In what looks to be a follow-up to his February speech about rising Chinese universities, Yale’s president, Richard Levin, has an interesting article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Levin, an economist, looks critically at Asia’s newly prestigious universities. In the article (which requires a login) Levin explains that:

[G]overnments in Asia understand that overhauling their higher-education systems is required to sustain economic growth in a postindustrial, knowledge-based global economy. They are making progress by investing in research, reforming traditional approaches to curricula and pedagogy, and beginning to attract outstand faculty form abroad. …It is more likely than not that by midcentury the top Asian universities will stand among the best universities in the world.

It’s a complicated process, of course. Just funding higher education generously will not necessarily assure lucrative discoveries and ideas.

This sort of thing is particularly relevant in countries with authoritarian governments like the People’s Republic of China, where the government’s opposition to independent thought acts as a major barrier to true innovation. According to Levin, “It may be possible to achieve world-class statures in the sciences while constraining freedom of expression in politics the social sciences, and the humanities. But no comprehensive university has ever done so.”

Another important part of the Levin article concerns the relationship between American and Asian universities. Americans often think of the rise of Asia as a threat to Western institutions. At least in the case of scholarship, however, this concern is misguided. American universities, for instance, have a long tradition of competing for funding based on peer-reviewed scholarships. The best ideas win the dollars. This competition fuels rigorous scholarship. New universities generating new scholars will only encourage the proliferation of good ideas. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer