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The need for well-connected universities in an interconnected world


Guest Blogger John Gallagher writes:

Universities are arguably better situated than ever before to support their countries, from national through to local levels, to connect and flourish in a wider, globally networked world.

Indeed, a university that wishes to function effectively and autonomously these days has itself to relate effectively to global networks, and to learn to do so on its own terms, or find itself losing autonomy. So pervasive and growing in strength are today’s global networks that, increasingly, the only option that I can see for universities and other organizations that wish to enhance rather than to lose their autonomy, is to develop (smart) networking policies and programs. Otherwise they will tend to find themselves networked by others who do this, and on the latters’ terms. Because of their relative smallness and the fact that they exist in a small, remote  country, New Zealand universities must be all the more  smart at networking effectively. Otherwise they will be highly vulnerable to the influence and control of larger academic institutions, and agendas generated elsewhere.

As well as being increasingly enmeshed in global networks, universities are also situated locally, from whence they are looked to for support in meeting local knowledge society participation and development needs. Therefore the universities need to mediate ultimately between two-way, local and global, knowledge flows. That is what I think provides them with their window of opportunity. The better a university is able to connect from local to global, and global to local, the more effective it can become.

Perhaps therefore, one useful way to look at a university would be as a node, or a hub of nodes and networks, between the wider world of knowledge – to which it has a very practical and mandated access – and the locality or localities in which it is situated.

Pressures to connect with global networks are very strong. Not only are universities subject to these pressures, but so also are the nations and national decision makers on whom the universities depend for support and resources.

In the context of strong global interconnectedness, it is well worth looking at how well nations themselves are internally connected. Through, that is, from wider, national levels down to local levels. There is a very strong variable here, affecting the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the university. That variable is: the more connected or networked the local and national levels are in themselves, the more effectively will the university be able to connect with them. When the university is better able to so connect, it will also be better able to help identify and service their needs.

In other words, it is ultimately in well-networked environments, local, national and international, that a university will be all the better able to accumulate knowledge from all levels, to process it academically, and to package it in appropriate ways for those who have knowledge needs at all levels, from students themselves to social, political and commercial organizations, and ultimately to people in their everyday lives.

All of which suggests it is in the interest of a university to do what it can, from within its provenance, to support local and national network capacity building projects.

I must stress that I am not simply referring to the creation and dissemination of technically and economically useful knowledge, although sound and effective networking support strategies could hugely amplify what could be done in these areas. The better and more widely connected a university is, the greater also will be its access to rich and diverse sources of literature, art, and histories, and the more potentially informed and vigorous will be its philosophical and other debates.

Your comments and feedback most welcome.

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