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Qais Akbar Omar (GRS’16), a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program, has published a much-praised memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story. He recalls how the violence and tumult of civil war jolted his family, who, despite losing relatives, their home, and possessions, continued to nurture his wish to attend a university.

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Stepping Out to Meet the World

March 28th, 2013

By Jeremy Schwab

Boston University has always had one eye turned outward, one inward. From the outset, the school defined itself as an urban institution, building connections with Boston residents, neighborhoods, and organizations. Over the years, BU also developed a reputation for depth and breadth of research, and academic rigor. The school’s 99 study abroad programs and membership in the Association of American Universities are testaments to its success in reaching outward while strengthening its core.

The College of Arts & Sciences has been a driving force in these efforts. So it is no surprise that, as BU pioneers a new type of international educational collaborative, a CAS professor is leading the charge. For the past four years, Professor of International Relations Vivien Schmidt has been building relationships for BU with universities around the world as part of the Global Erasmus Mundi (GEM) program. Funded by the European Union Commission and led by the Free University of Brussels, GEM is an initiative to fund international PhD programs focused on the EU.

With GEM funding, BU and nine other universities have launched a double doctoral degree-granting consortium on “Globalisation, the EU, and Multilateralism.” It is the only initiative that GEM has funded that is entirely focused on the social sciences, and BU is the only U.S. partner in the consortium. Other partners hail from Japan, China, England, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, and Mexico. In February, BU was elevated from associate to full partner status (non-degree granting) in GEM.

“This kind of joint degree program is the wave of the future,” says Schmidt, who is also director of the Center for the Study of Europe. “What you increasingly are seeing among major research universities is recognition that one of the ways to further develop is through global partnerships.”

The Globalization doctoral program enables admitted students to earn PhD degrees from two of the partner universities, spending a year at each followed by a third year at an institution of their choice. The program covers many disciplines: history, political science, economics, and sociology as well as law, business, and philosophy. Students earn their PhD in specific areas of study. Meta topics include: governing a global economy, managing global financial crises, and advancing national and regional governance under the pressures of globalization.

So far, the program has helped two BU students to do a summer program in Beijing, and brought a GEM PhD student to study at the CAS-based Center for the Study of Europe and the BU Law School, with another student slated to visit in 2013-14. But full partner status should greatly expand BU students’ opportunities in the program. They will be able to undertake longer programs of study for free at partnering schools while earning their PhD from BU.

BU cannot grant degrees yet through GEM, which limits BU students’ ability to take advantage of the program. Schmidt hopes that eventually BU can become a degree-granting partner. In the meantime, the program has exposed Schmidt and BU to exciting new partnership opportunities. She notes that the University of Geneva visited BU earlier this year to explore further collaborations. BU is also taking part in a program led by the University of Warwick, one of BU’s GEM partners, called GREEN: Global Re-ordering: Evolution through European Networks.

“Now when these universities want to develop further international partners, they will think of us first,” says Schmidt.

Very few U.S. universities undertake multi-national collaborations like this. Most opt for bi-lateral collaborations with just one university overseas. Once again, BU and CAS are keeping one eye turned toward the world, as higher education evolves to become more international and interconnected.

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