Foreign academic policy in the Anthropocene

J. Mukherjee

Humankind has shaped our planet in myriad ways – from our undeniable role in dramatic climate change, the overfishing of our oceans and overfertilisation of the soil, to the transmission of pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 from animals to humans caused by inappropriate animal husbandry. All these examples illustrate the human-influenced geological age in which we are living: the Anthropocene. In the Anthropocene, humans have become the determining and dominant force shaping the geological and ecological development of our planet and thus also the lives and chances of survival of all living creatures, including ourselves.

The existential challenges of the Anthropocene need to be considered in all policy fields and consequently in the foreign academic policy work of the DAAD. The 2020s will determine whether we will be able to ensure that we humans and the environment can continue to flourish on our planet. The foreign academic policy work the DAAD carries out as a funding organisation, an advisory body and a think tank must also contribute to this overarching goal. We have laid the foundation for this with our new strategy “DAAD 2025”. I would like to outline some of the considerations in our new strategy regarding our future foreign academic policy in the Anthropocene.

Our work will continue to take a cooperative, partnership-based approach, involving other countries, cultures, international partner organisations and institutions. If we truly see ourselves sharing a common destiny on this one planet in the Anthropocene, we must interact with academics and students from all nations, including from difficult partner countries. That may not always be easy in individual cases, but it is essential and takes place in a value-based context.

In the future, we will make even greater use of digital formats for our work. This applies to the DAAD internally as well as to our funding programmes. From virtual conferences to digital scholarships, we must systematically examine where physical mobility, especially air travel, can be avoided without curtailing global academic exchange – a significant challenge that we must address. 

Our work as a German organisation in Europe will be increasingly shaped by a greater focus on Africa. Africa is our neighbouring continent, and significant problems in the Anthropocene affect Africa and Europe alike as neighbours. For example, the climate change-related shortage of natural resources is one of the main drivers of migration from Africa to Europe. The breakdown of a number of African countries is leading to the collapse of healthcare services and encouraging epidemics and pandemics. And demographic trends in most African countries are producing a high number of talented young people, to whom we wish to jointly offer positive prospects.

Cooperative, digital and with a focus on Africa: in all three areas, the DAAD can build upon a vast experience and previous success. It is also crucial that, in addition to individual scholarships, we increase our focus on specific key topics in the 2020s as we further develop our funding portfolio. These topics should be in the research fields and scientific spheres of action linked to the existential challenges of the Anthropocene, including climate research, health research and the area of sustainability. We shall also address conflict management with appropriate funding formats, as conflicts within countries and on the international stage are likely to increase further, partly due to social inequalities, the battle for increasingly scarce natural resources and the possible global economic consequences of a trend towards a (more) sustainable economy. Against this backdrop, it will be important for us to make our contribution towards representing Europe as a model for a civil balance of interests between countries, for peaceful conflict resolution mechanisms and for constitutionally governed standards and freedoms that apply across the EU. From the ERASMUS success story of more than 30 years, to the new European university networks – we can and we will make a contribution to strengthening Europe as a cooperative model of success, as without this form of supranational cooperation, it will not be possible to tackle the challenges of the Anthropocene.