Harvard Rethinks Strategy Abroad

An advisory group has concluded a process of rethinking the University’s strategy abroad and has provided a set of recommendations to University administrators that begin to formulate a vision for Harvard’s international presence.

The effort, known as the International Strategy Working Group, was developed by University President Drew G. Faust about a year ago to advise her office on broad questions about how Harvard should proceed in its international work, according to Jorge I. Domínguez, the vice provost for international affairs. Dominguez said that the purpose of the group is to carry out “some attempt at systematic thinking” about the University’s global approach and to “discern what it is we are doing now.”

The working group, which is made up of a few faculty members from each school within the University, presented some of its findings to the Board of Overseers, Harvard’s second-highest governing board, several weeks ago, but they have not been made public. Though the formal work of the group is complete, a University official said that Faust would continue to consult with its members on an as-needed basis.

While Harvard has built up a formidable presence abroad—over 40,000 alumni work abroad and Harvard has opened dozens of offices serving the Harvard community’s needs abroad—the University seems to be struggling to articulate its vision for international engagement.

“We have heard from the Harvard community and people outside the Harvard community that they don’t see a deliberate University-wide strategy,” University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said. “So this working group is going to make recommendations about ways we could be more strategic in our approach.”

One of the issues the working group will consider is whether the University should expand its physical presence abroad through offices or global institutes or if it should instead focus on creating more partnerships with other educational institutions. Many of Harvard’s peer institutions have in recent years made plans to open campuses abroad. Yale, for example, plans to open in 2013 a joint liberal arts campus with the National University of Singapore.

“My guess is that over the next two or three years, maybe as part of the capital campaign, we might be exploring the possibility of opening offices elsewhere,” Dominguez said.

While the upcoming capital campaign, which is currently in a quiet phase, will not necessarily fund new international initiatives, Dominguez said he can envision that reasonable objectives of the campaign might include making the entire University “need-blind and passport-blind,” including for Ph.D programs.

Another question that the working group is currently grappling with is whether an international experience should be a requirement for students. For example, the Business School currently sends many students abroad in January, though it is not formally required by HBS. Dominguez said that faculty tends to be reluctant to add requirements and that simply enabling students to go abroad might make more sense than mandating it.

Both Garber and Dominguez agreed that the University should be outward-looking in how it approaches its international strategy. Dominguez said the University should “try to generate knowledge of universal value.”

Garber echoed these sentiments. “Harvard has to be engaged globally in ways that maximize our impact for the good of the world,” he said.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu

—Staff writer Zoe A. Y. Weinberg can be reached at zoe.weinberg@college.harvard.edu

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