A Global Strategy for MIT

Executive Summary

This plan addresses three important questions for MIT over the coming decade:

  • How can our international activities best contribute to advancing the frontiers of knowledge in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship?
  • How can they help bring forefront knowledge to bear on solving the world’s most challenging problems?
  • How can they contribute to educating future leaders who will work creatively, cooperatively, effectively, and wisely for the betterment of humankind?

MIT’s international activities have been growing rapidly, and further growth is likely. Our students are seeking more high-quality opportunities to learn about and engage with the world. Our faculty members are finding more opportunities to collaborate with international colleagues. And MIT itself, at the top of the international university rankings and widely recognized for its strength in combining innovation with research and education, is much in demand as a partner by governments and universities around the world.

Individual faculty members initiate and implement most of MIT’s international activities. The role of the MIT administration is to encourage and support these activities and to safeguard faculty members’ freedom to pursue them. In addition, MIT sometimes seeks to act internationally on a larger scale. In the past, MIT could be reactive, responding to major international opportunities as they arose. But today these activities claim a significant share of the Institute’s scarcest and most valuable resource—the time and attention of the faculty. We cannot do everything we might want to do, and we cannot be everywhere in the world. Priorities are therefore needed.

This plan envisions a new and less provisional phase of international engagement for MIT. The plan is designed to create a more robust and durable platform to support the international initiatives of individual faculty, while also establishing a principled framework for selecting and undertaking larger-scale activities to increase MIT’s impact in the world.

The plan calls for MIT to:

1. Build new MIT Partnerships for a Better World.

The purpose of these partnerships is to promote and coordinate faculty- and Institute-level collaborations in different regions of the world. We should: (1) establish standing faculty working groups, by region, to provide strategic advice and develop regional action plans; (2) hold periodic MIT summits in targeted regions to increase our visibility and provide a focus for establishing new collaborations and developing new resources, with the first such summit in China in 2018; and (3) expand international seed funds and build new funds to support research and educational collaborations between MIT faculty and their counterparts abroad. While the faculty will continue to pursue their professional goals around the world, there should be a new focus on three regions—China; Mexico, Brazil, and other parts of Latin America; and Africa—that have been underrepresented in the MIT portfolio of activities previously and that have high potential for impactful engagement.

2. Commit to providing an MIT-quality international educational experience to every undergraduate who desires one.

We should continue building out MIT’s distinctive ‘global classroom’, in which our students learn about the world through hands-on, practical problem-solving projects, ideally in collaboration with fellow-students in other societies and with our faculty as guides.

3. Streamline our approach to international institution- and capacity-building.

This should include: (1) consolidating and standardizing key services that are provided in these programs; (2) delivering more such services at MIT to reduce travel burdens on our faculty and staff; and (3) developing smaller-scale offerings that are accessible to smaller or poorer countries.

4. Explore the feasibility of a new MIT Global Leaders program.

We should convene a faculty group to consider a new kind of global leadership development program at MIT, with the theme of wise, humane, and effective applications of science and technology. This graduate program would involve deep immersion in a technical field, academic rigor, interdisciplinarity, cohort-building activities, and active involvement in problem-solving and in translating research ideas to impact.

5. Review the cap on international undergraduate admissions.

The review, which should be conducted by the Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, should consider impacts on the financial aid budget as well as the availability of places for domestic students.

6. Strengthen the governance of MIT’s international activities.

A new external advisory committee should be established to provide focused, expert advice on international programs, strategies, and plans. Additionally, the current International Advisory Committee should be reconstituted as an administrative committee of the Institute, providing independent faculty assessments of proposed, ongoing, and completed activities in relation to MIT’s core teaching, research and service objectives.

7. Improve operational support.

A strategic communications plan should be developed, focusing on how best to present MIT’s international activities and aspirations to key domestic and international stakeholders. Also, our existing administrative support structures and services should be reviewed to identify and prioritize new opportunities to strengthen support for faculty international engagements.

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This plan also identifies eight core principles to guide MIT’s international engagements:

  1. Working internationally and achieving international impact are essential to achieving MIT’s mission of service to the nation and the world. If MIT is to continue at the forefront of education, research, and innovation in the 21st century, our geographic reach and aspirations must be global.
  2. MIT is an American institution. When members of the MIT community operate internationally they must be in compliance with relevant U.S. laws and regulations, and when MIT considers major new international engagements it must be cognizant of the national interest.
  3. Wherever MIT faculty, staff, and students are working in the world, they should be guided by the same core values that inform life and work at MIT itself. We obviously cannot require other societies to conform to our values, and we should be respectful of social and cultural differences. But we can hope to influence the societies in which we work by showing through our own example how things are done at MIT. Our core values include: advancing the frontiers of knowledge; encouragement of discovery, intellectual risk-taking, and creative problem-solving; honesty and integrity in all professional and personal dealings; respect for others; a commitment to diversity; fairness in the treatment of all individuals and groups; an open, respectful approach to discourse; reliance on facts and reason-based objective inquiry; freedom of expression, communication, and movement of people; and a commitment to excellence in all that we do.
  4. New international ventures will be most successful when they are led by faculty members whose academic interests are strongly aligned with project objectives. A second key requirement for success is to pair faculty leaders with strong and experienced administrators who can provide a singular focus on managing the demanding operational details typical of these activities.
  5. MIT’s international collaborations should be approached as true partnerships in learning, with the expectation that each partner has much to learn from the other, no matter how great the asymmetry in academic strength and reputation.
  6. The longer and larger a proposed international engagement, the more careful we should be about committing to it. Large international engagements should be re-assessed periodically with respect to their potential to continue delivering significant mutual benefits for MIT and its international partners.
  7. Rigorous risk management is essential in the international domain, but this is not the same as risk avoidance or risk elimination. A risk-averse approach is incompatible with the kind of institution MIT is and seeks to remain. When faculty members are engaged in significant research, or when important education is taking place, the role of the MIT administration is to work within a risk-informed framework to find ways to reduce associated risks to acceptable levels. The safety and security of students and staff must be of the highest priority.
  8. International engagements are often expensive, but the availability of funding cannot be the sole determinant of where MIT works in the world. Other key considerations include the opportunity to collaborate with excellent partners, from whom MIT faculty and students can learn and with whom they can jointly maximize their impact, and also the opportunity to work in locations where the problems are most challenging, and where we can most effectively pursue our mission of working for the betterment of humankind. Our portfolio of international engagements should be periodically assessed with respect to the balance among these criteria.

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This plan also considers whether MIT can pursue its global goals and aspirations successfully in the present environment, when doubts about the benefits of globalization are spreading; when political and religious intolerance seem to be on the rise; when governments, including our own, are pursuing more overtly nationalist agendas; and when the future of the American-led international economic and political order is in question.

These developments may pose significant new risks to MIT. But working across borders, collaborating with international partners, and tackling some of the world’s most difficult problems are fundamental to MIT’s institutional values, and we must remain steadfast in our commitment to international engagement. This plan proposes several mitigating measures to help protect MIT against new risks in the international arena.