The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World
The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World

The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World

May 11, 2010

Ben Wildavsky shows how international competition for the brightest minds is transforming the world of higher education, and why this revolution should be welcomed, not feared.


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for joining us.

Today our speaker is Ben Wildavsky. Mr. Wildavsky will be discussing a topic that I know some of you are familiar with, some of you may have expressed concern about, and others may just want to know more about. The subject is the global university.

Although our speaker has written about brain drain, today he is here to talk about brain circulation and brain growth, and what this means for us and for our country's institutions of higher learning. The title of his book is The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World.

The expansion of the global marketplace and trade between the world's nations is usually understood to be a phenomenon involving goods and the prices we pay for them, yet another vitally important global marketplace has been evolving, one in which ideas rather than things are what count. In this international bazaar of education, it is the future that is becoming even more precious than oil, wheat, or gold. The globalization of universities is transforming education around the world. Some are concerned. But need we be?

For many years, students from all over the world have traveled to other countries for higher education, whether to the leading universities in Europe or to the United States. But today nations in the Middle East and in Asia are investing in building their own universities. To do so, countries such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and others have entered into partnerships with the celebrated universities of the West. Yet there are fears that many of these universities will compete with American institutions or that other countries will become more competitive at attracting graduate students.

In The Great Brain Race, our speaker draws on extensive research from China, India, the United States, Europe, and the Middle East to chronicle growing globalization of higher education in all its dimensions. Some of the topics he addresses include the recruitment of students and faculty, the swift spread of branch campuses, the well-financed efforts to create world-class universities, the innovative efforts by online universities to fill unmet needs in higher education markets around the globe, and the closely watched rankings by which everyone keeps score.

As someone who has spent most of his career researching and writing about educational issues, Mr. Wildavsky has watched this development take root and grow. For many years, his voice as a former education editor of U.S. News & World Report, as a higher education reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and as executive editor of The Public Interest, he has been listened to and his ideas well received.

Today the internationalization of higher education is becoming the Silk Road of the 21st century. As this academic trade route is expanded, the question that comes to mind is how this globalization of knowledge will impact the future. Who will benefit? And why does it matter?

For the answers, please join me in giving a warm welcome to our speaker today, Ben Wildavsky.

Thank you for joining us.


BEN WILDAVSKY: Thank you very much, Joanne, for that kind introduction. You've done such a wonderful job summarizing some of my main points, I'm not sure what there is left, except to go to Q&A.

I'm really pleased to have such a great audience. I have just had a chance to look through this list. It looks like we have members of the university community, of course, the international community, the financial community, and the "old friends of mine" community, whom I'm particularly glad to see.

I would like you to try to look at your handouts, if you have them, and these photos. This is sort of a transmogrified PowerPoint presentation. What I've been told is that, when in Manhattan, it's important to really try to get the attention of the sophisticated audience one finds in Manhattan, and the best way to do this is with pictures of cute animals. So if you look over there, I have some cute monkeys.

This was taken from the balcony of the guesthouse I was staying at in Southeast India. It's on the edge of a national forest. You just see these monkeys running around. They're adorable at first glance. But it turns out that they have a dark side. I found out after I had been there for about a day that it's very important not to leave your windows or doors open when you leave, because they'll come in and trash the place.

So things aren't always what they seem. This is a very beautiful place. There are not only monkeys, but deer running around. There are these magnificent banyan trees all over the place. It has a little bit of a sleepy, out-of-the-way feel, certainly to a Westerner like me.

This is the campus of the one of the elite universities of the world, the Indian Institute of Technology, the IIT, of Madras. It's one of a number around India. This is a place where there is a huge national exam. Only about 2 or 3 percent of those who apply get in. People call it the MIT of India. It's very much connected to the world of global knowledge transmission and mobility that I'll be talking about today.

The first day I was there, my first appointment, as usual, when I visit a campus, was with the college president. As you know, it's important to pay one's respects early on. I went to see this guy, who is in the bottom right of that slide. His name is M.S. Ananth. He's in what seemed to me a rather remote place, in the national forest. He's just back from Davos, in Switzerland, where he has been part of the Higher Education Working Group headed by Rick Levin, the president of Yale.

I walked around this campus. I spent a few days there. You would go to the recruiting office, and just like an American campus, there are sign-up sheets for interviews. There are sign-up sheets for Google. There are sign-up sheets for McKinsey. I was very intrigued, actually, to see a big poster advertising graduate fellowships at a place called KAUST. KAUST is the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. It's a brand-new graduate-level university in Saudi Arabia. They are trying to find the best students in the world, so they are going everywhere, including this national forest in India to the students at IIT Madras.

As I worked on The Great Brain Race, this is the kind of thing that just happened over and over again. I found very interesting juxtapositions, things I wouldn't have expected. Actually, this wasn't really what I was thinking of at all when I started on the book. As Joanne mentioned, I used to be the editor of the U.S. News & World Report college guides, and one of the things we used to do was profile campuses around the country, which was always fun to do as a writer, as an editor. So I had this idea that I would do sort of a Cook's tour of the world and profile the best campuses in the world.

