Ben Wildavsky: “The Great Brain Race” | Talks at Google

>>Maggie: Welcome. So my name’s Maggie Johnston.
I work in Education and University Relations here at Google. So welcome to another installment
of “Author’s at Google” and today we have Ben Wildavsky, who is a senior fellow in research
and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institute.
He is also a former, ah, what is it, educational editor for US News and World Report, and a
higher education reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. So he’s here today to tell us about
his new book, which is “The Great Brain Race”. The only tactical thing I wanted to mention
is that when we get to the Q&A part of the session, there is a microphone over there,
and we want to try to make sure that everything is recorded, because we will be putting this
up on YouTube. So Ben, welcome.>>Ben: Well, Thank you very much Maggie for
that kind introduction. I am really delighted to be here. My brother Adam, who is here,
is a Googler in the New York Office, and so I have been there a few times. Never been
to the Googleplex. It’s already looks like a wonderful place. And you know Google is
one of the worlds’ talent magnets, so that is something that I will be talking about
today. So I hope that this will have a particular salience to all of you. When I was told, asking
around, in terms of what would really be effective for a Google audience, obviously a sophisticated
bunch, highly educated with a lot of skills, and I was told that the crucial thing was
to start with pictures of cute animals. These are some monkeys that I came across when I
was in South East India, a couple of years ago. This is the edge of the National forest
and this is a place called, it’s outside of Chennai, which used to be called Madras. And
this is taken from the balcony of a guest house where I stayed. You can see these monkeys
are very adorable, but it turns out that they have a dark side. I found out the day after
I arrived, that if you leave your room, and you leave any of your windows open, or the
door open, they will come in and they’ll trash the place. So I guess that tells you that
things are not always what they seem. And the same is true of this place, it’s completely
gorgeous, not only are there monkeys, there are deer running around, there are these magnificent
banyan trees everywhere. And it looks like a gorgeous, but it’s sort of a sleepy out
of the way place. But it turns out that this is the campus of an elite engineering school;
The Indian Institute of Technology in Madras. It’s one of a chain of IIT’s around the country.
They are often called the MIT of India. It’s incredibly hard to get into. Only 2 or 3%
of applicants make it in on this intense national exam. And not only is this out of the way
place home to this elite campus, it’s also very much connected to the new global network
of knowledge and talent mobility that I’ll be talking about a little bit more. My first
day as I usually do, when I visit a campus, I went to see the President, known as the
Director, a guy named M.S. Ananth right here, and he’s just come back from Davos in Switzerland.
A big International gathering of the world’s elite every year, and he’d just taken part
in a higher education working group, that’s headed up by Rick Levin who is the president
of Yale University. So this out of the way place is very much
connected to the global education market place that I’m going to talk about that is now developing.
And as I was working on this, oh I should also mention walking around the campus of
this IIT, I went to the recruiting office or careers office where there was signup sheets
for interviews as you see in American campuses. And Google was there with a signup sheet,
McKenzie was there with a signup sheet and I walked down the same corridor and I saw
a big poster advertising graduate scholarships at a place called KAUST and this is the King
of Jewel University of Science and Technology; it’s a brand new university that’s been created
just last year in Saudi Arabia. They’re trying to recruit the best in the world so of course
they’re going everywhere including of course to this corner of India.
And as I was working on the book, I came across lots of scenes like this that were to me,
to my westernized somewhat unexpected juxtapositions that I would not have thought of, and in fact
the whole book was really not what I expected to write. I went into this with an idea for
a book that would sort of be a Cooks tour of the worlds’ great universities with maybe
a chapter about some of the best, most interesting places out there. So the IIT’s were a stop
on this tour. But I discovered after working on this for a couple of months that I felt
I was missing the real story. A much more interesting story, which was really a shaking
up and is a shaking up of the old order of Universities. A real change in who are the
places that are at the top and who are going to be the places that are at the top in the
future. Now, I’m gonna talk about what I think global higher education is, why I think it’s
important, why some people are worried about this whole phenomena of globalization and
why I think they shouldn’t be worried, because in my view what I call free trade in minds,
is really an opportunity for the world and not a threat.
I’m going to talk about three main trends. One is huge academic mobility around the world
of students in particular and also of faculty increasingly, it’s at a level we’ve never
seen before. Now the 2nd is a real quest everywhere from South Korea to Saudi Arabia to China,
to try to create very competitive Universities that are world class; they can compete with
the best in the world. And the 3rd is near and dear to my heart,
since as Maggie mentioned in introducing me, I am the former editor of the US News and
World Report College and graduate school guides rankings. Rankings have now become a global
phenomena. So I’m going to start by telling you a little of what’s happening in the world
of mobility. The first thing to know is the numbers are
huge. There are now 3 million globally mobile students, students studying outside their
home countries. That’s a 57% increase in just the last decade. And I should mention, these
are not study abroad kids, these are not the semester and summer program. That stat is
only for students who are going overseas for a year or more. Many of them are degree seeking
students. There is a very big; these students are very eagerly recruited by Universities.
