In recent years, globalization has led to unprecedented levels of change in areas from the economy to the environment, from the way we do business to the way we interact with media.

With the pace of globalization accelerating and its impact expanding, universities have begun to change as well, seeing increasing numbers of students flow from beyond national borders, coordinating if not standardizing degrees and calendars, and collaborating both in research and in teaching.

Despite these efforts, there is still no consensus about what globalization will ultimately mean for how universities educate students, interact with peers, collaborate with governmental and private partners, and define their fundamental missions.

The leading American universities all have substantial numbers of foreign students, offer a growing number of courses in a wide range of international subjects, support a broad spectrum of study-abroad programmes, and collaborate in an expanding array of research with foreign partners. But we have only started to come to terms with the volume and velocity of global connections, and have not gone nearly far enough in altering our content and methods to support students in a deeply interdependent world.

When planet-wide problems do not recognise either national borders or the boundaries that have traditionally separated academic disciplines, universities must adapt.

No single university can address these challenges on its own. Significant progress depends on the formation of a new, global alliance of academic and private sector partners that have the collective means to conduct the necessary multidisciplinary research; the desire to develop new ways to quickly translate discovery into beneficial goods and services; and the capability to educate, train and employ a new generation of leaders, thinkers and scientists. It will also require intellectual collaboration on a new scale.

A new model for universities

This is why we’ve decided to upend the global engagement model used by American universities. Instead of establishing an international campus overseas, Berkeley is going to build a Berkeley Global Campus (BGC) at home, less than 10 miles from the main campus. At BGC, some of the world’s leading universities and high-tech companies will work side by side in a campus setting.

Along with its research mission, the BGC will have a strong educational component, centred on a Global College for Advanced Study. The Global College curriculum will provide international and domestic graduate students with the tools to tackle global challenges through a curriculum centred on global governance, ethics, political economy, cultural and international relations.

A global campus situated here in the Bay Area has significant advantages compared to the overseas campus model. Not only can we provide a safe harbour by supporting academic freedom, transparency, different forms of advocacy and political engagement, and protection of intellectual property, we can globalize in a context that will provide immediate local impact as well. As we develop new teaching curricula, research questions and protocols for collaboration, we will be able to see how these innovations can unsettle and shift some of the basic structures of our own university that have proved highly resistant to change.

BGC is more than just a new campus; it will also serve as a physical hub for an emergent “star alliance” of top-tier global universities. The idea that we must build a new global system of universities is, at one level, a basic response to the recognition that the salient challenges and opportunities humanity faces are now global in scale. Ultimately, our global interdependence is not just a contingent outcome of new forms of transportation and communication, but also an opportunity to attain new levels of mutual understanding, recognition and insight. Successfully confronting global challenges requires collaboration that reaches beyond the governmental level to institutions of higher education that can marshal innovative intellectual resources for developing solutions and strategies.

Yet there is far more to it than this: universities are at once among our most trusted institutions and our most cosmopolitan, making them ideal vehicles for developing and sharing global ideas, values, projects and products. If we make these aspirations central to our collaborations, we can in turn work with governments, corporations, societies and special interests, and learn to trust and depend on one another. This would also give us hope for a future in which knowledge can be rendered progressive rather than dangerous, as fundamental to openness, progress, peace and a better global society, rather than the weapon of the powerful and the dominant. In this way a global consortium of tightly interwoven universities can serve as a model for governments, industry and societies about how to trust and collaborate.

Universities working for the public good

The stakes could not be higher: if the challenges we face are global in scale and transcend both national borders and traditional academic boundaries, then we must adapt our research and teaching accordingly. I am convinced that we have the institutional commitment to provide our students with the intellectual tools and moral grounding necessary to think and act beyond the narrow parameters of self-interest or beliefs about the good that are restricted to private domains. And while the public ethos at the heart of great American public universities was, for many years, primarily directed at domestic concerns and interests, we must develop the will and capability to translate and broaden our conception of the public good for our new global age.

This new institutional model is infused with a strongly held commitment to the public good, and a sense that the public is global. In recent months, the political battles in California about funding for public higher education have heated up as the state’s disinvestment continues, threatening to undermine the preeminence and societal contributions of America’s leading system of public higher education. For us these debates have made it clear that the future of universities, and their role in advancing the greater good, will depend on a wider range and altered composition of partnerships. The time has come for the private sector to step up and provide support for public higher education in a manner commensurate with the benefits it enjoys through the research we conduct and the future leaders we educate.

Author: Nicholas Dirks is Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley

Image: First-year law student Christopher Healy studies in Doe Library at the University of California at Berkeley in Berkeley, California May 12, 2014. REUTERS/Noah Berger