other cultures: universities have traditionally been good at imparting that – in their language training, and culture, history and international relations curricula – and at the best universities (among which I would certainly rank Indiana University and the Australian National University) their curricula are, as they should be, evolving all the time, not least with a renewed emphasis on area studies, and often – as here – in collaboration with other universities to ensure an even wider reach and knowledge base.  Both Bloomington and my university have had a longstanding commitment to area studies, and the Pan Asia Institute we have jointly established to nurture collaborative research and staff and student exchanges has been a model of its kind.

Second, to be a global citizen in this day and age requires some real sense and understanding, at least in outline, of the interconnectedness and interdependence of the world of the 21st century:  how global supply chains work; how delicately poised the international financial system is; how, for all their wariness about the extent of each other’s power, the US and China remain joined at the wallet; how many global public goods issues – like coping with climate change, and health pandemics and unregulated population flows, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – demand cooperative action for their solution,  being absolutely beyond the capacity to address of any one country, or handful of countries, however big and powerful. 

Of course a lot of this kind of knowledge and understanding can be gleaned from the mainstream and social media, but universities have a particular capacity, and I believe particular responsibility, to impart it.  With so many academics living comfortably in discriplinary silos, delivering this kind of general knowledge may in practice be easier said than done, but I don't think any of us should be comfortable having students graduate knowing only what’s in front of their noses without some larger sense of the dynamics at work in the wider world around them.

Third, to be a global citizen requires physical experience of other countries and cultures. A lot of that can be acquired through the kind of study abroad experience that so many millions of students are now having either directly or through exchange programs, and I strongly believe that every university in the world – and certainly here in the US – should be aiming at achieving the kind of percentage of international students, one in five, that we now enjoy in Australia. Of course if it is to be meaningful in global citizenship terms, that experience has to be a rich one, and involve genuine intermingling with the host country society: any tendency toward the ghettoization of international students, which can often be the unintended consequence of large concentrations of particular nationalities in particular disciplines, has to be strongly resisted, not least in campus residential accommodation arrangements.

It’s not just living in another country that can and should be a life-broadening and enriching experience, but getting there: travel experiences, however fleeting, can be enormously life-changing.  That was certainly the case for me as a student. 

My first ever overseas trip was to Japan, with a student group, travelling (this was in 1964, before the days of cheap air travel) in the bowels of a cargo ship in iron bunks alongside the Chinese sailors.  I have to this day an indelible memory of standing in Hiroshima at the epicentre of that first nuclear bomb strike, and getting my first real physical sense of what had happened just two decades earlier, I was overwhelmed by the almost indescribable horror of what had occurred.  There was one particular exhibit in the peace park museum that I have never been able to get out of my memory: a granite block, which had been part of the front of an office building, against which someone had been sitting in the sun when the bomb exploded early in that August meeting. Starkly visible on the stone was the shadow of that human being, indelibly etched there by the crystallization of the granite around that person’s body as he or she was, in an instant, incinerated by that blast. I pledged myself then to do whatever I could, when I could, to try to rid the world once and for all of these terrible weapons, the most indiscriminately inhumane ever invented and the only ones capable of destroying life on this planet as we know it. Looking back, I am afraid my efforts have been almost wholly ineffectual, but it hasn't been for want of trying.

Travelling from Australia to Oxford to take up a scholarship in the late 60s, I took full advantage of having half a world to cross by spending four months wending my way through some twenty countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, and having more really formative experiences in nearly every one of them. Let me mention just two.

Rather crazily, I went to Saigon, while the Vietnam war was still raging. The airport when I arrived was chaotic, full of military personnel and departing Vietnamese, and not exactly geared up for backpacking tourists. It took me forever to find a cheap way into town and somewhere cheap to stay.  But just as Saigon airport wasn’t geared up for travellers, I rapidly discovered that Saigon hotels cheap enough for me to afford weren’t geared up for those who wanted their beds to actually sleep in. The place I ended up in was horribly squalid, and my enduring memory is being wakened by a shrieking ruckus in the corridor outside, and peering out the door seeing an enormous GI beating a half-naked local girl with a broom handle down the staircase.

I think that experience, and a few others like it that week, helps explains why I have had throughout my adult life a horror not just of  nuclear war, but of all war, because of the sheer scale of the human suffering and misery that is always associated with it. I am not a pacifist, I accept that some wars, and some military action to stop genocidal atrocities can indeed be just. But the notion that there is any glory or romance in war, or anything to be said for the kind of nationalist chest-beating – “my country right or wrong” – that has so often led to war in the past, and could so easily again, is not something that I can ever accept, because it does defy every precept of our common humanity.