Really for several reasons. At the elite level the best graduate students, the best post
docs, form the backbone of the research enterprise at the big research universities. So everyone
wants the best. At the mass level students of course a source of human capital, a lot
of countries want to have great students coming there. They also want the revenue because
in many cases foreign students pay full freight, just as out of state students, for example,
in California the UC system, pay a lot more than in-state students. And the recruiting
has gotten so intense that people have resorted to some unconventional methods. New Zealand,
like Australia, is trying very hard to go after the Asian student market, so their higher
ed promotion agency came out with a viral video a few years ago.
I thought the video may not be appropriate for this forum, but I have a still from that
video. And you’ll see that it shows a young couple sort of smooching in the corner of
the hot tub, and the camera pulls back and you see this very stern disapproving parents
over in the other corner. And then you see the caption says “Get further away from your
parents”. And this was a huge success, I think they had it out there for a month or two,
and then they discreetly took it off. You can still find it if you Google hard enough.
And what’s remarkable is how successful this seems to have been, because if you look at
the 10 year trend in student recruiting, New Zealand is actually number two, second only
to, ah, I actually can’t read from here, I think it’s South Korea at the top. So I guess
this shows you that marketing can really work. So mobility of students is one big phenomena.
We know that academics are of course very mobile. Half of the worlds top physicists
no long work in their home countries. We also see a lot of mobility of research, which you
can define in various ways. Just in terms of cross boarder collaborations in scientific
publishing, there has been a doubling of those collaborations since 1990, more than a doubling.
You also have interesting new models developing. Yale University, for example has a collaboration
with some Chinese universities where each really takes advantage of their comparative
advantage, as economists would say. Yale provides some high level tenured professors,
scientists, who go over to work in China with Chinese Universities where there are very
high quality and very cheap lab space. There are very highly trained techs, again very
inexpensive. China, the Chinese universities benefit from this great expertise that comes
to them. And the US gets the ability to do experiments on a scale, and research on a
scale, that they can’t do as easily or as cheaply as back home. So it’s really win-win.
And I think that dynamic may change as the skill set in China gets larger. But for the
time being it’s really working very well. The other mobility example, there is a disproportionate
of the best scientists have worked outside their home countries during their careers.
Now that is not necessarily causal, it may just be some kind of correlation, but I think
it’s striking that the global experience is so closely associated with really excellent
research. So a third kind of mobility is mobility of
campuses themselves. And by that I’m talking about the phenomena of branch campuses or
satellite campuses. This is when western universities typically spread out and create outposts in
the Middle East very often, also in Asia where there is a huge demand for western degrees.
There are now 162 of these satellite campuses around the world and again that’s a figure
that’s increasing very quickly. It’s gone up by 43% in just the past 3 or 4 years. There’s
just huge demand for western style universities. And one place I visited is in Doha, in Qatar,
and it’s called Education City. This is a compound on the edge of the city, funded very,
with a lot of money from the Qatari government. And places like Georgetown School of Foreign
Service has set up a campus there: Northwestern’s Journalism School, the Medill school is there;
Cornell’s Medical school, The Weill School of medicine is there. And you’ll see this
is Texas A&M’s campus. The buildings are incredibly lavish, marble all over the place and again
you see these interesting juxtapositions, this massive tall door, probably twice the
height, or one and a half times the height of the room that we’re in. And it opens up
and you see three young women in black Abaya’s from head to toe coming out, and they’re not
veiled but you know they have the traditional garment, and they walk out, but then if you
look down the street you can’t see them in the slide, but there’s these big banners that
say Welcome to Aggieland, and that’s of course the kind of thing you see on the home campus
in Texas in College Station. And they’re really trying to bring a piece of Texas to the Middle
East. So you walk into these buildings and you’ll see the men’s prayer rooms, the women’s
prayer room, but then you’ll also see all kinds of Texas paraphernalia, you’ll see the
fast food courts, and it’s really a meeting of cultures. Interestingly to me there’s also an effort
I think, really very much encouraged by the host country here to bring in some liberalization
and some of the values we associate, I mean classical liberalization we associate with
western universities including debate. So there’s a debate series that’s sort of in
the tradition of the Oxford style of debates and there are posters all over these campus’s
saying “The next debate the resolution was resolved. This house believes that Gulf Arabs
value profit over people”. And you know that’s the kind of thing I wasn’t expecting when
I went over there. And I think that tells you that there really is an effort to push
the envelope a bit. I talked to a guy at the Medill school of Journalism and he was going
around to the local newspapers and talking with them and saying “You know what? You don’t
have to put a picture of the Emir on the front page every day,” which was something new
for them. So there is really an effort to spread the influence of Western universities
as I said, with encouragement from the host countries. Now I’ve talked about all these kinds of mobility
and I think they’re fascinating but they have created a certain amount of anxiety.
