“Perhaps, instead of telling students they ought to be “world leaders,” we should encourage them to be good neighbours.”

When we cast our vision on the role of universities in promoting the act of doing good for a better world, we stumbled across this precious line by author Gracy Olmstead. He wrote an interesting discussion about the globalisation of education which produces graduates pursuing the larger circle of influence and accomplishment — the aspired ‘world leaders’ — yet leaving their rural homes behind.

This phenomenon, which seems to appear more and more in every part of the world, is written as being rooted in diverse aspects and opinions. The desire of the US people to rise is one of them.

However, the aspect that would surely catch the eye is the ideology imposed on the students that universities are part of the industrial economy, and students graduating with debt are left with no other goal but to be in the industry and ‘feed’ it in order to free themselves from the crushing debts that choke their necks.

Some people don’t accept this as a great deal. They noted the adverse impacts on the happiness of the rural communities as well as the graduates themselves.

The graduates would feel distant from their origin, or worse, they would surmise that good life could be found anywhere except at home. As they hesitate to come home and the local youth keep moving out, the rural communities would slowly diminish and eventually cease to exist.

Dealing with these complexities is vital in cultivating a doing-good society. However, it is not about whether we should cease from producing world leaders but instead shift to reviving graduates who are ‘good neighbours’.

In lieu of both the reality of the globalised economy and the prominent rural neighbourhood that brings people back to become humane again, a win-win situation is achievable when there is integration of both into the vision of our current educational system. And there is no other way to bring this to light except by having a reform of our education system.

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Maybe these ideas would enlighten us?

1. Restore the purpose of universities: To educate mankind.

If there is one thing in the university that should be revamped, it is their slight off-course purpose. As capitalist-based globalisation won over the heart of the country, the people are less seen as souls that give life and nurture humanity within mankind, as well as plot the course of the country for the better.

Instead, they are now considered as assets that feed the needs of the industries, churning out profits like there is no tomorrow. These industries pave the way for the country that race against each other, whether to be closer in becoming an economic hegemony that controls the world or serving the ‘greed for wealth’ of certain corrupt and greedy leaders from all levels within today’s materialistic community.

Our graduates, therefore, are being cornered. As a result, a university has become nothing but a stepping stone for them to survive in this nasty race, whilst simultaneously trying to have their personal desires — having a comfy house and a sporty car, hanging out at the eateries, and quick travel overseas — fulfilled.

This is where things went wrong. A university should be a place where the values and lessons of being civilised are instilled in the heart of the students. A university should possess good intrinsic value and provide pure learning.

That way, the university will produce ‘good neighbours’, or better, world leaders that embody admirable qualities and have empathy, befitting of a nation that is filled with ‘good neighbours’.

2) Increase student-engagement with the community in the rural area.

With the learning atmosphere in the university being heavily focused on the globalised approach and completion of syllabus, self-proactivity in engaging with the not-so-global rural community cannot be expected to occur just like that. We are here in the time when such quality has to be cultivated and nurtured in the students by way of external initiatives.

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Most of the courses occupy the students with the circle of ‘world leaders’ instead of encouraging them to reap benefits from somewhere closer to home — their own townspeople. Through this, students are able to gain insight and see their locality’s POV and witness the real actions of the ‘good neighbours’.

But what often happens is that students overlook the actions they can take within their local community, in pursuit of the grander global campaigns. In class, they have regular meetings or group discussion about the impact of greenhouse effects to the world, but at home, they forget to help the elderly or grandparents to plant trees and flowers at the backyards of their homes.

In class, they study the statistics of the endangered wildlife, but at home, they are oblivious and ignore the fact that some of their own rural communities are still unknowingly chopping down the woodland nearby.

It is time that universities encourage their students to serve their community first. In fact, there is a huge difference between a leader who engages with the community to solve problems and a leader who only gives rhetorical speeches and conducts endless meetings to solve problems theoretically.

3. Promote development and bring job opportunities to rural areas.

It is exasperating for a petroleum engineering graduate to find a job in the rural areas. The same goes for a huge number of courses being offered in the university: the only place where the graduates could become what they are trained to do is in the city.

To achieve the aspiration of bringing jobs to rural areas, it has to involve a change in policies and developmental planning of the country. Instead of concentrating on the cities, why not bring the investments and technologies to strategic rural areas? Improve the life of the rural communities by bringing more graduates there, not eradicating them off by having them move out to the urban jungle.

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4. Redefine world leaders.

We are used to the impression and idea of leaders attending meetings, giving speeches here and there and even put a play of ‘doing good’ in front of the cameras. Leaders, specifically world leaders, have to be redefined, at least for the public perception if the academicians have already debated it for decades.

We need fewer world leaders who aspire for a peaceful local community yet seldom be present in it, that they failed to appreciate what it means to have a peaceful community when they make themselves busy by attacking other international communities.

We need more world leaders who feel how the poor feel, who understand the suffering and act compassionately in return, the kind who empathize with the plight of the less fortunate and not the kind who inhumanely ordered for the homeless to be detained or the refugees to be sent back to where they ran away from.

In short, we need more world leaders possessing the emotion and sense of the ‘good neighbours.’

Redefining this exclusive terminology could change the entire view of what universities could achieve when they set their vision and mission to produce more leaders.

They would no longer be obsessed with pushing students further into the global circle and filling the city where there is no space left. Instead, the graduates produced are those who would also return to their community, serve them, and improve the quality of life and the tradition.

They would no longer create leaders who keep discussing and agreeing with each other that the sun has set off when darkness comes. Instead, the leaders we are yearning for are the leaders who would find a match, light up the candles, and bring people together so that everyone could share the illumination, happiness, hope, warmth, and love.