International Departures

There’s been a trend or perhaps simply a recurring theme in one aspect of global news in the past year to year and a half: many things international are leaving the U.S.

For instance, in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 4, B-schools Redouble Efforts Overseas notes the decrease in international student applications over the past two years from 26.5% to 24.8%. This poses a problem not only for university finances – international students pay higher tuition than in-state residents at most schools – but academically: international students help advance the global mix of a campus. Sometimes American students have their first cross-cultural encounters with a student from Korea, India or France. The international students add needed cache in the hotly competitive courting of future students.

But it’s more than cost. Increasing competition from truly international schools rising in China, Singapore and Hong Kong are competting for top students – students who understand they must graduate with a global MBA. Increasingly, schools outside the US offer more global programs.

And of course, the lackluster economic climate in the U.S. offers little hope to newly-minted grads who not only have to contend with the more complicated visa restrictions but face a tough job market of 10% unemployment in the U.S.  Some MBA students are simply going elsewhere.

Like scientists. China has begun implementing its Medium- and Long-Term Talent Development Plan (2010-2020), which involves offering resources to established scientists from the United States or Europe who return to China under a scheme known as the Qianren plan, or Thousand Talent Plan. These are well-regarded, established thinkers in a broad range of scientific fields.  And even more recently, it announced it was planning to attract scientists under 35 , a switch from years past. Experienced scientists could command high salaries and excellent working conditions, but the same was not true for more junior professionals But now, the tides are turning because China can offer programs, grants and opportunities in labs to these younger scientists.

India offers a similar program yet focuses on attracting talented younger scientists back from abroad to foster a new scientific culture as written up in Science.  Instead of offering lavish resources to established U.S. or European scientists, as in China or Singapore, India is coaxing young foreign-trained Indian scientists to return by establishing grant programs to support post-doctoral work and new independent laboratories.  Social networking has enabled a faster and more fluid exchange of information on grants, jobs and issues such as combining teaching with research.

It strikes me that as globalization continues, and other countries pull themselves out of the global economic crisis faster than we do, the U.S. will suffer even more — some say never to recover the glory days.  While some will argue that the openings at U.S. MBA schools allows more American students to get those spots, OK, but what about the real need for American students to earn a global MBA? What are schools doing about it?

Some may argue the openings left by Chinese and Indian scientists provide opportunity for others to take their place. Maybe so, but in reality they will probably be replaced by fellow Chinese Americans or Indian Americans who are trained and then pick up and leave 3-, 5- or 10-years from now.

We’ve got to do something about this trend. The U.S. needs more students studying math and science, scientists, with an enhanced global perspective, and with a strong desire to succeed.  I once heard someone give a speech in which she compared China today to the U.S. 100-120 years ago, and today’s U.S. position to Britian’s then. Britain seemed to think the U.S was an upstart, rogue, uncivilized nation of people who could never achieve the geatness of the United Kingdom.  It sounds very familiar: I receive many emails and comments to my various blogs by people who think I am being alarmist and “no one can touch American greatness.”  These comments worry me somewhat but, when coupled with my own realization that the Chinese culture operates on a long view, 20-, 50- and 100-years down the road, and I have witnessed drastic changes and immense progress since I first traveled to China in 1994, I encourage my daughters to do well in math and science, and keep practicing their Mandarin.

Just something to think about.