Just a few days after that night in Saigon, I flew into Cambodia, still then at peace, and had some very happy experiences, of exactly the kind I had enjoyed in all the other Asian countries I visited apart from Vietnam. As I had done and was to do elsewhere, I spent many hours and days on student campuses and in student hangouts, and in hard-class cross-country trains and ramshackle rural buses and share taxis, getting to know in the process scores of some of the liveliest and brightest people of their generation.  Those encounters were usually fleeting, but some of them resulted in friendships which have endured to this day.

In the years that followed I have in fact kept running into Indonesians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Thai, Burmese, Vietnamese, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese and Afghans who I either met on the road on that trip, or who were there at the time and had a store of common experiences to exchange. But among all the countries in Asia I visited then, there was just one from which I never again, in later years, saw any of those students whom I had met and befriended, or anyone exactly like them. And that country was Cambodia.

The reason, I am sadly certain, is that every last one of them died a few years later in  Pol Pot’s genocide –  either targeted for execution in the killing fields as a middle-class intellectual enemy of the state, or dying, as more than a million did, from starvation and disease following forced displacement to labour in the countryside. The knowledge, and the memory, of what must have happened to those vivacious and engaging young men and women with whom I drank beer, ate noodles and careered up and down the dusty road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, scattering children, chickens and pigs along the way, is something that haunts me to this day.

I think that explains why it is that I grabbed the opportunity that I did, when I became Australia’s Foreign Minister twenty years later, to play a key role in developing the UN peace plan for Cambodia, as I have already mentioned, to break the country out of the cycle of genocidal violence and civil war in which it had been trapped since the mid-‘70s.  But above all it was the memory of Cambodia that made me take on later, as one of the central ongoing projects of my life, when the opportunity arose after I left Australian politics, the ambitious role of trying to change the way the world thinks and acts in response to genocide and other major crimes against humanity.

These student experiences, and the impact they had on me and my own professional life, brings me to the fourth and last ingredient of what I think it is to be a global citizen, and that is a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place, as best we can given the cards with which we are dealt.

The world-recognized Australian scholar, Hedley Bull, captured what I have in mind when he described ‘purposes beyond ourselves’ as something to which all governments should have regard in conducting their international affairs. Not only our common interests but our common humanity demanded no less than that states devoted time and attention to what we would now call global public goods issues, even if there was no immediate and obvious return in terms of traditional economic and security interests.  

One of the most obvious ways in which the international community has been responsive in this respect, in recent times, has been its response to mass atrocity crimes  - genocide, and other major crimes against humanity and war crimes – committed behind sovereign state borders. What was previously, for decades and indeed centuries, regarded as nobody else’s business, has begun to be regarded, over the last decade, as unavoidably everyone else’s business, with the UN General Assembly accepting in 2005 –  in a major normative shift  which I played a part in making happen –   the principle not only that states had a responsibility to protect their own citizens from such crimes, but that it was the responsibility of the wider international community to assist them in so doing – and to intervene in all necessary and appropriate ways if they failed to do so.

And as with governments, so with individuals. Being a responsible global citizen means doing, as the philosopher Peter Singer describes it in his compelling recent book, ‘ the most good you can do’ [2] One way of doing that is by choosing a career which has obvious ethical content in some way directly related to the achievement of global public goods: helping to relieve poverty or ill-health, secure other human rights, prevent or avoid deadly conflict, avoid global warming or nuclear catastrophe, or better manage the international financial system –  by becoming an aid  or health worker,  a researcher in any of these areas, an expert adviser or public official, an advocate or campaigner, or maybe, just conceivably, even a politician.

Another way of individuals being responsible global citizens – more realistic for many of us given our varying skill-sets and career opportunities – is through personal philanthropy, giving as much as we can of our incomes to causes which have genuine global resonance.  Singer makes the point that if one lives in an affluent developed society and is genuinely committed to effective altruism, one’s dollar goes much further when used to aid those outside the affluent nations, despite the obvious emotional appeal of   charity beginning at home.  He give as an example that for the cost of supplying one blind person in the United States with a guide dog – around $40,000 – one could treat for trachoma, the most common cause of preventable blindness, at a cost of between $20 and $100 per head, anywhere between 400 and 2,000 cases of blindness in developing countries.

