Archive for February, 2007

Legrain on immigrants

Posted by Eric on February 27th, 2007

Tonight I attended a lecture (in the Sydney Ideas Series) from Philippe Legrain on his latest book: Immigrants: your country needs them. It was also the occasion of his Sydney book launch but luckily – in this open world – I ordered the book a month ago from the UK (and thereby avoided the high Australian book prices).


Legrain’s lecture will be available on the University of Sydney podcasts site, but here’s a short impression of both book and lecture. In short, Legrain’s message is: Let them in! Because it’s better for ‘Us’ and it’s better for ‘Them’ and for the countries where ‘They’ come from. Being trained as an economist at LSE in London, it’s not surprising that this message is very much based on economic rationales.

Many countries already have accepted the belief that allowing highly skilled migrants to enter the country is a necessity in order to survive in the current global knowledge economy. Legrain first of all argues that rigid and bureacratic assessment systems – like used in Australia – don’t make any sense since governments simply don’t know what the labour market needs will be in the future. Furthermore, innovation can not be attributed to specific types of people, but requires diversity and creativity.

What is more provacative is Legrain’s compelling case for immigration of low skilled workers. Because ‘we’ not just need managers, but also cleaners and taxi drivers and since ‘We’ don’t want to do these jobs anymore, and ‘They’ do, we should let ‘Them’ in. And of course there are plenty of humanitarian reasons to do so as well.

Obviously, the immigrants themselves will benefit if western countries open their borders to legal immigration. But so do the countries where they come from, both through the skills that the immigrants return if they go back and through the remittances they send home. These remittances make up between 200 and 600 billion US$ and end up right in the pockets of the people that need it most. Compare this with the 80 billion US$ in development assistance, which might end up in the wrong pockets (or Swiss bank accounts).

While reading the book I frequently agreed with Legrain’s economic arguments, but I kept asking myself: what about the friction between the ‘Us’ and the ‘Them’ after ‘They’ immigrate, so apparent especially after 9/11. In the last few chapters Legrain does address the issue, especially for the cases of the Latinos in the US and the Muslims in Europe (he especially addresses the problems in France, Germany and the Netherlands).

I often had the feeling that I was not the one that needed convincing; the people in inner city London, Amsterdam, New York or Sydney are not the ones that needed convincing. And I am afraid that the ones he has to convince are not very receptive to these arguments. I think I agree with Roy Williams’ conclusion in The Australian:

“These are lofty ideals, yet most people in the West remain old-fashioned nationalists. They love their country viscerally and as it is, or as it was when they were younger. Rightly or wrongly, they view immigration with caution, even regret.”

I hope that Legrain’s book will at least make people think twice about all the myths (and political rhetoric?) surrounding the issue of immigration. The book is definitely worth a read!

Economic Benefits of Higher Education

Posted by Eric on February 13th, 2007
Universities UK – the umbrella organisation of the Vice-Chancellors in the UK – issued a report (by Pricewaterhouse Coopers) last week on the private economic benefits of getting a degree. The report shows that higher education is still a very good investment: university graduates earn on average about a quarter more than young people who leave school after their A-levels. In total, a degree will bring average additional earnings of £160,000 over a working life. Some more findings:
  • Financial benefit is greatest for men from lower socio-economic groups or from families from lower levels of income
  • The rate of return to the individual would be expected to rise from 12.1% to 13.2% following changes to the student finance package arising from the introduction of variable tuition fees
  • The benefits associated with HE qualifications increase as graduates get older
  • Graduates are more likely to be employed compared to those with the next highest qualification and are more likely to return to employment following periods in unemployment or economic inactivity
  • Significant costs associated with higher education are borne by the state
Diana Warwick, Chief Executive, Universities UK:

“We already know that graduates in the UK enjoy one of the highest financial returns of any OECD country. This report provides evidence that despite the expansion of higher education, the graduate premium has been maintained. Higher education is still clearly a worthwhile investment for the individual.

Also last week, they issued their third report on the impact of the higher education sector on the national economy (previous version were from 1997 and 2002). The report confirms the growing economic importance of the sector which had an income of almost 17 billion pounds a year in 2003/04 (compared with almost 12.8 billion in 1999/2000) and showed gross export earnings of 3.6 billion pounds. In the words of Drummond Bone, President of Universities UK:

All the evidence suggests that the direct economic importance of higher education will continue to grow in the future. The future expansion of student numbers, domestic and international, the development of knowledge transfer activities as well as a substantial volume of research all point in the same direction. Such activity depends on a continuing mix of public and private investment in the sector.

Income from private sources now amounts to 27% of all higher education income and this figure will increase significantly with the introduction of variable tuition fees. It is equally clear that public investment will continue to play a vital role in the development of the sector. It is evident from the findings of this report that such investment has a direct economic impact on the UK economy as well as maintaining the health of the sector.

