Keynote Address at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry

New Delhi, India
November 11, 2010

It’s an honor to be with all of you this morning for the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2010: “Renovations in Indian Higher Education: Renewed Focus on Autonomy, Accountability, and Partnership.”

I wish to express my gratitude to:

This sixth annual Higher Education Summit, with its focus on autonomy, accountability and partnerships in Indian higher education, provides us with an opportunity to share ideas and practices that may transform the way we understand what it means to be educated in, and for, our increasingly knowledge-based global society. And it is even more fitting that we come together today on National Education Day, in celebration of Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and his contributions to modern Indian education.

It is in this context, one shaped by the forces of globalization, that I wish to offer reflections. I will focus specifically on the impact of globalization on higher education. For it is these globalizing forces, more than anything else, which explain my presence here. I think we recognize that there is something very special, unique, perhaps unprecedented about this moment. What defines this moment is the impact of globalization, that convergence of forces that include new information, communication and transportation technologies – that are reshaping our economies, our policies, the way we work, the meaning of work, the nature of job creation and economic development.

The forces of globalization are influencing the trajectories of our colleges and universities, from the emergence of branch campuses in different parts of the world, to the migration of talent – the recruitment of students and faculty from all parts of the world – to the expansion of collaborative research projects, and the emergence and establishment of new universities.

I offer my reflections today from the perspective of a life lived in the academy, in the context of one university, a university located in the United States of America. To be here in Delhi just days after the extraordinary visit of an American president has only impressed upon me more the significance of this moment – a moment defined by globalization and a moment defined by the significance of being in this place, India. Perhaps nowhere in the world are the questions raised by globalization for a college and university more relevant than here in India.

As President Obama stated on Monday, here in Delhi: “It is my belief that the relationship between the United States and India – bound by our shared interests and our shared values – will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.” 1

This word, “partnership,” may be the most important word emerging from the President’s visit. If you produced a tag cloud of the dominant words taken from his time here, the word “partnership” would emerge as among the most significant. President Obama said, “We have an historic opportunity to make the relationship between our two countries the defining partnership of the century ahead.” 3

He described our nations as “global partners.” 4 He described a new willingness “to forge partnerships in high-tech sectors.” 5 He indicated that together we can “partner for global security” 6 and that we can partner in, “strengthening the foundation of democratic governance [both] at home [and] abroad.” 7 He concluded in his address to Parliament that, “[A]s global partners, this is the leadership that the United States and India can offer in the 21st century. Ultimately, though, this cannot be a relationship only between Presidents and Prime Ministers…ultimately, this must be a partnership between our peoples.”8

President Obama has provided a framework for my reflections today. I believe that it is through partnerships, enduring partnerships based on a profound respect and a deep trust, that our colleges and universities can respond to the challenges of this moment, the challenges presented by globalization. None of us can achieve our promise or realize our potential alone. None of us can meet the responsibilities that we share to activate the unique resources of the university for these complex challenges on our own.

To fulfill our responsibilities we will need to engage in new ways, connect with one another in new structures, forge enduring partnerships.

I wish to describe the responsibilities that emerge in this moment, and the kinds of responses that will be required. In some cases the responsibilities will be new, or more profound, in others, familiar, but no less urgent.

Our first responsibility, one that is familiar, is that we are to be places of truth. Places where the truth is pursued, places where the truth is professed. We fulfill this responsibility by engaging in the most rigorous scholarship and research, breaking through the obstacles and blocks that prevent us from the deepest understanding possible. We describe this pursuit as “disinterested,” meaning we are prepared to follow the truth wherever it leads us. And we are committed to sharing what we find in our teaching and in our writing.

To perform this role requires that we have the freedom to engage in this work, work that can sometimes be critical of received wisdom.

Our first responsibility is to be places of truth: a role and responsibility that no one can perform as effectively as the university. If we forget this role, we cannot fulfill any other…and we do have others.