That might have been a good book for somebody, maybe for me another time. But I realized after a couple of months—I was actually in Shanghai at a conference and met people from all over the world. I felt that I was missing the real story. The real story, and what I'll talk about now, is really a shaking-up of the old order in higher education. Really, what's happening is that the same forces of globalization that we hear about in so many other contexts have very much arrived in the context of universities and colleges. I'm going to talk about, just briefly, what I discovered as I worked on this, for the last several years:

  • What I think higher-education globalization is.

Why I think it's important.

Why some people are worried about it.

Why I think they shouldn't worry, because, ultimately, what I call in the book "free trade in minds" is something that's really an opportunity for us and for the world. It's not a threat.

I'm going to just talk about the three big hallmarks of higher-education globalization. There are others that are discussed in the book, but for present purposes, I'm going to focus on:

  • First, mobility. There's huge mobility of students. I'll talk more about that.

There's a quest to create world-class universities everywhere.

Near and dear to my heart because of my U.S. News background, college rankings have become a global enterprise. They're everywhere.

So what's happening with academic mobility? The first thing to know is that mobility has become enormous. There are now about 3 million mobile students around the world, students studying outside their home countries. These are not study-abroad kids. These are students who are going for a year or more, often degree-seeking students, outside their home countries. That's a 57 percent increase in the last decade. So the trend-line is moving very, very quickly.

There is huge competition to recruit these students. At the high level, at the graduate Ph.D. level or the postdoc level, those students form the backbone of the research enterprise everywhere. Everybody wants the best students, to create the best labs and the best research.

At the same time, undergraduates are valued very much. Part of that, of course, is revenues. They are often what are called full-pay students. They pay full freight, and that brings in a lot of revenues to universities in places like Great Britain or Australia. At the same time, though, they are also valued for the human capital that they bring to the countries where they study. Many of them stay on afterwards.

The competition for these students has led to somewhat unorthodox recruiting techniques. You will see in the bottom here—this was a viral ad that ran. The New Zealand Higher Education Authority put this out on the Internet. This is actually a still from a video. I decided the video was perhaps a little steamy for this audience.

You can see there's a young couple making out in a corner of the hot tub, and there are a couple of disapproving parents looking on in the other corner. The caption is, "Get further away from your parents." New Zealand is really focusing very heavily on the Asian student market as they recruit.

What's really remarkable, if you turn the page, is how successful the strategy has been. The 999 percent increase in the last ten years tells you that marketing really appears to work.

In addition to student mobility, without going into detail right now, there is mobility of research itself. If you look at the number of cross-national scientific research collaborations, it has doubled in the last two decades. I think that's only going to continue. Campuses themselves are becoming mobile.

I'm referring to what's often called the branch campus or the satellite campus phenomenon. These are institutions, usually in the West, that set up branches in other countries, often in the Middle East or in Asia. There are now 162 of these branch campuses around the world. Again, a very steep increase—a 43 percent increase in just the past several years. Really, I think it's because there's just huge demand for Western education. A lot of people want what we have.

Just as a small example, I spent some time, in fact, with John Sexton, the president of NYU. I spent some time in Abu Dhabi, where NYU was setting up a campus, not really a branch campus. You shouldn't use that word around John Sexton. He doesn't like that term. I'll get to that later. But many of these campuses—in Qatar, for example, where I also spent some time, in Doha, there is a complex called Education City. It's a huge compound on the edge of Doha. It's incredibly lavish. Every building is made of marble. They look like ancient temples or something. They house campuses of American universities. Georgetown's School of Foreign Service is there. Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism is there. Cornell's Weill School of Medicine is there, and so forth.

This photo here on the second page is one that particularly struck me. I spent some time in this building. Again, it's this enormous, lavish building. That door that you see in the middle is probably one and a half times as tall as the ceiling here.

It opens up, and these three young women come out. They are dressed head to toe in black abayas, as the young women do on that campus, by and large. But then right near them you see these big banners that say, "Welcome to Aggieland."

What Texas A&M is doing—this is the Texas A&M Engineering School—they are trying to bring a little bit of College Station to Doha. You see that kind of thing all over the place.

So there are all these different kinds of mobility going on. They are accompanied by some level of concern. Joanne, I think you mentioned brain drain. That's something people have worried about for decades. It's still going on. I talked to some Indonesian scholars just a couple of weeks ago, and it's certainly something that is on their minds. The concern has been that the best and brightest from the developing world will go to a university in the developed world and will often not go home.

People take, in my view, very unwise measures to try to counter this. Just a couple of years ago, right after I visited India, the head of the IIT in Bombay—which is still the name they use, although it's Mumbai now—he basically banned his students from going overseas to do internships, which are very popular. They are very sought-after. They will go to UBS or they will go to a research lab. He basically said, "No, you can't go. You certainly can't go for credit."

This represents this notion that we have to hold on to what we've got.

