Post-event Media: Author Lends Insight on the Rise of the Global Education Market

Ben Wildavsky, author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World, gave a public speech on the rise of the global education market on Monday, January 31, 2011. A senior fellow in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, Wildavsky has worked as a journalist and educational policy consultant, and remains in close touch with academia. He visited UW-Madison under the auspices of the Global Studies in Higher Education (GSHE) initiative.

The Division of International Studies and Global Studies, together with campus partners the Department of Educational Policy Studies and School of Journalism & Mass Communication, successfully recruited this popular speaker and author for a one-day engagement.

Wildavsky focused on contemporary context, when the traditional roles of public universities and the old order of global higher education have changed. He identified three major themes in global higher education: the unprecedented academic mobility of students and scholars; the emergence of global college rankings; and the race to create world-class universities. Over three million students are currently studying abroad, and the number will reach eight million by the year 2025. Universities are investing generously in recruiting foreign trained academics and establishing global collaborations. Accordingly, new measures have been developed in ranking universities worldwide.

An ultimate optimist, Wildavsky addressed several widespread anxieties, including: the risk of brain drain, domestic students being crowded out by international competitors, and the decreased effectiveness of colleges in pursuit of higher ranking. To the questions “What has globalization brought t o us?” and “How could American students and institutions stay competitive?” Wildavsky answered “embrace these developments.” The expansion of higher education programs worldwide, he argues, will give rise to new patterns and new possibilities. Under the culture of meritocracy, international students, who bring innovation, are invaluable assets rather than invaders. As the former top editor of “America’s Best Colleges” and “America’s Best Graduate Schools” by U.S. News & World Report, Wildavsky is glad to see different ranking systems emerging in China, Britain, and elsewhere. He is an advocate of the usefulness of global rankings to students and parents, and as a measure of how successfully universities meet today’s challenges.

“… that we cannot measure everything does not mean we shouldn’t measure anything,” he stated. And in the race to develop global universities, he does not see international collaboration as a zero-sum game. “The pie is getting bigger,” he maintains, and all participants would benefit.

“Knowledge is an opportunity” Wildavsky told audiences, “not a threat. It is something that grows and expands.” We live in an era of global free trade in knowledge and of “brain circulation.” In his recent book and based on his ongoing research, Wildavsky makes the case for his firm belief in the value of a global education marketplace.

His inspiring speech kicked off the spring semester’s Global Studies in Higher Education Distinguished Speaker Series, jointly sponsored by the Division of International Studies and Global Studies. For more information about upcoming speakers and events, please visit

Photos and Announcement by Pauline Zhu, Division of International Studies