And I’ll just give you one or two examples. One of the things that you hear a lot about,
and I just talked to some Indonesian scholars a couple of weeks ago and it’s something they
raised; is the question of “brain drain.” It’s something that has been worrying the
developing world for some decades. Many of these countries don’t have great education
opportunities themselves. A lot of their best people go overseas to universities in the
west, often in the States. You know we’ve been a huge magnet for foreign students since
World War Two. And the fear is that they’ll go away, they won’t come back, and people
will lose their talent. And sometimes people take measures to try to prevent this which
I think are very ill advised. Just a couple of years ago, the president of another one
of these IIT’s in India, in Bombay, north of what is now Mumbai, he basically said,
all the students who were very sort after for foreign internships in industry and academia,
he said you can’t go overseas any more. I don’t want to lose the talent. You have to
stay home. Obviously this was very unpopular. And conversely on the receiving end, mobility
is sometimes viewed with suspicion or concern because people are worried about their own
students being crowded out by foreign students. In Malaysia for example, you know, they’ve
put a quota of 5% on foreign students coming into their public universities. Even here
in the States we don’t tend to be so restrictionist in explicit ways, but once in a while you’ll
hear of a quota like that. The University of Tennessee as recently of 10 years ago had
a quota of 20% on foreign students in their graduate department. Whereas nationally in
fields like Engineering, or Computer Sciences, you all know, you hear of any place else you
hear of, 60-65% of PhD’s in those fields are foreign born. So people are worried about
this, they take various measures to try to stop it or to slow it down. My view is that
we really should not worry about this kind of mobility, we should embrace it. It’s really
good for us. The key inside here, I think, is that we’re in a dynamic world in higher
education. It’s not a static world any more. And the old patterns of mobility are changing.
So, yeah, brain drain, I wouldn’t say it’s a non-issue, it’s a problem for many countries
but we’re starting to see new patterns as the world is changing. I’ll just mention that
in China for example, traditionally a big sending country and India, also a big sending
country; you’re now seeing what sometimes will be called “brain circulation.”
And so the idea is that somebody might follow the traditional pattern to go to the west
for a degree, but they might then go to another country for a 2nd degree and then as their
economies are taking off, they are much more likely than before to come back home and they
might work for a multi-national, but they’re able to do things that they did not always
do. And [coughs] Excuse me. China there’s also, you know, recruiting patterns are changing
regionally. China now takes in more foreign students, mostly from Asia, than it sends
overseas. Which is contrary to the image that we have of China.
People call this, as I said, brain circulation. I’ve heard the term “brain trade.” Just to
show how it’s different from the migration of the past, and one wonderful example is
a guy named, at the faculty level, a guy named Choon Fong Shih who is ethnically Chinese,
born in Singapore, goes to Canada for a Masters, goes to Harvard for a PHD, becomes a very
well regarded material scientist, I believe that’s his field. He goes to Brown University,
becomes a tenured professor, very successful. So far that’s the traditional trajectory,
you know, brain drain for Singapore, a gain for the US you might say. But in the new world,
he get’s recruited back to Singapore to the National University of Singapore which is
trying very hard to upgrade itself. So he becomes the head of an institute there, and
then he gets promoted; he becomes president of National University of Singapore. So that’s
already a reversal of the traditional pattern. But then the new twist is, I’ve talked about
KAUST; the new Saudi university, he gets recruited by KAUST when they started up last year, to
become the first president of KAUST. So, he’s sort of, I wouldn’t say he’s typical, but
he’s emblematic of the kind of possibilities that we’re seeing in this dynamic world of
talent mobility. Now, you might say, well OK, all this talent
mobility is something that can be achieved by individual decisions. You know, students,
are able to, you know, if they have a desire for these kinds of degrees and there are host
universities that want them, they can make these decisions individually, and the same
for the faculty who are starting to move around more. But as globalization is upon us, you
know, it’s a lot harder for universities as institutions to change. You know, universities
are sort of notoriously change resistant. But in fact what’s really remarkable is that
universities are beginning to change in really big ways. I think that is because they’re
really anxious to keep up with this very competitive globalized world.
And this is seen in the second big trend that I’ve mentioned which is this real effort to
create world class universities all over the place. I think the central reason people are
doing this, is they really see, very correctly in my view, that creating great universities
is just key to innovation and it’s key to economic growth and one of my favorite quotes
on this, is from two economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz in a book that came out
a couple of years ago, “The Race between Education and Technology”, and they say as you can see
“Human capital, embodied in one’s people, is the most fundamental part of the wealth
of nations.” And I think this is now broadly accepted. Everybody wants to create, it’s
become a cliché but sometimes clichés are true; they want to create knowledge economies.
