Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Knowledge Arms Race II

Shifting grounds and what to worry about:

The King Abdullah University of Science & Technology has started its operation with a $10 billion endowment.


MIT's endowment just got to over $8 billion

One of the largest issues facing us in the near future is to have access to a large enough high tech work force in the US to keep high tech manufacturing jobs here.
Former president's science advisor John Marburger stated in a discussion during the celebration of the National Nanoscience Initiative in Washigton D.C last week that without immigration reform nothing can be accomplished within a reasonable time frame.

I can think of no quicker and better way to grow the US high tech workforce than by increasing the number of H1B visas and actively promoting legal immigration of scientists and engineers to the US. We already educate a lot of bright young people from developing countries in our top universities in science and engineering. Take a walk through the corridors of MIT, Stanford or USC's Swearingen building...this is the most important resource for our immediate future and we send them home?

We need these bright young kids because we need a wave of innovation and commercialization to maintain our quality and standard of living.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Knowledge Arms Race II: Green Card & Brain Gain

The most important resource of the future will be a well-educated workforce with skills to tackle complex regional and global problems.

In the feeble attempt of a Socratic dialogue on higher education here in South Carolina a contentious issue was the ratio of out-of- state to in-state students. The notion of fairness was evoked and unfortunately many would prefer that universities focus on what is only one of their missions: the education of South Carolinia's youth. What is completely missed in this vision is the investment in the future. What South Carolina needs are well-educated people who move here, start businesses here, educate their kids here and contribute to their communities and the state by paying taxes here in South Carolina.

Imagine the following:

Every foreigner earning a PhD from a University in South Carolina, who is in good standing, has no criminal record or outstanding warrants gets besides his diploma a temporary visa extension for 3 years if he/she settles in South Carolina. After that period he/she is eligible for a green card.

Outrageous? Well consider this:
World regions experiencing the highest net immigration are currently North America, Western Europe and the Middle East. Together these three regions account for 79.5% of world net immigration. The United States alone accounts for 37.1% of the world net total.

Want high quality immigration? Brain Gain? Consider this:
America has always benefited from immigration: 23% of all technology start ups in the Seattle area, 52 percent of all start ups in Silicon Valley and 44 percent in New York are started by immigrant innovators and entrepreneurs.

The National Venture Capital Association in 2008 found that 25% of all venture-backed publicly-traded companies started in the past 15 years were created by immigrants. It also found that 47 percent of venture-backed companies that responded to the study had at least one immigrant founder.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg remarked:

"We educate the best and brightest and then we don't give them a green card".

Thomas Friedman adds:

"...instead of stapling green cards to their diplomas, we order them to go home and start companies to compete against ours."

Make sense to you?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Knowledge Arms Race

We are ill prepared for the global knowledge arms race. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

  • Only 27% of Americans see scientific advancement as one of our nation's top achievements

  • 30% of Americans place little or no trust in what scientists report about the environment

  • Compared with students from developed nations, 15-year-old Americans rank 21st in science and 25th in math.
Addressing these issues, in particular the latter, will take decades of hard work. It will require a cultural shift and a renaissance of 'old-fashioned' values: the commitment of a large part of society to engage in science and engineering studies and careers and by doing so delay gratification. The public needs to come to grips with the realization that technology needs nurturing and substantial time to grow. A long term investment strategy for knowledge incubation needs to stop the practice of using quarterly 401k-statements, share-holder meetings and elections as an appropriate moment to judge the potential of emerging technologies.

Oversimplification driven by the desire to score political points needs to be more challenged in the public arena. The uneducated and untrained mind will be tempted by the path of least resistance and no change, which is rarely the right course of action. Thomas Jefferson warned about the connection of freedom and knowledge :
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

All educational institutions from K-12 to research active universities need to radically transform themselves to be able to live up to their responsibilities. Teaching needs to be re-focused and schools and universities need to adopt frugality as a leitmotif and move away from education being "an experience". We need to start an open discussion of cherished academic practices such as tenure and sabbatical leave - to ensure that these privileges continue to be available they need to be continuously earned and not just be seen as an open-ended entitlement.

And it also calls for an end to education being the favorite 'political red meat' fed to the public by politicians looking for a 'wedge issue'. Instead education needs to be valued again as an important asset to meet future challenges.

