Universities and Immigrants…

28 June 2009

Thomas Friedman lost me completely when he endorsed the invasion of Iraq, and most of the time the things he says are pretty vapid. But today’s column is actually pretty good, if, as usual, lacking in a full appraisal of the situation. In particular:

I still believe that America, with its unrivaled freedoms, venture capital industry, research universities and openness to new immigrants has the best assets to be taking advantage of this moment — to out-innovate our competition. But we should be pressing these advantages to the max right now.

That’s probably true, especially the bit about research universities (being totally objective). American’s higher education system is the best on the planet.

This is also on-target, I think:

China is also courting trouble. Recently — in the name of censoring pornography — China blocked access to Google and demanded that computers sold in China come supplied with an Internet nanny filter called Green Dam Youth Escort, starting July 1. Green Dam can also be used to block politics, not just Playboy. Once you start censoring the Web, you restrict the ability to imagine and innovate. You are telling young Chinese that if they really want to explore, they need to go abroad.

We should be taking advantage. Now is when we should be stapling a green card to the diploma of any foreign student who earns an advanced degree at any U.S. university, and we should be ending all H-1B visa restrictions on knowledge workers who want to come here. They would invent many more jobs than they would supplant. The world’s best brains are on sale. Let’s buy more!

The current problem is that even the richest research universities (like Harvard) are cutting back. How long this will last remains to be seen, but the downturn in the stock market (and thus in the endowments of those rich universities) is causing problems in hiring. I am sure this also has had an effect on graduate student funding.

So, Friedman gets it right, but misses the broader effects of the crisis on higher education.


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