Conversely, people in receiving countries are sometimes threatened by the caliber and the number of students who are coming in. We certainly see this in the United States. Just a decade or so ago, the University of Tennessee put a limit of 20 percent in every graduate department for foreign students, which was a real handicap to trying to bring excellent students in, because, as many of you probably know, in departments like engineering and computer science nationwide, at the doctoral level, 60, 65 percent of the students earning Ph.D.s are from overseas. Those are the best students.

So we have had periodic outbreaks of what I call academic protectionism. I think, in all ways, really, this is just misguided. I think the kind of mobility we are seeing is really something that we should embrace. It's not something we should fear. The key reason is that we are really now, increasingly, in a dynamic higher education environment, not a static one. The old patterns are starting to change. I'll give you a sense of what I have in mind.

Yes, brain drain is still a concern in many places, but we are now seeing—actually, it's here in New York. The Institute for International Education, the IIE, has done some research talking about brain circulation. Another researcher uses the term "brain train."

The idea is that people are no longer just making the conventional East-to-West trajectory. Sometimes somebody will go from, say, India or China to a Western country for one degree. They will go to a second Western country for a third degree. But then they may well go back home, because growing economies provide so many more opportunities in the business world. In a place like China, growing universities provide much better opportunities than ever in the academic world. So those kinds of patterns are changing.

A wonderful example is a guy named Choon Fong Shih, who is from Singapore—I believe ethnically Chinese—grew up in Singapore, went to Canada for a master's, went to Harvard for a Ph.D., is a materials scientist, a very respected guy, went to Brown, became a very well-known professor there. Then he was recruited back to Singapore, to the National University of Singapore, which is trying very hard to become a global academic hub. They brought him back. He headed up an institute there. Then he rose to president of NUS. Already, that's a little bit of a reversal of the conventional trajectory.

But now the world is changing. I mentioned to you KAUST before. KAUST was starting up. They were looking for a great new president. So they recruited him from Singapore to Saudi Arabia. Now he's the president of KAuST.

In some ways, he is emblematic, I think, of the possibilities that now exist. I wouldn't suggest that he's typical, but I think he shows how the stereotype that we have and the worries that we have don't necessarily reflect the new kind of changing reality.

You could say that student mobility and faculty mobility are rising, but they are under the control of individuals. You could say it's not so surprising. People have new opportunities. They move around. We have had mobile students since the beginnings of Western universities, and even before. But now it's just huge numbers. People are able to do it by making individual decisions.

What's much harder, I think, is for institutions themselves to change. Anybody who has been in the university world knows how hard that can be. But one of the other things that really struck me as I worked on the book was how much really is changing among institutions. A lot of nations, I think very correctly, see a thriving university system as the pathway to innovation, the pathway to economic growth.

There is actually a wonderful quote from a book that came out a couple of years ago by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz [The Race Between Education and Technology]. It just states it very simply: Human capital, embodied in one's people, is the most fundamental part of the wealth of nations.

I think that's just widely accepted now. What that means is that a country like China is not content simply to send lots of students overseas, although they are doing that. They are not content simply to host branch campuses or partnerships on their soil, although they are doing that. They want to build their own great institutions. They are doing so as fast as they possibly can. They want to be able to compete with the best in the world. And this is true for many other countries.

There are really three ways they are doing this. The first is by spending a lot of money. You need money to be competitive. China has spent billions on this in the last decade or two. They are really trying to do two things. They are trying to improve mass access and they are trying to improve quality. At the access level—these books become quickly out of date—I had written that they quadrupled the number of students over a decade. I just read a wonderful article by Rick Levin in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, in which he reports that it has quintupled in the last decade.

So a massive expansion of student access, but also an effort to create much greater quality and to focus their dollars on a smaller subset of institutions.

In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, when he started KAUST, spent $10 billion to endow the university, which made it instantly the sixth-largest university endowment in the world.

So they're spending money. They are also recruiting very heavily. I mentioned the example of Choon Fong Shih at KAUST. There are lots of others. China, again, is doing this a lot. They are trying to bring a lot of overseas Chinese back to their universities to teach. They are called "sea turtles," in Chinese. I don't know if there are any Chinese speakers. I'm not one. But, apparently, it's a homonym for "returnees." So people use the term "sea turtles" to talk about these folks.

They will try to bring them back to China, where it has become much more appealing to live and to teach than it was even 15 or 20 years ago.

The third thing people are doing is creating partnerships. Singapore is a great example of this. It's a way of jump-starting your university. If you don't necessarily have all the intellectual resources right there, you try to bring them in. Singapore, as I mentioned, wants to be a global academic hub. They want to be not just a regional center, but a bigger center. MIT has a presence there. They have the business school from the University of Chicago. You could go on and on.

INSEAD, the famous international business school, originally started in Fontainebleau outside of Paris, now has a coequal campus in Singapore, where you can start your degree in either place, and they really insist that they make no distinction between the two. Of course, Singapore feels that that sort of presence is good for them.

Now, all this stuff is going on, but, again, there are some worries about this. There are some worries about this in particular, I would say, in the West and in the United States. The central worry is that we're losing our edge, that we're not going to be number one anymore.

