What is global competence?

My growing interest in how digital competence is being conceptualised, pursued and enacted by national and international organisations has led me towards the slightly older concept of global competence. In this paper on global competence in engineers, it is presented in terms of a mismatch between the requirements of working as an engineer in global society and the skills which existing engineering education tends to develop in students. In this sense there’s a normative model of how students must be taught in a way that leaves them able to function adequately within a global order. As they write on pg 120:

Globalization is a fact of life, whether in the management of business enterprises, the conduct of government affairs or the exploration of the frontiers of science and technology (Ratchford 1998, Grose 1999, Wheeler 2001). Our highly interdependent global society is as much a result of the need to address major worldwide challenges, such as sustainability, health and security, as it is the result of important advances in the conduct of international commerce, e.g. the European Union, NAFTA, and the creation of nearly instantaneous worldwide commu- nications using cell phones and the Internet (McGraw 2000a, Akay 2003). These challenges and opportunities are dramatically and rapidly changing the role of engineers in society and, consequently, the nature of engineering practice (Loftus 2003).

In this sense, the notion of ‘global competence’ is about adaptation to a changing world, through the mechanism of transforming the educational processes which leave people with some dispositions and not with others. Even if a big chunk of their discussion is confined to engineers, the changing conditions ascribed to the working lives of engineers clearly apply to other occupational groups as well. From pg 121:

Most engineering now involves large, complex and multinational projects. Many engineers will find themselves working and/or living in foreign environments during much of their career. This places an increased emphasis on language and communication skills (Malone et al. 2003). The facility to communicate in other languages and to assimilate with ease into foreign workplaces and lifestyles are critical to both professional and life success.

They equate this capacity with the need to “think and act on a global scale” but there seems to be an equivocation here. Much of what they discuss is about operating in different locations, it is the small scale multiplied across contexts rather than an expansion of horizons to global proportions. The consensus in the literature is apparently that three elements are needed to produce globally competent students: “coursework in international studies, second language proficiency and international experience” (121). It’s clear to me how this could improve the capacity to shift between concepts but not how this would engender thinking and acting on a global scale. They stress that international experience must be interconnected and that global knowledge must be demonstrated in terms of the student’s own course of study, as opposed to being presented in the abstract.

A number of US universities have developed programs “designed to prepare students to live and work in the global context of the 21st century” even if they don’t use the term global competence to describe the aim (122). They are particularly interested in Georgia Tech’s International Plan, described on pg 123: 

This program, designed for completion within four years, includes the three components deemed essential for global competence: coursework in international studies, language proficiency and an immersive international experience. A hallmark of this program, and one that sets it apart from other programs, is that it is integrated into the student’s disciplinary studies. Participants gain an appreciation for how cultural context affects the practice of the discipline. Successful participants receive a designation on their diploma and transcript signifying the depth and breadth of their global competence in the discipline (i.e. Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering: International Plan). The general requirements for the International Plan are shown in table 1. Participating units then tailor their degree programs within this framework of requirements.

Students must complete four courses in international studies (the categories are “international relations, global economics and a course with an emphasis on a country or region”). This is how the outcomes are assessed, quoted by the authors on pg 125:

Basic global competence is the product of both education and experience, and it is characterized by a graduate’s ability to (1) communicate in a second language via speaking, listening, reading, and writing (second language proficiency); (2) demonstrate substantively the major social–political–economic processes and systems (com- parative global knowledge); (3) assimilate knowledgeably and with ease into foreign communities and work environments (intercultural assimilation); and (4) communicate with confidence and specificity the practice of his or her major in a global context (disciplinary practice in a global context). (Georgia Institute of Technology 2005)

I find the focus on the substantive character of global society extremely interesting and would like to understand more. How widespread is this approach to global competence? The digital equivalent of it would be something like platform literacy?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About Mark