Drew Gilpin Faust: What Do We Want from Higher Education?

Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust at Asia Society India Centre

MUMBAI, January 19, 2012 — As the need for, and expectations of, higher education rise in an increasingly globalized world, we must address what we want higher education to achieve, and the kinds of minds universities should strive to mold.

So said Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, speaking here at an Asia Society India Centre event chaired by Nita Ambani, Chairperson of the Reliance Foundation and Founder and Chairperson of the Dhirubhai Ambani International School.

Faust addressed a need to improve the quality and reach of primary and secondary education, which she called the foundation of successful civil society and a growing middle class. There is also an explosive demand for higher education, she said, at a time when ideas and capital travel across the world with ease and when knowledge has become the primary driver of social mobility and prosperity.

Faust lamented the effects of the financial crisis on universities around the world, and said that debts associated with student loans have exceeded 1 trillion dollars in the United States. Moreover, many students around the world simply cannot access universities. India generates 14% of the global talent pool and has the world’s third largest university system. Yet the country faces a shortfall of top talent. Faust cited Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, who stated that India needs to create 800 universities and 35,000 colleges by 2020 to meet current demand.

Faust also cautioned against building universities that only address short-term albeit vital issues like economic development and health provisions. Broader questions and humane perspectives must not be eclipsed, so that sustainable and long term development can be shaped. The arts and humanities, which allow us to be critical and creative, must flourish alongside science, and free-roaming skepticism and curiosity must not be curtailed.

Ultimately, Faust said, higher education should be able to develop minds that can re-imagine a globalizing world, solve society’s most urgent problems, fathom the universe and understand who we are.

Watch video highlights of Faust's talk in the upper left-hand corner.