The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the Worldby Ben Wildavsky
In The Great Brain Race, former U.S. News & World Report education editor Ben Wildavsky presents the first popular account of how international competition for the brightest minds is transforming the world of higher educationand why this revolution should be welcomed, not feared. Every year, nearly three million international students study/i>/i>
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In The Great Brain Race, former U.S. News & World Report education editor Ben Wildavsky presents the first popular account of how international competition for the brightest minds is transforming the world of higher educationand why this revolution should be welcomed, not feared. Every year, nearly three million international students study outside of their home countries, a 40 percent increase since 1999. Newly created or expanded universities in China, India, and Saudi Arabia are competing with the likes of Harvard and Oxford for faculty, students, and research preeminence. Satellite campuses of Western universities are springing up from Abu Dhabi and Singapore to South Africa. Wildavsky shows that as international universities strive to become world-class, the new global education marketplace is providing more opportunities to more people than ever before.
Drawing on extensive reporting in China, India, the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, Wildavsky chronicles the unprecedented international mobility of students and faculty, the rapid spread of branch campuses, the growth of for-profit universities, and the remarkable international expansion of college rankings. Some university and government officials see the rise of worldwide academic competition as a threat, going so far as to limit student mobility or thwart cross-border university expansion. But Wildavsky argues that this scholarly marketplace is creating a new global meritocracy, one in which the spread of knowledge benefits everyoneboth educationally and economically.
Sir Howard Newby
As a peek into fast-evolving trends in global or transnational education that are increasingly consuming the minds of university presidents, it's extremely good, and its educated-but-breezy Atlantic style of writing, so rare in higher education books, make it a pleasure to read.
James K. Glassman
Adam R. Nelson
Glenn C. Altschuler
Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Richard N. Cooper
Mary Taylor Huber
Wildavsky's thoroughly researched book . . . provides a great deal of information about globalization in higher education and it raises some interesting questions. . . . The best contribution of the book is Wildavsky's vigorous argument that the increasingly open educational world is nothing to fear.
Honorable Mention for the 2010 PROSE Award in Education, Association of American Publishers
"Comprehensive and fascinating. . . . [Wildavsky] reports on American universities, notably NYU, branching out internationally; on foreign governments, like China's, spending vast sums to improve their own institutions, partly to attract scholars and students from abroad; on for-profit businesses, like Laureate and the Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan Inc., planting campuses in remote global locations. . . . This is Mr. Wildavsky's major argument. The globalization of education is producing what he calls a 'free trade in minds'beneficial not only to countries sending their students abroad and countries accepting them but also, through positive externalities, to the broader world."James K. Glassman, Wall Street Journal
"Academic globalisation has gone into overdrive in the modern university. Some of this is along familiar linesacademics collaborating with ever more foreign colleagues and sabbatical-seekers contriving to spend ever more time abroad. But Mr. Wildavsky demonstrates that globalisation is now much more complicated than just cross-border collaboration spiced up with junkets. . . . This is a fascinating story."Economist
"Readable, fast-paced. . . . The global race to attract the top talent among both staff and students is affecting the academy across the globe. . . . As a description of the state of play on all these issues in the summer of 2009 (approximately), the book is wonderfully successful."Sir Howard Newby, Times Higher Education
"[Wildavsky] tells an engaging story about the ways in which global universities are 'reshaping the world'. . . . [His] style is gripping and urgent. . . . His point that the forces of globalization will profoundly shape the future of higher education cannot be ignored. Not everyone will share Wildavsky's faith that a 'free trade in mind' will lead to equitable, or economically beneficial, outcomes. However, we must all grapple with his view that knowledge is a commodity, and universities, if they wish to survive, must treat it as such."Adam R. Nelson,Nature
"Intriguing. . . . In our comfortable spot at the top of the world's higher ed pyramid, we are ignoring one of the most powerful trends of the 21st centurya growing free trade in great minds. Wildavsky, a senior fellow in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, argues that this will make this era more innovative, and more prosperous, than any that human civilization has seen."Jay Mathews, Washington Post
"Wildavsky does a fine job of giving contour to the diffuse and multifarious phenomena that comprise the ongoing globalisation of academia. . . . Wildavsky is forthright about his enthusiasm for what he calls a new 'free trade in minds', and he is refreshingly sceptical of all the knee-jerk rhetoric purporting to warn that America and other western powers are 'falling behind'."John Gravois, National
"Provides an informative, early-days assessment of a new phenomenon: 'free trade in minds.' Acknowledging missteps and problems, he claims, with a bow to author Thomas Friedman, that an increasingly flat academic world will bring unprecedented economic, social, and political benefits, innovative research, and spread meritocratic values to emerging nations."Glenn C. Altschuler, Boston Globe
"Wildavsky addresses all aspects of the internationalization of universitiesstudents, faculty, branch campuses, financing, and even curriculaand contends that the combination of research and teaching, although sometimes a source of tension within universities, has been a resounding success."Richard N. Cooper, Foreign Affairs
