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

"The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World," by Ben Wildavsky (Princeton University Press) - Read PDF of Chapter One The Worldwide Race for Talent. Book reviews:
  • What is Global Higher Education?
  • Scholarly mobility has a long-standing tradition, dating back some nine hundred years to a time when students from around Europe flocked to the first universities in Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. The twentieth-century version of this phenomenon emerged in the United States, which, after World War II, became an unsurpassed magnet for students and professors from around the world. Borrowing from the model pioneered in nineteenth-century Germany, American institutions adapted and perfected the combination of teaching and scholarship under one roof, becoming the universally acknowledged masters of the modern research university. For the past half century, American universities have been the envy of the world — and may well remain so for decades to come. ... As the world’s academic landscape is reshaped, traditional patterns of mobility, knowledge transmission, and economic growth are already being upended. A case in point: Several decades ago, some observers expressed much concern about the brain drain experienced by developing countries whose most promising citizens often departed to seek better educational opportunities and better lives in the West. More recently, however, this term has been replaced by “brain circulation” or “brain gain,” as many of those who had left nations such as India or China begin to return home to seize opportunities in these countries’ newly booming economies (including, especially in China, their revitalized universities). What the global university movement promises to do, as nations make sizable investments in education, compete to nurture human capital, and send students and researchers back and forth to universities around the world, is to go one step further: from brain drain to brain circulation.
  • How Globalization is Changing Higher Ed
  • Global universities: An old idea refashioned, How to create a higher-education supermarket
  • In “The Great Brain Race” Ben Wildavsky points to another mighty agent of globalisation: universities. These were some of the world’s first “global” institutions. In the Middle Ages great universities such as Paris and Bologna attracted “wandering scholars” from across Europe. In the 19th century Germany’s research universities attracted scholars from across the world. In the early 20th century philanthropists such as Cecil Rhodes and William Harkness established scholarships to foster deeper links between countries. By the 1960s globe-trotting professors were so commonplace that they had become the butt of jokes. ... But globalisation is going deeper than just the competition for talent: a growing number of countries are trying to create an elite group of “global universities” that are capable of competing with the best American institutions. China and India are focusing resources on a small group. The French and German governments are doing battle with academic egalitarians in an attempt to create European Ivy Leagues. Behind all this is the idea that world-class universities can make a disproportionate contribution to economic growth.
  • The Global University and the Future of Human Capital
  • Minds on the Move: A new kind of free trade as universities around the world compete for students and scholars.
  • Why all this activity? It is the "quest to build knowledge-based economies that has led so many governments to scramble to improve their education systems," Mr. Wildavsky writes. But there are other reasons, including "the notion that a well-educated person today must be exposed to ideas and people without regard to national boundaries" and, less high-mindedly, "the financial attraction for many Western universities of overseas students who pay full freight." ... "Innovation overseas," Mr. Wildavsky says, "can actually enhance America's financial well-being. That is because ideas can't be contained within national boundaries, meaning that America's share of the world's research production matters far less than the proven ability of U.S. entrepreneurs, financiers, and consumers to take advantage of cutting-edge research wherever it comes from."