Let me speak about a second role. In his remarks before Parliament on Monday, President Obama said this: “We believe that no matter where you live – whether a village in Punjab or the bylanes of Chandni Chowk– an old section of Kolkata or a new high-rise in Bangalore – every person deserves the same chance to live in security and dignity, to get an education, to find work, to give their children a better future.” 9

Every so often, something truly extraordinary happens that changes the way we think about the world. In this quote from President Obama, we see just such a moment.

In our lifetime, one such moment occurred with the introduction of the concepts that we now refer to as the Human Development and Capability Approach. 10

The intellectual father of these ideas is a man who is no stranger here in India, the Nobel Laureate, Amartya Sen, who over the course of his career has made revolutionary contributions that have transformed how we understand the nature of our responsibilities to one another. Professor Sen sought to move our thinking about economic policies away from metrics like GDP, and toward a framework that promotes human flourishing.

It might seem obvious now that a country’s standard of living should involve more than the market value of goods and services made within its borders during a year. Rather, the standard of living should reflect whether or not people have a context in which they can enjoy long, healthy, and creative lives.11

It was only in 1990 that the first United Nations Human Development Report was published. 12 In that report, the animating concepts that inform today’s understanding of human development were established. Human development was defined as, “[B]oth the process of widening people’s choices and the level of their achieved well-being.” 13 The approach focused on the development of people’s capabilities, that is, the “freedom to promote or achieve what [one] values[s] doing and being.” 14

Professor Sen asks, Do you have the capabilities to engage in the activities and practices that matter most to you? Do the social, political, and economic structures provide you with the framework to achieve these capabilities?

A commitment to human development has significant repercussions for governing bodies, public policy makers, and those in industry who must attract and retain an educated workforce. But what does this mean for those of us in higher education throughout the world? This is the question that we have been asking ourselves at Georgetown as we look beyond the needs of our immediate community and think about our deeper engagement in the global community.

When we assemble talent from every corner of the globe, when we can connect that talent in new collaborative partnerships, and when the decisions made in one place—whether it be related to public policy or environmental planning—can affect the lives of people in many other places, I believe we need to acknowledge a new kind of responsibility to engage in the world.

The idea of human development resonates deeply with the ethos of the university. Fundamentally and historically, the ethos of the university, our characteristic spirit, is to seek the betterment of humankind. In a global context, betterment brings us into the work of human development.

Our scholars and students have a strong desire to address these urgent needs. We are homes to a new generation of young people who have grown up with new technologies – people more connected than any generation in history. Through these new technologies, we can break down long-established channels and barriers. In higher education, we need to tap into this energy, while providing a strong ethical foundation for it.

This ethical foundation begins with the moral obligation of assistance and compassion. As universities, we must deepen this basis by fostering reflection on broader issues of global justice. The insights that our students and scholars have gained from their increasing engagement with the world will enrich these understandings, and by connecting to others through new partnerships, our colleges and universities are also beginning to develop and support a new form of public ethics.

Georgetown is a Catholic and Jesuit university. We are animated by an enduring tradition that has its origins in the sixteenth century. There is a strong presence of this tradition in 18 colleges and 149 high schools in India.

One dimension of this tradition is a commitment to the idea of “Magis,” the Latin word for “more.” Is there more we can be doing? More we should be doing? Is more demanded of us at this moment? Do the conditions that define our current reality make new demands on us? In this moment, defined by globalization, more is demanded of us. A new kind of work, a new set of responsibilities is emerging. I think the best way to describe this work is human development, and the best way to approach this work is by engaging in new partnerships.

One example for Georgetown: Here in India we have a program that engages two professors in our School of Foreign Service, Raj Desai and Shareen Joshi.  They are looking at “self-help groups” established by the Self Employed Women’s Association in Dungarpur, an organization founded in 1972 by Ela Bhatt. 15

Through village-based “self-help groups,” the poor can improve their access to credit, increase savings, and receive community-based social services such as health and childcare for their members. The Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) also gives women a platform from which they may become active in village affairs, stand for local elections, or take action to address social or community issues. In recent years, such groups have increasingly been regarded as effective instruments of development policy. Ten percent of the Indian government’s credit to rural areas is now channeled through such groups.

