Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Education's Big "Sucking Sound"

The NYT has an article dear to my jaundiced heart today on foreign students fleeing US graduate schools. First, this doesn't bode well for the $13 billion they bring to the US economy annually, nor international competition for academics in the future. One choice observation follows:

In August a delegation of education officials from Singapore visited Mary Sue Coleman, the president of the University of Michigan, at the Ann Arbor campus. They took over a conference room, set up computers and peppered her with questions about tuition policy, fund-raising, governance and research, Dr. Coleman recalled. They wanted to know how Michigan became a prominent university, and how it was run today.

"Eventually they'll reap the benefits of this work," Dr. Coleman said. "Singapore will create world-class universities. Other countries are taking the same approach. We're going to have enormous competition. We'd better be prepared for it."

Now, Coleman was my president at Iowa (before moving to Michigan), and I knew her to do some "dodo" things, but this really raises my ire. Decades ago, US manufacturers gladly gave tours to foreign firms hoping to emulate the American industrial machine. They did. The result was a dwindling manufacturing base, and a downward spiral of real wages and trade deficits. Now it seems, the "best and brightest" are similarly giving away the shop to countries only too glad to heavily subsidize their higher educational systems at time when we are cutting and cutting in the name of efficiency. Come back in 20 years and see how well our universities fare.

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