Since World War II, we have had this amazing university system. We're the world's magnet. I think we are still the world's magnet. You could just tick off whatever criteria you want—research, Nobel Prizes, et cetera. But there is a sense that the rest of the world—and people think of Asia often—is rising and may overtake us. We often hear concerns about engineering, science, research, Ph.D. production.

This came up, for example, during the presidential campaign. President Obama talked at one point about, "How are we going to stay competitive when China and South Korea are producing so many more engineering Ph.D.s than we are, at a much faster rate? We're going to fall behind."

So the general premise here is that if others are getting ahead, we're going to lose out.

Once again, I think this is a mistaken way of looking at what's happening in the world. This is something that we should be happy about. We should be enthusiastic about all the knowledge creation that is happening everywhere. The reason, fundamentally, is that increasing knowledge is not a zero-sum game. There's not a finite amount of knowledge in the world that we all have to be fighting over. More smart people in China, more people with Ph.D.s in China, is good for us. It's not bad for us.

Economists often use the term "public good" to talk about knowledge and research discoveries. The central idea here is that when you make a research discovery in South Korea or in Saudi Arabia or—France and Germany are trying to revamp their universities, which used to be great and are now pretty bad—those kinds of discoveries can't be kept within national boundaries. So if there is a research discovery in South Korea—in the United States, we have great research, but we also have great innovation and great entrepreneurship. That's one of the things we're best at. That's the secret sauce that so many Asian nations admire in what we do. So it's entirely possible that discoveries elsewhere will be capitalized on by us.

Again, I think what's happening is really very exciting, and it's not something that should cause any alarm.

I've talked about this huge competitive marketplace for students. I've talked about the competitive marketplace for universities themselves, this effort to create fantastic universities all over the place. And it's an uphill fight for many places. You need a lot of things to create a world-class university. But people are in there trying.

As I said, there are some of you from the financial world, and we all know that markets, in order to function well, need information. So perhaps it's inevitable that the university market that has emerged needs some kind of information. For better or for worse, what has emerged are global college rankings. There's a long history of rankings, which I won't rehearse in great detail here. There is a whole chapter in the book about this.

I know another old friend, Dan Polisar, has heard the whole talk at his own think tank in Israel.

Basically, in the United States rankings really started around the turn of the 19th century. They took all kinds of forms. But they really didn't take off until my own alma mater, U.S. News, created rankings in 1983, initially just a poll of college presidents, a very conventional journalistic parlor game, but which gradually became much more involved, and involved all kinds of data collection and metrics, and certainly took on the aura of social science, although it isn't really social science. But it has a lot of information.

What a lot of people don't know—certainly everyone knows about U.S. News—there are now about 40 rankings like this in countries around the world; they really just took off after U.S. News started—in some places you might expect, in Canada, in Italy, in Great Britain, but also places you wouldn't expect, like Kazakhstan and Peru. They are really immensely popular.

But probably the real breakthrough, in terms of today's discussion and this notion of the information you need in the global market, came in 2003, when Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a venerable and very good Chinese university in Shanghai, created the first really global college rankings. This was part and parcel of what China was trying to do with their entire higher-education system. They wanted to revive it, to revamp it, to make it world-class. They were very methodical. The idea was, if you want to get someplace ahead, you need to know where you start from and you need a yardstick. So they created rankings, with a very heavily scientific and research focus. That was their emphasis, and really still is.

One year later, a British publication, sort of the equivalent of our Chronicle of Higher Education—it's called Times Higher Education—started another global ranking, much more consumer-oriented, with a very different set of criteria, much more survey-based. That also became very popular very quickly.

These rankings, of course, like the U.S. News rankings, have been very controversial. I mentioned the Shanghai conference. It was a funny experience for me to be sitting in this conference full of people from all over the world and to see a very elegant French college president, a philosopher named Monique Canto-Sperber, who is the president of one of the lead schools in Paris, the École Normale Supérieure—she had flown all the way to Shanghai to give this passionate speech about how terrible the Shanghai rankings are, how completely unfair they are to places like hers.

For me, it was great to be on the sidelines, number one. Also it shows how you really can't win, because at U.S. News the big complaint was that we focused too much on inputs, not enough on outputs—"so you get great students coming in. You're Harvard. They come in at the 99th percentile and they leave at the 99th percentile. So what? What did you accomplish?"

Her complaint was that the selection process for her institution was so intense that there was no measure in the Shanghai rankings for how incredibly selective the input was.

It's really hard to satisfy everybody.

Fundamentally, people feel that the global rankings, as they complain about the U.S. News rankings, measure the wrong things, create perverse incentives, fundamentally don't tell you about the real effectiveness of a university. In fact, if you're French—and people do this elsewhere, too, but I'll pick on the French—you don't like what's out there, you feel the French don't get a fair shake, and you create your own ranking. So a French engineering school, another one of the grandes écoles in Paris—it's called MINES Paris Tech; it's one of the great engineering schools—they created their own ranking of world universities, which led to this wonderful tautological headline which you will see in your handout: "French Do Well in French World Rankings."

We're in a world where, if you don't like the data source, you can come up with your own.

