President post: The importance of education and internationalism

16 November 2015
jonathan graduation 14 november 2015

Jonathan Michie with Susan Njambi-Szlapka and Gayathri Balan at their graduation on 14th November, 2015.

On Saturday 14th November 2015, I welcomed 48 graduating students along with around a hundred of their family and friends to our Degree Day celebrations at Kellogg. This is always the happiest day in the College calendar. Across the road, at the Maison Français, the French flag was flying at half-mast, following the atrocities and deaths of the previous night. The contrast between the two sets of events was stark, but for me the despair of the Paris events made even more important and appropriate our celebration of education and internationalism – which is what Kellogg’s graduation ceremonies are all about.

Kellogg is the University of Oxford’s most international college. Our 48 graduating students came from across the globe – probably representing thirty or so countries between them, with a corresponding spectrum of cultures and religions. We are Oxford’s most diverse college by just about any measure.

The Master’s and Doctoral awards our students were receiving represented a similarly diverse range from across the University’s disciplinary spectrum, but some were particularly striking in terms of promoting a more understanding and sustainable future globally – degrees in Education, Evidence-Based Health Care, Sustainable Urban Development, and International Human Rights Law, to name but a few.

My own DPhil student Kriengsak Chareonwongsak had travelled from Thailand with family and friends to collect his degree (photo on my twitter feed @jonathan_michie), after four years of researching how the co-operative movement in Thailand can be made more effective, to benefit their members, and of course in accordance with the co-operative movement’s principles, which include to “work for the sustainable development of their communities”.

Kriengsak and several of the other graduates were from the Department for Continuing Education, whose online courses and summer schools also promote education globally. And other University departments do similarly, including Oxford University Press – the world’s most successful and global university press by far.

It is a privilege to have a job that is not only enjoyable but the purpose of which is to promote education and international understanding. I’m also fortunate that my main activity outside Oxford is to Chair the Board of UWC Atlantic College, which “is committed to making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future” – one of fifteen United World Colleges across the globe with a similar mission of seeking to inspire students from across the world “to create a more peaceful and sustainable future”.

Last month was the annual meeting of the UWC Council (on which I serve, as a College Chair), held at the College in Mostar, Bosnia, which was created specifically to help overcome that region’s problems of division and civil war, and it was uplifting to meet the students from across the globe, many of whom had requested that college in particular because of the region’s troubled past, showing solidarity not only with those from Bosnia, but with all their fellow-students from 48 countries – coincidentally, the same number as of students graduating from Oxford at Kellogg on Saturday. If those students from Mostar and Kellogg, along with others like them, can contribute to their communities globally, inspiring others to do likewise, then we will be in safe hands, and the future will indeed be more peaceful and sustainable.

Jonathan Michie