"Superb. . . . For educators, it's the equivalent of Friedman's The World Is Flat and carries much the same message: Higher education (and there are signs that K-12 is following behind) is no longer confined by national boundaries, much less campus walls. At least at its upper echelons, it's now an international industry, serving an international market, populated by globe-trotting people. . . . Ponder the implications. Meanwhile, read this book."Chester E. Finn, Jr., Education Gadfly
"Makes a compelling case for both the virtue and the inevitability of globalizing higher education. . . .[Wildavsky] paints a picture of a global higher-education landscape where porous borders and surging national aspirations are driving rapid increases in competition for students, professors, and prestige."Kevin Carey, Chronicle of Higher Education
"Wildavsky meticulously demonstrates how the competition for academic talent has gone global, with universities all over the world chasing the brightest students. . . . The Great Brain Race is a timely wake-up call."Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Real Clear Markets
"In insightful, straightforward, and accessible writing, [Wildavsky] discusses the strategic value of universities extending their influence and brand throughout the world, noting that 'knowledge changes the world'. . . . Readers who are relatively unfamiliar with the globalization of higher education will appreciate this, while seasoned global educators will welcome its complete and compelling picture of how postsecondary education benefits a nation's livelihood and economy. A worthy addition to libraries with larger international education collections and institutions with study abroad programs and/or foreign campuses."Elizabeth Connor, Library Journal
"As a peek into fast-evolving trends in global or transnational education that are increasingly consuming the minds of university presidents, it's extremely good, and its educated-but-breezy Atlantic style of writing, so rare in higher education books, make it a pleasure to read."Alex Usher, Globe and Mail
"Wildavsky's thoroughly researched book . . . provides a great deal of information about globalization in higher education and it raises some interesting questions. . . . The best contribution of the book is Wildavsky's vigorous argument that the increasingly open educational world is nothing to fear."George Leef, John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
"The book is an excellent and thought-provoking work, one that raises many important questions about where globalized higher education will take us. . . . In the end, The Great Brain Race is very convincing: the world is a far better place when we embrace the transnational flow of people and ideas, limit the urge to engage in academic protectionism, and expand the reach of the global meritocracy."Andrew Kelly, The American
"Wildavsky paints a comprehensive picture of a field where information is scattered and often sparse."Mary Taylor Huber, Change
"The Great Brain Race provides thorough insight into how higher education is playing its part in today's globalized worldand the other way around. . . . Wildavsky skillfully combines information gathered first-hand (e.g. in interviews with institutional leaders), anecdotal evidence, and his own knowledge of university rankings, with a keen awareness of the scholarly debates on higher education and its developments over time. . . . Skillfully written and fast-paced, Wildavsky's contribution is an undoubted added-value to our understanding of an inevitably internationalized higher education landscape. . . . This is a timely publicationand a mustfor anyone interested in making the best of today's higher education."Leon Cremonini, Teachers College Record
"The Great Brain Race is compelling because of the breadth of evidence that Wildavsky provides to demonstrate the degree to which globalization has permeated academe. As his examples show, there is no template or roadmap to guarantee the success of an institution or nation; at the same time, there is no doubt about the changes in the academic environment, and anyone in higher education will feel their impact."Wayne Ishikawa, Continuing Higher Education Review
"The book is a thorough work on the higher education scenario globally. It discusses the issue at micro level, detailing both sides of the story. It is undoubtedly a valuable source book on the education sector."Vaidehi Nathan, Organiser
"What this slim volume [provides] is a highly readable introduction to and advocacy for global education."Robin Tatu, Prism
"[Wildavsky's] background and experience in the print media business is evidently present on every page of the book: he is able to explain rather complex phenomena in popular language, he masters the skills needed to combine facts from various sources with relevant quotes . . . and he is able to organize his materials in compact chapters. . . . I would definitely recommend the book to students in higher education as a more than adequate introduction to the phenomenon."Jeroen Huisman, Studies in Higher Education
"Wildavsky's book should be commended for striking the right balance between alarmism and complacency on Western predominance in higher education."Garret Martin, European Affairs
"Wildavsky addresses these issues in a journalistic style, and his answers are informed by an underlying agreement with the goal of an open and free academic market. His stories are illustrative, his research is impeccable, and the argument is forcefulas it needs to be in the face of rising academic protectionism. He also provides readers with an account of how misguided concerns about national interest are the greatest threat to freedom in the academic market today."Choice
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The Great Brain RaceHow Global Universities Are Reshaping the World
By Ben Wildavsky
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Worldwide Race for Talent
When Claire Booyjzsen finished her master's degree at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, the world was her oyster. Intent on pursuing a PhD in chemistry, she consulted global rankings of universities to identify some of the strongest. Then she conducted more research, corresponding with professors and students to narrow down her list. She ultimately applied to eleven institutions. After the acceptance letters came in, she traveled to Coventry, England, where she is now a third-year doctoral student at the University of Warwick, an institution where one in five students comes from overseas. "It's really multicultural here," says Booyjzsen, who works as a tutor in a student dormitory. "I've met people from all over the world."
