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Common dream is of a better future

Primary role of universities is to raise the level of societal discourse and foster well-educated citizens that can insure global welfare and create common purpose

Growing up in the United States in a blue-collar family I saw my father work two jobs and my mother work part-time. This was in the"prosperous" 1960s and 1970s. In my family, I was first to graduate from college and until I entered graduate school, China was a closed land. Never did I imagine that I would one day be a dean at Tianjin University and recipient of China's Friendship Award.

As a child, my favorite part of US history was the constitutional period, a time when all energy was put into building a new nation and political discussion focused on what would be the appropriate, just and sustainable form of governance to guide the nation into a new century with the explicit mission to "promote general welfare". The recent opening of China also offers the possibility to address such questions, albeit in a different context and from a different point of origin. Perhaps that is what drew me to the challenge of coming to Tianjin University in 2013, to be the first foreign science dean within a National 985(a Chinese project for founding world-class universities in the 21st century) university and to head up a government-backed demonstration project with a specific mission to internationalize higher education in China.

Having a dream matters. The dreams of ordinary American and Chinese families, indeed families worldwide, have more commonalities than differences. The vast majority of working people of China and the US get up every day and strive to keep their homes safe and sound, put food on the table and create enough wealth to make the next generation a little better off than the last.

The American dream, articulated in the country's constitution, desires "to form a more perfect union with the characteristics of justice, liberty, security, tranquillity and welfare".

General Secretary Xi Jinping, in his report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, articulated China's dream as one of rejuvenating the nation with the well-being of the people as the fundamental goal of development. He highlighted the key issues of focus should be justice, personal fulfillment, social harmony, national security and common prosperity. There is a remarkable parallel sense of mission in the dreams of the two countries.

Governance of the people, for the people and by the people was not without criticism at the time. Thomas Jefferson made the caveat clear: only a well-informed citizenry can represent the considered opinion of the majority and still protect the rights of the minority. As such, education was a top priority. Education is also at the heart of Chinese social philosophy as expressed by Mencius' admonition that benevolent governance must first provide people with a good education.

From 1980-2010, China's largest-valued natural-resource export was human talent who got their training in the US and the European Union and then decided to remain and build their careers and families abroad. Many have since converted to hai gui (returning overseas Chinese) bringing back open attitudes, innovative ideas and practical methodologies learned abroad. Today the flux of Chinese students going abroad and Chinese scholars returning home is occurring at a staggering rate. The information China retrieves by the repatriation of hai gui talents is among the strongest accelerants of China's opening process.

In the last decade, strategies for continued Chinese opening through global engagement have stepped up pace. The Belt and Road Initiative is the most significant of these strategies. However, China's universities are not yet ready to fully support the initiative. In response, China has commenced its double first class university and new engineering science program to compete at the highest end of the international higher education sector.

World-class universities play a significant role in campaigns like the Belt and Road Initiative because international universities excel by bringing together talent independent of origin. They thrive on multiculturalism and multicultural fluency, which is what the initiative needs to succeed.

The future favors more"supranational" experiments such as the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations- two key partners for the initiative - which requires dreams that motivate a common sense of mission beyond the interests of ethnicity, gender or race. Ultimately, the success of the initiative will depend on China's dream evolving into a regional dream that integrates a mixed cultural/national identity. Comprehensive universities offer a venue for high-level social discourse that will enable this.

Global transportation, information and social networks show that no two countries are truly isolated from one another. At the same time, global commerce and distributed manufacturing tightly couple the wealth of nations. Old views of rivalry and competition are no longer tenable. Issues of mass immigration and terrorism have much to do with a neglect of the global connectedness of social welfare. Responsible global leadership must craft a global dream to promote general welfare with peaceful development.

Leaders who reject a global dream in the name of placing their nations first actually place their citizens at risk by ignoring the fact that the unified wealth among collective nations can no longer be stably dissected into the wealth of individual nations. Building physical walls, waging trade wars and levying economic sanctions obstruct the vital global discussion of best practices toward world prosperity and global sustainability. Leading universities must leverage the supranational fellowship of scholars to maintain an active dialogue on issues of changing global society and identification of cross-cultural core values.

An individual as part of a community enjoys benefits that allow her or him to express individual creativity in ways that would be impossible in isolation; a community that includes diversity and encourages individual contributions enjoys a better adaptability and therefore sustainability.

Global public health and medicine draw benefits from advances across the scholastic spectrum and therefore benefit greatly from the culture of open borders and scholarly exchanges. The free migration of students, scholars and ideas has always generated new facts, methods and cultures that raised the level of public health and medicine. In a key example, knowledge of various microorganisms, methods to treat impotable water, and the expanding culture of public hygiene, collectively have brought many diseases under control; the results have come from diverse intellectual and national backgrounds. The future welfare of all nations will also benefit from new knowledge, independent of point of origin, in areas such as artificial intelligence and neuroscience, new skills like molecular diagnostics and functional imaging, and acquired cultural habits such as better nutritional choices and daily health status monitoring.

To return to the concept of national dreams, it should be clear that common citizens of every country dream in similar shapes and colors. Extreme imbalance in the realization of those dreams raises the probability of socially destabilizing behavior. Defecting from the global partnership or setting a course of"me first" can at best have short-term benefits by cheating on the generosity of the international community of nations, but in the long term it creates higher risk for catastrophic losses. Ultimately, it is through shared dreams and well-educated citizens that nations can create common purpose and insure global welfare.

The author is dean at Tianjin University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 01/14/2019 page13)

Source:China Daily  Editor:Lucky

(Source_title:Common dream is of a better future)