Are American Universities Becoming Multinational Institutions?

Iconoclast historian Henry Kamen argued in Empire that there wasn’t really a Spanish empire. Spain was a convenient vessel for Italian bankers, Portuguese shipwrights, and German soldiers. Christopher Columbus was Genoese; Hernán Cortés served the interests of his Tlaxcalan allies as he conquered Aztec Mexico.

Higher education administrators are turning “American higher education” into a vessel for foreign study and foreign economic reward.

New York University now has a campus in Abu Dhabi and Texas A&M University a campus in Qatar. Saint Louis University has a campus in Madrid and SUNY a campus in South Korea. Lakeland College has a campus in Tokyo and Duke University a campus in Kunshan, in partnership with Wuhan University.

American universities are becoming multinationals. New York University wants to become a global franchise: it possesses two degree-granting institutions in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai, and 10 more academic centers abroad, from Berlin to Buenos Aires, all of which are the seeds of future degree-granting campuses.

American graduate schools within the nation’s borders, especially in engineering and the sciences, are also becoming multinational enterprises. A majority of graduate students in a great many fields of study come from abroad; in disciplines such as petroleum engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science, the proportion is closer to 80 percent.

Statistics on the number of foreign-born professors are harder to come by, but a reasonable estimate is that they make up about 10 percent of U.S. college professors, and a larger proportion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professors. There are sufficient numbers that grousing about professors who can’t speak English properly is a staple of undergraduate discussion.

American taxpayers pay the tab for a university system manned by fewer and fewer Americans.

The cant arguments for the status quo aren’t completely specious. Yes, America receives some economic benefit from foreigners paying hard cash for their room and board while they study in our country. Yes, America has profited from “brain drain”—skimming the best of foreign expertise both for our universities and our industry. Yes, the Americanization of foreign elites has redounded to the benefit of our national interest: Mexico turned toward democracy and free markets in the 1980s not least because their younger leaders had been educated at universities in Berkeley, Chicago, and Wisconsin.

But these benefits should be add-ons to the primary purpose of American higher education. Americans should receive the primary economic benefit of employment in universities and industry.

Silicon Valley should not rely on foreigners to provide 71 percent of its workforce. And American professors and computer engineers should not face a glut of competition that lowers their wages. Our universities should self-confidently export American values abroad, not impose “global” values on American citizens. American universities should always serve American interests—not serve as a machine to employ compradors and promote acquiescent collaborators to foreign strip-mining of America.

American higher education is too venal and too captured by globalist ideology to make this change willingly.

U.S. policymakers can forward the re-Americanization of higher education most effectively by restricting the supply of foreign graduate students, professors, and high-tech workers. The federal government should intensify its restriction of visas for higher education and Silicon Valley, so as to give universities and high-tech employers an incentive to educate and employ Americans.

The federal government should also prohibit American universities from operating foreign branch campuses, on pain of losing eligibility for Title IV student loans and grants, so as to ensure that they focus on American education. Existing branch campuses should be spun off as independent institutions.

Far more work is needed, to change the spirit of American higher education. We must change our universities’ leadership, and reinstate educators dedicated to educating Americans. But that campaign can only begin once we have cut off our colleges’ sluice gates to the world.

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About David Randall

David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

Photo: Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis via Getty Images

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