Yes, rankings have lots of imperfections. I don't have to defend rankings as part of my job anymore. But while rankings do have lots of problems, I think rankings are ultimately very useful. They can be useful. They have the potential to be useful. That's true for individuals. It's true for universities. It's true for policymakers, in terms of deciding what's effective, what's not, where you should put your resources. Without belaboring the reasons, I think that measurement is useful.

I think one of the things that has happened with rankings, even rankings that were intended for consumers, like the Times Higher Education rankings, quickly became used by policymakers as a way of looking at how much universities are respected by their peers. If you believe that peer review should have some effect on how universities are viewed—how much are they spending? What is their research output? It has encouraged a lot of self-examination on the part of universities, who have not always been terribly receptive to outside examination. The fact is—this is true in the United States and it's true around the world—we're really in the age of accountability.

Rankings are simply not going to go away. They're with us. The real question going forward is going to be how to make them better.

Fortunately, there is really a lot going on. Just a couple of examples.

This British publication, Times Higher Education, basically acknowledged that there were a lot of flaws in their sampling, in their survey. This year they fired their data firm that they have been working with since the inception. They got rid of them. They have hired Thomson Reuters to come in. They are really trying to just start the whole thing over again. They are being very transparent. I'm on their Twitter feed. Every couple of days, it's about a speech one of their head editors is giving about the need for more input about what they should do differently. I think that's great. I'm not sure what the result will be, but they are moving in the right direction.

The OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is also developing a new system. They don't like to call it ranking. They would get mad at me if I called it that. Essentially, it's an effort to assess what colleges are really doing at the ground level, particularly with undergraduates. They are actually borrowing an American measure called the Collegiate Learning Assessment—I don't know if Roger Benjamin is here, but it's being done, actually, out of New York—to try to measure how much students grow while they are on campus. How does their writing ability improve from freshman to senior year? How does their analytical ability improve?

The OECD has actually contracted with this American group and is trying to develop a method that can be used in various OECD nations. It's very tricky. It's a challenging thing. But I think they are doing something that's new and something that's rigorous and something that's important. I think those kinds of efforts are really going to help us measure effectiveness ultimately.

In places like the U.S., we do great in research; I'm not sure how we'll do in teaching. It could be a wakeup call, in the same way that the PISA test [Program for International Student Assessment] for 15-year-olds really taught us that we were behind a lot of countries that we would prefer not to be behind. We don't know what's going to happen as these kinds of measurements get better.

I'm just going to conclude by recapping the main things I've talked about—student and faculty mobility, this world-class research quest, the global college rankings explosion. I just want to reiterate that despite the anxieties that we sometimes hear about the kind of university globalization that is taking place, I think it's really crucial that we reject protectionism, academic protectionism, in all of its forms.

As I said, knowledge is not a finite resource. There's plenty to go around. We need to grow knowledge. It's something that can benefit everybody. It's really an opportunity for the world when more countries do more to build both the quantity and the quality of their universities.

The last thing I'm going to say is, when we look to the future of global higher education, I think we should also keep in mind that we just don't know what's going to happen next. So much has changed. You could look back to the German research universities of the 19th century, which is where the modern research university was created, this idea of having research and teaching under one roof, the beginnings of academic freedom. Lots of Americans went to Germany to study what they did. They came back here and they cloned the model, by creating places like Johns Hopkins and the University of Chicago. We ran with it, we improved it, and we became the best, head and shoulders above the Germans.

For several decades, the Germans have really had an egalitarian funding system, which means they have all been sort of equal in their mediocrity. It's a pretty bad system, by and large. So the Germans are now trying to re-create a competitive funding system to build some great universities, and they are coming to the United States to look and figure out how to do it. That's in 150 years. There is a big turnaround.

So I think we should have humility as we look ahead. We already know there are lots of research partnerships. Columbia has a partnership with Sciences Po in Paris. They also have a partnership with the London School of Economics. We may see all kinds of new permutations and combinations coming up. The whole us-versus-them prism through which we in the U.S. tend to see this is, I think, beginning to change.

John Sexton, the current president of NYU, of course, is trying to create what he calls a global network university, the idea being that the new Abu Dhabi campus could be one of several hubs, the Washington Square campus, of course, being one, Abu Dhabi being another. They would like to create a campus in Shanghai. That would be another. The idea is that you might start in Shanghai and then finish in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi to Washington Square, and so forth.

So whatever happens, I'm just convinced that universities are going to be the key to innovation and to economic growth. The key to continuing this in the future is going to be in the freest possible movement of people and of ideas. I think it's a very exciting time. I'm just very interested and curious to see what's going to happen next.

Thank you.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: One area that you really didn't address was the online university. I follow a number of the private companies, both in China and in the United States, just in terms of their securities. But if you took to the logical conclusion the point you just made, couldn't you really have a global university online? Do you think that online colleges and universities could really equal the experience of a brick-and-mortar university, ultimately?

BEN WILDAVSKY: I know it's conventional to say this, but that really is a great question. I'm glad you asked.

