AMHERST, Mass. - University Chancellor David K. Scott is one of six higher education leaders invited to serve as part of the official United States delegation to a world conference on higher education in Paris Oct. 5-9, sponsored by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), an international organization established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1946 to advance education, science, culture, and communications around the world. The conference is titled "Higher Education in the 21st Century: Vision and Action."
Also, from Oct. 31-Nov. 10, Scott will be in Israel, as part of what is titled the "1998 Mission to Israel for Presidents of Prominent American Universities." The mission is jointly sponsored by the American-Israel Friendship League and the Israel Office of Academic Affairs in the USA, part of the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
"Higher education is in transition in the U.S. and around the world," Scott says. "We are moving from an industrial society to a knowledge-based society and people are looking for models. We need to ask what the nature of education should be in the future."
He said UMass "should be engaged in that debate, both for the institution and for the world."
Other members of the official U.S. delegation to the UNESCO conference in Paris include: Stanley O. Ikenberry, president of the American Council on Education; Lois B. DeFleur, president, State University of New York at Binghamton; Vera King Farris, president of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, and a 1965 Ph.D. graduate of UMass; Augustine P. Gallego, chancellor, San Diego Community College District; and Walter E. Massey, president, Morehouse College.
A number of other higher education leaders from the U.S. are also attending, including the presidents of Sarah Lawrence and DeKalb colleges and the presidents of Indiana University and Iowa State and Montana State universities. Scott said ministers of education from 100 countries will attend as well, with about 2,000 expected in total.
As part of the official U.S. delegation, Scott has had a hand in drafting the conference’s agenda. In addition, he has proposed that conference members discuss the creation of a kind of higher education Peace Corps in which retiring college and university faculty and staff could travel abroad to help meet higher education needs around the world. "Why shouldn’t UMass Amherst be a center for such an effort?" he asks. "One could imagine making quite a change."
While the trip to Israel is on a smaller scale, Scott said it is of particular importance because it is the first time a group of higher education presidents has had direct contact with Israel’s top leaders.
"We can learn a lot from Israel," he says. "They have one of the world’s most highly educated work forces and they are an important player in the world’s higher education field." While few faculty and student exchanges occur with Israel, mainly due to the possible dangers of living there, he said making the linkage is important both for UMass and for the United States as a whole. "We need to find out what it is about Israel that has enabled such a small country to do so well in such a short time," he said.
He said the contacts established with the other members of the mission are also important. "These trips show us that the issues we are struggling with – such as interdisciplinary learning – other institutions are facing as well."
While in Israel, Scott and the other trip participants will meet with senior Israeli statesmen, as well as prominent intellectuals and scholars in a variety of disciplines. Also, they will visit universities and explore possible areas of academic cooperation.
"The linkages we establish on these missions are important to our students," Scott said. "My aim is to have every student at the University get experience with another language or culture. Our students need to be able to understand different people and cultures to function well in today’s global world."
He said about 10 percent of UMass students currently participate in some kind of international experience as undergraduates, and he wants to increase participation to 25 percent by 2001.
Scott said only about 1 percent of the world’s population has experience in a four-year higher education institution, vs. 50 percent or so in the United States. With the growing world population, he said, the world would need to create one university a week the size of UMass to maintain even that "woefully inadequate" 1 percent figure.
"Financially, this is impossible," he said. "So, we need to discuss what we can do to create new models, new ways of providing higher education. This is what the UNESCO conference is about."
In sum, he says, just as it is important for students to gain international experience, it is important for him, and for the University as well. "We need to work hard to keep UMass as a player on the world stage," a tradition, he points out, begun by former President William Clark in 1876 when he traveled to Japan to begin what is now the University of Hokkaido. "We are a state institution, a national institution, and an international institution," Scott says. "Just reading and studying in our own world without engagement beyond our borders is not adequate anymore."