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US stronghold on higher-education loosens

Asian countries gain ground on US in academic investment and research

Higher education sector in the US is in the midst of a decline. This is according to education news website The Chronicle of Higher Education. Their analysis comes at exactly the same time as the Times Higher Education world university rankings comes out, which however still has Harvard as the top ranking university.

The US downturn is set in sharp relief by the recent expansion of the sector in countries such as Singapore and other Asian countries.

See the article Copenhagen slips a bit on rankings here.

Economic consequences

The rankings reveal a steep drop in the number of North American universities in the top 100, from 42 in 2008 to 36 in 2009, with European and Asian Institutions gaining ground.

A decline in the US is greeted with dismay by US higher-education experts, who are concerned at the long term economical implications if the United States cuts higher education spending.

US lacks urgency

The present economic crisis exacerbates at the same time as it shifts focus from this problem, they say. In contrast, Singapore and many of its Asian neighbours are ploughing money into universities and research.

»Unlike their counterparts in Asia, Americans have simply not felt the same sense of urgency to reinvigorate and reinvest in higher education as a means of better positioning the country in a competitive and shifting global economy,« says Charles M. Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and a former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Asian approach is ‘simplistic’

US economists view the belief, widely held by Asian states, that educational investment leads to economic growth, with scepticism. They attack the approach for being overly simplistic and for failing to consider other financial factors such as tax and trade policies.

»The Soviet Union produced a lot of scientists,« notes Michael S. Teitelbaum, programme director at the US grantmaking organisation Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, »but it was hardly a productive economy«.