There is a chapter in the book about the for-profits, which are heavily online. This is a function of too much compression.

Absolutely. The for-profits are a relatively new player globally, as they are in the States. Again, there are lots of comparisons. They are serving a different market. In my view, it's a huge market. It's an underserved market.

India is a great example. It's just a tragedy. India is an incredible country. The human capital is just amazing. It's horribly underserved by its universities—not just the quality. There are a small number of high-quality places, like the IITs. But the quantity is just completely inadequate. So people don't have what they need to get ahead, and they are hungry for it.

The for-profits have the potential—lots of caveats about the right kind of regulatory regime—they have the potential to serve people who need, often, more practical degrees, vocational degrees, people who are nontraditional learners, the kinds of people we see here going to the Phoenixes. [Reference to Phoenix Online University.]

In Latin America, the same thing. There are countries that have elite universities that are—again, it's the paradox: They are elite, and they are often free, which sounds very egalitarian, but it turns out that to get in, you typically have to go to an expensive private school. So they don't tend to serve kids of the working class—or the middle class, for that matter.

So as the for-profits have gone in—places like Laureate, based in Baltimore, which was originally the parent company of Sylvan Learning, the tutoring company. They have spun off Sylvan. They are now really going in a big way into the global for-profits.

The same is true of Kaplan. You know the Stanley Kaplan tutoring company. But Kaplan is now much more in higher education, both in the U.S. and overseas, than it is in the tutoring business. There's a smaller place, Whitney International. I'm sure you know these names.

To get to your question about online, online goes very well with the for-profit because of the model. Essentially, you have sort of fixed costs going in, but then, if you can get to scale, you have returns that become very significant.

Is it ultimately going to be the same experience or as good an experience? It's hard to say. We don't have good metrics to know what a good experience is. Frankly, one of the problems with the for-profits is that they say they do all this great measurement internally, but they are not very transparent about it, which, in the U.S. context, bothers me, because they get a lot of federal student money. But they are not very good about sharing what they know about their own effectiveness.

Places like MIT have their OpenCourseWare program, where they have tried to make their entire curriculum available online. Yale has taken a somewhat narrower approach, where they have a smaller number of classes that are online, with really richer content than what MIT has to offer. There's a lot of experimentation going on.

You do find that in a place like China—this is in my book, and I can't remember the exact statistic—a very high percentage of the Chinese students who are studying with Australian universities are doing so online. Clearly, for some students, some of the time, this will be acceptable. It's always, compared to what? What are your alternatives? If you want a Western education, if you think it's good, and it's cheaper online and you can stay at home online, I think if the quality seems reasonable to you, you are going to do it, and if the degree is going to have some value in the market.

In the U.S., there is some research suggesting that the most effective means of using online education is what they sometimes call "click-and-brick." This is why Phoenix, for example, has these centers by freeway exits. People will do some of their work purely online, but they will also go in once a week, once every couple of weeks, and they will see some classmates, they will see an instructor in person.

I would just guess that that might be the way. You might have MIT classes—Africa, again, is just horribly underserved. There are all kinds of difficulties. But there are some countries that are doing online learning. But one of the issues you have is that you need to have really good TAs [Teaching Assistants]. You may have an MIT professor with a great course in mechanical engineering, but you need to have the human capital on the ground to really walk the kids through that. I think it's going to be difficult to do that purely online.

QUESTION: I have two questions. The first has to do with teacher salaries in these expanding universities. I assume that, with this growth, there's tremendous competition for good teachers. Has that resulted in an improvement in teachers', professors' salaries?

Secondly, what about scholarships? Are these new universities able to provide the kinds of scholarships that we have in this country?

BEN WILDAVSKY: On teacher salaries, I can certainly speak to the high end. I happen to know this guy's salary. I came across it sort of by happenstance. To try to lure American professors to the Middle East, for example, is very expensive. NYU tends to downplay this. They don't really want to talk about the figures. They want to say that it's about the excitement and the intellectual experience. And I don't doubt that that's part of what it's about. If you are an art historian who studies the Islamic world, it's a paradise to be there.

But the compensation packages are very generous, including things like tuition for your kids' schools, because that's what you are going to do over there, trips back home, and all that stuff, and I think a pretty hefty salary supplement in some cases. But you need that.

Again, I'm talking about the branch campuses here. If you are an American university and you want to have a credible degree in Doha or wherever, you need to have a critical mass of faculty. People from NYU made this point to me very emphatically: The faculty are the university. It's not going to be NYU, it's not going to be Georgetown unless you have a bunch of those people.

When I was there, I talked to a guy named James Reardon-Anderson, from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, who served as dean over there up until about a year ago. There are these forms you can look at that tell you what the five highest salaries are. I was looking up something else, and I discovered he makes the same as the president of Georgetown. He was making $450,000, $500,000, which in academia is a good salary, to be over there.

In other places, the context is very different. India just simply isn't paying; university professors are civil servants. It's a huge problem. The IITs, actually, despite their reputation, are facing a severe difficulty with faculty shortages, because the opportunities in industry are so great, along with the opportunities overseas.

