Free trade in brains

The globalization of higher education should be embraced, not feared,” writes Ben Wildavsky in The New York Academy of Sciences. While other countries are trying to catch up, “the U.S. dominance of the research world remains near-complete,” he writes. 

Yet there is every reason to believe that the worldwide competition for human talent, the race to produce innovative research, the push to extend university campuses to multiple countries, and the rush to produce talented graduates who can strengthen increasingly knowledge-based economies will be good for us as well. Why? First and foremost, because knowledge is not a zero-sum game. Intellectual gains by one country often benefit others.

. . . global academic competition is making free movement of people and ideas, on the basis of merit, more and more the norm, with enormously positive consequences for individuals, for universities, and for nations. Today’s swirling patterns of mobility and knowledge transmission constitute a new kind of free trade: free trade in minds.

Fun fact: Half the world’s physicists don’t work in their native countries.

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Comments

  1. Fine. You want free trade in brains? Remove all mobility restrictions. People should be able to live and work where they want.

    (Note to implementors: this involves removing that wall that separates the Unites States from Mexican immigrants).

  2. ”the U.S. dominance of the research world remains near-complete,”?

    ‘Near-complete’ seems to be overdoing it a bit. The US is dominant in research, employing 70% of Nobel winners, but only produced 44% of the winners since 1999 (Europe produced 35%) – the US has benefited hugely from the mobility of researchers inwards to US universities.

    From the linked article:

    “foreign students now dominate doctoral programs in STEM fields, constituting, for example, 65 percent, 64 percent, and 56 percent, respectively, of PhDs in computer science, engineering, and physics.”

    And while university research is flourishing, the flow of local students into these programs and posts is rather limited, and the dominance will only last as long as the US can continue to pay well above what other countries can afford, to tempt well educated people from elsewhere.

  3. Dictyranger says:

    “And while university research is flourishing, the flow of local students into these programs and posts is rather limited, and the dominance will only last as long as the US can continue to pay well above what other countries can afford, to tempt well educated people from elsewhere.”

    True, but much of the reason for the “limited flow” of local students is the poor wages and slow career progression in academic science compared to other professions available to American citizens. If you don’t need that H1-B visa, jumping out of science into a better-paying field can be very tempting.

  4. Glen noted that 64% of engineering PHDs are foreign. As an engineer I can easily see why Americans do not favor PHDs in engineering. It simply comes down to money. Engineers make more money with a MS in engineering or with a BSE and a PE license. PHDs end up mostly working in universities. Private industry pays a lot better than universities.

  5. Mark Roulo says:

    PHDs end up mostly working in universities.

    Adam, do you know this to be true for the STEM degrees? Or are you guessing? I’ve worked with many PhD holding critters, and I’ve never worked in academia. My guess would have been that most PhDs go into industry because there just aren’t enough slots in universities.

    -Mark Roulo

  6. I’m not certain how open the EU is to American science Ph.d.s – I have a lot of friends who did post docs, but NONE who stayed. I do know that European universities are virtually impossible for Americans in the humanities, other than Papal universities. Now those institutions are truly global!

    So the openness is one way – they can work here, but we can’t work there?

  7. Promod this on Rambhai ( let me explain An Indian social bookmarking community

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