They want to improve education and have the kind of societies that are gonna prosper economically
because of the human capital that they have. And you know they understand that their competition
is just like other areas in business. The competition is not just local, it’s not
regional it’s not national, it’s global and they want to compete with the best. So, how
are they doing this? Well, really in three ways. They are spending a lot of money. They want
to be competitive, and money is the weapon that you have. So in China, billions are being
spent, not only on upgrading the capacity of the universities, the number of students
in China, the number of students enrolled has quintupled in the past decade or so. So
huge changes in capacity, but also trying to focus on quality with a much narrower set
of universities that they would really like part of the scientific elite worldwide. At
the same time, in Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah started KAUST with a 10 billion dollar endowment,
which meant that it instantly had the 6th largest university endowment in the world.
So spending is very important. The other thing that I have already alluded
to is recruiting. One of the ways that you do this is that you try to get the best talent
in terms of facility talent to your campuses. Again, China has done this in a very big way.
Because they have more money from the government, because the economy is now taking off, they’re
trying to get western professors, often Chinese born professors who have gone to the west,
they are trying to bring them back, and they can offer them very attractive packages. They
call them “sea turtles.” Which, I’m not a Chinese speaker unfortunately, but apparently
in Chinese sea turtle is a homonym for the word for returnee. So they are really going
after the sea turtles in a big way. And the same is true for places like South Korea,
who has government funding to try to get western professors. So does the National University
of Singapore. So that’s the second thing. And the third thing they’re doing is really
trying to forge partnerships with western universities. Singapore is probably the best
example of this, as I mentioned they want to become a global hub. They are trying to
jump start, what they already have, and how do you jump start it? You try to bring in
other people who already are the best. So MIT now has a presence at the National University
of Singapore. So does the University Of Chicago Business School. You know business of course,
along with the so called stem subjects, science and engineering and technology, business is
very, very popular in foreign countries that want to benefit from western expertise. So
Singapore brings in lots of other places as part of this new ethos of competition. Now again, I think that these are fascinating
and important developments. But they’re causing a lot of worries, a lot of anxieties. I think
that in the west in general, and in the United States in particular, the central fear is
this; we are going to lose our edge. Right now we are number one, and we may not be number
one any longer. I think that when it comes to Chinese universities, Asian universities
in particular, there is a sense that we are educationally threatened, that we are economically
threatened. These places are producing enormous numbers of science and engineering PhD’s.
You know, an example of this kind of anxiety came during the last presidential campaign,
when President Obama at one of his campaign speeches basically said “how are we going
to stay competitive when the number of PhD’s in these subjects is soaring in places like
South Korea and Japan and China, and it’s stagnating or getting less here?” The basic
view here is that, if others are getting ahead, then we must be falling behind. Once again
I think that it’s perhaps understandable if there is some worry about what is happening
elsewhere, but I really think that it’s misguided and that we should embrace these changes.
We shouldn’t be afraid of them. Now it’s absolutely true that western universities are getting
a run for their money. I mean we’re in a much more competitive environment than we have
been before. I think that we should be energized by this. We shouldn’t be worried about it,
and the fundamental reasons, really one of the take home points, you know, I can’t resist
showing this again, the new book, “The Great Brain Race.” One of the take home points is
that increasing knowledge is not a zero sum game. There is not a finite amount of knowledge
in the world that we all have to scramble to fight over to get our piece of. If there
is more smart people in China, more people with PhD’s, with more education, that’s good
for us. It’s not bad for us. You know, economists will talk about knowledge as a public good.
It’s something that can’t be contained within national borders. So a lot of people, I’m
going to use the economist Tyler Cowen, there’s many others who have made this point, if there
is a discovery which is made in South Korea or Saudi Arabia or wherever. In the United
States we are particularly recognized for our ability to innovate for example. So it’s
entirely possible that there is new knowledge created someplace else, but then we’ll come
in, and we’ll do something fascinating with it and important, and we might create the
next Google. So again, I think if you take a more expansive view of what is going on,
you can see the opportunities which are out there.
Now I’ve talked about the ways in which a very highly competitive global market place
has developed. And in my view, global education markets, just like markets in finance or in
other areas, markets need information in order to function effectively. It may be inevitable
that all this global competition, mobility of students, competition to create world class
universities, has given rise to global college rankings. They have really proliferated in
the last couple of decades, not just at the national level, but globally as well. I’ll
just give you a very quick view of what I think has happened with rankings. The first
one which I have been able to find, which for a Bay Area audience, I hope will be particularly
interesting, came in 1895 at the University of California, at Berkeley. Then, practically
a brand new university. This is a chart you can see, it’s a little hard to read. This
is one of the first rankings I have been able to find, and it’s also very cutting edge because
it’s a value added ranking, which is now a very big issue today. You’ll see there is
a picture of these young men, it’s all men doing calisthenics outside somewhere on the
CAL campus, and there is a chart trying to show the measurements of these guys; their
neck measurements, their chest measurements, their thigh measurements. And they compare
them to a sample of these blue bloods on the East Coast, at all these old established colleges,
Cornell and Amherst. They have a pretty impressive sample, its 30,000 guys on the East Coast,
and as you see at the beginning of this, the East Coast blue-bloods probably did a lot
of working out at their prep schools, who knows, they are way ahead of the California
guys. But after two years of these calisthenics the California guys surge ahead. So value has been added. And that’s really
a wonderful example of how these kinds of comparisons, albeit not in the academic realm,
they’ve been around a long time. Now for the next 100 years or so, there were a variety
of different rankings, which I have a whole chapter in the book which gives chapter and
verse as it were, but they really did not take off until 1983. Which is when my alma
mater, my journalistic alma mater, US News started these college rankings. Initially
just really a beauty contest, a poll of college presidents, a fairly conventional journalistic
exercise to try to figure out who you think is the best. And it quickly became very popular.