Why be a responsible global citizen? Why try to educate for responsible global citizenship?  And why should governments try to act like good international citizens?

The immediate and obvious answer is because on any theory of ethics one might embrace, whether religiously or humanistically based, and in every major cultural tradition, that is simply the right thing to do.  Indifference to threats and risks of various kinds to our common humanity, and to the global commons, is simply morally unacceptable.

But it is also possible to make the case for responsibility, as I have been describing it, on rather less exalted grounds. There will always be many people, and certainly many policymakers, who will instinctively view the world much more through the lens of interests than of values – who will be instinctively resistant to moral appeals to perform what they are likely to think of as ‘boy-scout good deeds’ when they can’t see any return for doing so.

The good news is that a persuasive case can readily be made to those who instinctively think and act like that.   At the individual level, it is simply that doing the most good you can do is good for you.  There is an abundance of psychological evidence that doing good for others makes one happier than doing good for oneself. [3]  Using our income to buy more stuff  for ourselves makes us much less happy than using it to help others. Self-esteem is an important ingredient of happiness, and the most solid, proven, basis for self-esteem is to live an ethical life, one in which one contributes to the greatest possible extent – through one’s career choice, or one’s giving, or in other ways – to making the world a better place.  We can be easily seduced by reading those lists of the nation’s and the world’s most wealthy: but of all the rich lists it’s possible to be on, I think we all know deep down inside that the one that counts for most is the personal satisfaction rich list

 So far as governments are concerned, I have for many years been arguing that policymakers get it wrong when they think of national interests, as they still almost invariably do, in terms just of the familiar duo of security interests on the one hand and economic interests on the other. There is a third category of national interest right up alongside those traditional two, viz. the interest that every country, great or small, has in ‘being, and being seen to be, a good international citizen’, which means in practice acting, and being seen to act, cooperatively with others in solving international problems, particularly those global public goods problems which, by their nature,  cannot be solved by any country acting alone, however big and powerful. 

The crucial point to appreciate about good international citizenship is that it is not some kind of foreign policy equivalent of boy-scout good deeds. The argument is that, by being seriously committed to cooperative international problem solving, national interest is advanced two ways. First, through simple reciprocity: my help for you today in solving your drugs and terrorism problem might reasonably lead you to be willing to help solve my environmental problem tomorrow. And secondly, through reputational benefit: the perception of being a country willing to take principled stands for other than immediately self-interested reasons does no harm at all to one’s own commercial and wider political agendas.  One of the attractions of the concept is that it bridges the traditional gap between realism and idealism, by making it clear that pursuing values and interests are not necessarily completely different ways of going about things:  rather, the pursuit of values can also be the pursuit of interests.

So what, finally, should be the role of universities in inculcating this sense of not just global citizenship, but responsible global citizenship, sensitive to purposes beyond ourselves?  I don’t think any of this is rocket science: it just comes back to the three dimensions I mentioned earlier.  

First, curriculum content: expand horizons as much as possible, giving students the opportunity, and maybe even the obligation, to be exposed to subject areas and disciplines other than the ones in which they are immediately immersed, opening windows into infinitely fascinating landscapes they might never have previously known existed, and in the process broadening and deepening their sensibility about other countries and cultures.

Second, ensure that domestic students share their study and social time with the  international students living among them, doing your best to persuade them that while  reaching out to those of other cultures and nationalities may be a little beyond their immediate comfort zone, in doing so they will make lasting,  wonderful and productive friendships.

And third, give students the opportunity to travel and live abroad, experiencing life and learning in a completely different environment. Persuade them, if they need persuading, that intense experiences they are bound to have out there on the road, just about anywhere in the world they go, are bound, again, to stay with them the rest of their lives, and profoundly influence the way they live their lives. Those experiences will tell them more about the reality of our common humanity – and how profoundly important it is that we embrace and respect that in each other across all the human divides that exist – than almost anything else they could do.

That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it. Thank you for hearing me out – and over to you.


[1] In this and the following paragraph I have drawn on Glyn Davis, The Republic of Learning, ABC Boyer Lectures,  Sydney, 2010, Ch1 ‘The Global Moment’.

[2] Peter Singer, The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically, Yale University Press, 2015

[3] Summarised in Singer, op cit, Ch 9, ‘Altruism and Happiness’