"Globalism" is the overall theme here, and yesterday's plenary speaker spoke on one aspect of it -- global citizenship. This morning's plenary speaker was just such a global citizen, Parag Khanna, whose book "The Second World" recounts his observations of some 40 emerging markets, many of whom are emerging as significant educational, as well as economic, players.
Khanna's main points touched on the age-old truth that "who has the money makes the rules", that it's clearly no longer the Western "first world" who has the money, that emerging states are actively investing in higher education, and that the availability of funds in these new universities is attracting top faculty and students. It is the crying need for infrastructure -- basic and advanced -- in some of these emerging nations which is driving their emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects just as enrollments in those fields are falling at US institutions.
Khanna also emphasized that these emerging nations are intent on making their own paths to advancement, not following the examples of Western countries (or the dictates of the World Bank and IMF). By implication, the emerging universities may also not strictly follow the examples of their Western counterparts (as European universities didn't follow the examples of their Arabic predecessors, German universities didn't follow the medieval model, etc., etc.).
The good news globally, if bad news for the current academic and corporate elites, is that research and intellectual property are being commoditized. Research through the increasing number of institutions, some of them not dependent on corporate funding. Intellectual property through the open source movement and the "wiki-zation"/Web 2.0 initiatives.
From a sustainability perspective, the interesting point was one Khanna made in answer to a question after his prepared remarks. While he acknowledged the tension between GHG reduction pressures and the irresistable force of economic development in such places as China and India, he also noted that trends in architecture and real estate development in many emerging markets are exceeding "green", leapfrogging the state of such efforts in the Western world. He also noted that, since European architects have more experience designing green buildings than do their American counterparts, it's the European firms who are winning these lucrative contracts, hands down.
If and when the leapfrogging moves to industrial technologies rather than merely real estate development, European and other engineering and consulting firms may be similarly positioned. Although Khanna never even hinted at this, I can envision a point when American firms hire second-world consulting engineers not because of their attractive pricing, but because of their higher level of expertise.
Such is the long-term price of (say it softly) exceptionalism, arrogance, isolationism, and denial.