Education = Prosperity

John Warner has it right:

If, as he writes:

"...average income in South Carolina was at the national average there would be $35 billion more personal income in South Carolina. What would we do to attract a company that had a $35 billion impact on South Carolina's economy? We threw more than half a billion dollars at Boeing, so it would be something considerably north of that. "

To put the number in perspective: in 2007 Exxon Mobil made a profit north of $40 billion.

I'm not known for quoting members of the Bush family but former Florida Governor Bush also has it right :
"I think we are in an education arms race with the rest of the world because knowledge will drive job creation. High wage jobs are only going to be created by people who can acquire knowledge."

The knowledge race is on. In the 21st century - like it or not - we will be in another global resource race, only this time it's not oil but talented people that we will be looking for.
And having research active global universities with operating budgets in the billions of dollars is an asset and a necessary but not sufficient condition to win this race.
And we focus on "out-of-state" students and buildings with space to fill ?? Of course all this only matters if you plan on being successful.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Socratic Dialogue Part I

The Socratic dialogue Governor Mark Sanford promised us yesterday got off to a rocky start. Strip away the "red meat"-statements unavoidable in these times of rage and so close to an election the obvious disagreement on "which numbers to use" reveals - once again - that complex matters lend themselves to oversimplifications.
College construction projects including athletic facilities are not financed to a large degree using tuition dollars. A moratorium would handicap us significantly and kill construction jobs in South Carolina.
Why student lottery scholarship money that goes to parents should be "counted twice" on the income side of the universities is unreasonable but of course it inverts the slope of the curves you show with respect to college funding.

Senator Daniel Patrick Monihan put it best:

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts."

Unfortunately but understandable rage and anger are fodder for political aspirations and do not lend themselves to "thinking outside the box" -

But important discussions are being started since many of us at universities have realized that the status quo is not sustainable.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Socrates in South Carolina?

We are about to embark on an important debate in South Carolina - the "Governor's Summit on Higher Education" that will hopefully be in a "Socratic environment" as he put it:

"We think this summit could well provide the open and indeed Socratic environment needed to foster a frank debate about how best to address recent burdensome tuition hikes, as well as explore ways to better protect the taxpayer while keeping the dream of college within reach for hardworking South Carolina families." (quotes from Governor Sanford's website)

Let's remind ourselves that Socrates who was characterized by Plato as "the gadfly of the state (Athens)" and found guilty of corrupting the young minds of Athens and refusing to recognize the gods - was not necessarily a man of the political establishment in Athens.

A "Socratic environment" calls for an openess to debate and a willingness to engage in education, as well as the need to challenge and question 'conventional wisdom or myths'.

Let the debate begin: myths tend to shrink in the light of reason.

And lets keep Benjamin Franklin's stern warning in our mind: "The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

After Africa I

After finishing another month of teaching at the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja, Nigeria a few comments and my "lessons learned":

Somebody once told me that one should not engage in long-term efforts "if you are not prepared to do this for the rest of your life." Having had numerous discussions with my colleagues and friends at AUST the same holds for this exciting and important pan-african project. Yes, Knowledge is Freedom but progress will need to be measured in decades. A door has been opened and we need to get many more students through these gates.

My sincere and big thanks to ALL THE STUDENTS:

Asuo Ivy Mawusi (ladies first!), Ampaw Edward, Anye Vitalis Chinoh,
Arthur Emmanuel Kwesi, Atiku Ibrahim, Danyuo Yiporo,
Donkor Michael Ofosu, John David Obayemi ,
Kolawole Shola Kolade, Vodah Emmanuel and Azeko Tahiro Salifu.

These students absorbed 3 hours of Materials Chemistry in the morning followed by 3 hours of Thermodynamics in the afternoon given by Professor Douglas Buttrey (University of Delaware, the other "oyebo" in the picture ). I was very pleased that Mrs Asuo Ivy Mawusi established herself as "best of the class". We are used to seeing African women carry enormous loads on their heads but I am looking forward to them heading efforts to modernize and change Africa. The work ethic and sheer desire to learn that this group of students displayed is remarkable and makes teaching them a pleasure.