Creating a new age for higher education
Caitlin Taylor Collegio Reporter
Millions of students study overseas and according to a PSU guest speaker on March 30, this signifies more aggressive recruiting from international universities.
Ben Wildavsky, senior fellow in research and policy for Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, lectured about what he refers to as “global universities” at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Crimson and Gold Ballroom, and said that despite the common belief that large universities only care about making their own statistics better, this “unprecedented academic mobility” is making higher education a worldwide phenomenon.
“It creates opportunities for fostering innovation and talent,” Wildavsky said.
Wildavsky says that this phenomenon shows the mobility of research, campuses and students worldwide.
“There is a certain amount of anxiety surrounding this,” Wildavsky said. “People are worried it will take brain power away from home countries. They call it brain drain.”
There is no real evidence showing that foreign students crowd out domestic students, according to Wildavsky. This fear leads to academic protections where universities deny their students the ability to go to universities abroad.
“We should embrace these developments, not worry about them,” Wildavsky said.
The emergence of global college rankings, which Wildavsky says are a hugely controversial topic, allow the improvement of universities to be measured, and help consumers, government policy makers, and universities themselves.
The general criticism is that global rankings make universities focus “on the wrong things,” and that they don’t convey significant meaning about a school’s effectiveness.
“I think rankings are essential for furthering higher education,” Wildavsky said. “Just because you can’t measure everything, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t measure anything.”
Wildavsky says that the race to create world-class universities gives way to growth and creates intense competition to establish better universities and ultimately improves higher education.
“I think rankings are important and are going to be successful,” Wildavsky said. “I feel we should embrace these kinds of changes, not fear them.”
Wildavsky says that the world’s best universities spend more, recruit more, create partnerships and build alliances with other universities around the world, but that some people see this as an educational and economic threat, and believe it will take away from U.S. universities and their students. This innovation and growth, Wildavsky says, relies on people’s motivations and ideas.
“Our slice of the pie is getting smaller, but the research pie is getting bigger,” Wildavsky said. “In 50 years we could see outright mergers of universities.”
Wildavsky says that the real challenge he had when he began his book was his initial idea to write about the greatest universities in the world. After having gone to a conference abroad, he realized that he was missing the most interesting story from the initial idea: how the universities are reshaping the world.
Wildavsky started research for his book on this subject, “The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World” in 2007, traveling around the world and visiting universities to reach his conclusions.
“I was very lucky because I got to visit a lot of places,” Wildavsky said. “It was my job, and my employer at the Kauffman Foundation paid for my expenses to travel, plus I also had my salary.”
Wildavsky says that his book focuses on people’s fears of academic protectionism, and of the desire to limit foreign students coming in and going to other countries. He says that people think it would be a competitive threat to achieve high-end degrees at other schools. He says these people are mistaken.
“It establishes a marketplace for higher education,” Wildavsky said. “We want to do whatever we can to create freedom in minds.”