Earlier this week, I participated in a fascinating series of discussions at The Economist magazine’ssummit called “The Ideas Economy: Human Potential – When the world grows up”. I came away with the realization that we’re not tapping into even a tiny fraction of the potential that human beings have. Additionally, we have a unique opportunity, today, to leverage the entire world’s talent. In Silicon Valley, in particular, ideas are the currency that matter, and these are the keys to innovation and economic success. Knowledge creation has globalized and there is a fierce race underway for talent. We can fear this all we want, but we have a choice: raise protectionist barriers and lose the race, or recognize the new reality and take advantage of the opportunities for collaboration and innovation.
At the event, Kauffman Foundation senior fellow Ben Wildavsky discussed key findings from his book, The Great Brain Race. He documented that student mobility is now taking place to a degree never been seen in history. More than three million students travel outside their home countries to study—a 57 percent increase in just the past decade. What’s more, those extraordinary numbers are projected to nearly triple, to 8 million, by 2025. In a competitive global marketplace, student recruiting is fierce. (New Zealand even resorted to a viral videoshowing two students making out in the corner of a hot tub; the camera pulls back to show a pair of disapproving adults in the other corner followed by the caption “Get further away from your parents”.)
Western universities are bringing their offerings to students all over the world. There now have more than 160 branch campuses, mostly in the Middle East and Asia—an increase of 43 percent in just a few years.
Perhaps most significant, according to Wildavsky, is the intense desire among nations from China and South Korea to Saudi Arabia to create universities that can compete with the top-rated institutions in the United States and Britain. They know that universities are vital to innovation and economic growth, and they’re no longer content just to send students overseas or to host branch campuses on their soil—they want to create world-class institutions of their own. They are: