Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The beginning of the end ?

Jeff points out more doom-and-gloom news on the post-graduate education front, this time from the NYT. Some of the points that caught my attention:
China, which has declared that transforming 100 universities into world-class research institutions is a national priority, is persuading top Chinese scholars to return home from American universities.
This hits close to home: Andrew Yao, formerly of Princeton, is now at Tsinghua University, one of the best universities in China.
Steven B. Sample, president of the University of Southern California - which last year had 6,647 foreign students, the most of any American university - said colleagues who lead other universities had expressed anxiety at professional meetings."But we compete no holds barred among ourselves for the best faculty, for students, for gifts and for grants, and that's one of the reasons for our strength," Dr. Sample said. "Now we'll compete with some overseas universities. Fine with me, bring 'em on."
Apart from using probably the least appropriate phrase possible to describe this situation, maybe Prof. Sample should also recognize that this is not just a matter of other countries catching up; it is a problem of institutional shifts in US goverment policy, such as loss of funding for basic science, and barriers to entry for students and researchers alike.

Some 28 percent fewer Indian students applied to attend American graduate schools this fall than last year, according to a survey by the Council of Graduate Schools. This matched the overall decline for all foreign students.

Rabindranath Panda, the education consul at India's consulate in New York, said that huge private investments in Indian higher education in recent years had greatly increased options at home for Indian students, and that those who wished to study abroad were increasingly looking at universities not only in the United States and Britain but also in France, Germany, Singapore and elsewhere.

This is true: it is getting easier and easier to get student loans in India (something that was not possible even 10 years ago), and this allows students to be creative about where they choose to go.

This is a point worth noting. A vast majority of students from India (and likely from other countries) come to the US for Masters degrees after which they move into the corporate world. US academic superiority may last long enough to continue drawing Ph.D candidates, albeit at a declining rate, but huge chunks of revenue are generated from Masters programs in universities, and if students start to find that MS degrees from US universities do not confer a significant enough advantage over a degree from (say) the UK or Australia, the extra pain and suffering associated with merely entering the US will make it worth their while to take their money and go elsewhere.

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