The presidents came in, they were mad, they protested, they said ‘you have to stop, you’re
outside of the guild, how dare you presume to come in and judge us?’ And US News basically
said well OK, we’ll try to make it more sophisticated, so they added a lot of measures, graduation
rates, research spending, qualifications for entering students, etc, etc.
Ah, the rankings continued to be hugely popular, hugely controversial as you know. What many
people don’t know is how quickly the rankings spread to more than 40 countries now.
Individual rankings by country, not only in places you might expect, like Italy or like
Canada but also in places like Peru or Kazakhstan, which now have their own national level rankings.
Cause there’s huge interest in figuring out how universities compare with one another.
And then the big breakthrough came 7 years ago when a Chinese university, Shanghai Jiao
Tong University created its own global college rankings, looking at universities around the
world. This was very much part of China’s effort to upgrade its own universities and
I think the basic feeling was well if you wanted to figure out your goals, you have
to have some kind of a benchmark, to figure out where you are, where your competition
is and where you want to go. So they created rankings that are very scientifically oriented,
engineering oriented, very connected. Very much based on publication citation index’s,
things like that. The following year the British publication called Times Higher Education;
they used to have the word supplement on the end, they created rankings as well. Quite
different. Much more survey based, both of academics and employers. They were initially
more geared to consumers, but in fact both rankings became very influential. Not only
to individuals who might want to figure out where to study, but also with universities
and with policy makers, trying to figure out what are the most effective institutions.
And for the time being, if you look at, excuse me, the top institutions, you could all, you
know, coz I’m on Google, you can all look for your Alma Mater’s on these lists. These
lists are actually pretty similar. This is the most recent set of rankings. You’ll note
of course that the British rankings have a few more British universities in the list.
But, the top ones are pretty similar and they may stay similar for some time to come, but
I think that what is going to happen, because of some of the ferment that I’ve talked about,
is that if you go into the top 50, the top 100 we’re going to see more and more new entrances,
and more and more shaking up of the way things have been.
Now as in every other area that I’ve touched on, there’s a lot of worry about the rankings,
there’s a lot of concerns and a lot of criticisms. And, you know, basically I’ll give you an
example, I went to a conference in Shanghai, of university officials from all over the
world and a French philosopher named Monique Canto-Sperber who is the president of the
Ecole Normale Superieure, which is one of the elite grandes ecole in France, she came
over to Shanghai to give a long impassioned speech about how terrible the Shanghai rankings
are and they used the wrong inputs and they used the wrong measures and they don’t do
justice to wonderful places like hers. And it was exactly like the discussions I used
to have at US News when college presidents would come in and blast us for all the dumb,
terrible things we did with the US News Rankings. And in this case it was great, I was on the
side lines, it wasn’t my fight, you know but I got to see how the same dynamic was going
on. You know, basically the criticism is that the rankings focus on the wrong things, they
create perverse incentives, critics will say. The Shanghai rankings have a measure of how
many Nobel winners you have on your faculty. And you know, one question is, well Ok, they
grabbed their Nobel 30 years ago, what does that have to do with their current research,
do they actually teach students? There are lots of reasons why that might not be the
ideal metric, um, and basically you know, the criticism is that these rankings just
don’t tell you just how effective universities really are. Particularly when it comes to teaching and
learning, as opposed to research and things that are perhaps more easier to quantify.
So in fact places like France, they really hate the rankings, they’ve, people are coming
up with their own. So another one of the French elite universities and engineering schools
called Paris M.Tech in Paris, they came up with a global ranking but they created it
themselves, but you ended up seeing this headline in one of the web based Higher Education publications…
It’s one of my favorite headlines. And you’ll see it says “French do well in French world
rankings”. So this is what happens when people start trying to police themselves you might
say. So once again, you know, I think that despite these anxieties and despite these
criticisms I think rankings are ultimately useful.