China I think is doing somewhat better. They are able to bring back—certainly the elites, Tsinghua or Peking University, can pull together packages that are quite generous.

That's what I can tell you on that question.

On scholarships, this is a big question. To what extent is this an elite phenomenon? If it is, is it going to reach more people? I mentioned the for-profits. They are actually targeting a far less elite segment. But I have not seen really great breakdowns of socioeconomic status of who leaves. I think at the high end, the most talented students get fellowships. There are lots of federal research dollars. They can't go directly to the best overseas students, but they go to professors who get research grants, and those in turn go to these foreign graduate students.

So at the elite levels, they get supported; among undergraduates, not so much. Foreign undergraduates going to Great Britain are typically full-pay students. Postgraduates, as they call them, are often not.

Thinking about the IIE here in New York, they have talked to me about—there are a number of scholarship programs that are being created to try to get less affluent students to be able to participate in these kinds of international experiences. But those are very small.

The one thing I would say is, I am confident that—3 million; the projections are that it may get up to 20 million in 20 or 30 years—at some point it's no longer the elite. Even 3 million—those can't all be kids going to Oxford and MIT. There are too many of them. There are kids from Singapore going to Australia to study tourism. Yes, they may be from reasonably well-off families, but they're not—Sam Huntington talks about the Davos Man, the international elite that feel fewer allegiances to their own countries than to their cosmopolitan peers. I don't think that's what's happening. There may be some thin slice of that, but I think it's going to go deeper. Certainly my hope is that it will go deeper and deeper still.

QUESTION: What about undergraduate affordability of our schools? How do we maintain our job and economic competitiveness if we are educating everybody else? What's the role for government support—for example, free undergraduate education?

BEN WILDAVSKY: Let me start with the second thing you asked about, competitiveness, and what we are going to do if we educate everybody else. I generally take the view that we're better off educating the best and brightest from around the world, for several reasons.

QUESTIONER: If they stay here.

BEN WILDAVSKY: Sure, but—there are almost two ways you could look at it. Number one, if they stay here. Silicon Valley, you name it—so much of our economic prosperity in recent years has been driven by immigrants. I'm very much in favor of having as open as possible borders. It's a complicated discussion, but certainly among the highly talented immigrants, I think we're making a terrible mistake putting limits on H-1B visas. Those are the visas that allow skilled immigrants to stay. They are only for a few years, but there have been—it has gone down a little bit with the economic downturn, but typically huge waiting lists.

There is a danger. People like Vivek Wadhwa, who is an entrepreneur who sort of turned pundit—the Kauffman Foundation, where I work, has given him some support—he is really concerned that people won't even come here to study if they don't think they can stay on to work, at least for a few years. So we may be losing people. We don't know who we're losing with those kinds of policies.

If people stay here, which many do—they find a way—that redounds to our benefit. But the other thing is, even if people come here and they do a Ph.D. and they work in a lab while they are doing that, again they are generating research and knowledge. If you believe that universities are about the quest for truth and also the meritocratic principle, which I didn't really touch on so much in my overview—but that's very important to what's happening—if you can get ahead, more and more, not perfectly, but increasingly, based on what you know, not on who you are, I think that is part of what universities should be about.

There's a whole argument that even those who return—again, we know this has not always been the case, unfortunately; some people who have become our enemies have started here—many of those who study here and return to their home countries, I think, take away some fondness, speaking about the U.S., for our country and for our values. I think that's very important.

The first part of your question was on affordability. That's very tough. It's hard for Americans to afford college. In terms of financial aid policies, there are some very wealthy places. I think Harvard is need-blind for foreign students. I'm not sure how many low-income foreign students they really have. They are in a position where they can do that. Most places simply can't do that, and foreign students are going to be last on their list.

In terms of, as I said, graduate students, it's a different ballgame, because there you are really going for, in sciences, the best people to work in your labs—in economics, too. Those programs are full of foreign graduate students.

QUESTION: We work in developing countries, which have a lot of very basic problems. You mentioned India as one of the places where you were, which has the world's greatest reservoir of uneducated primary-school children, particularly girls. Do you see a switch, to the extent that these international universities are in India, for example, or in other developing countries, in terms of what's studied?

I know in Senegal, for example, when Senegal took over the French model and tried to develop their universities, they did a lot of comparative literature and things that they discovered decades later weren't really addressing their needs. Do you see in this internationalization a switch in what the universities are offering and what the academic departments are focused on?

Also a very good question. What I've mostly seen is that—again, I'm thinking of the big players, China, India, the Middle East—people still want the subjects, in terms of where they are in development, that they think are going to be most helpful. Those tend to be sciences and engineering. That's what the fascination is with. That doesn't mean that won't change.

It's funny. You discover things from these kinds of discussions, actually, which is wonderful, and from other kinds of dialogues, things that I should have written about or that I'll write about again. One is the liberal arts. I wish I could say that our liberal arts tradition is being cloned everywhere around the world. It's not happening yet. But I think that is something people are beginning to think about more and more.

