Chatham University and its new president, David Finegold, should be congratulated for having brought together Wednesday 11 senior representatives, including presidents and chancellors, of Canadian and Western Pennsylvania universities for a public summit on international higher education. The European Research Council, Pittsburgh business organizations and city and county government, and student activists also participated.
Probably the most revolutionary ideas emerged from a presentation by Carnegie Mellon University’s Justine Cassell on artificial intelligence — robots — and their impact on the workforce and society in general. The intent was partly to suck some of the fear out of the idea that robots are going to replace some workers. According to the study, the redundant workers will be “reskilled.”
The Canadians, in general reluctant to criticize the new U.S. administration, nonetheless expressed concern with the American academic leaders at a possible decrease in federal government-provided money for research, addressed under the rubric of “sustainability.” The perennial debate in American, Canadian and European academia regarding the need for education to address employment needs while preserving the intellectual integrity of education, as opposed to job training, was thoroughly discussed, bringing frowns and smiles.
The importance of affordability, and its relationship to the continued need for diversity in participation in higher education was considered, as was the impact of the new U.S. government’s approach to immigration and its impact on international students attending universities in North America. Applications to Canadian universities are up; those to American universities, down, not surprisingly, although there was no crowing on the Canadians’ parts.
A “Declaration of Cooperation” signed by the university representatives at the end, plus the extensive networking that took place during the conference, suggests that there is plenty more to be accomplished to all parties’ advantage by future U.S., Canadian and European cooperation in higher education.