And it’s absolutely true that they have lots of flaws. I’m well aware of the flaws in the
US News rankings, the global rankings. They each have their own flaws, but I think already,
even in their flawed state they can be useful to students, they can be useful to universities,
they can be useful to policy makers. Trying to get a rough sense on how different institutions
are doing on certain measures and that’s particularly true as long as they are transparent, you
know, you can figure out. Shanghai ranking are particularly good at this, you can go
to their website, you can look at everything, and you can you know re-do it yourself if
you think that there is a better way of looking at all these factors.
And I think you know, we have to understand practically speaking these rankings are here
to stay, you know. We’re in an age of accountability. Everybody wants to figure out how they’re
doing, how everyone else is doing, how they can get ahead and you need some way of measuring
that. So I think the real challenge will be how to make the rankings better. Who knows,
maybe there’ll be a Google university rankings. That would be a great project for a smart
bunch of people like you. I think you know what’s encouraging is that there already are
some efforts underway to improve existing rankings and to create some new ones. I mentioned
Times Higher Education. Well last fall, I was gonna say they fired their data firm.
But I got a stern email yesterday from a guy at the data firm saying, we were not fired,
the contract was not renewed. So I’ll say it for the record. In fact this other company
QS has always been a full partner in the rankings and they are continuing with their own rankings,
whilst Times Higher brought in Thomson Reuters, you know, obviously a very reputable place,
to revamp their rankings completely. To do it in a very transparent way, they’re going
around speaking about it, they’re writing about it. They have not yet revealed their
exact new methodology, but I think it’s very encouraging, because it means they’ve listened
to the criticism and they’re trying to make things better.
The other thing that’s happening is that places are trying new kinds of rankings, not just
the French version, but the OECD, the group of industrialized nations based in Paris,
the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, they’re developing something
called AHELO. Yet another acronym but it has to do with Higher Education and learning outcomes.
And they’re trying to measure, really, they don’t like to call a ranking, fair enough,
but it’s an assessment of what’s happening on campus in terms of student learning. So
they’re trying to see how much their students know coming in, how good is their writing,
how good are their analytic abilities. And then what they hope to do is create a value
added measure, this is down the road, but they want to say Ok how are they coming in?
How are they when they leave? How much have they improved? And they’re trying to come
up cross national comparisons that will really be valid. It’s a difficult thing to do but
I think it’s a really great effort and I think that ultimately you could get better
measures of learning, and somehow combine them with better measures of research productivity,
perhaps not only in science, but in other fields as well. Then you’d be creating something
very useful and I think we’re going down that road.
So I’ve talked about mobility, I’ve talked about world class universities and I’ve talked
about rankings. And before I finish, I just want to reiterate that despite these anxieties
you sometimes hear about each of these phenomena I think it’s absolutely crucial that we reject
academic protectionism, which is a term that I use in the book, in all its forms. You know,
as I said before, knowledge is not a finite resource, it’s not something we have to scramble
over, it’s something that can grow, it’s something that can benefit everybody, and I think it’s
just a great opportunity for us, everything that’s happening.
The final thing I want to say, is when we look at the future of higher education, is
that we tend to see it in this country through a paradigm of us vs. them. How are we doing?
How is the rest of the world doing? And are we keeping up? Are they going to outpace us?
What’s going to happen in the great brain race that I used for my title? And I think
that already that this bottle is getting out of date. I’ve talked about the research collaborations
that are growing enormously. I’ve talked about the partnerships that are being created in
places like S.Po in Paris, an elite political science school, has a partnership with the
London School of Economics and with Columbia University. You know, one could imagine in
the future whole new ways of organizing universities. You might see mergers; you might see multinational
universities. Already John Sexton who is the president of New York University. He has a
vision for what he calls a global network university. They’re already creating a campus
that’s opening up in a couple of months in Abu Dhabi. That’s going to be an elite campus
of undergraduates from all around the world. His idea is that you might start in Abu Dhabi
and finish in Washington Square, their New York City campus. But they’re hoping to
go to Shanghai as well. And if that happens, you might start in Shanghai and finish in
Abu Dhabi. So the notion of this single center may no longer hold true. And you know, we
really don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I mean you could go back to the
19th Century when German universities, you know that’s where the research university
was created, ah, Americans went there, that was state of the art, and they came back,
they took this idea with them, they created places like Johns Hopkins university, the
University of Chicago, based on the German model of putting research and teaching under
one roof. We took this idea, we ran with it. We became the best in the world. By far, since
World War II, we are the magnet, right? So now German universities have really fallen
on hard times. They’ve had, for decades, a kind of egalitarian funding model where everyone
became kind of equal in their mediocrity, and they just don’t have great universities
with a few, you know exceptions of some research institutes. So now, you know 150 years later,
Germany is now looking to us to figure out how to become excellent. So things can change.
