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Rafael Domingo Oslé, Full Professor of the University of Navarra, researcher of Institute for Culture and Society and researcher at Emory University.

Towards a global university

Wed, 06 Apr 2016 17:14:00 +0000 Published in El Español

In recent weeks, the national press has been full of news of some European university rankings. In them, it has become clear that Spanish universities, with honourable exceptions of which we should all feel proud, have a lot to improve in order to be at the top. However questionable these rankings may be, they are there and they have a certain value.

I do not like to fall into sterile laments, as I am a natural optimist. In Spain there are very good professionals working in universities, both public and private, as well as in so many organizations that support higher education Education . Otherwise, generalizations are never correct. Medicine, architecture, engineering, Spanish business schools occupy a place of honor on the world scene that should be recognized. Our large law firms compete on a level playing field with the best firms in Europe. Examples abound.

Much has been done in this field at teaching and research, and, thanks to the efforts of so many people, our universities have little to do with those we had a few years ago. However, much progress is also needed for Spain to occupy a prominent position in the international university panorama. It is not so easy to reach the first division of the global university league. But I believe that the time has come to give it a serious try.

In my opinion, there is a first necessary, non-negotiable change that must be made in order to achieve a substantial improvement in Spanish universities and to be truly competitive. It is the clear and unequivocal recognition, with all its consequences, that the official language of the Spanish university is not Spanish, but English, as is the case of airports, regardless of where they are located.

A university campus can be bilingual or multilingual, as the case may be, but it will always have to maintain English as the official language , as a clear expression of its universality. This is already the case in business schools or some research centers, but there is still much to be achieved.

The fact that Spanish is a beautiful and widespread language language that we should care for and promote as one of the best assets of our society does not mean that we should not jump on the English bandwagon. The one does not take away the other. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that Spain and Europe are multilingual and that linguistic diversity is a richness, which it is, at odds with the pretended supremacy of one language over the others. The truth is that, today, the global and scientific language par excellence is English. And what is not said or written in English does not exist on the international scientific scene.

Our campus will not seriously internationalize, no matter how much experience our universities have, as long as they are not English-speaking. Therefore, the challenge that lies ahead of us is that every professor under the age of fifty, or even sixty, working in a Spanish university should be able to teach and write his or her publications in English. This process may take some time, but in due course it will bear immense fruit, as did a good translation of Don Quixote into English. It was then that our culture was truly universalized, because we were able to show the beauty of what is ours in the language of others.

Making this leap into English, for those who have to make it, is, after all, a very important decision staff, as it may require a great effort. For this reason, it should be positively encouraged by the university authorities by granting extensive permission to residency program abroad in exchange for specific objectives at teaching and research.

In a recent assessment for a place of researcher on social issues at a prestigious American university, important research published in Spanish, French, Italian and German was not taken into account. It was not a problem of linguistic contempt, but of clear recognition that, in the international league, it is in English. Anything that is not in English is by definition in the second division. Those are the rules of the game. Period.

This is obvious in the world of science, but perhaps less so in the world of Humanities. Cultivators of more traditional sciences, such as law, will tell me that it is not possible to explain the Spanish civil code in English, and that Spanish law demands to know the Spanish language . I will respond by saying that the fact that a science is very much conditioned by a specific language , as is the case, for example, with law, does not mean that this science cannot be explained and made perfectly well known in English.

The Germans go to great lengths to have their most important laws and judgments, so often replete with complicated technicalities, translated into English. Recently, I have been teaching American students about transfer of ownership in the different European legal systems. I had to make a great conceptual effort of adaptation, but I think it was worth it. What is not in English is not in the world of science. This, today, is no longer debatable, even though it may still be difficult for some to accept it.

To achieve this goal of English in the short term deadline, and to refresh our university system, it seems to me that all Spanish doctoral students should write their thesis in English and obtain their degree scroll in foreign universities. A few years working in a foreign country completely changes the perception of a young person professor or researcher and this is, in the end, what will truly transform the Spanish university landscape in a few years.

What a big difference between a university whose academic staff has earned degrees from hundreds of foreign universities and a university whose faculty is basically composed of people from a single university system, however good it may be. It is not a question of quality; it is a question of diversity. And here diversity makes the difference.

The university, whether it wants to or not, has become internationalized and, as a result, has diversified. Diversification, therefore, should be understood as a powerful asset that drives internationalization. For this reason, to speak of Spanish rankings, among Spanish universities, no longer makes sense. It is like comparing neighborhoods in the same city when what is really being discussed is in which city one lives better.

Do not think that the reader who writes these lines was born calling his father daddy. Far from it. I belong to the last generation of the French schoolboy generation, with great honor, and, as a jurist, I was trained in German and Italian academic environments. Until I was in my forties, English did not exist for me beyond the world of song. In this sense, I am a convert. Perhaps that is why I speak with the impertinence of one who has seen the results of effort.