A Global Strategy for MIT

I. Bringing MIT to the World

Under the general heading of ‘bringing MIT to the world’, I recommend new efforts in three areas.

I.A Build new MIT Partnerships for a Better World

Many MIT faculty members want to expand their international educational and research collaborations, and many potential international partners seek new collaborations with our faculty. MIT can help our faculty by providing more active and targeted support for building international partnerships. This will also provide new opportunities for students to gain meaningful, MIT-worthy international educational experiences.

The broad objective of MIT Partnerships for a Better World is to create new region-specific platforms for cultivating, facilitating, and coordinating faculty and Institute-level collaborations in targeted countries and regions. These new regional platforms will:

  • enable MIT to amplify its global impact by better supporting and scaling research by MIT faculty, enhancing collaboration, and identifying new opportunities for collaborative problem-solving in targeted regions;
  • provide new ways for international sponsors and donors to support their home-country institutions while also engaging with MIT;
  • support research collaborations of individual MIT faculty members with international partners;
  • connect MIT more effectively with prominent international alumni and other leaders in targeted countries and regions;
  • support MIT’s global problem-solving initiatives (in energy, climate, water, food, etc.) by facilitating connections around these major initiatives in targeted countries and regions;
  • achieve better coordination between research initiatives and other MIT activities in a given country or region (for example, MISTI internships, D-Lab projects, Sloan Action Learning Labs, EmTech and ILP conferences, Global Teaching Labs, and executive education programs);
  • help increase the visibility of MIT’s presence in targeted countries and regions; and
  • build on and support MISTI’s country programs, which are now playing a major role in serving MIT students and faculty, and which merit greater financial stability and a closer connection to the strategic priorities of the Institute.

Building these new regional partnerships will entail:

  1. Establishing standing faculty/staff working groups, by region, to provide strategic advice and develop regional engagement plans (the regional working groups may be augmented by outside experts, as needed). These regional working groups will:

    • advise on regional challenges, issues, and questions;
    • spearhead or support regional development efforts, collaborating with faculty across campus to create opportunities and identify potential partners;
    • ensure that the perspectives of the major MIT initiatives are represented;
    • catalog and track MIT activity/interests in the region.
  2. Holding a series of MIT regional summits, with the first such summit to be held in China in 2018.

    These summits will be designed to increase MIT’s visibility and provide a focus for efforts to establish new partnerships and develop new resources, and will be held at a rate of roughly one per year. The approach will enable a major focus on a different region each year, with a major MIT conference in that region and associated workshops, roundtables, executive/professional education programs, and other MIT-branded events such as entrepreneurship bootcamps, coupled to Cambridge-based events that are also focused on that region. The predictable multi-year cycle of summits will give MIT staff time to prepare the ground for the next major push in each region. Output from the regional summits will feed directly into the work of the regional faculty working groups and will help inform their strategic guidance. In addition, the summits will provide a venue for discussing funding opportunities with potential collaborators and sponsors, building the foundation for expanded future relationships.

  3. Expanding regional seed funds and building new funds to support MIT strategic priorities by region.

    MISTI currently administers 22 country-specific (and sometimes university-specific) seed funds, intended to encourage the creation of research collaborations between MIT faculty and counterparts abroad. Foreign governments or universities provide most of the funding. The funds play an effective role in supporting small-scale, short-term interactions, but the scale is not sufficient to support continuation of the most worthwhile activities. There is a need for a larger-scale program with greater strategic coherence, potential for sustainability, and institutional visibility. Such a program would allow MIT to expand into regions and areas where it has not been active, develop stronger collaborations with peer institutions, and explore opportunities for collaboration in education and innovation/entrepreneurship as well as research.

New Regional Priorities: In recent years MIT’s international engagements have been concentrated in Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Three other regions that have been relatively underrepresented in the MIT international portfolio until now stand out as having high potential for impactful engagement in the future: Africa; Mexico, Brazil, and other parts of Latin America; and China.

Africa. Africa, the world’s fastest growing region in recent years, faces a multitude of challenging problems of great interest to many MIT faculty and students, including public health; water and environmental quality; rapid urbanization; the spread of social, digital, and transportation networks; and access to education. To expand the scale and scope of MIT’s activities in Africa it will be necessary to find a sustainable funding model. It will also be necessary to identify long-term strategic partners who can compensate for gaps in MIT’s own know-how and experience. And, as in other parts of the world, concentrating MIT’s efforts in countries with democratic leanings and a strong commitment to education and STEM development will increase the likelihood of success.

