Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Rise of Asia's Universities

The rapid economic development of Asia since World War II — starting with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, then extending to Hong Kong and Singapore, and finally taking hold powerfully in India and mainland China — has forever altered the global balance of power. These countries recognize the importance of an educated work force to economic growth, and they understand that investing in research makes their economies more innovative and competitive.

Beginning in the 1960s, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan sought to provide their populations with greater access to post-secondary education, and they achieved impressive results. Today, China and India have an even more ambitious agenda. Both seek to expand their higher-education systems, and since the late 1990s, China has done so dramatically.

The results of Beijing’s investment have been staggering. Over the past decade, the number of institutions of higher education in China more than doubled, from 1,022 to 2,263. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese who enroll in a university each year has quintupled.

India’s achievement to date has not been nearly as impressive, but its aspirations are no less ambitious. To fuel the country’s economic growth, India aims to increase its gross enrollment ratio in post-secondary education from 12 percent to 30 percent by 2020. This goal translates to an increase of 40 million students in Indian universities over the next decade.

Having made tremendous progress in expanding access to higher education, the leading countries of Asia are focused on an even more challenging goal: building universities that can compete with the finest in the world. The governments of China, India, Singapore and South Korea are explicitly seeking to elevate some of their universities to this exalted status because they recognize the important role that university-based scientific research has played in driving economic growth in the United States, Western Europe and Japan.

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