I reference him a lot, because he is just awfully thoughtful. Rick Levin, of Yale, has this article I mentioned in Foreign Affairs. He talked about the Asian nations, with their ascendant universities, really feeling that—just as we tend to worry about them and sort of look over our shoulders—how are we going to compete?—they feel that what we have that they want to get is the ability to think creatively—it's an overused expression, but out-of-the-box thinking—the ability to question authority.

There's a great new book out called Start-up Nation about Israel's thriving economy. One of the points they make is that the military culture in which questioning of officers is apparently encouraged to a greater extent than many places has led to an entrepreneurial culture that has been very successful. That isn't the conventional Asian culture. Obviously, there are differences between Asian nations.

I think what perhaps we'll see more of—this is really speculation—is maybe the comp. lit. majors of the world, which some of us spent time on as undergraduates, will end up being more important than they are now. Maybe being a good engineer is not enough, if you are not able to analyze from five or ten different points of view—though, again, I don't want to caricature engineers. They're smart people, and they do analyze from many points of view.

I guess just to sum it up, I think the conventional subjects in science and engineering are by far the most popular. I have mentioned the for-profits, vocational stuff—nursing, tourism, accounting. Those are things people want. In Colombia—there's a great story in the book that I borrowed from The Chronicle of Higher Education—you're in some small town and La Gran Colombia University beams a satellite course into your small town, where you're working a dayshift in a restaurant, but you're going to study tourism at night so you can become a tour guide. That's happening simultaneously with people at KAUST studying high-level mechanical engineering with professors from Stanford. All these things are happening simultaneously.

I think the subjects are probably going to be those more practical ones, for a time, and then perhaps, if people want to become more - the more and more they see the value of creativity, maybe they will be wanting to study Thucydides more. I don't know.

QUESTION: I take it that English is the default language in these universities. Are there any exceptions, any other languages being used?

BEN WILDAVSKY: It's hard to generalize completely. What I can say is, English, absolutely. I'm having a brain freeze on the exact statistic, but there are, I think, two or three times more non-native English speakers in the world now than there are native English speakers. English is it. In the academic world, I think English is it, for now. It could be something different.

In the Middle Ages, Latin was the lingua franca. That's what you had to know to be able to participate in this network of knowledge. Now it's English. There are many places, not only Scandinavian countries, where we know how great their English is, but in other parts of Europe, that are offering master's degrees, various kinds of programs, all in English. In South Korea, there's a new liberal arts-style university that has been created there, all in English from the beginning. So there is just huge interest in that.

In France, at this elite political science institute, Sciences Po—I interviewed the director, and he pretty much said that people should stop whining and start publishing in English, because that's what you have to do.

I'm not really answering your question, but I'm answering it indirectly. Yes, certainly, you go to French universities and German universities and the undergraduates are all studying their native languages—Italy, Spain. But when you have visiting lecturers, it's going to be English. When I go to Shanghai for a conference or OECD for a conference in Paris, it's all English.

QUESTION: I have a question. We have in this country a dichotomy. We have great private universities and we have great public universities. In the last decade or longer, the great public universities have suffered from an ongoing decline in their funding from states, and it's only getting worse. How is that going to impact our ability to continue to attract our own students and the best foreign students to come to universities that have lesser facilities?

It's a big concern. I'm a faculty brat from the University of California. I'm very attached to that university, not just for personal reasons, but I think it has been very important to the state and to the nation.

There are a lot of things you could say about California. California citizens bear a lot of the blame for what has happened there because of budget and tax policies over the years. They're in a tough period. But they were flush ten, 15 years ago. There is kind of a boom-and-bust cycle. The question in some cases is whether you—there's sort of a virtuous cycle: When you have enough great people, you keep on being great. Then the question is, how soon does that dissipate when your funding goes south?

It's true already—and this probably was happening before all the problems of the big state universities—that Tsinghua and Peking Universities combined, as of a couple of years ago, were producing more undergraduates who went on to American Ph.D.s than UC Berkeley was. UC Berkeley for years was the top. So that has already been changing.

I think it's a concern, if you care about these institutions, if you think they have been important. I don't really know what to say, except that I don't think we're going to lose our place in all these rankings, Shanghai and Times Higher, we're way up there. But again, if in 50 years Berkeley has the same funding problems it does now, they're going to be in bad shape.

I can't resist saying, since we're at the end, Berkeley is the source of the first college ranking I ever found, which came from the 1895 University of California yearbook. I wish I had put that in my pictures here. It's this wonderful chart, and it has all these great pictures of these young men in their calisthenics uniforms. It has this chart showing all the physical dimensions of the men of this fairly new university. They're all outdoors exercising. It talks about how big their neck muscles are and their thighs and their chests.

Then it compares it to an average—this is a pretty impressive sample; it's, I think, more than the global college rankings use—30,000 East coast bluebloods, from places like Amherst and Cornell. It shows you what their measurements were. Then it shows you, three years down the road, after working out in the California sunshine, these guys had surpassed the East Coast guys.

This is really the first example of value-added rankings. It just shows you there's nothing new.

I thank you for giving us value-added to the subject of higher education.

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