Latin America. A major target of opportunity is Mexico, whose economy is so tightly integrated with the U.S. economy—especially in important manufacturing sectors, where the two countries will largely sink or swim together. Previous educational, research, and cultural exchanges and collaborations in Mexico have been highly beneficial to MIT. In Brazil, too, there are important opportunities for collaborative research and education. More broadly, the U.S. has an enormous stake in the prosperity, security, and political development of Latin America, and for MIT a greater scale of involvement in that region may also create opportunities to strengthen connections to the domestic Latino community. Undertaking new academic and industrial partnerships in Mexico, Brazil, and other Latin American countries such as Chile can thus help to advance MIT’s domestic and international objectives simultaneously.

China. MIT must expand its engagements in and with China, for the simple reason that Chinese researchers will increasingly be present at the frontiers of science and technology, where MIT faculty and students must also be. But as we seek new opportunities for collaboration, we must also be prepared for periods of political tension between the U.S. and China. Economic competition may aggravate political strains over trade and technology, and strategic rivalry between the two countries may intensify in different parts of the world. At the same time, cooperation on climate change mitigation, clean energy, environmental sustainability, and other issues may also increase. A challenge for MIT will be how to operate in an asymmetric information environment, in which new scientific knowledge, including new knowledge that MIT faculty help to create through collaborations with Chinese colleagues, will not flow as freely in China as in the U.S. MIT’s longer-standing engagements elsewhere in Asia, including in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, are free of most of these complications, and will continue to be important even as the Institute considers new possibilities in China.

I.B Expand MIT’s global classroom

Experiential international learning is a distinctive feature of MIT education, and MIT’s undergraduate and graduate students have access to a wide range of opportunities of this type. As noted, interest in these opportunities is growing, with 50% of the most recent class of graduating seniors (2016) reporting at least one international educational experience, compared to 23% in 2006. Program leaders indicate that there continues to be unmet demand for these experiences, as well as financial constraints that affect supply.

MIT should commit itself to providing an MIT-quality international experience to every undergraduate who desires one, as a key component of undergraduate education, similar to the role played by UROP today.

A faculty committee should be convened to consider, together with the administrators of the major global education programs, how best to achieve this goal. The committee should:

  • Assess the range of international experience pathways currently available for MIT students, taking into account the educational value of different types of experiences, including the time at which they occur, their duration, and links to student curriculum/study and faculty research. In addition, special consideration should be given to student populations that currently face high barriers to participation, including financial barriers.
  • Recommend ways to implement this Institute commitment effectively, recognizing that the units currently offering global experiences have different reporting lines, funding structures, and oversight. The committee’s plan should address how much funding is needed to achieve this goal and how best to allocate and manage funds. Additionally, the plan should outline the processes that are needed for effective program delivery and long-term viability.

I.C Streamline and strengthen international educational assistance/institution-building programs

In expectation that MIT will continue to receive requests for assistance in building new universities and upgrading existing research and educational capabilities around the world, we should:

  • Look for opportunities to consolidate and standardize key services that are often provided in these programs (such as ‘teach-the-teachers’, faculty development, administrative leadership development, technology transfer, and innovation and entrepreneurship programs).
  • Explore smaller-scale offerings accessible to smaller or poorer countries that are unable to afford customized, ‘full-function’ institution-building programs.
  • Identify ways to deliver more services at MIT to reduce travel burdens and resulting wear-and-tear on faculty and staff.
  • Strengthen efforts to share experiences and promote learning across our large ongoing international institution- and capability-building programs.
  • Encourage departments, laboratories, centers, and schools to play a larger role in identifying and developing international projects that can augment Institute-level initiatives.

The MIT Office of Digital Learning (ODL) and its various initiatives including the Integrated Learning Initiative (MITiLi), MITx, and the new Jameel World Education Laboratory are collaborating with education researchers and working with colleges and universities in different regions to design and deliver capacity-building services linked to educational innovation. ODL will have an important role in implementing this recommendation.