I’m sure that these two reports – making a case for both more private as well as public investment in higher education – have been welcomed by the members of Universities UK…

Female University Presidents

Posted by Eric on February 12th, 2007
Harvard has named Drew Gilpin Faust as its 28th president. Faust has since 2001 been the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Last year, Larry Summers had a turbulent exit as Harvard president. This was caused mainly by a speech he held at NBER, early 2005. In trying to explain why there were more men than women in high-end science and engineering positions, he suggested that it might be related to ability and/or preference.
The new Harvard president seems to be the opposite of her predecessor. Richard Bradley, author of “Harvard Rules: Lawrence Summers and the Battle for the World’s Most Powerful University” illustrates this in Newsweek:

It’s hard not to look at Faust in the context of the Summers presidency. Summers got in trouble for his remarks about women in science and mathematics; Faust is, of course, a woman. Summers was never considered a great booster of the humanities; Faust is a historian. Summer’s governing style was-how can I put it nicely?—aggressive; Faust is said to be much more of a consensus builder. Even though Summers had taught at Harvard, he’d been gone for about a decade and was effectively a Harvard outsider; Faust was an internal candidate. So in almost every instance, if Summers was X, Faust is Y.

Faust is the first female president of Harvard and she is the fourth female president of an Ivy League University (Judith Roddin was the first in 1994). If we look at the top 10 universities in the world (according to THES), we can see that after the appointment of Faust, the top of the academic world is now led by women, with Drew Gilpin Faust and Alison Richard of Cambridge occupying poisitions one and two. MIT and Princeton (4 and 10) are led by Susan Hockfield and Shirley Tilghman. The rest is still led by male presidents, and so are the universities ranked 11-20.

1 Harvard University – Derek Bok / Drew Gilpin Faust
2 University of Cambridge –
Alison Richard
3 University of Oxford –
John Hood
4 Massachusetts Institute of Technology –
Susan Hockfield
4 Yale University –
Richard C. Levin
6 Stanford University –
John Hennessy
7 California Institute of Technology –
Jean-Lou Chameau
8 University of California, Berkeley –
Robert J. Birgeneau
9 Imperial College London –
Sir Richard Sykes
10 Princeton University – Shirley M. Tilghman

In Australia 9 out of the 38 Vice-Chancellors are now women (in 2003 there were 11), which is almost a quarter. In the UK, I think it’s only around 10%, while in the Netherlands the situation is outright embarrassing. None of the Rectors – the academic leaders – of the universities are women and as far as I know only 1 out of the 13 chairmen of the Universities’ executive boards (the executive leaders), is actually a chairwoman…

Austria vs. Brussels

Posted by Eric on February 8th, 2007

The case of the Austrian Europeanisation by stealth and the European Commissions’ (EC) recent letter of formal notice continues… The Austrian chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer thinks that the EC not only affects the Austrian higher education policies but also jeopardizes the Austrian health system. He has said he will resist Brussels’ push for equal access of all EU students to Austria’s medical faculties.

“Vienna and Berlin have been and are still in agreement on the quotas scheme, and it is preposturous that some doctrinaires describe something as discriminatory which is not being perceived as discriminatory at all by the governments concerned,” he added.

“It is a fact that more than 90 percent of German medical students at our universities return to Germany. It can’t be the task of the EU to jeopardize our health care. Those doctrinaires who are pushing for free educational access should broaden their perspective and take into account the effects on health care.”

“This is none of the commission’s business,” Mr Gusenbauer indicated, according to Germany’s Die Welt. “It should meanwhile ask itself whether it is not itself contributing to European citizens increasingly turning away from the institutions. Boundaries are being crossed here which should not be crossed.”

Germany and Austria agree with each other. However, the European Commission seems to think just a bit more ‘European’ than the Germans and the Austrians. It might be ‘none of the commissions business’ as Gusenbauer says, but let’s wait and see how the Commission and the European Court of Justice will respond.

Greek resistance

Posted by Eric on February 2nd, 2007

More than six thousand students and academics marched through the centre of Athens last night to oppose government plans to reform the country’s higher education system and allow private universities to operate in Greece.

The protests reflect the rising tension over the reforms proposed by government, which would break a major taboo in Greece by allowing private universities to operate under state supervision and to issue state-recognized degrees. Academic staff began a three-day strike Wednesday, and have threatened open-ended strikes from next week. State primary and secondary school teachers held a sympathy work stoppage. The protest has become a weekly march to the Greek parliament against the planned reform. The protesters vowed to keep coming back until the bill was scrapped.
The Australian reports:

The protests have crippled the country’s tertiary education system, with more than 300 university departments closed due to student sit-in protests against the bill before the busy February exam period. “I do not care if I miss my exams because of these protests,” student Marina Iosifidou said. “There is a higher goal here and that is to keep state education in public hands and cost free.”

Maybe this student and her fellow protestors should think twice before rejecting the option of allowing private universities to operate in Greece. After all…they need them!

(click here to enlarge)

Greek higher education is very dependent on the UK higher education system, having over 20,000 students in the UK (see table above). Here, students pay (high) tuition fees to be able to attend higher education, which they cannot get in their own country. In addition, Greece sends about 20,000 students to other countries in the EU, making it the largest importer of higher education in Europe. Maybe allowing other (private) universities in the country isn’t such a bad idea after all…
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