Modern Universities Are Globalisation Made Real

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There are 28 of them this year. Most are in their early twenties. A lot have come straight from their undergraduate programmes but a significant number have been working in the industry for a few years. They are bright, keen, intelligent and imaginative. And they are from 15 different countries. Discussions of the latest news are as likely to cover Singles’ Day as they are John Lewis Christmas ads. Classes research BRIC countries not as abstract entities but as markets that can and could be connected to the UK. Students prepare to be that bridge when Britain escorts them back to Heathrow at the end of their visa. My Masters class at London College of Communication is international. More, it is global.

A modern university class is globalisation made real. A modern advertising programme is inevitably global, a crucible of global creative and strategic thinking.

JWT has spotted this. The Drum reports that the agency’s China office has formed a partnership with the University of Sydney where 16 students from interdisciplinary areas form small teams to develop “creative, ethical and context-sensitive solutions” problems and issues set out by industry, community and government organizations. The students will work at the University for one week and then for two further weeks in Shanghai with JWT China, returning to Sydney to write up and reflect for the final week.

International students are big business for Australian universities with over 25,000 in the University of Sydney alone which has doubled the number of international students in just four years. The University of Sydney, like institutions across the world, is global.

This shift, of course, matches shifts in the wider industry. Sir John Hegarty may bemoan its effects on creativity but he acknowledges that markets are global, media is global, brands are global and agencies are global – even amid mergers and rebrands.

Marketing Week reports a growing concern on the part of marketers that degrees are  ‘archaic’. Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamannar told the magazine: “What they are teaching and the marketing grounding that’s being imparted is not exactly what life is like today.” I have argued before that in many ways Rajamannar is right and that new models are needed, that industry can get something out of any real partnership. The curricula do need to change but the university classroom or innovation laboratory of the future is more than what is delivered by the professors. It is the space where cultures and knowledge collide, where globalisation becomes real. That crucible is where the potential lies.

This seems to have passed Marketing Week and its interviewees by. In the report and its partner feature there are photos of diverse students but barely a mention of global discussion and debate, international dialectic learning spaces or potential. The complaints about curricula and the promises of future relevancy are resolutely local.

The JWT/University of Sydney project is presented as an exploration of machine learning but there is perhaps more. The University frames the partnership in terms of exploring what the future agency might look like; what new roles will be; “what the future of work will look like for creative agencies.” Machine learning is, of course, an important part of that but so is the global context, global talent, global networks and, I would argue global industry-academia partnerships. Any new agency model will have to deal with those global forces and potentials.

JWT China is not just making the most of offshore Chinese talent in Australia – at least one would hope not. It is tapping into a global class, a globalised thinkthank, a globalisation laboratory. Of course the Chinese students in Sydney will be useful, but so will their Australian, European and American classmates and crucially the dialectic between them.

The students on modern, internationalised degree programmes are global. They think global, they live global. The classroom is a microcosm of the contemporary world. Languages, ideas, cultural references, business cultures, global and glocal strategies bounce around the walls. These classes don’t need a lesson in globalisation, they provide it.

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