The actual impact, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of self-help groups can be understood at deeper levels. Through this partnership, we are trying to gain a precise understanding of the impact of self-help group work in the lives of women who participate in them.

Such an understanding connects to a third responsibility. Perhaps the most significant way in which we can engage in the work of human development is in capacity building, specifically capacity-building for education. I know how actively you are engaging this challenge. Last year we had the privilege to have on our campus and to be in conversation with the Hon. Kapil Sibal, and to learn from him and his colleagues some of the ways you are building capacity. This is an urgent challenge. An urgent challenge here, and an urgent challenge we face in America.

Let me offer one example from my own context of how challenging this can be. Colleagues of mine at Georgetown at our Center on Education and the Workforce, led by the distinguished economist Anthony Carnevale issued a report this past summer entitled “Help Wanted: Projections of Job Education Requirements through 2018.” 16

The report projected job and employment growth in the United States in the coming decade. It projected that the U.S. economy will produce 46 million new jobs by 2018. 33 million are replacement jobs; 13 million new jobs. 22 million of these jobs will require a post-secondary education.17

Their key finding: We will under-produce post-secondary graduates by approximately 3 million by 2018. 18 We do not have the capacity in higher education in America to respond to the demands of our economy. With 30% of our overall population with a college degree, 19 we have an enormous need to develop our human potential.  This is a defining challenge for the United States and I know building such capacity is a defining challenge for India, too.

Each of these responsibilities, our enduring commitment to the truth, an emerging engagement with human development, and the urgent need to build capacity, all emerge in deeper and more profound ways in this moment, a moment defined by globalization.

None of this work can be the work of any university acting alone. None of us have the resources sufficient to engage effectively in this work. It will require active collaboration across all sectors of our societies. It will require deep partnerships, new kinds of relationships between and among universities, across national boundaries. It will require local knowledge and expertise that can only be learned when shared through deep relationships built on trust and mutual respect.

This work will require the talents and skills of all of us, connected in new ways, and enhanced by the same technologies that have unleashed the forces of globalization.

Can we connect our universities here in India, in the United States and throughout the world in an ever-deeper level of engagement through which, together in partnership, we can become beacons of truth? Can we contribute to the conditions that enable all of our people to live lives of dignity? Can we build the capacities that will enable us to fulfill the promise and potential of our people, especially our young people?

It is important for us to come together, just like this. It is through meetings such as this that the seeds for partnership are established. It is a challenge that has been made ever clearer this week, here in India, of the special responsibility that comes to our two countries, together, as global partners.

It is an honor for me to be with you. Thank you for this invitation to be here today.

Works Cited

1. Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President to the Joint Session of the Indian Parliament.” New Delhi, India. 8 November, 2010.
2. The tag cloud can be viewed at
3. Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President to the Joint Session of the Indian Parliament.”
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Deneulin, Sévérine and Lila Shahani, eds. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency. London: Earthscan, 2009.
11. Ibid, 23.
12. United Nations Development Programme. Human Development Report 1990. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
13. Deneulin, Sévérine and Lila Shahani, eds. An Introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach: Freedom and Agency, 26.
14. Ibid, 31.
15. “The Self Employed Women’s Organization.” Website:
16. Carnevale, Anthony P., Nicole Smith and Jeff Strohl. “Help Wanted, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018.” Center on Education and the Workforce. 1 Aug, 2010.
17. Ibid, 13.
18. Ibid, 16.
19. Kelly, Patrick J. “Closing the College Attainment Gap between the U.S. and Most Educated Countries, and the Contributions to be made by the States.” National Center for Higher Education Management Systems report, April 2010, 1.