Commentary: International education closely linked to jobs, growth

Here is a commentary by Gilles Bousquet, Dean of International Studies and Vice Provost for Globalization at University of Wisconsin-Madison, in celebration of International Education Week:

International education today is more than learning a second language or becoming well-versed in world geography.

Language learning and global knowledge continue to be foundational, but, in today’s new economy, it is all about preparing our youth—through international experiences and coursework—to live, work, lead and compete in an interconnected, interdependent world. In a word, it is about employability.

It also is about making sure that home-grown Wisconsin employers—private, public and non-profit alike—can locally recruit the talent they need to fuel their growth in today’s increasingly global marketplace—in short, human and economic development.

The U.S. Departments of State and Education sponsor International Education Week (Nov. 14-18) as an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.

As we join this celebration, we must recognize international education not as an “extra” in our schools, but as a critical component throughout K-16 education. For the future of our young people, our employers, our state and nation, the stakes have never been higher.

Wisconsin’s flagship companies – such as Johnson Controls, Harley-Davidson and Promega – are thriving by riding a global wave of growth powered by China, Brazil, India and other emerging markets. These companies urgently need global talent now—and even more tomorrow.

I recently heard a senior executive at Johnson Controls, the state’s largest private employer (with operations around the world), say: “Our talent development and acquisition activity across the organization is the single most critical factor for us as a company to grow and to thrive. So, it is all about people.”

As the nation struggles to create jobs, we—Wisconsin’s education and business communities, government agencies and non-profit organizations—must act quickly and in creative, concerted ways to leverage our investments in international education to generate jobs and economic growth at home.

It is also imperative that we make it possible for our best and brightest graduates to put their education to work with employers whose success directly benefit our communities and state.

Wisconsin’s educational institutions need to come together to expand and deepen our conversations about what we can do that is best for our students and best for our partners. To effectively develop global talent, we need to design a broad-based, interdisciplinary architecture that integrates professional, scientific and technical training with the core skills of a liberal arts education.

If we step up together to meet this challenge, communities across Wisconsin will share in the benefits.