I think we have to approach the future with some humility. But I think that what ever
happens, you know, I’m really convinced that the key to innovation and the key to economic
growth is going to continue to lie in the freest possible movement of people and idea’s;
and that’s true both in university campuses and beyond. I think it’s a very exciting time
and I’m really curious to see what happens next. Thank you very much. [Applause from Audience] I’d love to hear your questions. [silence]>>Person in audience: Ah Hi, I went to school
in India, and one of the challenges that India has is that the system sort of expects the
government to do all its work for them. And what it means is that the private sector has
hardly invested any money in creating world class institutions, and what very little there
is,>>Ben: I’m sorry; could you speak a little
bit louder?>>Person from audience: Sure. What very little
there is, is basically a for-profit organization. So what you have is all these politicians
who are creating the schools and educating for the money. And it’s such a big problem
that the Supreme Court has intervened time and time again. To sort of cap the fees and
ensure that the education is more egalitarian. So my question is, how has the private sector
in most other third world countries, so to speak, contributed to education in general,
or is it mostly the expectation that the government does all the job for them?>>Ben: Well that’s a great question; I’m not
just saying that. It really is and in fact I have a chapter on the role of for-profits
in globalization which I didn’t get into in this smorgasbord overview presentation.
But the private sector, the for profit sector, is been very important, and I think that will
continue to be the case. I mean there are companies that we know in the United States,
like the Apollo Group which is the parent company of the University of Phoenix, Kaplan,
which we think of for its tutoring programs, um, a number of others that are really going
global in a very big way. I mean Kaplan now, the company is much more focused on, I think
the percentage of their time and energy is spent on higher education is now much greater
than what they are doing in K12, and that’s their going global too. So what you’ll find
in places like Latin America, in Asia, India is somewhat of a special case as you know,
because of the regulatory regime and the barriers to going into India; but they’re trying to
fill, well it’s really an unmet need in many countries and it’s often students or people
who want to become students who are left out of traditional systems, usually state run
systems. And you sort of have the paradox in some places where there will be an elite
public university which is free, which sounds very egalitarian. But it turns out that to
get into this university you have to go to expensive secondary schools that mostly affluent
people are able to afford. So it’s kind of a phony egalitarianism, and what happens is
there are lots of people middle class, working class people who want to get ahead, they want
to get degrees in often very practical subjects, you know accounting, nursing, tourism, and
so the for-profit sector is trying to provide that. They’re coming in, they’re buying up
existing, they’re not really setting up the McKaplan, or the McLaureate but they’re trying
to buy up existing institutions with local brands but to try to take advantage of using
up their expertise to create to go to skill, and to create back office synergies and so
forth. So, to sort of summarize, I think there’s a lot going on, I think this is going to grow
very very quickly. It’s already grown a lot. Countries like India, it’s tough. There’s
a lot of suspicion, there’s a lot of worry about quality, which is understandable, it’s
the same in this country, you know people are suspicious of the Phoenix’s and so forth,
but I think look that’s never going to be the whole package. That’s going to be a
component, because people want different things and you know the private sector can be very
nimble. I think the question is how are you going to try to ensure some basic level of
quality. But frankly that’s an issue for some main stream universities. You know, as you
know better than I do, it’s just a tragedy. I mean the hungry for learning in the Indian
population is palpable, and the capacity of universities is completely inadequate, just
in terms of numbers and the quality of universities is completely inadequate. Beyond a few elite
schools, you know the IIT’s, the Management institutes, the IIM’s. So periodically the government will say we’re
going to create dozens of new great institutions but you know you can’t just snap your fingers
and make it happen. They often don’t have the resources to do it, and right now there
is a bill before the Indian parliament, and I won’t talk about India for too much longer
but, foreign universities would like to come in, it’s a great market for them, different,
some elites, some not elites and so far they’ve been barred completely from setting up campus’s.