A relatively young university-it was founded in 1964-Warwick has become one of Great Britain's most sought-after institutions. It is also regarded as one of the nation's most entrepreneurial universities-and one of the most international as well. Warwick has systematically recruited students around the globe. In some instances, such as Booyjzsen's, its purpose is to search for talent; her studies are supported by a graduate fellowship funded by the university. In others, the search for international intellectual ability comes with a significant financial incentive (though the two are not mutually exclusive, of course). Almost all undergraduate and professional-school students from nations outside the European Union (EU) have "full pay" status. That means they don't enjoy the huge tuition. subsidies received by British and other EU students-and thus represent a significant source of tuition revenues for Warwick and other universities that face declining state funding.
Warwick has attracted its international study body, at least in part, by establishing a network of recruiting offices around the world. Headed in almost every case by Warwick alumni, these outposts can be found in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Singapore, and many other cities. Warwick's vice chancellor, Nigel Thrift, notes that the university now attracts students not just from major "sender" countries such as India and China but from a total of 120 nations. He downplays the budget-balancing aspect of his university's recruiting efforts, highlighting instead how the large number of overseas students exposes British students not only to intellectual firepower but also to global diversity. "It's just an enormous asset to the way the university is," Thrift says. "It makes it into kind of a little world city. I love that."
As Warwick goes, so goes the world: students like Booyjzsen have plenty of company. In recent years, international student mobility has been enormous-and consequential. Nearly 3 million students now study outside their home countries, a number that has risen steeply in a short period. From 1999 to 2009 alone, the number of students studying outside their home nations increased by 57 percent, according to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and OECD data reported by the Institute for International Education (IIE). Methods of counting foreign students are imperfect and vary from country to country, but the magnitude of the trend is indisputable. Indeed, the UNESCO/OECD figures understate the amount of foreign study because they include only students who go abroad for more than one year.
Where are all these students going? Above all, to the United States-by far the world's biggest magnet for international students. The United States began to assume that role after World War II, and consolidated it with the flood of foreign students who came in the 1970s and 1980s to study at research universities that had become the best in the world. Today, the U.S. market share of those 2.9 million mobile students worldwide stands at 22 percent, according to a report by the London-based Observatory on Borderless Higher Education. That puts the United States far ahead of its closest competitors, the United Kingdom and Australia, which played host, respectively, to 12 percent and 11 percent of those students.
The U.S. edge among graduate students is even higher: about two-thirds of all foreign graduate students worldwide study in the United States. In certain fields, more than half the PhD students at American universities come from overseas: the percentages are 65 percent in computer science, 65 percent in economics, 64 percent in engineering, 56 percent in physics, and 55 percent in mathematics, to cite the best-known examples. Indeed, a recent survey found that China's Tsinghua and Peking universities surpassed Berkeley as the top sources of students who go on to earn American PhDs. One professor of astronomy at a top-ranked U.S. university describes having to resort to "affirmative action for Americans" in order to ensure that his program enrolls more than a token number of native-born doctoral students.
Where do all these international students come from? Of the 572,509 foreign nationals who studied in the United States in 2004, more than half came from Asia; the top five countries of origin were India, China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. China and India are the top source countries among Great Britain's overseas students, making up a combined 69,000 of the 318,390 foreign students who studied in the U.K. in 2005.12 Similarly, India and China are the largest "sender" countries to Australia, which has become a major force in global higher education. It recruits students through an organization known as IDP Education, which has a network of over seventy-five offices in twenty-nine countries that hold education fairs and the like.
