Creating the infrastructure for intercultural exchange

Photo credit: IE University

In an interview with IE University, Hertie School President Cornelia Woll talks about the importance of CIVICA and cross-border collaboration.

On 19 March, Hertie School President Cornelia Woll visited IE University to officiate the signing of a groundbreaking agreement between the Hertie School and IE University with Provost and Dean of IE School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs Manuel Muñiz. The collaboration, the new dual masters’ programme in International Relations and International Affairs, aims to redefine international relations and policy education.

In an interview with IE University, President Woll talks about the significance of the CIVICA alliance for the future of education and the importance of cross-border collaboration in addressing global challenges. 

The Hertie School plays a major role in the CIVICA alliance and now offers a dual degree with IE University. Could you explain how these partnerships are changing education in Europe? 

I believe a lot of students choose a university in one of our European countries because they're dedicated to cooperation across borders. The fact that we have strong partners in our European university alliance shows that we can work together and also learn from students at other universities. For me, the magic of CIVICA is that it creates channels between places and shows what you can learn in different capitals and different countries. We all share the ambition to advance the common good. CIVICA allows us to constantly compare how we are advancing and to bring students together so that they can exchange, argue and develop new solutions to shared challenges.

Are there specific global or policy issues you think should get more attention in CIVICA’s educational collaboration, and what's your vision for CIVICA’s future and its role in education? 

I think the problems are already there and well-defined, and our students come to our universities knowing that they want to work on sustainability, equity, security, or our digital futures. What we have to do as universities is make sure students and researchers can use the infrastructure we have built in a way that allows them to travel across borders more fluidly. 

My vision for the future is that these exchanges become easier and more intense so that students and researchers can quickly move from one place to another for connected research projects and concentrate on producing and transmitting knowledge that helps us to solve the most daunting challenges of our times.

Thinking about the CIVICA alliance, what role does European education play globally? How can we be an example to other educational systems around the world, not just Europe? 

I think an international alliance, whether European or otherwise, always has the benefit of confronting you with your own viewpoint and how your perspective may be specific to your national context. What the European university ambition has brought us is an institutional framework for this. Whether it be in the social sciences, business, or public affairs, an essential asset is to be able to switch perspectives. You have to understand where others are coming from in order to cooperate, find common ground and build solutions for the future. It makes a difference whether somebody is studying global affairs in Washington, D.C., New Delhi or Shanghai. Understanding what your perspective brings in and what you might need to overcome in order to cooperate with others is a vital strength, and it's part of the educational project to build a more equitable, sustainable, prosperous, and peaceful world.

From your experience, what skills do you think are crucial for future leaders dealing with globalisation and international issues? 

There are several skills that I believe are hugely important for future leaders. One is having an open mind, curiosity, and the capacity to constantly change perspectives. If you think you are right and everyone else is wrong, you will be unable to cooperate with anybody. Second, and I believe this is underappreciated, you have to think strategically about the goal you want to reach in the end. You might not be able to agree with your colleagues on everything, but if you have a clear vision of where you want to end up, the compromises you need to make along the way are easier to accept. Open-mindedness is crucial, but a vision for intermediate and long-term goals is just as important.

Adapted from an interview prepared by Associate Director of Communications at IE University Rosa Aranda Barrio. Photo credits: IE University


CIVICA – The European University of Social Sciences brings together ten leading European higher education institutions in the social sciences. CIVICA aims to build an inter-university campus that provides joint and long-lasting opportunities in teaching, research and innovative learning, while enhancing academic excellence and facilitating civic engagement in Europe and beyond. CIVICA was selected by the European Commission as one of the pilot European Universities in 2019 and confirmed as successful alliance in 2022 for its full roll-out under the Erasmus+ programme. Read more on civica.eu.

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