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

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The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World by 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 education--and 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 everyone--both educationally and economically.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400834235
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 04/05/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 248
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Ben Wildavsky is a senior fellow 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" and the "Wall Street Journal", among other publications.

Read an Excerpt

The Great Brain Race

How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World
By Ben Wildavsky

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4008-3423-5

Chapter One

The 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."


Excerpted from The Great Brain Race by Ben Wildavsky Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: What Is Global Higher Education--and Why Does It Matter? 1
Chapter One: The Worldwide Race for Talent 14
Chapter Two: Branching Out 42
Chapter Three: Wanted: World-Class Universities 70
Chapter Four: College Rankings Go Global 100
Chapter Five: For-Profits on the Move 141
Chapter Six: Free Trade in Minds 167
Afterword 194
Notes 199
Index 221

What People are Saying About This

Sebastian Mallaby

In this masterful account, Ben Wildavsky documents the emergence of a global academic marketplace that will inevitably kindle protectionist anxieties in the established powers—but that will also spur research and innovation, boost economic growth, and solidify meritocratic values in emerging nations. At last this aspect of globalization gets the attention it deserves.
Sebastian Mallaby, Council on Foreign Relations

David W. Breneman

This interesting and provocative book is onto a key issue in contemporary higher education, as colleges and universities trip over each other in an effort to be seen as leaders in the international arena. Wildavsky knows the higher education terrain very well.
David W. Breneman, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia


Ben Wildavsky has given us the most thorough and penetrating account to date of how globalization is transforming higher education around the world. The details are rich and compelling, and Wildavsky's judgments are, in my opinion, unerring.
Richard C. Levin, president, "Yale University"

Richard C. Levin

Ben Wildavsky has given us the most thorough and penetrating account to date of how globalization is transforming higher education around the world. The details are rich and compelling, and Wildavsky's judgments are, in my opinion, unerring.
Richard C. Levin, president, Yale University


Ben Wildavsky has written an engaging primer on the world of international higher education.
Philip G. Altbach, Director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College

Philip G. Altbach

Ben Wildavsky has written an engaging primer on the world of international higher education.
Philip G. Altbach, Director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College

Andrew Witty

No leader in a global business can ignore the increasingly international brain exchange that this book describes. Wildavsky convincingly contends that the spread of academic excellence internationally and a free trade in minds is to be celebrated rather than feared. This is a must read for anyone in the global race for talent.
Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline

Judy Woodruff

The Great Brain Race takes the reader to university campuses around the globe in order to powerfully make the case that open borders are as—and perhaps more—important in education as they are in trade and economics. You can't understand the way the world will work in this coming century without understanding the phenomenon Wildavsky reveals here. The Great Brain Race is an enormous contribution to the discussion.
Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour


This interesting and provocative book is onto a key issue in contemporary higher education, as colleges and universities trip over each other in an effort to be seen as leaders in the international arena. Wildavsky knows the higher education terrain very well.
David W. Breneman, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia

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The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
Given Ben Wildavsky's focus on higher education, you might assume that only educators would be interested in his book. Don't make that mistake. Certainly, anyone in higher education should read it to understand the forces reshaping that world, and so should secondary teachers and advisers, so they can guide their students. But Wildavsky's book deserves a wider audience. He convincingly analyzes the changes in higher education as part of globalization and shows the roles these changes play in international economics. getAbstract recommends this thorough study primarily to educators, but also to those interested in human resources, strategic planning, the industry of education and widespread social trends that are reshaping the world economy.