France and Germany, while relatively popular, are both considered secondary higher education destinations, and tend to attract students based on their own historical and cultural ties. A large majority of the 265,000 international students enrolled in French universities in 2006 came from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Germany, which enrolled nearly 190,000 foreign students in 2008, up 82 percent over the previous decade, attracts Chinese students more than any other nationality. After that, Germany is primarily a destination for Europeans from nations such as Bulgaria, Poland, and Russia. It has also attracted substantial numbers of Turkish students.
A Grand Tradition
Students of global higher education are unanimous in their view that more students move to more universities around the world today than ever before in world history. "The notion that students can move great distances today, going from nation to nation with great ease, is certainly unprecedented," says higher education scholar Daniel Fallon, an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. "Going back only two hundred years, you had to have passports and visas to go, within a country, from one town to another. What we do today is ridiculously simple compared to that." Nevertheless, while academe has never before seen such widespread movement of students and professors around the world, the history of Western universities has long been marked by student migration. "In the beginning was the Road," writes French historian Joseph Bédier, describing how the flow of ideas and knowledge in the Middle Ages was made possible by the roads linking ancient cities, which had become the sites of cathedrals and thus centers of learning.
The first Western universities were located in Paris and Bologna, which began to flourish during what has been called the Renaissance of the twelfth century. Early universities began as scholastic guilds, typically attached to cathedrals, and were called studia generale. Eventually, they came to be referred to as universitas. And it did not take long for a version of internationalization to follow. Just as contemporary students' journeys around the world have been vastly eased by the Internet and cheap airline travel, so too did their predecessors benefit from their own periods' versions of better transportation and communication networks.
The best early evidence for quite extensive student mobility can be seen in the formation of "student nations" in the early 1220s, in which university students from different parts of Europe joined together for "mutual protection and help according to their home countries or provinces." Birthplace and mother tongue determined a student's membership in a nation. At the University of Paris were four such nations-the French, the Normans, the Picards, and the English. Still more diverse was the University of Bologna, which was home to nineteen nations, with students hailing from such disparate areas as Hungary, Poland, Spain, and Germany.
What accounted for such early significant patterns of mobility at a time when this was far from the norm? Most prosaically, of course, students in areas without universities-Scandinavia, Ireland, and Eastern Europe, for instance-had no choice but to travel if they wanted to pursue higher studies. "If you were interested in anything scholarly, you took off," says Fallon. Another incentive to travel in search of learning lies in a set of privileges awarded to traveling scholars in 1158 by Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. Known as the authentica Habita, these rules protected individuals traveling to foreign lands to study. More broadly, churches and kings across Europe provided foreign students with financial assistance-call it the earliest version of today's scholarships-in the form of outright aid or inexpensive food and lodging. There was a catch, to be sure-in return for this assistance, students were expected to work for either the state or the Church.
Then, too, world events had a role to play. Just as wars and revolutions in the past century have led to mass migrations of people and scholars, so the patterns of student movement in the Middle Ages were influenced by the happenings of the day. In 1229, for instance, students in Paris, enmeshed in disputes with local citizens, rioted violently (plus ça change, one is tempted to observe). The result? The king of France dissolved the university for six years, resulting in what one academic termed "The Great Dispersion" of French scholars. The king of England, Henry III, like university leaders today who are constantly on the lookout for fresh talent, apparently saw the French contretemps as a recruiting opportunity-he welcomed the exiles from Paris into British universities.
In a similar parallel, just as various modern nations have fretted about brain drain, tried to keep more students at home, and, in some cases, erected barriers to their free movement across borders, so too did their counterparts in the Middle Ages. By the late fourteenth century, student mobility had declined, in part because countries devoted considerable resources to promoting local or regional educational opportunities. In addition, some countries passed laws that excluded from public office any students who had attended foreign universities.
Still, as the sixteenth century dawned, academic mobility was once again on the rise. This new era of movement across national boundaries and exchange of ideas is personified by the travels of Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch Renaissance scholar and Catholic theologian. Something of an itinerant student and academic, Erasmus studied at the University of Paris and the University of Cambridge. He also spent time at universities in Italy, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland. So renowned was his contribution to international academic exchange that some 450 years after his death, the EU initiated the Erasmus program, which is intended to facilitate such exchange between students and teaching staff in European universities.
