All posts by Ben Wildavsky


On Metaphysics, Vocational Degrees, and Vegemite

A few thoughts after six days in Sydney:

* It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: Traveling across the international date line is really weird. It’s not just the specifics: in my case, leaving Washington, DC, on a Monday at 5:30 p.m., changing planes in LA, flying overnight for about 14 hours, then arriving in Australia on Wednesday morning. It’s also the existential question – trying to figure out, in a different sense than the expression usually means, where one’s day went. The best dis…


Rocky Times for International Enrollment in Australia

Doing a bit of homework prior to a trip to Australia next week, I came across a decidedly gloomy prediction about the future of foreign student enrollment in that country. In a paper released last month, Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne, makes “an educated guess” that the number of international students at all institutions will fall to 50-60 percent of peak levels, and by about one-third at Australian universities.

He is certainly not alone in his co…


French Universities at a Crossroads

Arriving in Paris for a visit of a few days, I’ve been pondering the state of French higher education. I’ve written before about the system’s shortcomings, as have many others. In an excellent piece last June, the Chronicle’s Aisha Labi noted that “the defining ethos for French universities”  – like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe – “has been egalitarianism, with institutions largely indistinguishable from one another in terms of mission and institutional profile.” In his 2009 book The Gr…


Academic Mobility and the Global Work Force

The spread of study-abroad programs may be all well and good, but is there any hard evidence that they do anything to promote post-graduation mobility in the international labor market? Until recently, according to economists Matthias Parey and Fabian Waldinger, little was known about the effectiveness of many countries’ expensive efforts to use student-mobility programs to attract foreign workers with valuable skills. Now, however, the two academics  — who teach at the University of Essex and t…


Setbacks on the Road to Liberalization

When I visited Qatar’s Education City complex a couple of years ago, I came away cautiously optimistic about the prospects for outposts of universities such as Texas A&M and Georgetown to spread the values of Western liberal education. One example among others has stayed with me. The Qatari officials behind Education City made it clear that they wanted to create an environment of free speech, and they backed it up by creating a public debate series in which the proposition at the time I visited …


How Global Higher Ed Reaches Rural Kansas

How can a college that isn’t a brand-name research powerhouse take part in the rapidly expanding global higher education marketplace? An administrator put that question to me the other day when I spoke at Pittsburg State University in rural southern Kansas. Pitt State (home of the Gorillas) is a regional institution with about 7,000 students. Most of them are from small towns in Kansas, with students from nearby Oklahoma and Missouri thrown into the mix. The university, a little more than two …


Reverse Brain Drain: How Much Should the U.S. Worry?

I was intrigued to read a thoughtful and detailed account in Little India of how some Indian Americans are heading back to India to seek attractive career opportunities. The author, Naomi Abraham, tells the story of a successful young American Express executive, New Jersey-born Sapna Chadha, who shocked her Indian immigrant parents by moving to India to take a job as the marketing director of American Express. The move came when her husband, Indian-born and raised but a 20-year resident of the …


Serving Foreign Students in New Ways

I had lunch the other day with someone who was eager to get up to speed on global higher education. He asked me what I thought about the significance of branch campuses. I told him what I’ve written here before: that branch campuses are an irresistible object of fascination for journalists and universities; that they take many forms; that they’re entrepreneurial ventures with the mixed results one might expect from any educational experiment; that they get a disproportionate amount of attentio…


A Century of Rankings: Plus Ça Change

One hundred and 11 years ago, at the dawn of the college-rankings era, an Englishman named Alick Maclean published a study entitled “Where We Get Our Best Men.” It looked at the characteristics of the eminent men of the day, including nationality, family, birthplace, and university attended. In the back of the book, according to a  terrific rankings history published by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Maclean published a list of universities ranked by the number of their p…


Unconventional Wisdom on U.S. Higher-Ed Attainment

I’ve written before that the United States shouldn’t be so worried about ensuring that its college graduation rates are the best in the world. After all, shouldn’t we applaud rising educational attainment everywhere, even as we try to improve our own? A just-released paper by public-policy consultant Art Hauptman adds a further twist to the debate: What if the widely shared premise that the U.S. is falling behind other nations when it comes to college completion just isn’t true?

I won’t try to…