The state of Europe's higher education is a long-term threat to its competitiveness
THOSE Europeans who are tempted, in the light of the dismal scenes in New Orleans this fortnight, to downgrade the American challenge should meditate on one word: universities. Five years ago in Lisbon European officials proclaimed their intention to become the world's premier “knowledge economy” by 2010. The thinking behind this grand declaration made sense of a sort: Europe's only chance of preserving its living standards lies in working smarter than its competitors rather than harder or cheaper. But Europe's failing higher-education system poses a lethal threat to this ambition.
Europe created the modern university. Scholars were gathering in Paris and Bologna before America was on the map. Oxford and Cambridge invented the residential university: the idea of a community of scholars living together to pursue higher learning. Germany created the research university. A century ago European universities were a magnet for scholars and a model for academic administrators the world over.
But, as our survey of higher education explains, since the second world war Europe has progressively surrendered its lead in higher education to the United States. America boasts 17 of the world's top 20 universities, according to a widely used global ranking by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. American universities currently employ 70% of the world's Nobel prize-winners, 30% of the world's output of articles on science and engineering, and 44% of the most frequently cited articles. No wonder developing countries now look to America rather than Europe for a model for higher education.