Why Nations Fail – the very abridged version

For those of you who have been putting off reading Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu just released a short article with the modest ambition of recapping the last 100 years of economic and political history, and predicting the trajectory of the next 100. It’s called The World Our Grandchildren will Inherit, and it’s a pretty snappy encapsulation of the Why Nations Fail thesis: that inclusive rather than extractive political systems result in inclusive rather than extractive economic institutions, and those in turn form the fundamental building block of sustainable economic growth. (h/t Blattman)

Should African Universities Recruit Recent Ph.D.s from the United States?

This is a guest post by Generation Rwanda Fellow Meghan Hammond

The 2005 IAU Global Survey Report on Internationalization of Higher Education, led by Jane Knight of the University of Toronto, asked what institutions of tertiary education across the world were seeking from internationalization, and with whom they hoped to build cooperative relationships. The report found that universities in the African region wanted foremost to build international networks within Africa itself. Outside of Africa, these universities sought internationalization with Europe first, Asia second, and North America third (editor’s note: foreign professors in Rwanda are overwhelmingly Northern European or Indian).

Indeed, institutions of higher education in Africa seem to have little desire to recruit professors from the North American region. This lack of interest stands in contrast to the eagerness of universities in East Asia and the Middle East to find teachers with doctoral degrees from the United States and Canada. A simple search on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s popular jobs database, for example, will yield advertisements for jobs in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. Offered in a wide range of fields across the humanities and sciences, these are mostly contract positions.

It is easy to see what the nations recruiting North American Ph.D.s have in common: economic power. These nations have cash on hand and have made it a priority to improve the quality of higher education on home soil, thus reducing the risk of “brain drain” tied to sending students abroad. Furthermore, elite institutions of higher learning serve as both a symbol and a source of power. Their establishment takes time; one way to speed the process is to borrow the human and cultural capital of universities abroad at a time when doing so is cheap thanks to an abysmal job market.

One has to wonder, however, if Abu Dhabi is the best place for young North American academics who currently have few prospects at home due to a surfeit of qualified doctoral recipients. There is something mercenary in such a move, even when accompanied by a genuine willingness to conduct an intellectual exchange in a new country. Where are the opportunities for recent Ph.D.s to take their newly earned credentials abroad to serve those whom would stand to benefit the most? Wealthy nations can clearly tempt underemployed recent Ph.D.s to offer up their labor, but what about developing nations?
There are a number of likely challenges. Job candidates will have fears, both legitimate and imagined, about personal safety and health. Bias against the developing world will discourage many from applying. And while a recent study conducted by the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College found that, adjusting for cost of living, professors in some African countries (Nigeria, for example) are paid very well compared to professors in most of the world, applicants will have reason to worry about their ability to save for a retirement in the United States if they spend many of their working years earning a salary appropriate for life in Africa. Furthermore, as the Association for African Universities admits, universities in Africa suffer from a significant lack of up-to-date research facilities and recent computing and technological equipment. Finally, working in Africa will mean that young scholars have limited opportunities to visit family and to attend professional conferences.

The benefits, however, would be great. Students would gain knowledge from accomplished young scholars who are eager to teach in their fields. Universities would open the door to new pedagogical practices that encourage the kind of critical and creative thinking that allows for competition on the world stage. Perhaps the ultimate goal of African universities should be to employ African scholars. But at this juncture, recruiting young North American professors could be a felicitous way to speed up the production of a generation of new African teachers and researchers.

Middle East and North Africa lagging in higher education

Interesting post on higher education in the MENA region over at DevEd:

Today, MENA’s main challenge is to adapt and to evolve within the framework of the knowledge economy since it is no longer possible to compete on the basis of cheap unqualified labor. In fact, the absence of adequate skills means that these countries will fail to attract foreign investments. Hence, education can no longer be organized in the shape of a pyramid where the number of students decreases with the level of education. In fact what is needed now is a more diverse and comprehensive post-compulsory education system that delivers skills adapted to the needs of the economy and to each country’s context. These skills should reflect the diversity of abilities and aspirations within the student population.

It will be interesting to see whether these reforms gain traction first in places like Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia–or whether autocracies looking to make minor reforms see science education as a relatively benign target.