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April 5, 2015

Responding To: Week 10: University Action

Educating Global Citizens: Ethics to the Fore

Jonas Bergmann

Universities educate an important share of the future workforce and train the decision-makers of tomorrow in a wide array of fields. In an increasingly interconnected world and with a multidimensional conception of human development, their actions will have direct or indirect impacts on the development of their own and of other countries, even when they work on issues not directly related to development.

Every citizen bears the responsibility to weigh the consequences of his/her actions for society. Since in a more and more integrated world, consumption, business, and politics have increasingly global impacts, we need to broaden our reference level and analyze our impact on a global scheme. Many of the discriminating power structures, injustices, and inequalities worldwide are bred and reproduced through a lack of awareness on how our lives are interconnected.

Mainstreaming a critical understanding of ethics and development is vital to foster a better grasp of this growing global interconnectedness and the implications of our actions for global society. In this respect, universities bear a special responsibility to educate and sensitize their students: All graduates and especially those working in decision-making positions need to dispose of solid knowledge safeguarding sustainable and just decisions.

To cultivate this knowledge, core curricula should contain a class on critical engagement with ethics and development from historical, economic, and socio-political perspectives. These classes can be tailored to the specific needs of the respective programs, but should aim for a comprehensive general education encouraging future citizens, entrepreneurs, and decision-makers to base their actions on critical analysis paired with responsiveness, envisaging sustainability and fairness.

Universities are particularly well-equipped to build this knowledge from an interdisciplinary perspective. With long-standing experience in teaching and engaging students, close networks to development practitioners, experts on sustainability and ethics, as well as to current decision-makers, they have all the resources at hand to mainstream these cross-cutting themes. By fostering dialogue and encouraging students to broaden their horizons, universities can help to build a more responsible generation of global citizens.

The inclusion of these cross-cutting themes into university programs is one of many possible ways to foster more awareness and critical engagement with the impact of our actions; it is one, however, that comes at a low cost and bears a large potential. While it surely does not constitute a panacea, such engagement can plant powerful seeds of cooperative, fair, and sustainable thinking on a more global reference level, which constitutes a prerequisite for sustainable and just pathways to global human development.

Jonas Bergmann is a Fulbright fellow in the MSFS program at Georgetown University. A passionate scholar of International Development, Bergmann is particularly dedicated to Human Rights and Migration.

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