So it’s really been a protectionist regime. There is a bill, there is a higher education
minister who is much more open to changing things, but it’s controversial. There have
been questions about will the cast quotas apply to foreign universities? And in particular,
will they be allowed to repatriate money they make? So clearly for the private sector if
you can’t tackle out profits, why are you going to go in? So I think there is a role for the private
sector and in a place like India, there have been huge strides in India. I mean you know,
certainly in the broader economy the idea of central planning is now out of vogue, and
that’s why India has grown in my view. I think you need to bring that same sort of mentality
to the higher education system. [pause]>>Person 2 from audience: I’d like to follow
on from this very interesting question focusing on Europe since that’s where I’m from rather
than India.>>Ben: Where are you from?>>Person 2 from audience: Italy. Um, you mentioned
how German universities in particular are in a crisis due to their very egalitarian
model. That’s not just Germany. Ok, France may have kept a few bright sparks, um, Italy
may have a few foreign like there is a Texas A&M branch in Castiglion Fiorentino, John
Hopkins one, just picking on a few you mentioned, in Bologna. And so on, but they’re really
not working on a mass scale at all. The mass will tend to the same egalitarian mediocrity
and you mentioned the cultural suspicion. Well, you don’t know what cultural suspicion
of America is until you’ve been to France, which you have of course, but compared with
that it’s like, so I don’t see any private sector activity of course. I’ve been living
in the US for a long time now so I may not perceive everything that’s going on. But while
you hold out hope for the India’s and other emerging countries, is Europe which doesn’t
really, isn’t really going to have a booming economy any time, doesn’t have anywhere as
many young people and so on, going to be able to attract any private initiative, any private
investment the way you hold out for the future?>>Ben: Well look, several things are going
on in Europe which I think are encouraging. I mean the first is that you’re absolutely
right, I mention Germany only because I was trying to make the parallel with the 19th
century. However, France, like Germany has had this problem you know of, pretty, and
I lived there for a couple of years, and you’re right I love France, but I’m well aware of
its problems. I was there during the student protests in 1986 which sort of dates me. They
were talking about how they didn’t want to move to an American style system where as
everyone knows only the rich goes to college and this is when the student fees were going
to go from 300 dollars a year to 350, which was going to shut out countless, tens of thousands
of students. So there were a lot of misperceptions. But France is now trying to go beyond this
egalitarian model, to create a competitive funding model that is designed precisely to
create a small group of world class institutions, that they can show that they are really going
to be worthy of the government funding. The same thing is happening in Germany. So
they’re really trying to turn things around. Italy has a place, you will probably know
it better than I do, Bacconi University, which is a private university, and they have a goal
for example of, I’m not sure how close they are of getting half of their faculty from
overseas, within the next 5 or 10 years. So they are very globally minded.
And you also have something called the Bologna Accord. Which is sort of a common market in
education throughout Europe, trying to create degrees that are compatible with each other.
Standard three year degree. So it’s easier to move around. It’s easier for employers
to assess these degrees. And you can think of it as the higher ed version of the Europe
which I think is going to create some useful ability to be mobile.
So I think there are some promising things going on in Europe. But you’re right. Bologna
was one of the seats of the creation of universities: Paris, Bologna, Oxford. And it’s a tragedy
that it no longer has that…>>Person 2 from audience: When the King of
England wanted to establish a University, in a place of so little distinction, that
the best thing it was known for was that the river was so shallow that even an oxen could
ford. What he did was go right to Bologna and steal
the top academics. There was a lot of that going on in the Middle Ages as well.>>Ben: That’s right, that’s right.>>Person 2 from audience: I’m from Bologna,
that’s why I’m so knowledgeable on the subject.>>Ben: Ah, I understand. Ok>>Person 3 from audience: Hi there, what
is the role of the internet to help flatten the world and make for the fluid transfer
of information and people virtually at least in all of this?>>Ben: Gosh, I why don’t I rap myself over
the knuckles for not getting to that sooner. You can’t cover everything but again, there
is a lot of that in the book.>>Person 3 from audience: This is Google.>>Ben: Sure. The internet is very important.
I think that we are still in a period of experimentation. MIT has what they call is “open courseware
system” where they put all of their courses up on the web. Although the president of Yale,
there is a lot of trash talking, he says yeah, they’re up on the web, but most of them
are just a skeleton courses. Sometimes it’s a syllabus; sometimes it’s more than that.
Yale has much fewer courses, but they are much more fully built out, with video and
podcasts and so forth. So there are questions about how you do it.
The for-profits are also doing this in a very big way. Some very high percentage of Australian
students, excuse me, Chinese students studying in Australian universities, a very high percentage
are doing it online. And you get into questions of what’s the best
model, fully online, or a combination of what they call it “blended learning”, sometimes
they call it ‘click and brick’ like with Phoenix, you’ll go right by the freeway exit, because
that’s where they’ll put their sites, you know, it’s easy for working students, that’s
their population. You might go periodically to have some classroom time, some face time,
and a lot of it you will do whenever it’s good for you on your computer. Clearly it has huge potential across borders.
I think that you know, not everyone’s gonna want that. We already have a variety of models,
and if you look at this country I think that’s one of our great strengths; you know, from
the for-profit sectors, small but growing fast, the open access community colleges,
the state universities from the Berkeley’s and the UCLA’s, to the CAL States, you know,
east bay or San Francisco and there is a different entry point for lots of people. Some of it’s
gonna be online, some of it’s gonna be traditional, and some people will sit around a tree reading
Thucydides, which is great, I’m all for it. In fact the Asian universities are very interested
in our liberal arts tradition. Where we tend to admire their ethos of work and perseverance
and so forth, they look at us and they say what’s the secret sauce that makes the United
States so innovative? And one of the answers may be that people learn certain habits of
mind, questioning what they’re taught, and you know, it’s cliché but thinking outside
the box, so to come back to online learning, you know, people are going to be trying to
grapple with ways to figure out what’s the optimal learning experience and I think that
online for some people is going to be a part of that. Thank you.>>Maggie: Well on that note, thank you very
much for coming to Google.>>Ben: Thank you for having me. [applause]

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