For all the circulation of students and ideas that characterized the first six centuries of Western research universities, it wasn't until the nineteenth century that foreign students began to flock in large numbers to the country that would become the birthplace of the modern research university: Germany. The nation hadn't previously been a big draw for foreign students. On the outbound side, it sent several thousand students to Bologna and Paris from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. But Charles IV significantly stemmed the flow of German students abroad by founding the University of Prague in 1347. (The new university was also an early instrument of meritocracy: "From this time on," writes historian Helene Wieruszowski, "education became a social leveler with the slogan 'career open to merit.'") By the beginning of the fifteenth century, the University of Prague was a distinctly cosmopolitan institution, attracting some 2,000 foreign students to its community of about 4,000 scholars.
German universities became particularly attractive to foreigners-not only as a study destination but also as a model for replication-with the founding of the University of Berlin (later Humboldt University) in 1820. The father of the German university is widely considered to be Prussian education reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt, who was committed to the proposition that a university should be a place that encouraged scholars to conduct research without government interference. As a result of their emphasis on advancing research while also promoting technical and vocational education, the universities in Berlin and other German cities emerged as major destinations for international students by the end of the nineteenth century.
The numbers are not large by today's standards, but they made up a not-insignificant share of enrollment. In 1900, for instance, 1,750 foreign students were enrolled at German universities, accounting for 7.6 percent of all tertiary enrollment in the country. A few years later, those numbers had grown considerably, with particularly heavy enrollment from Europe. In 1910, 4,646 Europeans were studying in Germany. Half were natives of Russia, while others came from Austria-Hungary, Switzerland, Bulgaria, and Romania. German universities even drew students from parts of Africa and Asia.
While many of the students initially drawn to Germany were European, Americans, too, soon became a significant source of foreign enrollment. In 1911, American students made up 4.6 percent of overseas enrollment at German universities. At the most popular institution for U.S. students, the University of Göttingen, 22 percent of the student body was American. By 1936, overall U.S. enrollment at German institutions had grown to 11.5 percent before dropping precipitously in the run-up to World War II.
Other nations certainly continued to attract overseas students, particularly England and France. In 1928 French universities enrolled a record 14,368 foreign students. In the United States, institutions such as the University of Virginia and Williams College were in various respects modeled on French universities. And throughout the twentieth century, exchanges abounded between U.S. and French institutions-the University of Paris, for instance, prepared a special course for American students.
Nevertheless, the German model was uniquely influential. When American students returned home from their studies, they attempted to replicate these German institutions, which had pioneered the combination of research excellence and teaching, not to mention such bedrock concepts as academic freedom. Perhaps the best known of the institutions created as a result was the Johns Hopkins University, founded in 1876. Hopkins aimed to be the first German-style university in America; this aspiration was exemplified by the fact that many of its founding faculty members were former students at German institutions. Other influential universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (1860), Cornell University (1868), and the University of Chicago (1890), were similarly founded on German academic ideals.
Yet if the roots of today's American research universities can be found in nineteenth and early twentieth-century German institutions, the vast influence that U.S. universities have come to occupy in the global academic enterprise traces more immediately to the period following World War II. As at the universities of Paris, Bologna, Oxford, and Cambridge over the previous eight hundred years, overseas students started flocking to U.S. universities as they began to achieve worldwide renown. Once a critical mass of foreign talent was in place in America's halls of academe, those students in turn contributed their brainpower to further advancing the United States' intellectual reputation-a virtuous cycle marked by, and powered by, mobility.
The number of foreign students attracted to the United States was relatively modest before the Second World War, but it grew quickly, rising from around 10,000 in the prewar years to some 36,000 students in 1955, of which one-third were enrolled at the graduate level. A 1957 New York Times article headlined "Foreign Students Choose the U.S." cited a survey released by the National Science Foundation that said the dramatic increase could be attributed to a combination of factors: "a reflection of the prosperity and influence of the United States; of financial support extended to foreign students by educational institutions, private agencies and both the United States and foreign governments; and of the achievement by educational institutions of an internationally recognized status that had been attained earlier by European universities."
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What People are Saying About This
David W. Breneman, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia
Sebastian Mallaby, Council on Foreign Relations
Richard C. Levin, president, "Yale University"
Richard C. Levin, president, Yale University
Philip G. Altbach, Director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College
Philip G. Altbach, Director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College
Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline
Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour
David W. Breneman, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia
Meet the Author
Ben Wildavsky is a senior scholar in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. Previously, he was education editor of "U.S. News & World Report", economic policy correspondent for the "National Journal", higher education reporter for the "San Francisco Chronicle", and executive editor of the "Public Interest". He has written for the "Washington Post", the "Wall Street Journal", and "Foreign Policy" among other publications and is co-editor of "Reinventing Higher Education: The Promise of Innovation". He has lectured widely in the United States and abroad.
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