Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Exporting knowledge

I was reviewing the website of a firm in Europe that had requested information on some of our products. What jumped out at me was that over half of the management team had completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees in colleges and universities in the US, even though all of the people were native Europeans. In fact, paging through their employee ranks, at least 25% of the entire company had graduated from a university in the US.

I use this example to define and describe what I think is one of the greatest sources of advantage for us in the US - our higher education system. We have what is probably one of the best systems of higher education in the world, and we attract people from around the world to our excellent programs. Our universities and colleges are to be commended for the excellent job they do.

These higher education programs serve the US by attracting bright people who seek a great education. Some of those people eventually remain in the US, adding to a great talent pool. Likewise, some of them return to their native countries to put their new skills to use there. Both of these outcomes are positive from an innovation point of view. The students who remain add great energy and knowledge to our workforce, and fresh perspectives. The students who return home hopefully take a better understanding of the US market, culture and norms, so they are better prepared to create products and services that we in the US can acquire, and they are more familiar with our culture. In some circumstances, admittedly, this exchange has turned out for the worse. Some of the extremists who have attacked us have also at one time been students in the US. On the whole, however, we want to remain a free, open society that welcomes students from other countries, because the education is valuable for both parties.

Many students come because our unversities are very democratic - the students are judged by their competence and capabilities, while in their home countries other considerations may apply for their enrollment. Many come because the US is recognized as having excellent educational facilities and programs. I suspect many come because they see the innovativeness and entrepreneurial outlook of our people and expect to gain some of that through their education.

We need to continue to pursue a policy that welcomes students from any country. We gain if the students remain and become part of our workforce, and most often we gain if the students return home to create new businesses and new jobs. After 9/11 it became much more difficult for foreign students to come to the US, and we need to take a hard look at that issue. If we turn away too many students from other countries, we lose and they lose. Other countries will see the opportunity and begin to strengthen their university systems to fill the void. At this time, we need more interaction with other people and other cultures - socially, politically and otherwise - and the higher education system is a great place for us to introduce others to our country and culture.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 2:53 PM

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